Are we or are we not edging towards a Brexit deal? My round-up of today’s news leaves me none the wiser. Given that all the attention has been focused on a replacement for Theresa May’s Withdrawal Agreement section on the Northern Ireland backstop, one wonders if anything else is being considered—things which hardened Brexiteers got quite wound up about, such as a divorce bill of £39 billion for example. That figure is not mentioned in May’s Withdrawal Agreement, but the methodology for arriving at whatever figure it might be is there in Article 133. Will Johnson want that changed? Surely he’s led us to believe that we’d only be paying the E.U. a few peanuts to leave? Then there is the question of the Transition period, which I assume would still be two years. During this period the U.K. has to accept whatever rules and regulations the E.U. decides (and contribute financially to E.U. programmes), but will have no representation. Presumably the current negotiations will be taking that on board too, to reflect the U.K. government’s ‘hostile environment’ for all things E.U? We’ll soon find out just how much of May’s 139-page Withdrawal Agreement will be left untouched. I suspect most of it.
Only a few days ago I wrote about the Tories following the Republican Party’s playbook on gerrymandering. Now, lo and behold, another essential component of that could be introduced, with the possible legal requirement to show photo-I.D. when voting. Producing various forms of I.D. has been a key part of the Republicans’ disenfranchisement methodology, since those most at risk are less likely to possess the required from of I.D. such as passports or driving licences. Given the rarity of voter fraud in the U.K. introducing such a measure here would be pure partisan game playing. I suspect MPs won’t wear it.
As regards the Queen’s Speech, which was apparently so profound it required an extra long prorogation of parliament, it all seemed a bit humdrum, with little if anything new in it. You might think that after 10 years of Tory (and LibDem) government our problems should have been solved, but no, Johnson is promising all manner of fixes to the crises created by years of austerity. So we’re going to see the police numbers restored to where they were 10 years ago, we’re going to see social services restored, we’re going to see criminal justice restored (presumably without the help of the hundreds of courts that were closed down), we’re going to see the regions blossom! This Queen's speech must count as one of the most vacuous in modern history, and the question may be why anybody could be surprised by that, given its origination.
Just a thought: I wonder how many Brexit supporters have passports?
A soggy incontinent blanket of rain has made today a day for indoors. I’ve not been out. Not even the allure of hunting for discount yellow labels in Marks and Spencers has lured me out. God knows what bargains on the cheese shelves I have missed. So what’s to do indoors? I read an interview with John le Carre in the Guardian Review. He sees our country’s plight through the eyes of an 87– year old, and he expresses his despair at the state of things. Le Carre keeps popping up with a new novel, and maintains his topicality. But what he has to say will probably not go down too well with a certain establishment type, even those who may have enjoyed his stuff previously. I think if it came to it I might even vote for him as the interim Prime Minister. I doubt we’d do any worse.
The rain continues, the day moves on. I install Photoshop on my computer—a 15 year old version that came free with a mag—it will do what I want perfectly well. It is version 5, and does more than I will ever understand. I doubt there are any free versions left of anything useful which you could install on as many computers as you liked. Microsoft wised up to the profit destroying distribution of infinitely re-installable copies of Office and now sell only single use, time-limited versions of their software. But isn’t it heartwarming to know that Bill and Melinda Gates spend (some of) their vast profits on good causes, beyond the reach of Donald Trump? Thank God for billionaire philanthropists. Whilst I have access to Office 365 (which was pre-installed on this computer) I create a Power Point presentation for my M.A. fine art course, to be delivered next Friday (if all goes well).
Still raining. I survey the various blogs I follow, to find that everything is floating away down shit creek. Jeffrey St Clair in Counterpunch does a long piece on the Bush family, mainly George W. A tale which actually puts Trump in a comparatively good light, hard as that is to believe. And we thought Trump made George W. look statesmanlike. A necessary corrective for those with short memories.
After lunch (nearly vegan) and the water continues to fall out of the soggy blanket outside. I notice the sparrows have disappeared from the garden. This means only one thing. The Sparrowhawk has paid a visit. Before I spy the culprit in the tree, I spot the bloody remains of a ring-necked dove on the decking (the preferred dining spot for the hawk). The hawk looks extremely bloated, its chest puffed out and heavy. The bird is waiting to digest a bit more Dove before it goes down again to the entrails. If it eats something similar to its own body weight, I wonder if it will be able to take off again for an hour or two. But it has no such concerns, and goes back to scoffing. At first this appears gruesome, but it probably wouldn’t seem so bad if the hawk had a carving knife and could make neat slices of the job.
The day rains on, and I settle in to doing some artwork. To some satisfaction I complete a picture which I call ‘The Revolutionary Light Bulb Lights Up The Sky.’ It’s part of a cohort of work which will be revealed later. Time to relax. I confess here and now to smoking the occasional cigar. ‘Occasional’ is at least the word I use to describe this habit to the nurse at my annual health check. Accompanied by a ‘glass’ of red wine and playing my original vinyl album of Philip Glass’s ‘Songs of Liquid Days,’ an entirely appropriate conclusion to this most liquid of days.
The forecast is good for tomorrow. I will have to go out and clear away the little skull, feathers and bones from the decking. The sparrows will return, demanding their seed and fatballs. Then it’ll be up to M&S looking out for yellow labels, or maybe swooping down on a pensioner or two for a bit of gristle.
I had a short break in Bruges last week. Got to make the most of Europe before we’re banned from travelling there. It’s easy to see how we might be contaminated by their foreign culture. I noticed before Brexit has even happened that a couple of tobacco shops that explicitly catered for the English crowd have disappeared. Perhaps the fall in the value of Sterling had something to do with it.
As ever I paid a visit to the Groeninge art gallery. Where one of my favourite pictures, or should I say diptych’s hangs. This is the Judgement of Cambyses by Gerard David (above), which relates the demise, being skinned alive of a corrupt Persian magistrate on the order of King Cambyses. The pictures were commissioned by the good burghers of Bruges to hang in their new town hall. I think something similar should hang in No 10 Downing Street, as a little reminder that the occupant there too is not above the law. Of course I am not suggesting that Johnson should be skinned alive, I’m sure with his classical knowledge he could find something equally appropriate from ancient times to fit the crime of his sordid and lamentable political career.
I blogged some time ago about the growing threat—propelled by climate change—posed by Lyme’s disease, the tick borne disease which can have very serious impacts on human health. A UK government review has looked at the issue, and the various bodies concerned with our health (e.g. NICE, the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence) have made various statements about how to approach this growing problem. I am prompted to write about it again following a further report of the disease’s spread. What I have read doesn’t fill me with confidence that the threat is as yet being taken seriously. I suspect as far as GPs are concerned, the guidance on the subject will just form part of the avalanche of guidance they receive every week. The disease is still (relatively) rare, so misdiagnosis is it seems routine.
It’s the sort of thing that makes you wish the star golf player Trump could hit a few more balls into the long grass. But perhaps when he does, he sends a flunkey to retrieve them. In the States, he would be well advised to, I get the impression that the spread of the tick is spreading much faster there than it is here. I think it will be fascinating to track the development of this issue. It may well impact most on the healthier types first—that is, people who get out into the countryside. Ramblers, cross country cyclists, campers and the like. Those whose only outdoor experience is a car trip to the shopping mall will be least affected. Anyway, let’s not get too depressed. Here’s what to look out for:
‘More serious symptoms may develop several weeks, months or even years later, if Lyme disease is left untreated or is not treated early on. These can include:
· pain and swelling in the joints (inflammatory arthritis)
· problems affecting the nervous system – such as numbness and pain in your limbs, paralysis of your facial muscles, memory problems and difficulty concentrating
· heart problems – such as myocarditis, pericarditis, heart block and heart failure
· meningitis – which can cause a severe headache, a stiff neck and increased sensitivity to light’ (from the NHS here
None of these things you would normally associate with climate change. There you go. Now what was it about the spread of malaria carrying mosquitos?
Apropos my post yesterday about the Tories’ potential aping the Republican strategy of seeking to colonise the constitution, an unnamed minister was quoted in the Independent saying of the Speaker of the House of Commons: “You can’t have someone in that position getting up in the morning and deciding that he is going to do things differently and bend the rules as he wishes. When you have a rogue speaker, he is all-powerful. I think we need a shake-up of the rules and I think it’s something we need to look at after the election if we get a majority.”
The irony here is somewhat unintentional I suspect, but self-awareness is not a quality one would ascribe to many members of this government. Nevertheless, it is a pointer to the direction of travel should the Tories win a decent overall majority. Curb the power of a sovereign parliament—it’s all part and parcel of taking back control.
In the same article there’s a suggestion that somebody should take MPs to court for failing to deliver Brexit. I doubt that they would get very far if they were to do so. The Brexit referendum was only advisory, a fact which now seems to be entirely forgotten. Referendum and dummer.
Another very good article in the Intercept considers how the U.S. Republican party responded, over time, to the process of impeachment of Richard Nixon. Their ambition, according to this analysis was to ensure that such a move could never happen again, at least so far as a Republican president was concerned. They would of course seek to impeach a Democrat president.
The strategy relies on three pillars: controlling the media narrative (and hence the prevailing media); creating a compliant intelligentsia; lastly, installing a subservient judiciary. There are possibly other things that ought to be included here, not least the widespread gerrymandering of district boundaries on which members of Congress are elected. In this last endeavour the Republicans have been quite successful, although not yet triumphant—after all, the House of Representatives is currently under Democrat control. But they are not stinting their efforts, and it is of course the House that has the constitutional power to start impeachment proceedings. Here, the Tories have tried to change constituency boundaries to their advantage, but without much effect so far.
I wonder to what extent the Tories might seek, not least under the influence of their Svengali wonk Dominic Cummings, to replicate the Republican methodology in the U.K? The Tories can already rely on the press of course, and with our broadcast media, chiefly the BBC so influenced by the press, the Tories have the advantage. As regards developing a new intelligentsia, the picture is much less clear. We don’t seem to have quite the same level of finance for ‘think tanks’ as they do in the States. We don’t appear to have the equivalent of e.g. the Koch brothers, so far as the private sector is concerned, nor do we have the same degree of disdain for science as does the Right in the U.S. It would be hard to imagine, for example, the total defenestration of our governmental environment agencies as is happening now over the pond. I dare say austerity has taken its toll, but here there doesn’t seem to be the science denialism that exists in the States. If Johnson is allowed to reign for much longer than most sane people hope, that may change.
As regards the judiciary, we are thankfully a million miles apart from the U.S., as the recent Supreme Court decision on the unlawful prorogation of parliament demonstrated. But whilst one might applaud that decision, many have suggested that it could open the door to a more politicised judiciary, and were that to be the case, politicians might feel emboldened to intervene in the choice of judges. It couldn’t happen here some may say, but we don’t have to look to the rather alien system of judicial appointments in the U.S. to see how things could develop. One thinks of Poland for example, where the right wing government is taking more control over the judiciary (and not yet being suitably punished for it by the E.U. it has to be said).
Should Brexit go ahead, especially if Johnson’s Brexit goes ahead, I suspect we will enter a prolonged period of constitutional change. This will be like the constitutional equivalent of Naomi Klein’s description of the ‘shock doctrine.’ Brexit has already caused huge turmoil in our complacent system of governance, and presents marvellous opportunities for those with a Republican-style agenda to press ahead with further partisan reforms with which to entrench their power. Do we really believe that the only thing Johnson (or Cummings) has in mind is Brexit ‘do or die?’ Everything has been shaken up so much that post-Brexit, structures that have been lovingly nursed for generations could be consigned to history. A revolution led by the anti-establishment establishment. Hold that thought!
+I would recommend Steven Poole’s excellent book Rethink: the surprising history of new ideas. It considers the rocky road to our present state of ‘certainty’ - which is largely the idea that we must know more than our ancestors, and that we are always improving on their knowledge. In many ways that is true of course, I’m not going to deny that e.g. penicillin wasn’t a huge step forward. There are a myriad of example of progress, but the fact that all of that progress can be wiped out by a singular kind of wilful ignorance, e.g. climate change denial in its many guises, does rather beg the question what it is we are progressing towards.
I liked a quote in the book from Somerset Maugham ‘If 50 million people say something foolish, it is still foolish.’ In a particular area of our polity that does rather resonate. Progress is hardly linear.
+The Rev. ‘Dr.’ Ian Paisley must be standing erect in his grave in honour of Johnson’s oft repeated reference to ‘surrender.’ The Red Hand of Unionism must be gripping Johnson’s inner thigh in a vice-like manner. NO SURRENDER!! (Except to a gorgeous, hugely witty, gregarious and popular Old Etonian of course.)
+Trump, over Bidengate (I think I’m the first to add the ‘gate’ appellation in this case, but I’m likely to be proven wrong) isn’t waving he’s flailing around drowning in his own swamp of mendacity. But you knew that already. I just wanted to add my tuppence worth. But anyone who has followed e.g. Counterpunch’s coverage of Joe Biden may well wonder whether Trump has a point, even if the content of his phone call with Zelensky justifies impeachment. Here lies a real risk for the Democrats. Their commencement of impeachment proceedings against Trump could force out stuff on the Bidens best kept hidden.