What is the connection between Brexit and the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) definition of anti-Semitism? There is one, of course. In short, it is the equivalence between the concepts of ‘sovereignty’ and self-determination. The words are synonymous. In this context, consider a couple of the contentious ’examples’ attached to the IHRA definition: ‘Denying the Jewish people their right to self-determination, e.g., by claiming that the existence of a State of Israel is a racist endeavour’ and ‘Applying double standards by requiring of it a behaviour not expected or demanded of any other democratic nation.’
Of the first of these examples, I think one would be permitted to assert that any people should have a right to self-determination, this cannot be a right exclusively reserved for just one ethnic or religious group—that would be a racist endeavour. So although the IHRA example here appears to establish a right for Jewish people exclusively (which in a historical context has been seen as reasonably justifiable) the example nevertheless must be posited on a universal principle in order not to be considered racist. The challenge that arises from this use of this example is what defines a body of people who may claim a right to self-determination? Since most democracies are predicated on the simple (if naive) principle of one person one vote, that implies no regard—or weighting—should be given to any other characteristic of the elector. The wholly sufficient attribute of such an elector must be that they are a citizen of the state in which they live. That state would naturally be described as a nation state, but as history shows, right up to relatively recent times with e.g. Balkanisation, the creation of Bangladesh or South Sudan, the pre-existing nation state wasn’t always made to last.
The Brexit vote is just another kind of expression of self-determination, a yearning for sovereignty. We want to be in charge of our own destiny. Just us, nobody else. Now, as we ponder the ‘deal’ with the EU on what exactly that means we are finding that whatever sovereignty means, it will necessarily entail co-operation and compromise with ‘the other.’ The most vocal of Brexiteers, UK fishing communities are finding that out at that their cost and the word ‘betrayal’ follows naturally. But we have clearly, by a slim margin of voters chosen this path—to leave an international, legal arrangement of one sort to enter into another. If this is acceptable, then it follows that it is entirely consistent for Scotland if it so wishes to terminate its current legal arrangement with England and the rest of the UK. The Scottish people's right to self-determination is no less than the right of citizens of Israel to self-determination (whilst regrettably acknowledging that the Arab fifth of Israel’s population is treated differently, by law).
This brings me to the second example taken from the IHRA list of examples— ‘Applying double standards by requiring of [Israel] a behaviour not expected or demanded of any other democratic nation.’ This is precisely the point. This example stands only if that behaviour is expected of every other democratic nation. It would be a double standard if we demanded a quality in Israel that we didn’t demand in say Scotland. The quality, that is, of self-determination. The IHRA examples should not blind us to our own democratic deficit, and so one can understand a term like ‘double standards’ in this context. Every true democrat should hold each other to precisely the same standard. Sadly, along with so many other governments, that of Benjamin Netanyahu doesn’t seem to have grasped the point.
According to the Evening Standard yesterday Keir Starmer is drafting in Gordon Brown to help the Labour Party recover its strength in Scotland. The Leader’s office’s reasoning must have been ‘Do we know anyone who is Scottish?’ This is at the same time that the leader told reporters (on Brexit) “I don’t want an extension I want a deal” (Huffpost). It comes at the same time as support for Scottish independence is gaining ground strongly. It comes at the same time as Starmer has declared there should not be a Scottish independence referendum:
"While Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon has already said she wants to hold another vote on the future of the UK “early” in the next Holyrood term, Sir Keir insisted that no responsible Prime Minister would give the go-ahead for such a ballot. With ongoing uncertainty about the impact of the coronavirus crisis and Brexit, he said holding a second Scottish referendum would be “entirely the wrong priority”, dismissing Ms Sturgeon’s calls for another ballot as “misguided”. The UK Labour leader said he was “determined to preserve and to renew the United Kingdom”. (PA Media)
I wonder if Sir Keir has noticed anything going on? He seems dead keen on fighting yesterday’s battles today, or just, so far as Brexit is concerned blindfolding himself. Or maybe it’s all a strategy to completely finish off whatever is left of the Labour Party in Scotland. It could be Scotland that gives birth to a new ‘left’ party that is pro-independence, pro-EU and anti-SNP. But I’m only guessing.
I came across a pamphlet I wrote 40 years ago called ‘Civil Defence in Humberside’ (where I was living then—a county which now only exists in the history books.) In the early eighties, with Thatcher at her most unpopular, before the Falklands, before the miners’ strike, the nuclear holocaust was the principle political object of left focus—a heyday for CND. My tack, not least when the government told us to hide under our kitchen tables in the infamous booklet ‘Protect and Survive’ was to investigate what their preparations were for this catastrophe. In many ways the then government’s approach was as creaky and ill-prepared as it is now in the face of the pandemic. Over many years civil defence preparations had been denuded of staff and resources, leaving in other words a chimera of preparedness designed largely to assuage the public that things could be kept under control, but also to convince our mortal Commie enemy that we were not to be cowed. I doubt that it would have taken the Soviets much effort to discover that our system of civil preparedness had all the hallmarks of a Norman Wisdom comedy. In Hull, where I lived, the civil defence personnel establishment was barely at 10%. It was my conclusion at the time “that the [civil defence] preparations in hand are less concerned with protecting the population in times of crisis than with protecting the authorities from the population in such times.”
There’s a kind of resonance between the advice given then and the advice we’re given now. In those days it was ‘stay put.’ Today, it is ‘stay put.’ Whenever shit happens, the government’s advice will always be stay put. It’s a lot less bother.
“The only people who benefit from the argument about whether poverty, racism or sexism is worse are those who care about none of those things. As she has shown today, the minister for women and equalities is doing nothing to tackle inequality or discrimination.” - Harriet Harman MP on LabourList Liz Truss is trying to set up a hierarchy of suffering and turn back the clock on 40 years of equalities progress (politicshome.com)
I couldn’t agree more. A ‘hierarchy of discrimination’ which sets one group against another is something quite rightly to be condemned. It’s somewhat ironic then that Harman said this on the very day that the Labour Party set out its proposals to comply with the Equality and Human Rights Commission’s recommendations about tackling anti-Semitism in the party. This does exactly what Harman has spoken against, setting up a disciplinary procedure which privileges one group over others. The party’s ‘Action Plan’ is solely concerned with anti-Semitism, and it will be delivered with the assistance of an advisory board consisting of Jewish community representatives (I bet Jewish Voice for Labour won’t be invited to join). In this context it is odd that the Leader says in his introduction to the ‘Action Plan’ that “We will be establishing an independent process to investigate complaints of antisemitism, Islamophobia, racism, sexual harassment and any discrimination based on protected characteristics.” The Plan doesn’t say anything about other protected characteristics, nor recruiting e.g. representatives of the Muslim community to help develop the Plan. In the meantime, Covid and the prohibition on members talking about the EHRC report will help ensure that the Plan lacks wider legitimacy amongst the very people it is meant to police. Not a good look.
+Here’s a telling image from the Pew Research Centre, showing the trend in UK public opinion towards the EU. As you can see, that has generally been favourable and now in 2020 has reached a high of 60% So if we were offered a referendum, say on the so-called deal or no deal, there’s a good chance Brexit could be overturned. I as a Remainer (Remoaner, indeed) would welcome that. Perhaps people who originally voted for Brexit as a protest vote against Tory/LibDem austerity, etc., etc. may now see a different story. This is not to let the EU off the hook. One wonders, for example whether the Greek financial crisis influenced people against the EU, even if only to the extent that they bought the line that ‘we don’t want to end up like Greece.’ Opinion against the EU flourished under the Conservatives’ regime, and since this regime is still in power, one wonders what else they have in store for us—your Rees-Moggs, your Duncan-Smiths, your blue-neck retards? It wasn’t long ago when Tories were extolling the virtues of increasing trade with China—now they want to curtail it (e.g. Huawei). With what to me seems like an inevitable hit to our trade with the EU, and with Joe Biden not exactly brimming with enthusiasm to expedite a deal with the UK, where is the big deal to come from? Your blue-neck retards haven’t got an answer apart from tax havens, low pay and zero hours contracts.
+A proposal has been floated (sic) to build floating nuclear power stations, which it is said could be sited off (poorer) countries that do not have much by the way national power infrastructures (Nuclear reactors on sea barges ‘could power developing nations by 2025’ Guardian, 18th Dec.). This is I think a preposterous idea (How would these vessels be armed? Who would police them? Who would pay for them?) but it seems to be part of a pattern by the nuclear industry to kick start its moribund state. New nuclear power stations in Finland and France, meant to be operational over ten years ago are still being built and have vastly over-run their budgets. At the same time the price of renewable energy has dropped dramatically, and of course it does not pose the security and waste disposal dangers of nuclear. What would happen to these sea barges at the end of their lives—just sink’em like old oil storage platforms, a la Shell? I don’t suppose Iran would be allowed to have one. Nor I imagine would you want to sail one too close to Somalia without a naval escort. All this I suspect would be left up to the US administration to decide—they after all might be expected to be the main funders of these wondrous things.
+Every so often, and for reasons unfathomable to me, the Russian broadcaster Izvestia which runs a programme called Glavnoye rings me up for an interview. This is such a flattering concept these days that I always accept. It gives me a chance to tell our arch-enemies that actually, they don’t need their government to interfere with Mighty England, because our government is doing such a fine job destroying our country it doesn’t need outside help. Today’s subject was Covid-19. It hardly needs me to point out the level of incompetence Johnson and Co. have inflicted on us, but I did make the point that thanks to Conservative Party crony capitalism we have a new breed of war profiteers whose moral status is equivalent to their forebears who made a packet on the backs of those who sacrificed so much in the First World War. What’s changed? At first sight perhaps not very much—except for one major factor: the ‘enemy’ is now invisible and obeys no ‘High Command’ but its own evolutionary path. Covid is not some alternative ideology or demon Kaiser, it is but one disease of our civilisation. Yes we’ll ameliorate its impact eventually, but thanks to our interference with nature and our belief we are above nature, what follows Covid could be much worse. Nature is no passive bystander to our ravages of it. I didn’t get as far as saying all that on Izvestia Glavnoye this time round, so hopefully they’ll ring me about climate change soon enough. [The programme will apparently be broadcast this coming Saturday. In Russian]
+I’m always willing to go the extra mile on behalf of this blog’s readers (thank you, both of you) and today I watched Prime Minister’s Questions (PMQs). I did so specifically to test the idea often expressed in pre-Covid days by those oh-so-clever media commentators that the bear pit of PMQs was a turn-off for the public, resulting in occasional pledges from party leaders to end the weekly yah-boo confrontation. It’s my theory that the new lockdown style of PMQs will be an even greater turn-off, and I am willing to bet that the audience for this weekly bash, probably not very big in the first place, has diminished to rock bottom. The idea that MPs now behave with a little decorum will come as a blow to those who always understood MPs to be rude, shouting tribal louts. The core audience for live streamed ‘democracy in action’ is probably confined to nerds who find the word ‘committee’ full of exciting mystique. I now have to confess that I didn’t watch it all the way through. Part of the explanation for this has to be that absent the usual banter from a crowded chamber, the sheer repetitive nonsense spouted by Johnson is wearingly numbing when one hears it in isolated silence. We have a fountainhead of garbage as Prime Minister. I was also distracted by his new basin bowl haircut which makes a bale of hay look positively ordered. The first questioner, Michael Fabricant’s plastic wig looked equally absurd in its close-up Zoom existence. Nothing there to enhance a vomit-inducing, fawning ‘question’ to Johnson. Kier Starmer in comparison to these fools does come out well, but sadly his questions are nearly all pre-scripted and he doesn’t seem to have the knack of on-his-feet cut and thrust. I wonder how much longer his courtroom schtick will seem impressive (and I’m told he never actually prosecuted any cases himself). So only half way through I had to give up. Bring back the good old days!
+This spam email really made me laugh:
THIS IS JOHN BUTLER UNITED STATE AMERICA DELIVERY DIRECTOR, FROM WASHINGTON DC,
ARE YOU DEAD OR ALIVE?
This mail is to make inquiry if you are still alive because I have been receiving different kinds emails here from different individuals claiming that you have asked them to receive your Consignment Box Fund on your behalf, which I am obliged to release to them but because they do not have the (delivery) 4 digit DDW# at the right hand top corner of your Consignment box of ($75 Million USD) (seventy five Million United State Dollars ) shows that they are not from you.
So therefore if you are still eager and wish to receive your covid-19 Compensation fund which i wanted to deposited here in (DHL Courier Service) the Key and the Boxes, to be delivered to you since I did not hear from you, As I am going for a business trip which will last for 5 months in 2 weeks time [etc., etc.]
I’m dead. Keep the money.
I have signed up to Jeremy Corbyn’s ‘Peace and Justice’ campaign, which will be officially launched next month. I applaud his decision to try to pursue his ‘project,’ it would be a shame if the issues he promoted whilst leader of the Labour Party were to be allowed to fade into the background, which seems to be the evident desire of the current leader. It is also good to see a former Labour leader creating something which unlike those of one or two of his predecessors is predicated on peace and justice, as opposed to providing high paying corporations with ‘political insights’ along with overpaid and over-rated speeches. Whilst never Labour leader, one still finds Mandelson’s modestly named ‘Global Counsel’ consultancy an affront to the public service ethos. Having said that, nobody it seems can escape the compromises that are the meat and gristle of modern politics, and so I was mildly bemused that in his four minute online intro to the Peace and Justice campaign, Jeremy gave a name check to Rolls Royce. Given that his campaign is being supported by Unite’s Len McClusky, whose union will have many members working for Rolls Royce, I can see the reasoning. But will this mean that Jeremy ends up supporting Rolls Royce’s bid to build 16 mini-nuclear reactors in the UK? The government seems quite keen on the mini-reactor idea. But to be clear, this is not an idea that lends itself to ‘climate justice.’ And climate justice will increasingly become the bigger part of social justice, as poorer populations suffer the consequences of our environmental missteps. Dearie me, I can already divine Jeremy’s project riven by the famous 57 varieties, the contagion which grips the Left.
I enjoy reading Counterpunch, the US online version of the magazine. Its editor, Jeffrey St. Clair writes a weekly column ‘Roaming Charges,’ a witty and more often than not acid take on American politics, with Democrats equally in the line of fire with Republicans. The last edition however has a link to a 1955 broadcast by Orson Welles, from his series called Orson Welles Sketchbook (episode three, ‘The Police,’ easily found on YouTube). This turns out to be very topical, not least in the matter of Black Lives Matter. But the bulk of the broadcast deals with Welles’ attitude to the police, who he portrays largely as a force of bureaucrats intent on limiting our freedom, not least in the business of travel, where he tells of a world of pettifogging interference. As a globetrotter himself, he will have witnessed plenty of this, and he recounts one experience where it was the fact of his habit of writing the US president’s name in the passport section asking for the details of the person who should be contacted in an emergency that got him out of one tight situation. I wonder now if we wrote ‘Boris Johnson, No. 10 Downing Street, London SW1 whether it would carry any weight. Anyway, he proposed the establishment of some sort of international union of free citizens, who could carry their elaborate ‘union’ card and show it to any jobsworth who sought to impede one’s innocent progress. A good idea, and he of course hoped that somebody would take it up.
That was 1955. Two years later he made Touch of Evil, in which he played a notoriously corrupt cop, against the righteous Mexican cop played by Charlton Heston. (I wonder if Donald Trump knows that the late President of the National Rifle Association ever played a Mexican?) Touch of Evil may not have worked if Welles and Heston had played opposite roles. In 1962, Welles directed The Trial, his film of the Kafka story. These films illustrate Welles’ take on authority, its policing, corruption and bureaucracy (and to be clear the notion that bureaucracy can in itself be a form of corruption). Welles was apparently listed by the FBI as maybe a communist fellow traveller into the mid-fifties, and only seemed to have carried on working by leaving the US. By way of contrast, in one of those ways that YouTube can now refresh one’s memory, you can find a clip of an ageing John Wayne talking of minorities and diversity in the States. His thoughts on the fate of blacks (or native Americans) in America can be summed up pretty much in the phrase ‘Aw shucks.’ I know who I would rather have a pint with.
What is so magical about 11pm on the 31st December 2021 (midnight in Brussels)? Having heard that there will be yet another shifting of the deadline in the Brexit negotiations, why not just keep negotiating until a deal is struck, even if that takes us into February, March or April next year? Why can’t the transition period continue until an agreement is reached? There is of course no natural, inescapable law which dictates the final deadline, unless one counts the government’s instinct for self-harm as immutable as gravity. There maybe something in that possibility. I can only interpret the pending deployment of four Royal Navy vessels to protect our precious fish in the event of no deal as one of the most absurd examples of gunboat diplomacy in recent history. Is this development meant to cow the French into submission (least of all French fisherfolk)? I confess on my trips to the newsagent each morning I have not yet seen the Sun headlining with ‘UP YOURS, Macron’ but this surely is the level of subtlety which actually characterises our relationship with our ‘friends and partners’ (Johnson’ words) the EU countries. It makes me wonder what the leaders of those countries are saying behind Johnson’s back. And do they pity us for having chosen such a pitiable leader? The thing which doesn’t seem to be getting much attention at the moment is that even if the clock strikes 11am (GMT) on the 31st December, and there is no deal, trade negotiations will continue reflecting the fact the 46% of our trade is with the EU. I ask again: what is so magical about the 11pm on the 31st December?
I wonder what the Tories are going to do after the pandemic is over and all neatly tucked up in bed (a metaphor Johnson hasn’t used yet.) The Office for Budget responsibility has projected a deficit for 2020/21 of £394 billion, as opposed to the £55 billion the government originally planned. According to the Independent (25th November) ‘In October, the Chancellor vowed to “get our borrowing and debt back under control”, which the OBR has interpreted as a flat or falling debt-to-GDP ratio by the end of the spending period, in 2025-26. “Tax rises or spending cuts of between £21bn and £46 bn (between 0.8 and 1.8 per cent of GDP) would be required merely to stop debt rising relative to GDP,” its post-spending settlement report stated.’
So just to stand still could require one form of belt tightening or another, on a scale at least equivalent to the first round of Tory/LibDem austerity. Rishi Sunak has promised to get ‘the books into balance.’ That great intellect and economic genius Jacob Rees-Mogg has today ‘suggested the Conservatives risk losing the next general election if the chancellor flouts a manifesto pledge and increases taxes to deal with the economic crisis caused by the coronavirus pandemic. The leader of the House of Commons said now was not the time to “slap the economy down with higher taxes” as he warned against the political repercussions of breaking promises made to the electorate. His remarks follow Rishi Sunak’s failure to commit to maintaining the pledge displayed prominently on the second page of the Conservatives’ 2019 manifesto not to raise the rate of income tax, VAT or national insurance.’ (Independent, 7th Dec.)
This then is the post-Brexit, post-Covid battle that is looming in the ranks of the Tory party, one which is made more complicated by their new found love of the so-called ‘red wall’ seats and ‘levelling up.’ And no doubt there will soon be a dark cloud hanging over Sunak’s role as Johnson’s heir presumptive, the give away Chancellor who in one form or another is about to become the take away Chancellor. There are a number of ways the Tories could get themselves off this hook, one of which is simply to reconcile themselves to the fact that being in debt is a perfectly normal feature of being in government. Our current debt situation isn’t any worse than it was in the early 1960s (see chart below - n.b. the 2020 debt level has reached the 100 line). Then we had the swinging sixties and everybody was bright and cheerful. Now, I suspect we will be warmed up for another Tory austerity shitshow, a continuation of their holy mission to make the state smaller as we become the world’s leading exemplar of sovereign self-reliance, blah, blah, blah.
Naturally, one’s attention turns to how Labour will counter this forthcoming attack on public spending. I’m wondering if the party is looking that far ahead. After all, leader Starmer is still devoting a lot of his attention to fighting pointless internal battles.