In a series of artworks I am making which I loosely call 'maps' here is number 40 (out of 60). Feel free to use it as guide to 2019
Tomorrow is New Year’s Day, 2019 – the day that might just remind some people that the countdown to Brexit really is running out of time. What I am hoping for (perhaps even from ‘Sir’ John Redwood) is a slew of announcements about British companies on how their new post-Brexit freedoms will be opening up new trading opportunities in three months’ time. Let’s not forget that governments themselves do not trade (although they can facilitate trade and sometimes - as in the case of Mark Thatcher – do so rather dubiously). It is companies that buy and sell internationally, in the main. So, with all the notice UK businesses have had, knowing that Brexit means Brexit, I imagine there will be rooms at Buckingham Palace stuffed to the rafters with Queen’s Export Awards being polished up even as I write.
Is the government’s silence on this significant? I only ask, since despite (the as yet unknighted) Mr Liam Fox’s best (sic) efforts I don’t recall the government making a single announcement lauding any great British company’s pending great trade deal with the rest of the world.
Maybe the Queen knows. Or maybe she’s about to ask her ministers ‘How is it you didn’t see this coming?’
It will soon be a year since I started this website, and it has been fun, for me at least. Thankfully my visitor stats have shown a steady increase, which is encouraging. But I wonder if the figures represent real people or maybe bots and the like on data trawling missions? I imagine there must be such things at work? Lots of websites have filters which ask visitors if they are a robot. I am sure that such questions could easily be answered in the negative by properly trained robots. What is needed is a question which only humans could understand, and that implies the ability to recognise a joke. So here’s my anti-robot test:
Read the following statement – Theresa May’s government is strong and stable.
Answer the question: Is that a joke?
What better time than the quiet Christmas news period to launch your leadership bid? Well done Sajid Javid for using the travails of asylum seekers crossing the Channel to show how tough and strong you are, and what a sacrifice interrupting your festive break to do so! Shame we only have four Border Force cutters to patrol our shores – and two of those happen to be in the Mediterranean. Perhaps you could ask Failing Grayling to convert some old Pacer trains into amphibious detention centres?
Prediction: there will be no general election in 2019. Tories would rather have a hard Brexit than a Corbyn government. That is the DUP position too. Also, following Larry Elliott’s cue in today’s Guardian, there are 10 substantial pointers to another, imminent recession on the way.
Following the announcement that HMV has once again gone into administration, there needs to be a rebellion by ageing CD/DVD lovers. The tech giants already know too much about us, do they also deserve to know about our musical tastes since everything will have to be downloaded? I suppose they might as well, as part of the great zombie-isation of the human species, when each of us will be fitted with Alexas inside our heads (building on the already existing phenomenon of some people having microchips fitted to enable certain interactions). Unlike E.M. Forster’s The Machine Stops, where humans lived in an underground city of honeycombed isolation, the new city of isolation will be built inside craniums. At least millennials won’t have to stare at their mobiles any more, not looking where they’re going. They will be guided by internal GPS systems so they never have to bump into one another ever again. Least of all in an HMV store. Only old people can stop this.
Happy New Year!
BOOK REVIEW: Left for Dead: The Strange Death and Rebirth of the Labour Party, Lewis Goodall, Collins, 2018 £20
This is a book which if I had read its author’s potted biography on the back flap first I probably wouldn’t have bought when I was in Waterstone’s last. But I was very attracted by the sticker on the cover which said ‘half price’ and so at £10 I bought a book about the Labour Party written by a millennial aged journalist working for Sky News. It turned out to be the last book I will read this year and found it very absorbing, mostly very perceptive, challenging and thankfully well written. Goodall, despite now being (perhaps professionally) politically neutral nevertheless has Labour sympathies, inculcated by his working class background. As he demonstrates class background matters less now in partisan politics.
He analyses a wide range of issues which contribute to the present condition of the Party and its future trajectory. He finds that what I would describe as Corbynmania (he doesn’t use the word) may not have contributed nearly as much to Labour’s ‘success’ in the 2017 general election as many commentators would have us believe. Close psephological analysis points more probably to an alliance of remainers looking for their best hope of buggering up Brexit. This produced what may turn out to be a one-off coalition of voters which benefited Labour, but which wasn’t based on any expectation that Labour would win. Goodall’s case is convincing, and if it turns out that he has over-stretched his argument it should still be paid heed to, not least by Labour’s strategists. It shakes up the apparent complacency that Corbyn was central to Labour’s surprise elevation in the polls. It also addresses a question I have been asking myself about the 2017 result. Why was it that Labour confounded expectations on the back of a late surge? Why was it that Corbyn’s qualities took so long for the electorate to warm to? It’s not as if he had been out of the news, that he was a totally unknown quantity before then. Indeed, given the splits in the party, widened by the behaviour of the vast majority of Labour MPs, Corbyn was in the news for mainly the wrong reasons. Labour’s recovery in 2017 has a tactical taste about it, and by the time of the next general election many tactical voters may be looking at other objectives. It’s a convincing argument.
I have two criticisms of the book. The first is purely about Goodall’s consideration of internal party dynamics. Internal party mechanics may not be of much interest to the reader – just like it is not necessary these days to worry oneself too much about how a car engine works – but as we’ve seen recently, if it breaks down it can have consequences bigger than the original fault. In his consideration of right/left factionalism in the Labour Party, Goodall does not mention the role of regional full-time party staff. Perhaps I have to say this as a former full-time organiser, but there are so many ways that the party’s ‘civil service’ acts as a faction in its own right and it deserves more attention. It is a very significant control mechanism and the question always is: on whose behalf?
This is important in the context of the Party’s disciplinary procedures and how they are exercised – and that in turn has been important in the context of the alleged ‘endemic’ anti-semitism in the Party. The allegation has been used to ‘show’ how Corbyn does not have a grip on the Party, or is unwilling to get a grip on an issue on which he is supposedly indifferent. All I will say on the regional full-time staff dimension of this issue is that it takes quite a long time for a Leader of the Party to turn things around. In the circumstance of Corbyn’s election as Leader, I suspect that many staff would have been deeply suspicious of him and of course Momentum. Was sabotage through inaction possible? Certainly, especially if staff took their lead from the PLP, whose 170+ members will have close ties to regional offices?
I don’t think Goodall has been as cool in his analysis of the anti-semitism row as he might have been and is in other parts of the book. He might have asked why this stuff blew up so volcanically after the 2017 election. The obvious answer is that Corbyn was transformed from a harmless joke to potential Prime Minister. I bet in his researches Goodall will have seen or at least read about Al Jazzera’s reporting on Israeli government anti-Corbyn subterfuge. Perhaps as a Sky journalist he couldn’t tip his hat to anything that emerges from Al-Jazzera, but a more rounded view is called for than an over reliance on Corbyn’s ememies to fill in the gaps on this particular row. Nor does Goodall consider to any extent the role of social media junk – where still no real mainstream media attempt is made to disentangle the likely dirty tricks campaigns from genuine anti-semitism in the Party. For example how many death threats e.g. against Jewish Labour MPs were actually sent by Party members? How many anti—semitic entryists are there? These are pertinent questions, not least after we learned of even state sponsored smears against Corbyn through the agency of the laughingly named ‘Integrity Initiative? (News of which will have appeared after Goodall's book went to press I imagine.)
Lastly, Goodall asks some very pertinent questions based on the experience of the failed socialist programme of Mitterand in France. Could the same fate await a reforming Corbyn government? Goodall reckons John McDonnell is aware of the threat (posed by the City) and is preparing for it, which is reassuring up to a point. But I suspect many of Corbyn’s supporters will have a different government than Mitterand's in mind when they consider what even in a hostile environment Labour could achieve. I do hope they remember that Attlee’s rebuilding of Britain was accompanied by strict rationing. That wouldn’t go down so well today, judging by e.g. the lack of social solidarity expressed by a cohort of 'typical' young people Goodall interviewed.
Goodall’s book is well worth reading for anyone (like myself) who would like to see a Corbyn-led government elected – and succeed. But it’ll take more than the cult of personality for that to happen. Just look at what happened to Cleggmania. Hubris has assassinated more politicians than bullets.
My attention has been drawn to an article (“The thought of Jeremy Corbyn as PM has Jewish investors running for the hills”) in the Jewish Chronicle (27th Dec.) by Alex Brummer, who now writes as City Editor for the Daily Mail but was formerly a Guardian journalist. I feel sure that had this article appeared anywhere else it would have been damned as anti-semitic, not least by the Daily Mail itself. At first I thought it must have been satirical or at least intended as an ironic piece, but on re-reading it I cannot sustain such a thought.
The gist of this article is clear from the headline, even though much of its substance relates tales of general City finance fears and behaviours which have more to do with Brexit than Labour. The sub-heading tells us “The possibility that John McDonnell could soon run the economy and set taxes has prompted several Jewish businessmen to divest from the UK” and as Brummer reports it, some have already taken up in Israel. If one were to conclude from this article that these people had more loyalty to Israel than to the UK, one would be had up on a charge of making an anti-semitic statement under the examples of the IHRA definition of anti-semitism. And why are these (handful, it has to be said) of Jewish businessmen considering leaving the country? Brummer says:
“Mr Corbyn’s failure to clamp down on the anti-Zionism and antisemitism in his party is frightening enough for many in British Jewry. But of equal concern — not just for Jewish business people but everyone who believes in free markets — are Labour’s economic and financial proclamations. Aside from the threat of wholesale nationalisation, from the railways to the big six energy companies and land banks held by housebuilders, Labour wants to overhaul property rights and taxes.”
So nationalisation of the railways is ‘frightening enough for many in British Jewry’ – it is of ‘equal concern’ as anti-semitism Brummer says. But Labour's policies have shown themselves to be popular with the British public (c.f. 2017 manifesto). Are we conniving in some nationalisation threat to ‘many in British Jewry?’ The proposition is absurd, but it seems it can go unchallenged in the Jewish Chronicle and presumably by the Daily Mail. Brummer conflates an economic policy with anti-semitism for a purpose. It gets worse. Brummer equates National Socialism with moderate left-wing governments, because they, the latter, sought to curb gross wealth inequalities. This section is worth quoting at length:
In the 1920s and 1930s, the confiscation of Jewish assets in Germany and elsewhere signalled the start of the Holocaust, a period that is built into Jews’ DNA. The late Sir Siegmund Warburg, scion of one of Europe’s great merchant banking families, arrived in the City of London almost penniless as a result of Nazi attacks on Jewish banks. He ended up recreating one of the great investment banks of the post-war period. Baron David de Rothschild, the effective head of the famous banking dynasty, saw his family’s French wealth all but destroyed by the late President Mitterrand nationalisation of the banking system. He had to rebuild from the ground up under Mr Mitterrand’s successors. More recently Francois Hollande’s government (2012-17) raised the top rate of tax to 80 per cent, triggering a large-scale migration of Jewish French nationals from Paris to London as they sought to escape the blight of unconscionably high taxes.”
We can only take it from Brummer that these policies, although affecting all seriously wealthy people without reference to race, were really closet attacks on Jews - which led to a large scale migration of Jewish French nationals. Well, that’s what he’s saying isn’t it? That Hitler, Mitterand and Hollande all behaved in the same way? Why else bracket them together? And now Corbyn too, who will lead ‘Labour’s marauders’ in a vast plundering of Jewish wealth. I suppose we should be grateful Brummer stopped short of referring to Labour’s ‘Kristallnacht’ – I guess even his sub-editor would baulk at such a reference.
In his last paragraph Brummer actually gets round to mentioning Brexit worries as being among those driving this flow of Jewish wealth out of the country:
“Clever money already has moved offshore and Jewish property developers have in some cases been liquidating portfolios. Individuals are establishing boltholes in Israel and Florida to make sure they are out of reach of wealth taxes, Brexit turmoil and antisemitism. In making such difficult choices they have history on their side.”
Anyone with half a brain can see what’s going on here – I don’t need to spell it out. Sadly, this appears to be the depth a free press will plummet to when it sees democracy rearing its head.
Brummer’s full-on crap can be accessed here.
In the wake of Paddy Ashdown’s death, I have opened his diaries 1988-1997 for the first time. I got a copy for a couple of quid a few years ago and they have languished on a shelf ever since. The second half of the period he covers are dominated by his talks with Tony Blair about their hoped for re-alignment of the centre left, but both were stymied by tribal concerns – not necessarily their own (or else they wouldn’t have started talking to each other in the first place). Over innumerable dinners at Tony’s Islington pad and many glasses of ‘fine claret’ (Tony told Paddy that Derry Irvine was his wine merchant) they edged tremulously towards an accommodation – a full agreement seemed beyond them. Tony told Paddy the project could split his party. Paddy told Tony his party could disappear. I suspect neither would have minded too much if the other’s fears were realised. If only they could have done a short job swap for a while everything might have worked out! In 1993, still bruised by Major’s narrow victory in 1992 they both feared he could retrieve the Tories' fortunes sufficiently for the opposition to lose again. But as Labour’s poll ratings consistently improved, Ashdown became increasingly impatient with Tony’s hedging, vagueness and non-commitment. I could imagine them both performing on Strictly in a dance where neither side touches each other but retain a love which dare not speak its name. The electorate blew the project out of the water. By 1997 Tony believed the real coalition now existed solely within the Labour Party – a coalition which had sufficient support in England alone to win a majority in the Commons.
One of the pleasures of reading diaries such as this is that with the benefit of hindsight you know the answers to some of the ‘what if’ questions one assumes they would have asked themselves at the time. The biggest question for them was how to create the so-called realignment of the centre left to end the hegemony of the right. But an approach to this question based largely on the basis of how many parliamentary seats can be won is always going to be inadequate. Labour standing candidates down in the South West (Paddy thought Tony was interested in this) in exchange for the LibDems standing down in Labour targets elsewhere creates tensions inside party machines and memberships. Such a pact only has a shallow tactical value and doesn’t address the more profound change needed to achieve the goals of ‘the project.’ The realignment of the centre left may have been better served by a hung parliament, or a Labour victory with a small majority and LibDem participation. The question is what if either of these things had happened in 1997?
Obviously for either outcome to have occurred the Tories would not have been as smashed as they actually were. This could have been quite useful in helping Labour and LibDems bond a bit more. It may – given LibDem insistence – have led to electoral reform and the introduction of PR. The irony there is the likelihood that those in both parties not keen on ‘the project’ would have split off to form their own purified parties. The collaborators would then have sought the support of left leaning Tories to solidify their position in what would become, basically the Party of European Social Democrats.
I doubt such a party would have sufficiently addressed the underlying causes of our current economic woes, but it may have had a reasonable stab at heading off some of the worst excesses found in the response to them, such as self-defeating austerity (which now should be recognised for what it is, namely a desire to reduce the role and size of government). On the other hand . .
Anyway, enough of this. It’s time to put Paddy’s diaries back on the shelf and reflect on today’s what if questions afresh. No. 10 will be war gaming them even during Midnight Mass.
I read a story earlier this week about Catholic Church concerns about the number of shopping centres which had failed to erect traditional nativity scenes in their malls. It seems that without such creations people will forget what the seasonal shopping frenzy is all about. The Church has clearly not noticed that fewer and fewer of us are Christian, and quite happily just indulge ourselves in a winter festival sans myth making. Winter festivals long predated Christianity, indeed part of the success of Christianity was its ability to purloin other people’s traditions. Anyway, not every crib these days will be without controversy. The one pictured here is currently on show at the Van Beuningen art gallery in Rotterdam. Those Dutch – always coming up with something new! Happy Saturnalia!
The biggest day of the year is almost upon us, and many adults will be behaving like anxious children wondering what their present is going to be. I am referring, of course, to the New Year’s Honours list. I expect each recipient of a suggested honour must keep it to themselves until the day comes, and until that day comes there may be a fear that a promise made may be a promise broken. I quite like the idea that Theresa May may have promised a few score peerages to swing a vote on something or other. They will probably have to wait a bit longer.
With the exception of a couple of Tory MP alleged sexual transgressors, who both had the whip restored in order to vote for May in the recent no confidence ballot, one power of conferment May does not have is the ability to pardon convicted criminals. This is a power El Trumpo has and may feel obliged to use quite extensively in the not too distant future. I wonder, if May did have that power, who might receive an absolution? The list naturally would have to include some posthumous pardons, and perhaps it could start with Maundy Gregory, who the Tories paid handsomely to get him out of the country after the various honours scandals of the 1920s and 1930s. Gregory took with him enough dirt to sink many a peer – not all Tories, I hasten to add. There’ll still be quite a few ‘nobles’ who owe their titles to Gregory. I wish they could all be named. And shamed.
Reggie Maudling, whilst never convicted nevertheless suffered a trashed reputation in the wake of the Poulson scandal should be included too. He was once tipped as Prime Ministerial material. Theresa should restore him to the pantheon of Tory heroes. In more recent times, perhaps now that Jonathan Aitken has made his peace with God and is doing wondrous works he should have his criminal record expunged, and perhaps Neil Hamilton too – not that he had a criminal record – but surely he set an example in the world of political disrepute, earning his spurs to become known as the Tories’ leading sleazeball. In these Brexit burdened times, they should have him back in. Anyway, I’m going to cut this particular line of thinking short. It’s Christmas.
I’ve just been on my annual culture trip to Holland, which involves traipsing (at pace it has to be said) around various art galleries in The Hague, Amsterdam and Rotterdam (see Perambulations: Geementmuseum, Stedelijk and Museum van Beuningen appearing shortly). I feel so relieved I can still use a queue at passport control which says ‘EU.’ It moves faster. I suspect come the 29th March next year the Dutch border police (or Polite as I misread their name) will look upon Englanders with a slight look of pity. I know what. I’ll just bung ‘em five euros to get me through faster – they’re foreigners aren’t they?
I find leaving Rotterdam’s Europort in the darkness quite evocative. On the starboard side there’s a long spit with a regular if infrequent array of dim lights, and the occasional navigational beacon. Half way along this lonely windswept, desolate and isolated tongue there’s a notice that’s illuminated like a pub sign. It looks quite romantic. But there’s not many pubs called ‘VHF 3.’ The only drink in this spot would be a few gulps of saltwater followed by oblivion. On the other side it’s a different story. The sparkling necklace of one of the world’s largest oil refineries glitters in its resplendent jewellery, at night the industrial wasteland puts on its own lightshow, a riposte to the handful of dim, rotating wind turbine blades which are in this landscape but semi-useless assuagements. I wonder what Mesdag, ‘the painter of the North Sea’ would have made of it all, had he lived a hundred or so years later.
I was down in Westminster yesterday for a meeting where the speaker was Rupert Allason (aka Nigel West), the prolific writer on security and intelligence matters and a former Tory MP. He gave a detailed talk on events leading up to the Skripal poisoning earlier this year. He has a remarkable memory for Russian names. It became clear to me that if he knew how the history of this attempted murder took place, MI6 will have known a shed load more – and could have prevented it, not least by apprehending the culprits (whoever they were) before they reached their target. Two birds in the hand would have been quite useful. Allason made the point that Skripal’s house and movements would have been monitored by the Russians for quite some time – by around 20 agents, including (and he made a point of mentioning this) women. I assume he had knowledge to back up this claim. If this was the case, then MI6/MI5 clearly blundered. Or perhaps they deliberately let it happen for some higher purpose? There’s still no explanation as to how the two ‘culprits’ acquired their visas in record time.
Yesterday The Guardian published a story about a survey showing how it was the most trusted newspaper. Today I noticed above The Times’ banner the claim that it is “Britain’s most trusted national newspaper.” Clearly ‘trust’ is an endemic quality in the mainstream media. I can now report that I too have conducted a survey, which has shown that this is the UK’s most trusted blog (survey sample: one).
You just can't trust what they tell you in emails. It's a wonder that scam emails are still being sent out, but there we are. This latest one caught my eye. I've changed the name to protect the identity of the sender. Do not respond!
I am writing this mail to you with heavy tears in my eyes and great
sorrow in my heart. As I informed you earlier, I am (Mrs.) Theresa May,
suffering from long time loss of authority. From all indications
my condition is really deteriorating and it's quite obvious
that I won't live more than 2 months according to my doctors.
I have some money I nearly gave to my late loving colleagues the DUP the sum of (£1,000,000,000) which is deposited in a Bank. I need
a very honest and God fearing person that can use these funds for
Charity work, helping the Less Privileges, and 20% of this money will
be for your time and expenses, while 80% goes to charities.
Please let me know if I can TRUST YOU ON THIS to carry out this favour
for me. I look forward to your prompt reply for more details.
As Theresa May’s forlorn government totters towards its imminent demise, it appears to be using some desperate measures to discredit its opposition. I refer to the news, which needs to be widely disseminated, that through the Foreign Office over £2 million of taxpayers’ money has been funneled into a shady outfit called the ‘Integrity Initiative,’ an offshoot of the equally opaque so-called “Institute for Statecraft.” The full background to these outfits can be found on Craig Murray’s website and on the Sputnik website. Basically, the money was meant to be used to fund anti-Russian activities on the internet, to counter Russia’s trolls spreading disinformation in the UK. But some of the dosh was probably used to attack Labour and Jeremy Corbyn in particular (hence, for obvious reasons, it’s not been a big news story in the mainstream media). Following a parliamentary urgent question from Labour, the government in the form of FCO minister Alan Duncan brushed aside the suggestion that taxpayers’ money was used and went further to suggest that this was just another example of how Russia is manipulating the narrative. This is the perfect get-out, especially in the tangled domain of Twitter accounts, fake Facebook pages and all the rest. The default position is to portray the Russians as an omnipotent and omniscient devil except today, unlike in Medieval times when it was thought a room without corners might keep the devil out, we should now take to our Faraday cages for protection. Another solution is simply to ignore Twitter and Facebook altogether, on the assumption that it’s all total shite.
Further to my blog the other day that perhaps a second Brexit referendum should be held, with the only question being ‘do we expel Northern Ireland from the U.K?’ I have come to the tentative conclusion that in this befuddled world England should stand alone. Yes, this could be a fateful experiment, but that is what Brexit is: an experiment – which no-one else has tried before. Benefits could immediately follow, as we immediately slip down the global GDP rankings following the break-up of the U.K. Our loss of ‘major state’ influence, putting us more on a par with Canada or Norway perhaps, would reduce our need to maintain a nuclear ‘deterrent.’ Hence our seat on the U.N. Security Council could be vacated. There’s big savings to be made there. Money too could be saved by the ending of the Barnett formula, which siphons more money out of the Treasury to Scotland and Wales to give those nations a higher per capita spend on public services than is accorded to the deprived regions of England. Those savings could be spent by fully devolved English regional assemblies, along with the savings from E.U. contributions (all of which should accrue to deprived regions). This might begin the task of repairing England after ten years of needless austerity. Without the distractions of Scotland and Wales, it is possible English policy makers might seriously address regional disparities in England: something would have to be done to counter-balance the huge distortion of the London/south east economy. And we could be freed from post-imperial dreaming of the ‘British Empire,’ a dream which has given succour to car boot loads of romantic fantasies ever since our ex-colonies stopped feeding our industry. The benefits of that might be untold.
Yes, if we are to have Brexit, then it should be the real deal, all the way!