I confess to being a wee bit irritated with the in out, in out turn it all about attitude of the upper reaches of the Labour Party in the case of re-suspended MP Chris Williamson, whose only offence was to make some apposite remarks about the party’s response to the anti-semitism allegations. So far as I can tell he never uttered a single anti-semitic thought. Well, when did common sense ever trump political rivalry?
Contrast his thoughtful remarks with this item I picked up today from Counterpunch:
+ Could you imagine the reaction to a Palestinian saying anything remotely like this about Israel? “A national suicide of the Palestinians’ current political and cultural ethos is precisely what is needed for peace,” writes Danny Danon, Israel’s ambassador to the UN in the New York Times.
Since ‘cultural ethos’ is a component of ethnicity, here we have yet another clear cut example of the Israeli government’s continuing racist behaviour. And we are not supposed to allude to it! It’s a racist trope to do so!
The inestimable (a word with a suitable ambiguity) former Deputy Prime Minister ‘Sir’ Nick Clegg, who now serves as Zuckerberg’s office boy in Europe has been spouting off about how Facebook is going to tackle various problems associated with its abuse of privacy. It’s so SAD to see somebody with Clegg’s reputation helping Zuckerberg with his BAD corporate-wash, but what else is the poor man to do? Anyway, I’ve been wondering. Perhaps one way to piss on their little adventure – if you are a Facebook user – is to send all the wrong signals to their advertisers. Create your own fake personage! This approach might also apply to Google searches and all the other forms of mass harvesting of information. So, if you repeatedly (guerilla style) search for prosthetic limbs, cures for cabbage itch, nostril enhancement aids, lax stool remedies, foot acne, attendance at obscure conferences on bricklaying and the like, you will so devalue their algorithms as to make them worthless, and their whole system of ‘information surveillance capitalism’ would collapse under the weight of its own blind devotion to falsehood. Naturally, all these searches and connections, ‘likes’ or whatever would have to be launched from a false account. You might want to use another account for your actual real stuff. If everybody did this then half of all Facebook accounts would be false and should such news leak out then Facebook’s shares would collapse. Then we would really see how serious ‘Sir’ Nick was with his claptrap about cleaning up their act.
Max Hastings, former editor of the Daily Telegraph, had an excellent article in the Guardian this morning telling us why Boris Johnson is utterly unfit to govern (published in the wrong newspaper but never mind). It has opened my eyes – Johnson is actually the best choice for PM. If what his detractors say is true, then he will be truly disastrous for the country – and more so for the Tory Party. His tenure (brief, hopefully) may with any luck finally convince a whole swathe of voters that the Conservatives really are incompetent and should never be trusted with the levers of power again. And one can see Trotsykists everywhere praying that he advances the revolutionary cause.
But the big argument against this is that Johnson is so lazy that he will delegate much of his workload to more able juniors, and so the anticipated catastrophe of his premiership will be averted. His only mission after all is to sit at the top of the tree and take the credit for others’ work – when it goes right – and to blame them when it goes wrong. It is the Trump playbook lock, stock and barrel.
All this being so, one wonders who will be Johnson’s Mike Pence? Who will be the person who appears to be normal, doesn’t (generally) make gaffes and stands loyally beside the swivel-eyed one until Rapture starts our ascent to heavenly bliss? It seems Gavin Williamson is of that ilk (though not quite so good at avoiding gaffes) and he is a leading figure in Johnson’s campaign. Or could this straight man to the comedian be someone like Rees-Mogg? I bet the author of a hugely derided book on his fellow Victorians would like a top job in a Johnson government.
We’ll know the outcome of this horror story on the 22nd July. Parliament rises for the summer recess on the 25th. Three Days In July could well rival Seven Days In May (Frankenheimer, 1964) as a tale of overreaching ambition and national peril. Let’s not forget (to extend this allusion a bit further) that American Secretary of State Pompeo has already spoken of the need to prevent Jeremy Corbyn becoming PM (“You should know, we won’t wait for him to do those things to begin to push back. We will do our level best. It’s too risky and too important and too hard once it’s already happened.” Guardian, 9th June)
Bring on the revolution!
P.S. Maybe we do need a revolution. But I am not, I repeat not, a Trot.
It’s not appeared in the UK mainstream media* but reading US based Counterpunch it is clear that there is quite a row brewing in these early days of the US presidential election primaries. Not surprisingly much of this is stemming from American racial enmities, which appear to be as strong as ever. (One might well ask, why wouldn’t they be?) Counterpunch explores leading Democrat contender Joe Biden’s highly questionable record, and it is worth reading. Suffice to say, Biden had a soft spot for out and out racists. He may have softened sufficiently to eventually serve as a black man’s deputy but in the political context, in racist America Obama was something of an exception who needed to reassure ‘folk’ that he could be a trusted black man. That may sound patronising, etc., but it is impossible to imagine that Obama had not received fulsome briefings on Biden’s racist-befriending history before appointing him as his running mate. He did so for a reason. ‘Balance’ is probably the word.
But another US politician is really stirring up murky waters: New York Democrat Representative Alexandria Ocasio–Cortez has described various aspects of US government policy towards ethnic minorities in unheard of terms. Concentration camps. These have, in her assessment played a long role in US history, starting with native Americans. One can check this out on Google, but the estimates I have seen of the numbers of native Americans exterminated begin in the low tens of millions. Not all in concentration camps of course, but in so many different ways all of which would fall under the description of ethnic cleansing. It is possible, I would suggest, that the North American continent (which includes Canada) was the most ethnically cleansed continent on the planet.
One hears so much about the Civil War – a war presented as a civilising war no less – that I think it serves to absolve any sense of guilt Americans need feel towards their largely exterminated predecessors and possessors of the land they (and for a time we) colonised (stole). Even today it is a matter of mirth when a leading Democrat, Elizabeth Warren happened to remark she had native American ancestry – Trump lost no time in diminishing this inoffensive connection in ‘Pocahontas’ jokes. Whatever the truth of Warren’s genealogy, it won’t matter to many Americans I suspect – the extermination of native Americans was long done and dusted before even their grandparents came along. In living memory American ethnic discrimination has largely been earthed in black hating.
This narrative of US racism is somewhat changing with the influx of migration from the south, but aside from Trump’s wall – more rhetoric than reality – Latinos are now so ingrained in US society that even one of Trump’s predecessors, G.W. Bush thought it wise to learn Spanish. Suggestions have been made (I read this somewhere) that the US will soon officially become a bi-lingual country – it already is unofficially in southern states.
Now, against this charged background, as has been revealed by Al Jazerra’s undercover documentaries on the Israeli government’s subversive activities against its perceived enemies overseas, those who seek to raise bitter truths have to mind their P’s & Q’s. US Congresswoman - the first female Muslim Representative Ihan Omar – had the temerity to stridently support the BDS movement and for her sins (as earlier with Ocasio-Cortez) was severely criticised by ‘senior heads’ of her own party, never mind the Republicans. It’s as if some forms of racism are more exceptional than others, as if one group is deserving of more attention than others, even though the problem is endemic and is part, lamentably, of the human condition. This is what annoys me, and why the ‘weaponising’ of one form of racism over another is so offensive. It is not racist, and certainly not anti-semitic to suggest that other groups have suffered holocaust – to a greater or lesser extent than Jews. What they suffered was utterly abominable, but some forms of holocaust have received less attention – I’m thinking, for example, of the Ukrainian Holodomor – which for many people in the west means virtually nothing.
So when Labour activists like Jackie Walker (and others) are pilloried for suggesting that the word ‘Holocaust’ has a wider meaning, I think she should be praised. And when we think of a Holocaust Day, we should be wary of thinking that it was all down to just one evil regime that just one group was chosen for such abominable treatment. The word should attach itself to a historical and recurring characteristic of the human species which should be challenged in all its forms. To go down the road of exceptionalism is to find succour for further barbarity.
*Writing this late last night I was not to know that the Guardian had a small piece on Biden this morning.
I (along with a few hundred thousand others) was prompted by the Labour Party today to send Jeremy Corbyn a question he could ask What’s ‘er Name at Prime Minister’s Questions this week. Searching for inspiration, I thought I would look up May’s speech from the steps of No.10 back on the 13th July, 2016. As many will recall, this short speech was jammed packed with platitudes from the One Nation Conservative phrasebook, and it is worth reading now just to fully comprehend how stupid some politicians think ‘the people’ are. I’m not sure if anyone took her words seriously at the time, since there was so little in her record, or of the governments she served in ever seeking to work ‘for the many, not the privileged few.’
How, for example has she addressed her ardently stated belief ‘That means fighting against the burning injustice that, if you’re born poor, you will die on average 9 years earlier than others.’ All the indicators show that the poor are getting poorer, partly through the freezing of benefits and the reduction in public services. None of it reversed by Theresa May.
Then there was this classic: ‘If you’re black, you’re treated more harshly by the criminal justice system than if you’re white.’ Two years after her speech we learned of the Windrush scandal. She really meant what she said didn’t she?
Her long list of problems to be solved – or, in other words – problems that had not been addressed since 2010 is just as long now, if not longer. But shortly, we will no doubt be treated to the same bullshit from whoever three score and ten thousand members of the Tory gerontocracy choose in this current leadership (sic) race to succeed hapless May. Having said which, given Johnson’s known policy commitments thus far, he won’t feel compelled to chuck in a load of bollocks about serving the many rather than the privileged few. He knows which side his bread’s buttered. Even his current partner finds that worthy of comment (as overheard by the neighbours).
It was a seminal day yesterday. I went to the hospital for an ultrascan and it seems they found nothing wrong, despite my having had a bit of a persistent ache in my torso for some time. Is this I wonder a herald of ageing, or am I simply developing senior hypochondria? Nothing to worry about anyway. Whilst the cold gel was being applied, I glanced at all the high tech gear the nurse used. That made me wonder how much this procedure might cost as and when Boris Johnson starts selling the NHS off to U.S. healthcare companies, a la Trump’s design. From the scant information available on the net I think the 20 minute appointment would cost between £200 - £280. I doubt that I would have made it to the hospital for free either – I suspect it won’t be long before buss passes are withdrawn. Following the precedent set by the withdrawal of most free TV licences for the elderly, all the government need do now is give local authorities the freedom to apply their own bus pass schemes – and like the BBC, vary the qualification criteria as they choose. Bloody baby boomers! Ironically, the ageing Tory membership which will choose our next PM probably won’t need to worry too much about losing their bus passes, and I wonder how many of them have private medical insurance?
Speaking of Trump, it came as a bit of a shock to hear yesterday that he had stopped a U.S. attack on Iran minutes before it was about to happen. This apparently followed his discovery that 150 people might be killed, which he considered ‘disproportionate.’ So it turns out he has a heart after all. This must be big news. Perhaps – just as he avoided the Vietnam draft – he doesn’t actually like military confrontation, despite all his bluster. Of course it’s too soon to read too much into this incident. But it may tell us that there are still some adults in the room with sufficient influence to connect the swaggering braggart with reality. Let’s hope so.
The latest interruption to afflict this blog has been brought about by my attendance at the Venice Art Biennale (see under Venice under Perambulations). I had to go. It’s an institution. There is nothing quite like a bit of art to take your mind off things, particularly when it is located in Venice, a place at this time of year when the sun never seems to set. Co-incidentally York Art Gallery, where there’s been an exhibition which included sketches by Turner and Ruskin of Venice, I was reminded (if one needs a reminder) that Venice is portrayed as an historic loci of artistic sensibility – and maybe that sense is still there, if you can get away from the disgorged denizens of gargantuan cruise ships that is, and of course those dreadful watercolours street traders sell. I suppose they do sell, since there are so many sellers.
Despite the fact that I took my sketchbook I found myself curiously uninterested in the subject. It’s been done to death, and apart from forays into the cool of churches, where suitable statuary offered itself as subject matter, I was content just to gaze and soak in the ancient, crumbling brick and stone, avoiding at all times the Rialto Bridge and San Marco. But perhaps it’s in these places that I’m missing something – here is the new subject matter, the ever flowing multitude of humanity, self-obsessing in its ever self-reflecting lense.
Anyway, enough of that! I escaped to Florence, where the cruise ships don’t sail. Or so I thought. Happily I soon accidentally found myself in an Irish (sic) bar where the TV screens were filled with a game of Florentine football. The game was preceded by a parade through the town of a long column of medievally dressed chaps in pantaloons and various regalia (and some women in great finery). I wondered if it was a saint’s day or something, but it was just part of the build up to the game, held in a nearby square. The game itself made rugby look like croquet, a virtually no-holds barred bare knuckled fist fight, combined with all-in wrestling, kicking and general male flouncing fought between splendidly, biceptually well endowed aggrovistes (a new word I’ve just invented for the occasion). Having spent a good part of my afternoon in the Uffizi Gallery, contemplating the medieval, here was a live show of untamed animal medieval behaviour. Fairly gripping stuff, all the more so since it appeared to be genuine. Ambulance crews were there in force. What men will do for possession of a bleedin’ football. I wonder if English folk who like a bit of blood sports might not take this up as an alternative to fox hunting?
Speaking of which, I have by and large enjoyed the continental European experience of not giving a flying f**k about the hunt for a new Tory PM. We want to be peripheral – so we are peripheral! In one easy step, we have conquered Europe! By leaving it! Yippee! No more Jacques Delores! He still runs Europe doesn’t he? Seriously - do we not suppose that there is nothing more important to the continental Europeans than what mighty England is up to? Barnier and Co. can come on all nonchalant about not re-opening the Brexit negotiations, but we know better, and that’s because we basically created the E.U. in the first place. France can have as many republics as it likes, but half of them have come and gone since Her Maj has been on the throne.* As for Germany, when was the last time you bought a bottle of vino from there? BMW might brand some of its cars the ‘Mini’ but who designed the original Mini? Eh? Assigioni, that’s who, a Brit through and through. Seriously, how I’d love to see Farago used as the ball in a Florentine football match.
*This is not quite literally true, but almost.
In Florence you can buy a decent bottle of wine for less than five Euros. A combination of that and a surfeit of ornately decorated churches evokes an idea what the Renaissance was all about. These were two observances – wine and church – which ordinary people could indulge in. There must have been a lot of ‘spirit is willing, body is weak’ about in those days. Given what we now know the Catholic Church got up to, and priests got away with until very recently, one can imagine the divine spaces here in Florence filled with quotidian drunken, licentious behaviour under the gaze of the beatific saints and the Virgin Mary herself. As Mephistopheles said (Marlowe version): ‘Why this is Hell, nor am I out of it.’ Now I wonder if Florence hasn’t got too many churches – like Venice perhaps – and some of them will be silently crumbling as their Masses disintegrate into entropic unbeing. Their cloisters now lead to gift shops and cafes where wishes can be fulfilled in real time.
Just when you thought things couldn’t get any more depressing, along comes the Tory leadership race. Do any of them look any better than Theresa May? The paucity of fresh thinking is perhaps astonishing, given how much time the wannabes have had to prepare themselves. But it seems, apart from their cloned Brexit angles, their main ambition is to further deligitimise public expenditure by promising further tax cuts, and inter alia perpetuate austerity – whilst not, of course, ‘balancing the books.’ Most egregious (as ever) is the wretched Johnson, who promises a tax cut for the wealthy, to be paid for by one off money set aside by Philip Hammond to offset the inevitable post Brexit slump. So Johnson wants to make a recurring commitment from a one-off fund. There’s an Eton education for you. In the long run the only way to pay for it would be either cutting spending further or increasing other people’s taxation, but probably a combination of both.
But Johnson is playing his cards right. The complainants in the media moaning that he is not talking to them seem to overlook the fact that his number one priority is getting Tory MPs to vote him onto the final ballot. He’s only bothered about 300 or so electors at this stage. As regards a media profile, he already has one, so why bother with that? All the other candidates are way behind in that department. And once Tory MPs have made their final choice of two to go forward, the only electorate Johnson needs to worry about are Tory party members, and I suspect he doesn’t really have to worry too much about them. No wonder he’s promising tax cuts for the wealthy – he only needs around 60,000 people to vote for him to become Prime Minister.
I have yet to hear any of the candidates speak of climate change. That’s not a vote winner is it? What we are hearing quite a lot about (apart from tax cuts) is how they will make the UK prosperous, will solve the housing crisis, improve education, etc., etc. So they will address their own failures. What a laugh. There’s only one positive thing we can hope for in this race is that they tear each other to shreds and provide Labour with a generous font of damaging quotes.
There seems to be a race amongst Tory Party leadership wannabes to outdo each other in their claims of youthful dalliances with drugs, the latest being Michael Gove with his admission of cocaine use 'when he was younger.' Apparently Boris Johnson can't make his mind up whether he used cocaine or not. And most surprisingly of all it was reported that Andrea Leadsom may have tried cannabis. Rory Stewart has already admitted to smoking opium in Afghanistan. In his case there may of course have been extenuating circumstances. It seems there's a race on between these candidates to demonstrate that they have led real lives, and have done really naughty things, unlike Theresa who could only confess to running through a wheatfield as her naughtiest moment. But I am now wondering whether she was on acid at the time. That would make a lot of sense. I am edging towards the view that the best place to conceal one's suspect past is out in the open - the more you admit to, the less you'll be judged for it. The media and perhaps the wider public are only interested in hypocrisy. Bill Clinton never suffered as a result of his misdemeanours, only his half-hearted attempts to pretend they never happened. I now fully expect Jeremy Corbyn to join the race to the confessional altar of political honesty and tell all about what he did with that budgerigar seed. C'mon Jez, did it sprout? Isn't that why you've got an allotment?
I woke up this morning and felt the agony - the agony that is of all those media pundits who were slavering for a Corbyn trouncing in yesterday's by-election. How would they spin this result? An air of hurt disappointment permeated the Today programme's studio. The script was in the bin. So forgetting that this seat historically is a knife edge marginal, all that could be said was that the win wasn't big enough. No doubt the Blairites will be plunging into this narrative too, forgetting perhaps that Labour lost the seat in 2005 whilst Blair was still Labour Party leader, and only won it back under Corbyn in 2017. Like the Lord's Prayer (another news item today) it seems history can be rewritten willy nilly.