+Listening to the news tonight I learnt that Trump has said Corbyn would be ‘bad’ for the UK. I can’t believe that such an endorsement is anything but good news for Labour’s chances in the general election. We could do with a bit more of it. It would be helpful, for example, for Trump to repeat his denial that the NHS would be up for grabs in a post Brexit trade deal. The more he denies it, the more it will ring true that e.g. American pharmaceutical companies would love a slice of the NHS market for drugs. Trump probably has an idea on which side his bread is buttered, and I imagine he thinks he would be doing us a favour if we were edged towards a more American system of healthcare, given his opposition to that very pale thing known as ‘Obamacare.’ The corollary of this is that Johnson has to be kept on denying that the NHS is up for grabs. Perhaps he could be forced to say ‘There’ll be no NHS sell-off—I’d rather die in a ditch.’
+In my blog of the 26th October I commented on the predicament of U.S. citizens renouncing their citizenship in order to avoid U.S. taxes. Good to see that the BBC’s PM programme caught up with the story today. It makes me feel ever so topical.
+On the same programme I was a bit disappointed to hear Labour’s Transport spokesperson Andy MacDonald answering questions about what exactly we’re going to do about the likes of Murdoch and the other billionaires that milk this country for all we’re worth. I know it’s early days in the campaign, but when these rich bastards are called out we need to be able to say exactly what it is they can expect from a Labour government. Anything less than that just sounds like the same old same old, and some people may remember that Labour wasn’t exactly gung-ho tackling these parasites when last in power (I’m still struggling to figure out how the Barclay brothers were given knighthoods when Blair was in power . . Oh, hang on . . . ). MacDonald could, for example just have said ‘Levenson Two’ and the issue might have been dealt with.
I am not a betting man but taking two examples from recent history, namely the election of the last two Labour leaders, Corbyn and Miliband, if I had followed my support with bets, I would have been quids in. I think Corbyn was the 33 to one rank outsider. It seems odd that if you are willing to support what at first sight looks like a lost cause putting a few quid on it appears a step too far. I think this time I will place a bet on Labour winning the general election. That will mean finding out what the bookies mean by ‘winning.’ Overall majority, vote share, largest party? The longest odds will be on an overall majority, so I’ll go for that. At the moment the Tories are 1/7 favourites—quite how that is worked out I don’t know, given the recent inaccuracy of polling. And this election seems likely to be the most unpredictable ever. Looking on the website oddschecker.com the odds on Labour winning are ’shortening’ whilst those on the Tories are ‘drifting.’ I will take the plunge with £10.
I have reached crisis point. I can hardly find any space to accommodate new books. Perhaps I should have a one in, one out policy. But that wouldn’t work, since I wouldn’t want to despatch a single volume to oblivion when there’s the remotest chance I may want to look at it again. Perhaps like a Pharaoh with his (her) treasures, I should be buried or cremated with my books. What a bonfire that cremation would be, but we don’t burn books either, so that wouldn’t work. An associated issue with this problem is that my books sit there each reproaching me for not reading them, even if I have read them in the past. ‘Look at me again’ they seem to say.
Some things have a strong sentimental value. A well preserved 1956 edition of Encyclopaedia Britannica was bought by my hard-up parents as an educational resource for their sons. They will have signed up to one of those monthly payment schemes, so by the time I was three they may have had most volumes. 10 to 15 years later, those volumes were regularly consulted for homework. Not quite an Eton education, but I’m happy without that blot on my C.V.
The biggest offender on my shelves is 20 years’ worth of Hansard. These date from the last volume of 1989 through to 2010, the year of my departure from parliament. The first ten years’ worth came from my predecessor, John Gunnell, who for quite some time has clearly had no use for them, since he passed away in 2008. What is the point of keeping these shelf hogging volumes? I’m not sure I have an answer for that, except that perhaps they are a very good physical reminder of a particularity in my life. And at anytime I can consult them to find what written questions were being asked about, e.g. the extent of foot and mouth disease in 1998? I could do this on the internet of course, but it’s not the same. That would be too easy. The whole thing is academic of course, I’m merely making a point.
I am easily sitting on a million pages of information (most of my books are non-fiction). I am satisfied that this wealth does not enhance my wisdom, it rather shall we say intimidates as it sits stored in dusty remonstrance with one’s lackadaisical capacity for sitting at length with something that doesn’t glow in the dark. How long can I go without consulting the electronic oracle? All my books would many times over fit onto one 64GB USB along with every photograph I ever took, all my CDs/DVDs and anything else that the great Suckerberg in the sky would happily digest for later profit spewing purposes.
None of which addresses the key question: where do the new books go? I imagine there’s a climate change metaphor here. In short, we’re fucked. Almost like the typically heroic American teenagers in The Day After Tomorrow in the scene which finds them keeping warm in the New York City Library.
I’m wondering what can Corbyn learn from Trump? I’ve been a bit disheartened of late with what appears to be Jeremy’s inability to ‘cut through’ the media coverage, and yesterday morning that once ardent supporter of Corbyn, Jonathan Freedland (spot the joke) was writing in the Guardian asking why Labour is continuing to back Jeremy. Well, why is Labour continuing to support Corbyn? Could it have anything at all to do with policy (as opposed to, e.g. exaggerated claims of anti-Semitism)? The problem with our pundits, who are paid by their weekly word count, is that they never seem to have the time to stop and think about the consequences of their scribblings. I am assuming here that they write in the everlasting hope that what they write will have consequences . . . In the end for most of us, it soon becomes clear who are the pundits that can be discounted, which is not to say one should be impervious to alternative views. But so far as Freedland goes, he might as well be the political editor of the Sun, for all the insight one might find. But, and here I’m coming to my point, Corbyn would probably do better to heed any (be there any) intelligent signals that come from the latter quarter rather than the former.
Trump’s approval ratings are and have been since day one of his presidency in the negative, and the phrase ‘they’ve not been this bad since so-and-so’ crops up often. Recently, we here in the U.K. have been hearing that Corbyn’s approval ratings are worse than Michael Foot’s. Foot’s ratings of course, were all down to him: wearing a donkey jacket (it wasn’t) at the Remembrance service (a personal disgrace); the Falklands war (a national Thatcher triumph which ironically he backed) and the rise of the SDP/Liberal Alliance (a split designed to consign Labour to history). None of these things were actually Foot’s fault, but once the media mill cranked up, it was too late. Contrast that with the way that Trump has, seemingly without effort, dominated the media in the U.S. His take no prisoners attitude has without doubt added to the severity of the partisan divide there, but what interests me are the vox pop interviews that emerge every so often with his supporters in run down former industrial areas—those which Trump pledged to revive but hasn’t. These people very often seem to believe he’s on their side. They often acknowledge that Trump, as a person, is a basket case but they still believe he’s on their side. Maybe it’s one basket case talking the language of another, the old ‘who you would rather talk to in the bar’ syndrome (notably discussed in the context of Bush and Gore). Would you rather spend your time with a dry, academic type or somebody with a jokey, all things to all people personality? It seems the answer to that question is overwhelmingly the joker.
Anyway, in terms of political communication Trump is a master, even if his message is utterly flawed. Corbyn needs to learn what works and what doesn’t, and I don’t think that that entails him losing any of his authenticity. But it does mean being a bit less reasonable, more strident and where needs be, offensive. To our opponents.
On this subject, how is it that on Friday, the BBC could find it newsworthy merely that Johnson said Corbyn 'should man up' and go for an election? That, and only that was the story. But Johnson has learnt the Trump use of simple language. Jeremy is still rather too cerebral for today's bite-sized media.
As I said, Trump's ratings have been negative throughout his presidency - maybe that's down to both his personality and his politics. But I wouldn't let those two obvious disadvantages blind us to the effectiveness of his media strategy. He cuts through the commentariat. I wish Labour would find a way a way of doing the same.
+I spotted this advertisement in the London Evening Standard. Apparently thousands of U.S. citizens don’t want to pay U.S. taxes on their global earnings (all taxable by the U.S.) so they’re taking a leaf out of Boris Johnson’s book and renouncing their U.S. citizenship. What price patriotism eh? Still, there’ll be a warm welcome for them in Brexit Britain, where the better off you are the less tax you are expected to pay.
+Yes, I was in London last week, catching up on a bit of art. Not as much perhaps as I had wanted to. The latest blockbuster exhibition at Tate Modern, by Olafur Eliasson was so jam packed it was barely possible to move—my mistake for going at half term I suppose. I have to say, grumpily, that there should be reserved slots for adults only. But I’m not sure that would have made any difference, these blockbusters are designed to be money spinners and I suppose having otherwise free to enter galleries means management have to resort to naked money making ventures. The William Blake exhibition at Tate Britain was a little better, but in either case getting an appreciation of the art is pretty hopeless when huge waves of human flesh swamp every space. If you wanted to stand back to look at something, some selfish git will impose themselves between you and the object. If you press your nose up close, some space invader will be peering over your shoulder so closely they could lick your ear. However, in other parts of both galleries it is possible to escape into some sort of calm. On an earlier trip, I found a Rachel Whiteread exhibition almost entirely free of visitors, but then I only stayed for two and half minutes myself.
+In today's paper there is yet another 'prepare yourself for Brexit' advertisement, now with only '10 days to go.' Why is this waste of taxpapers' money allowed? Has the Civil Service been so cowed by Johnson and Cummings that they can't stop H.M. Government using our money to promote patent falsehoods? No wonder people are getting sick of politics, but this is merely the most recent example of the waste that is Brexit.
The much commented on ascendancy of right wing populism seems to have faltered of late. Election results in Austria, Portugal, Canada, Spain, Switzerland and significant municipal elections in Hungary and Turkey have thrown up a rather more complicated picture. Even Italy, whilst not holding an election this year, has shown the back door to Matteo Salvini’s unpleasant Northern League. Of course circumstances in each country differ, but the inevitably of right-wing populism rising up against the somewhat different right wing agenda of globalism may soon be facing a challenge to its own political legitimacy that it has so far evaded. Although a unique case without parallel elsewhere, we can also enjoy the sight of ‘Bibi’ Netanyahu losing his crown in Israel. But since his chief opponent, now called upon in a fit of wishful thinking by the President to seek to form an alternative government is just as nasty, so there’s no real change there.
As I said, the circumstances in each country are different, but I bet one common thread in most of the elections that pundits will be speculating on will be the role of social media and media more generally. Media pundits love nothing more than stories which inflate their own importance. I imagine when lefties attack the BBC for aping the Daily Mail line, chests will be puffed out enormously in Rothermere’s ranks. And social media commentators will be no better. It’s in everybody’s interests to boost the significance of their own brand, platform, whatever. But I wonder whether voters are so supine as to be taken in by the lies and distortions fed to them. They may well get sick of politics, not least Brexit, but over and above what the media is telling them, do they not respond first and foremost to what’s happening in their own lives? Over time, it is surely what happens in those lives that will decide the outcome of a nation’s fate, not the outpourings of the pundits. I don’t think the question has really ever been conclusively answered: do the media lead, or follow? Even if they hate the Sun, I suspect that many journalists from left or right would like to believe the import of the statement ‘It was the Sun wot won it.’ I imagine the Sun, the Mail and for that matter Fox news have reached maximum reach. Perhaps the cycle is about to turn.
+I was writing about HMV yesterday—and I have to say they have this phenomenal capacity to display DVDs in alphabetical order. Not everyone these days knows what that is. I had been casually searching for some time for Defence of the Realm, the mid-1980s thriller starring Gabriel Byrne as an intrepid investigative journalist on the trail of establishment dirty tricks, cover ups, potential nuclear annihilation, etc. etc. all thrown in. I think I must have watched it on telly not long after the film came out (1986) and at the time it was culturally in tune with late cold war paranoia, stories about ‘Labour MPs are spies,’ and the get behind the invigorated post Falklands Thatcherite revolutionary patriotism schtick. I seem to recall that at the time I would have thought this is all so true . . it must have been because around then we also had the mini TV series Edge of Darkness, starring the estimable Bob Peck and the always entertaining version of a normal American, Joe Don Baker. There was lots to be paranoid about and some of the films of the period captured that unease without resorting to the two dimensional crap coming out of Hollywood today (thanks in part to computer generated images). What was it about the 80’s? Were we threatened by rightwing demagogues, or something even more sinister abusing the tools of the state to keep us in state of oppression?
So I shall look forward to seeing the just released film Official Secrets, starring Laura Knightley as Katherine Gun, the GCHQ officer who revealed compromising information in the lead-up to the 2003 Iraq War—information which compromised the case for war. We could do with some of that courage now, a few leaks from high up civil servants forced to deal with Johnson’s Brexit shite wouldn’t go amiss. I would call it a patriotic duty. Well, that’s all a long way from HMV, isn’t it?
+Perhaps a lasting legacy of the Brexit shite will be a new phrase entering the English language, 'doing a Bercow.' This could become as common as 'Gordon Bennett' or 'Bleedin' Nora,' and I rather hope this phrase might be the lasting memorial for a Speaker of the House of Commons who rejoiced (at length) in sticking a hot poker up the government's arse.
+All we hear from the BBC these days is their vox pop interviews with people who live in Brexit voting constituencies (it's cheap to do, I suppose). The voices from these areas all seem to say 'we're fed up with this so end it now!' I don't understand this. The same people have watched decades of Coronation Street and EastEnders without saying 'end it now!' And what damage I wonder do those soaps inflict on people's mental health?
Listening to BBC Radio 3’s New Music Show last night I heard for the first time music by Julia Reidy, part of an album called In Real Life. Wonderful stuff I thought, I might just have to buy that. But how? My internet research (yes, I went to Amazon purely for research purposes) revealed that you could buy the album on vinyl for £22+ or download an MP3 file. But no CD. I don’t know if this restriction of formats is the artist’s choice, but it’s bloody annoying. Either you can buy a file (how exciting) or you can go retro. Well, I don’t want a file, and although I still occasionally get albums on vinyl (experimental stuff from Sub Rosa) I don’t think that more generally this current vinyl boom is anything other than a marketing ploy to gouge the consumer. So people are having to rush out to buy turntables etc., when their previous junked equipment was perfectly OK. Or you have to go out and buy some new hi-fi on which you can faff around with MP3 files. Of course, if you want to listen to the music on your mobile device you will no doubt need the very latest app which allows you to do that. More faff. So Julia, get your stuff out on CD and don’t encourage this cynical profit driven marketing con!
On a similar theme I visited Leeds on Thursday for an Opera North performance of Handel’s Guilio Cesare (very good, top notch) and had the time to pop into the HMV store, emblazoned as it was with ‘store closing down’ posters. You’d expect a few bargains, but ‘few’ is the operative word here. I wonder whether they’re closing down at all. A similar thing happened earlier this year at their store in York—the last time I went they were still trading and the closing down posters they had, had disappeared. Perhaps this is all a game to put the frighteners on their landlords during some rent renegotiation. In which case good luck to them—why should landlords believe they can buck the trend of high street closures when it is their own greed which is partly driving the decline of high street shopping? They’re sitting on properties which are at risk of total redundancy. Anyway, if the shop closure trend continues, these self-regarding property magnates will come begging to the arts community to set up pop-up galleries, etc.—a sure way to regenerate run down streets. But they’d better understand that artists generally don’t make any money, and so should not charge rents accordingly. When the local economy picks up, they can kick the artists out and rent profitably to some trendy gin bar (or whatever the fashion will be by that time. I wonder if I could start a trend for Absinthe bars? Goes with the art territory).
+Extinction Rebellion will fail –as have previous climate change campaigns—if it doesn’t understand the public. In other words, it has to engage the public, not intimidate or seek to wrongfoot people. It has to carry the public with them. Perhaps this is too much of a compromise for some activists, not least the chap who climbed on top of an underground train and then appeared to be beaten up by passengers after he was dragged down. His behaviour seems all the more extraordinary since it was targeted at public transport, which must feature centrally in any future solution to the problem of climate change. Given that the London underground is electrified it could more easily than most systems become carbon emissions free. So I award the ER activist no points out of ten for thinking it through.
+As a GMB member (retirees section) I have received ballot papers for an election of general secretary. This election has been a little controversial, given that one of the two candidates was originally deemed insufficiently qualified by the union’s executive committee. The other candidate, Tim Roache is the current general secretary, so allegations of a stitch-up even made it into the Financial Times. His challenger, Kathleen Walker-Shaw won an appeal against her disbarment. I hadn’t really expected to hear much more about her since she stood disastrously as Labour’s candidate in the 1998 North East Scotland European Parliament by-election. In the final week of that campaign it was revealed in the national press that her claim to have been born in Scotland was false—she was actually born in Stafford. The last few days of the campaign had the feel of trying to bake soufflé in the semi-submerged kitchen of the Titanic. I simply don’t understand how anyone could hope to get away with telling such an obvious porkie about their birthplace. It was reported that she later claimed she was conceived in Aberdeen. I somehow doubt she spoke to her parents about that, until maybe it was too late. Which is to say, I will be voting for Tim Roache. The mere fact that Walker-Shaw is a woman may be enough reason for some to support her and no doubt there will be grumbles about yet another woman falling prey to misogyny if she is not elected.
+It seems odd for a Remoaner like myself to express gratitude to the DUP, but today, as parliamentary turmoil (aka democracy) once again dominates our existence it seems that Northern Ireland’s Nooo Suurrrendurrr!! Group have thrown us a lifeline, or at least a glimmer of hope that the whole Brexit nonsense could be derailed. It seems they haven’t even been swayed by the argument that the Johnson deal is less toxic than the possibility of a Corbyn government. Now really is the time for Sinn Fein MPs to get involved, instead of sitting isolated in their magnificent mansion of ideological purity.
An email from the Guardian tells me ‘we will not stay quiet on the climate crisis.’ I am not sure I thought they would stay quiet about the climate crisis, but now they have launched a five point pledge. Interestingly, the pledge does not forbid them from taking advertisements from e.g. airlines, nor does it banish Guardian cruise holidays, etc. In fact the pledge does not even mention advertising. Since advertising is all about trying to convince us to buy things we don’t generally need, perhaps most of it should be banned. Only a radical reduction in our consumption is going to really make a difference. So the charge of hypocrisy does rather attach itself to the Guardian’s pious pledge. I guess it’s a point acknowledged in today’s paper by George Monbiot who whilst noting the validity of the charge says it’s better to be aware of it, then to blithely press on as if nothing were happening. Nobody’s perfect, or as Mephistopheles told Dr Faustus, ‘this is hell nor am I out of it.’ But it’s still a bit remiss of the Guardian’s pledge not to mention advertising at all, even if it were simply to say we’ll take the Devil’s money to do the Lord’s work.
Monbiot earnestly hoped to be arrested today on an Extinction Rebellion action. I hope his wish is fulfilled, but God knows we don’t need another prison diary.