There is something disturbingly metaphorical in the story of the tourists killed whilst visiting an active volcano in New Zealand. What bothers me is why did these people think it wise to enter its crater in the first place? They’re a bit like the human race generally and climate change. Let’s go for the ride, see what happens and get some selfies! Risk? Someone will rescue us and the cruise will continue! Listening to the news tonight, it sounded like the relatives of the deceased were annoyed with the emergency services for not going to the volcano to retrieve the bodies—despite warnings of further eruptions. That does not fit the definition of a rescue mission, so why should brave people put their lives in danger? I confess I have little sympathy for those who have complained. Just like the human race—we think the world revolves around us, when we actually revolve around it (so to speak, the precise detail is not important).
Gulp. The Guardian today has recommended a Labour vote (and tactical voting where necessary). Does this mean they have risen above the Freedland view of Corbyn? Not quite, today’s columns are spiced with repetitions of the usual stuff. But it does seem that policies have become transcendent. Will the paper’s support make any difference? Actually, and much to the chagrin of its red top competitors, the Guardian’s voice could hold the key to this election—since most of its readers will be Labour or Lib Dem supporters, just a few thousand of them in 40 or so constituencies where tactical voting could make the difference would swing the election away from Johnson. The question may be whether the paper’s relentless pursuit of Corbyn’s so-called anti-Semitism will have soured that choice. Words have consequences, as they say.
Why are we having this election anyway? Surely it’s anti-democratic. Didn’t we only have an election two years ago? Wasn’t the result of that what the people voted for? How come Brexiteers can seek to overturn that vote with a second election, whilst the result of their blessed referendum can’t be overturned for all eternity? Who could possibly doubt that the electorate did not fully understand the terms of the Fixed Term Parliament Act when they voted in 2017? Is someone saying they were ill-informed?
So. Absolutely (to coin a non-phrase). It’s the penultimate evening before the election, and I wonder if there’s a soul in the land who isn’t weary of it. At least—on one level, which is to say the policy level—the old complaint that ‘they’re all the same’ simply isn’t true this time around. But on the level of our politicians themselves, it seems clear that many people feel that they are all the same. The level of cynicism has it appears to me broken all records, and it doesn’t really matter whether that is borne out by reality. In this regard, the relentless pursuit of Jeremy Corbyn as ‘anti-Semitic’ has paid off, and for many people there is no need to question the facts because the story fits a narrative. But to pursue such a narrative can backfire. Even though Labour won the 1997 general election with a landslide, the previous three or four years’ worth of sleaze stories which accompanied John Major to defeat tarnished all politicians, and this was capped by the expenses scandal (surprising isn’t it that Corbyn has not faced any expenses scandal accusations himself—that would have been dragged up had there been the slightest hint of him misspending taxpayers’ money on a bathplug).
Despite the polls, Labour is still in the game, although I suspect Johnson will do well. How can this be? There have been suggestions that voters are in some kind of permanent austerity mindset, which is to say they don't believe Labour’s spending commitments are affordable. Are voters like prisoners who fear freedom? Or do they simply not understand how the national economy works? A bit of both, assisted by a diet of Joseph Goebbels-like propaganda, I have no doubt. One wonders why ordinary Germans carried on fighting when it must have been obvious from any detached viewpoint late in 1944 that defeat was staring them in the face. Goebbels, like Johnson and Co. (in this reading our current day Goebbels is perhaps Dominic Cummings?) somehow managed to convince people against what must have been their better judgement that victory was still around the corner, with new secret weapons—how shall we put it—oven ready. The promise of a saviour coupled with instilling fear of the other is a potent political narrative which the Tories have employed relentlessly throughout this campaign, aided by more lies disseminated through social media than Herr Goebbels could have dreamt of with his Volksempfänger.
Beneath this sordid, dystopian democracy lies a longing for a lost world (which is the flipside of fear of the future world). In the longer view, the British version of this condition is what may be diagnosed as PISD—Post-Imperial Stress Disorder. Rees-Mogg, Farage, Johnson—they all exhibit symptoms of PISD. It is ironic therefore that they now embody the likely cause of the break-up of the United Kingdom. But perhaps they won’t win. Fingers crossed.
I have written to the Equality and Human Rights Commission today, since the Times carried a story that 70 alleged Labour 'officials' had made a damaging series of claims about the Labour Party's supposed institutional anti-Semitism. The irony of such a story should not be ignored - if indeed 70 officials made such an allegation, they must to a large extent be condemning themselves. And since the EHRC itself would never leak submissions to its inquiries (no, never) one can only assume that the leak came from a subscriber to the allegation. No questions about motive there!
To the EHRC:
I apologise for seeking to make a late submission to this inquiry, so I will keep this email short. I am writing partly because I have read about a 'leak' of a submission to you by '70 Labour officials.' I am also writing to make a complaint about the EHRC itself, so I am asking for a reply to this email.
I joined the Labour Party in 1984 and during my membership (which continues) I served 12 years as a councillor, spent many years serving in various voluntary constituency party capacities, seven years as a Labour Party regional official (at one time working as full time agent for a Jewish PPC (Leeds North East: Fabian Hamilton) and nine years as an MP. In all this time, and in all these capacities I have never encountered any expression of anti-Semitism in the party. As a Labour Party official I worked in campaigns across the country, although most of my experience has been in Yorkshire. It should be noted that when I worked in Leeds North East constituency, if there were any issues about identity, they had to do almost exclusively with gender, not ethnicity. Some of this arose, ironically when a female was originally selected as the parliamentary candidate (from an all-women shortlist), to be eventually replaced by a Jewish man. You would think that might have stirred up some anti-Semitism. It simply did not.
I find the current suggestion that Labour is 'institutionally anti-Semitic' scandalous. I don't doubt that there are individual racists in the party and they need dealing with. But I also find it astonishing that you are conducting an inquiry solely into the Labour Party when the evidence suggests that of the main UK political parties, Labour is least infected by racism. In this latter regard therefore I am asking you to open up your inquiry to include all UK political parties - all parties have a responsibility to tackle racism in whatever shape or form. I want to know why you haven't widened your inquiry. I am complaining that you haven't, and that in this you are failing in your duties, which must (I assume) require you to act impartially.
I await your response.
Not everybody is on the same page when it comes to exposing Jeremy Corbyn’s reliance on Vladimir Putin. Whilst the NATO summit is taking place in London, we shouldn't really need reminders from Boris Johnson that Corbyn is effectively a Soviet agent, just like Harold Wilson was (never mind that the USSR no longer exists and Putin isn't a Marxist). Looking at reportage of Johnson’s remarks in the hard-right press today, there is a concerted effort to distract from Trump’s visit to London and Corbyn’s demands that the US keeps its mitts off the NHS. Only the Evening Standard appears to report that the leaking of the 451-page document detailing current US/UK trade talks, brandished by Corbyn last week appeared to have something to do with Russian interference (see box). Interesting that Liam Fox attested elsewhere to the accuracy of the document. Get up to speed Duncan Smith!
The Atlantic Council, heavily funded by the UK government (up to $1,000,000 in 2017, see https://www.atlanticcouncil.org/support-the-council/honor-roll-of-contributors/) exists to perpetuate the western military/industrial complex and provides an important nexus for the rightist elite to get together (move over Bilderberg). Other major donors to the Atlantic Council include, naturally, western client middle eastern states and various fossil fuel and nuclear interests. The organisation is at the heart of what is the conventional concept of history and development, which is to say it is a bit more than a think tank as suggested by the Evening Standard, but merely mirrors and surfaces its donors' expectations. It is an arms length government compound with only titular independence from the deeply embedded interests it serves. Necessarily it targets those who challenge the hegemony of its narrative and seeks to make life easy for journalists (according to its website):
‘When news breaks, journalists look for insightful expert commentary to help answer the fundamental questions at the heart of the issue. At the Atlantic Council, our people have expertise to share with you from across all regions of the world and issues in the foreign policy space and beyond. Click READ MORE to view a searchable listing of our experts.
‘The Atlantic Council is a go-to source for breaking news insights, high-profile thought leader events and deep dives into the most pressing foreign affairs issues. Sign up today to receive Atlantic Council media communications, including expert breaking news tip sheets, event invitations and alerts about press conference calls.
‘Need to better understand an issue from multiple angles and vantage points? Not yet working on a story, but looking for insight from experts? Contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org to arrange background briefings with our experts on the most critical issues and regions of the world.’
So if you work for, e.g. the Evening Standard, there’s little need to get off your fat arse and do any work when your boss tells you to get some dirt on Jeremy.
But what of Graphika, who it appears were contracted by the Atlantic Council to give them a report on the nefarious connection between the Russian state and Jeremy Corbyn? They say ‘Graphika maps structural relationships among social media actors and segments these complex networks based on patterns in relationships. Our platform discovers how communities form online, and maps how influence and information flow within large scale networks.’ Graphika seems to have a plausible business presence, with many well known, respectable clients. But isn’t it a bit odd that neither they, nor the Atlantic Council appear to have issued a press statement about this particular piece of research? Isn’t it also odd that (if my memory serves) some Tory or other said the contents of the 451 page document Corbyn brandished had appeared on the net a couple months ago? The intent there was to suggest that this was old news (a form of political escapology which suggests that everything’s moved on, nothing to see, get a life).
Isn’t it all a bit odd?
Following up yesterday’s blog regarding the electronic monitoring of students’ engagement in their studying activities, I read in today’s paper that ‘China’s education ministry said in September it would “curb and regulate” the use of facial recognition after parents grew angry when the software was installed without their knowledge at a university in Nanjing to monitor students’ attendance and focus during class.” ‘Curb and regulate’ - not ‘cease and desist.’ Once this technological cat is out of the bag, we are likely to hear much more about regulating it, rather than stopping it. Police forces in the UK have already been trialling facial recognition technologies as has been widely reported. And currently, so far as I am aware, there is no ‘regulation.’ What would such regulation mean? No doubt in exchange for some loose controls, it will be designed to be permissive rather than restrictive. Regulation is just another word for permission. The UK already has one of the highest ratios of CCTV per head of population in the world. And as I discovered nearly two years ago, the guidelines governing its use are so weak they might as well not exist. Every CCTV camera in the UK is supposed to be accompanied by a notice alerting the public to its presence. Every CCTV operator theoretically, under Data Protection laws, should reveal any information (i.e. images) they have stored on you on your request. It’s all bollocks of course, and the same will be true once facial recognition takes hold. I think I might become a hoodie. Not that I’ve got anything to hide, you understand.
I’ve been comparing what it is like to be a student today with what it was like 40 years ago. Undoubtedly it is a different world. In 1979 the library was still served by a card index. That was a source of considerable serendipity. Thankfully, we still have university libraries, and one can browse the shelves, not that these days that’s really necessary. Most would prefer to browse the internet. I confess that when I graduated in 1982 I felt very pleased getting a 2:2, since I can’t remember being on campus very much. I was at the time enjoying the life of a piss artist and concurrently starting a small business and would have been happy just scraping a third. Even then I was classed as a mature student, so not only did I get a normal student grant plus maintenance costs but also received a top-up ‘mature student’ allowance. What days! (And it has to be said, my previous three years’ fees for studying with the Open University were paid for by the local County Council.) No wonder the country was bankrupt. Too much learning at public expense.
Now that we’re more parsimonious the whole ethos has changed. I am minded to write about this having discovered that there is a widely used monitoring program which seeks to define my current engagement with my studies. This is called stREAM. I came across it by accident. This monitors a number of things like attendance, library books taken out, use of print services and a range of other aspects of university life which are able to generate an electronic record. The whole thing can then add up the inputs of your engagement and tell you if you are as engaged as other students. A bit of nudge theory there, I suspect. It is, however eerily reminiscent of the system being introduced by the Chinese government to see how obedient citizens are. Add a bit of facial recognition on campus and there’ll be a total assessment available, which will probably set some algorithm off to detect whether you’re a cheat, likely to indulge in plagiarism or not.
One wonders how passive stREAM is. No doubt the staff are being monitored too. And the irony is the student is the customer. Currently I’m not sure what useful purpose it serves. Only two criteria for getting a degree seem necessary. First, obtain the correct grades for your work. Second, make sure you’ve paid your fees. Apart from that, what else exactly is required? But technology can do so much more, so it has to. Then again, card indexes weren’t always so innocent. Ask the Stasi.
Devastating news. An article - ‘The shocking history of Tory Party anti-Semitism’ - on the Jewish Voice for Labour website mentions one Charles Challen MP. The relevant part reads ‘In October 1945, an antisemitic petition was drawn up by residents of Hampstead, with the help of the Conservative MP for Orpington, Waldron Smithers, requesting “that aliens of Hampstead should be repatriated to assure men and women of the Forces should have accommodation upon their return” from World War II. The petition was signed by Sydney A. Boyd, the anti-Semitic Conservative mayor of Hampstead, and was backed by the Conservative members of the council. Charles Challen, Hampstead’s Conservative MP, promised to give the petition his “unstinting support.”’ It seems incredible that anyone in parliament, after knowledge of the Holocaust became widespread could express such views. What did they think the war was about? The article goes on to demonstrate how the Tories have not freed themselves of such anti-semitic opinions, not that that seems to interest many people these days. But also disappointing for me, aside from the fact that someone who shares my name could be a) a Tory MP and b) anti-semitic is the fact that my long held belief that I was the first Challen to enter parliament has been shattered. There is for example no mention of Charles Challen on the list of MPs on Wikipedia (which acknowledges it is incomplete). https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_United_Kingdom_MPs:_C Thankfully, there is no evidence we are related. The only MP who previously appeared in my family tree married into a branch of the family—Sir Robert Bird, another Tory, possibly better known as the custard magnate.
It seems the Tories are confused about Britain’s mammalian status. I mentioned yesterday how in a letter to voters from Boris Johnson he said that Britain was like ‘a hamster on the wheel of doom.’ But I read in the Guardian Review this morning an article comparing party manifestos where the Tories’ effort claimed that we feel trapped, ‘like a lion in a cage.’ So what kind of mammal are we? It would be too clichéd to say that under the Tories we would be (are) like lemmings. Perhaps the title of one of the late Tory MP Alan Clark’s books could be pressed into service: Lions led by donkeys.