Winter appears to have arrived in the UK, with a cold front and what we’re told is a ‘snow bomb’ in train. We can’t just have snow like we used to have, now it has to be a ‘snow bomb.’ Such language is intensely annoying, but there’s no escaping the fact that the popular media has to dramatise everything—to such an extent in fact that nothing is really dramatic anymore. The overuse of drama in storytelling dulls the senses. I guess the same is true of pictures, except now if they’re deemed horrifying they come with advance warnings. Perhaps the overuse of dramatic language should also be preceded by advance warnings like ‘This article contains idiotically exaggerated hyperbole.’ Perhaps this shift to the eye-catching line has been hastened by social media, where it seems complexity is reduced to simplistic assertion. Or perhaps we should blame spin doctors ever competing with each other to coin the perfect soundbite. The simplification—the dumbing down if you will—of language has taken new forms, to such an extent that literacy itself could be threatened. I’m referring of course to emoijis, now so established and endemic I’m almost willing to bet that there’s a professorial chair of emoiji studies at some newly minted university. Not surprisingly a Japanese chap first came up with them, they perhaps have antecedents in a pictogrammatic language, but now they seem indispensable for the lightning fast thumbs of mobile phone users. I can see their advantage as a new form of shorthand adapted to the small screen. Personally I can’t get out of the habit of one finger typing on my mobile phone. This task happily is made easier by having word prompts, so I can often include long words in texts which otherwise would take ages to type. It can’t be long before complete sentences are suggested. Indeed gmail already provides a choice of short responses when it detects e.g. a question in an incoming email.
I’m not going to bother looking, but I imagine there’s an emoiji for an old grump. Since I have started in this groaning grump mode, let me finish off with a fresh round of moans. The first relates to Mountain of Plastic Rubbish Day, aka Halloween. Aren’t we supposed to be reducing single use plastics? How is it that plastic straws are banned, but this extravaganza of tat is permitted? At least pumpkins are biodegradable. But late November is becoming crowded with American imports. Black Friday, Cyber Monday, and now Giving Tuesday—all excuses to fill one’s inbox with urgent appeals to get a move on before it’s too late. I’m surprised we haven’t yet adopted Thanksgiving into the UK calendar. In the US it seems some cities have Donkin’ Donut Thanksgiving Parades, or MacDonalds Parades. Here we could have Thanksgiving Food Bank Parades and on the day itself King Charles could reprieve a turkey (though which member of the royal family he would choose is anybody’s guess). In fairness, since the UK has a sizeable veggie population, he might also reprieve a Quorn not-turkey roast. So, in conclusion, let me propose a new day of celebration and commemoration, dedicated to Old Grumps everywhere, when we can bemoan the state of society to our hearts content. And people have to listen.
+This is the beginning of a story from the i (24/11/23). It appeared on the very same day that it was revealed that net migration to the UK had reached a new record—something like three quarters of a million. So Brexit took care of that then! The vast majority of immigrants get here legitimately and I therefore feel it safe to assume that they will be net contributors rather than takers vis-à-vis the UK economic cake. The majority of them will be young so stand some chance of helping to pay our pensions (although to digress, the pension triple lock will cease to exist after the 2024 election, dispatched in a flurry of mealy-mouthed obfuscations). Anyway, I am pleased I can identify with people who have sufficient cognitive skills not least to master ‘fluid reasoning,’ which hopefully speaks of a good taste in wine some of which may even be from the EU.
+It would be oxymoronic to suggest that people who get involved in politics generally don’t want to make a difference—towards what they think is better. Yes, there could be a very few who see political careers as purely self-serving (but even here let’s remember the likes of the corrupt architect Poulson’s friend, T. Dan Smith. I don’t have any reason to doubt T. Dan originally thought Poulson’s high rise housing might be the bees knees solution for slum clearance, even if the whole enterprise was lubricated with bribes). But listening this evening to Nick Robinson’s BBC ’Political Thinking’ interview with erstwhile Tory Defence Secretary, Ben Wallace I thought how for some making a political difference is really a rather academic (in this case, over-thought) exercise no matter how much supposed political influence you yield. I’m not thinking of Wallace himself, but am provoked by his remarks about Dominic Cummings, the man who in all probability envisioned but changed bugger all, whilst nevertheless attracting an aura of sophisticated political wisdom which clearly entranced others— albeit for a relatively short period. Did I say changed nothing? Well, if you saw the Brexit film starring Benedict Cumberbatch playing our beloved deep thinker Dom, you might come away believing that the invention of the catchphrase ‘Take Back Control,’ which came to Dom in a moment of unencumbered orgiastic bliss, miraculously convinced one third of the electorate (+1) to translate their innate anti-immigration sentiments into a triumphant economic argument (with hints of self-sustaining Britannic collectivism, like £350 million a week returned to the NHS from the evil maw of Brussels). In retrospect, I am inclined to think ‘bollocks.’ A slogan doesn’t change an opinion, it merely captures it (on this basis the Socialist Workers Party is cram-packed with impotent geniuses).
Anyway, anyway Ben Wallace, who sounded perfectly normal couldn't resist sticking his heel into Dom’s overgrown forehead, focussing on his malign cranium a Downing Street locus of bile and shit-mongering. Even for an ex-army officer who had served in Tony Blair’s wars Wallace couldn’t disguise his disgust, which made it clear that metaphorically speaking our Dom was a sort of one person Talibanic cancer at the heart of government. Now, in the Covid Inquiry we are also hearing how some of the rudest, crudest judgements emanated from Dom, and now we know that whilst Dom’s actual achievement record was close to less than zero for some reason he has acquired a residual fame for being at the heart of everything that went on. (All bad, as we now know.) Politically he must be the nearest thing we have today to an animal sacrifice. I wonder, however, if laying into him does anything for the reputations of those who lingered long enough to put up with him?
There’s a book in this which might be called ‘The Power Behind The Throne,’ tracing the careers of those who steered Prime Ministers, at least for a while. The only other example I can think of offhand at the moment is Harold Wilson’s Marcia Falkender. Many people might think Blair/Campbell but I’m not so sure about that one. All PMs will have had their advisors primus inter pares and whilst some may have successfully avoided much exposure, in the light of the Bad Dom experience perhaps they should get more attention. This I think will be particularly true of our next (predicted) PM.
Recently buying a book online, I got a search result from Abebooks. I used to think this company was independent, but you guessed it—it’s owned by Amazon, so no escape from the ubiquitous grasp of Jeff Bezos there. However, with a few vain, spare minutes to kill I thought I would see what was on offer of my own, slim back catalogue. This can be a disappointing experience, when you find that one of your babies is advertised at a mere 0.01p. Presumably the retailer makes a few bob on the p&p. But lo! Abebooks had some seller in the UK trying to offload The Price of Power—the Secret Funding of the Tory Party (published 1999) for a very satisfactory £67. How they arrived at this price I have no idea, and unlike artist’s resale rights, there’ll be no reward for me here. But if it starts a trend (it won’t) I’ll take a measure of satisfaction from it. It is, after all some kind of afterlife.
+Leftists* have questioned whether it is a good idea to award a £330 million NHS data contract to US ‘spytech’ firm Palantir. Palantir’s founder is Peter Thiel, whose Wikipedia entry has him down as a major Trump supporter, who said “after the September 11 attacks, the debate in the United States was ‘will we have more security with less privacy or less security with more privacy?’ He envisioned Palantir as providing data mining services to government intelligence agencies that were maximally unintrusive and traceable. Palantir's first backer was the Central Intelligence Agency's venture capital arm In-Q-Tel. The company steadily grew and in 2015 was valued at $20 billion, with Thiel being the company's largest shareholder.” What do we know about data mining companies? They always want more. Not only does data make big money, it also feeds the control mechanisms that inevitably comes with all the information they gather. That Thiel is also (according to Wikipedia) a ‘steering committee member of the Bilderberg group’ comes as no surprise. He’s clearly an influencer, but not perhaps in the mould of Kim Kardishan. What of Labour’s response to the award of our NHS data management to this conglomerate? This section from a recent (29/10/23) BBC news report is illuminating:
‘Responding to Mr Karp's [CEO of Palantir] comments, Ms Donelan [Secretary of State for Sceince] told the same programme [Sunday with Laura Kuenssberg]: ‘We're not in the business of damaging people's privacy or rights. We're not going to start selling on people's private data, of course, not without their consent, what we're talking about here is enabling us to utilise the data around the NHS to tackle some of the biggest diseases that people are facing so they can live healthier, longer, happier lives.’ Labour's shadow health secretary Wes Streeting said: ‘Labour is completely clear: we will not sell off NHS patient's data. Rishi Sunak must today issue a clear statement that NHS patient data will not be sold to private companies.’” (emphasis added)
Wes Streeting is thus on exactly the same page as the government, which is to say ‘we’re not in the business of damaging people’s privacy or rights.’ Now who’s going to own up to doing that? And the only guarantee apparently on offer here is that the data won’t be sold ‘of course,’ ‘not ‘without our consent.’ Are these mortals aware of how data travels these days? Selling it is not necessarily the issue, and the idea that our consent would be required before it was sold suggests that neither of these luminaries has ever given a second thought to, e.g. ‘accepting cookies.’ When was the last time anyone went through the long lists of those innocent sounding things?
One might argue that these private tech companies have qualifications governments lack. That should worry us. It means governments also don’t have the skills to keep these outfits in check.
*For example Clive Lewis MP, quoted by Open Democracy (23/8/23) ‘people want change under a Labour government and hosting some of these firms [at Labour Party conference] signals that the same palms are going to be greased. I do not think that organisations like Palantir and others are necessarily the kind of organisations that Labour in the year before a general election should be cosying up to, I think they should be saying: ‘Look, we'll deal with you but frankly, some of you are part of the problem’’
+ 'Knock, knock.'
Yes, today is the 60th anniversary of the first broadcast of Dr Who. It was my first memory of TV (the second was the news of Kennedy's assassination - but I must have got this mixed up - Kennedy was shot on the 22nd November 1963, but maybe the TV news I saw was the day after. A curious time for a ten-year old, anyway.)
Is whatever you say a trope? Is it always the case that when you say something which in most circumstances is perfectly innocent, others are entitled to assume you meant something else, indeed that that something else is deliberately offensive? It now seems you are not now entitled to be the arbiter of your own thoughts but must submit to the judgement of others who specialise in policing these matters. Watchful people (quite possibly fanatics) abound who trawl incessantly for evidence of subtle prejudice, which they see as endemic as the yet postulated but undetected dark matter which forms part of the glue of reality. So it is that when students from Christ Church, Oxford, competing on University Challenge, displayed their mascot, an octopus, they were attacked for adopting an anti-Semitic trope. (This story appeared in Metro on the MSN clickbait feed, 21/11/23) Apparently this was deeply offensive to some viewers who—natch—launched into an attack on the BBC for allowing such an outrage to be broadcast. It is only partially comforting to know that other viewers came to the support of the BBC, pointing out that in all probability that the sight of one of the students dressing in Muslim garb added to the crime of the ‘trope.’ Now any expression of solidarity with the Palestinians can be cited as a trope by the fanatics, and the fanatics’ sense of their own legitimacy is naturally increased by government ministers keen to make their mark with a selectorate who share their hatred of the ‘other.’ To Hell with the lot of them I say. (n.b. since I don’t believe in Hell, I am using the word here in a tropey sort of way. Letting the fanatics live with their idiotic beliefs must be hell enough.)
The current UK Covid Inquiry is seeking to find out what the government’s response was to the pandemic and will seek to establish whether there are lessons to be learnt. I feel I could confidently walk into William Hill’s and place a bet on ‘yes’ to the latter question. Indeed, that question goes to the very heart of what governments—in our model of democracy—are for. Unlike under dictatorships, doubt is allowed (perhaps even to be encouraged) to seep into the reckoning, and in that regard the big question might be how reasonable those doubts may be. Politicians love to say that their policies are evidence based, as if they were like detached scientists weighing up various factual criteria before forming their conclusions. In this regard, the current inquiry in the eyes of some has veered off course, it becoming more consumed with the abundant evidence of tittle-tattle, the inevitable consequence of little ego-princes (Cummings, Johnson, Hancock and a host of others less prominent) trying to outdo each other on social media. It is not surprising that the Inquiry should look at the social media feeds of these people, they were after all entrusted to make big decisions. It may turn out that they made the wrong call (many times) but for me the question is whether they took their responsibilities seriously. If the social media tittle-tattle reveals that they did not, then this has to be key to understanding the whole way our government fulfilled its duty to the public. In my view, the personal behaviour of these characters during the pandemic showed a careless, if not callous disregard for personal responsibility. The perhaps somewhat amorphous concept of ‘duty of care’ was exercised at best intermittently. One thing is however guaranteed: none of the principals will be in the least bit genuinely shame-faced about it. Any contrition will be carefully calibrated for effect.
How refreshing that over a quarter of the Parliamentary Labour Party—including some shadow ministers—had the spine to reject our Beloved Leader’s three-line whip on abstaining on calls for a Hamas/Israel ceasefire. Starmer will only call for a ceasefire himself when he gets his instructions from the US government. That so many Labour MPs joined the calls for a ceasefire shows that independent thought still exists on the green benches. Hopefully it will fire a shot across the bows of someone who thinks that the party now only consists of him and his ultras. Meanwhile, the BBC news last night showed some clips of detailed graphics of the alleged Hamas tunnel system under the Al Shifa hospital in Gaza. I am quite prepared to believe, given the atrocities that Hamas has carried out that they would not shirk from using hospitals as covers for their suicidal mission, but the level of detail shown in the news clip—if true– can only lead one to the conclusion that their tunnel system has been compromised by a mole (forgive the pun). Which then leads to the question if the intelligence is this good, why didn’t the Israelis get wind of the Hamas attack on 7th October? Or was intelligence received and not passed on? Israel is supposed to have one of the best spying capacities in the world (indeed is an unofficial member of the ‘Five Eyes’ western intelligence sharing network) - so perhaps there’s a gaping hole somewhere in this aspect of our right to self-defence? Prevention is clearly better than cure, although in this case the cure is anything but.
The Liberator of Libya, the Author of Austerity, the Brewer of Brexit, the Hapless Hummer of Humbug, welcome back the sad spectacle of David Cameron into the even sadder spectacle of what passes for the UK government. I note that I am not alone in thinking ‘Jesus Christ! What a washout!’ My (partial) successor in Morley, Dotty Dame Andrea Jenkyns MP has become the first Tory to publicly submit a letter of no-confidence in Rishi Sunak. That’s slashed her odds of becoming a Baroness by a mathematical impossibility (from 0 to less than 0). I don’t think the Dotty Dame will lead the Charge of The Right Brigade however, she doesn’t have enough ‘heft’ (a word carelessly bandied about re: a supposed quality of Cameron). No, I think ’Sir’ Jacob Rees Mogg will employ his considerable talents in this role, perhaps even reminding people who he is on his GB News slot. The government of what Sunak’s army of pre-Armageddon Wannabes no doubt imagines is an administration of All The Talents is in for a rough ride. This shouldn’t bother our PM of course—whatever happens to our richest ever Prime Minister, a warm Californian breeze will more than compensate. Meanwhile, in HM Opposition, will a former PM be recalled? Sadly Clement Attlee is unavailable.
The latest twist in climate change debate is revealing itself. According to a report I heard on the BBC (but previously well trailed in climate scientist Michael Mann’s recent writings) climate change deniers have shifted tack. They used to say the science wasn’t proven—it’s just changes in the weather (always happened), solar cycles (always happened) or simply some other form of misinterpretation (always happened). The trouble now, with the evidence of climate change advancing with an avalanche of facts, those who decry efforts at mitigation are protesting that it’s too late to do anything about it. Hence they are accusing climate scientists of saying it’s not bad enough. From denier to doomster in one easy step. I have to say I was always a bit of a doomster, but that’s because I noticed that as the facts rolled in, they always seemed to outpace the models. Now we are witnessing irreversible melting in the polar ice sheets—north and south—and Greenland is losing ice measured in the billions of tons every year. We are fast approaching a permanent breach of the so-called ’safe’ temperature increase of 1.5 degrees. In these circumstances, we should of course double, triple, quadruple efforts to mitigate climate change, but we have to realise that a very significant part of the horse has bolted. That means more resources will inevitably be piled in to adaptation measures—flood protection for example –not least for the vast bulk of the human race that lives in sea level communities (e.g. most of Bangladesh, which I’m willing to bet won’t get the help it needs, least of all from their encircling neighbour India which has built a barrier around the entire country). On this issue of all others I don’t think, as a natural born cynic, I am out of step with the reality of the challenge human civilisation faces. But in the world of the blind, what use is it to have one eye?
An opinion piece in the Independent which appeared on Microsoft’s clickbait (which I can’t now trace) posits that the nation will have celebrated a planning inspector’s decision to reject an appeal by the daughter of Capt. Sir Tom Moore to permit a ’luxury’ spa to remain in their home’s grounds which never had planning approval in the first place. Within the bounds of the law, I can only say too right, and isn’t it a shame that the family of this warm hearted man have, according to the media, made so much posthumous money out of his efforts? How fortuitous! I wonder what Capt. Sir Tom would make of his daughter’s enrichment should he rise from the grave? In order to reveal my prejudices, let me also throw into the mix the story of how the Middletons, another grasping middle class family have inspired media interest. This of course is the family that begat future queen Kate, and ran a humble party accessories business that went bust. In their village, posters have been put up (and ripped down) possibly expressing the frustrations of some disenchanted creditor. I speculate on that front since I don’t know the content of the posters. To me, these are just two egregious examples of many that dominate the English landscape, perhaps epitomised in its heart by the Cotswold culture exemplified by our late Prime Minister David Cameron and his craven caravan of cushioned followers - people for whom the word austerity meant nothing.
It’s the very English Home Counties demonstration of grasping middle class ambition that irks me. I think it is a very English thing. Although of course I guess similar behaviour exists elsewhere. There is a huge degree of self-satisfaction in being invited to join the select elite (Sir Tom’s elevation may have allowed his daughter to imagine she had been admitted to this circle of privilege) without any qualification. Blessed with the imprimatur of monarchy, swooning recipients of honours imbibe from the cup of condescension, perhaps not recognising that their progression up the ranks is merely a form of golden slavery (for which they’re very grateful). Perhaps I’m merely expressing my envy (the Daily Mail would probably say so, although they too occasionally like deriding some of the great and the good for the sake of ‘balance’) that some people with titles may effortlessly get restaurant reservations others are denied (though probably not down at Ask Italian in Scarborough).
The Covid inquiry I think is bringing out the product—in the political sense—of where this culture has led us. Where has been the evidence in the inquiry of an actual meritocracy? As with the PPE contract cronyism, there is no evidence of merit in the making of contracts. We’re led to believe that we were ripped off for our own good, and a showering of honours on the recipients of taxpayers’ cash made them honourable. These days it pays to be grasping. At this point I refuse to be drawn on Sir Keir’s noble elevation (had to get that in).
One thing Israel has achieved with its war on Palestine seems yet again to have turned much of popular opinion against it. This takes some effort. Of course in the minds of Israel’s hard right government this antipathy is merely rooted in anti-Semitism and woe betide anyone who emits the slightest whiff of a trope on that front. That goes for the UN as well, which clearly sends most of its time concocting specious resolutions against Israel’s historic treatment of Palestinians. That treatment seems to hold Biblical injunctions in contempt, like ’an eye for an eye.’ As we are witnessing now it’s more like ten eyes for an eye—Palestinian lives aren’t as valuable as Israeli lives. What we are seeing now is genocidal—and indeed that it is the express intent of some in the Israeli government. Netanyahu himself has echoed this intent with references to the annihilation of ’enemy’ people. This is no more helpful than Hamas’s desire to eradicate the state of Israel.
Against this background of ancient hatreds, over which the UK has some historic responsibility but no current influence we see turmoil in the Labour Party, as our dear craven leader parrots whatever the Atlantic relationship demands. Labour’s Muslim support seems to be crumbling, with scores of resignations, including many councillors. Does this bother Starmer? It seems not. The resignees are merely demonstrating their fickleness and lack of political acumen. In the leadership cabal’s reckoning, the Party can take this hit if it proves that Starmer is Sir Tough Guy where it matters—which is in the ‘centre ground’ seats where the next election will be won or lost. These seats don’t tend to have many Muslim voters. And now of course there are the Red Wall seats to be retaken, including my old Morley seat which Ed Balls carelessly lost even before the phrase ’Red Wall’ was invented. That seat was 97% ethnically white, with a leaning to the right (as evidenced by its loss to the Tories and occasional BNP inroads).
This current episode in Starmer’s journey to No. 10 will be seen as little more than a blip. A blip that fortuitously self-excludes another load of closet Corbyn supporters. For those of us who remain, Starmer’s greatest ally in maintaining a begrudging loyalty to the party will be the likes of Suella Braverman who is doing all in her power to fulfil Theresa May’s fears about the Tories being seen as the ’nasty party.’ The danger we have relying on Braverman to do the job for Starmer is that he may feel inclined to emulate her authoritarian traits. There’s an abundance of evidence to show that that is no remote possibility. Gawd help us.