+For some reason there always seems to be a slew of deaths of famous people at the end of the year. This year we’ve seen Pope Benedict, Vivienne Westwood, John Bird and others hit the buffers. Amongst them was Alice Mahon, the former MP for Halifax, who was an anti-war campaigner and a doughty critic of Tony Blair. Kier Starmer gave her a boiler-plate ‘she served her constituents’ type of tribute, thanking God that his New-New Labour Party is expelling or expunging any parliamentary candidate who could vaguely resemble Alice. Meanwhile, Our Dear Leader has released a New Year’s message in which he promises to unleash a ‘new kind of politics.’ Listening to this message is on my to-do list. Perhaps for next year.
+And what kind of year will 2023 be? (Happy New Year, by the way.) Probably not much better than 2022, the legacy of which is nowhere played out. Covid is back in the news, the Ukraine war is more closely resembling a slugfest, inflation and recession will dominate the economic landscape. We will be treated to the start of the US Presidential election cycle (hopefully Donald J. Trump’s tax returns will finally kill off his reputation as a businessman and even his followers will recognise him as a serial loser), in the UK another Tory leadership coup may be in the offing, as the innate racism within Tory ranks combined with the effects of the stumbling economy stir the self-preservation instincts of Tory MPs. All this doom and gloom will be buttressed by the inevitable consequences of climate change—with some surprising ’once in a century’ (now once in a decade) weather events happening. After the North American ‘bomb cyclone’ this year some fans will be reaching for their old DVD of The Day After Tomorrow. Perhaps it was no fantasy after all. But all is not doom and gloom. We will have the glorious coronation of King Charley 3 in the Summer, an event guaranteed to multiply the number of mugs in circulation everywhere.
I suppose the choice of the current occupant of the Speaker’s chair in the House of Commons—Lindsay Hoyle—sorry, Sir Lindsay Hoyle was a natural choice following his rambunctious predecessor, John Bercow. A bit of calm, a little less grandstanding. Hoyle is a small ‘c’ Labour conservative who likes tradition. He was on the radio displaying his credentials as Mr Tradition this evening. Which is to say he decried the way our current crop of MPs use their mobile phones and laptops in the chamber. Perhaps he should ban them from doing so. Nevertheless, he for a traditionalist also permits male MPs to enter the chamber half naked (i.e. not wearing ties). If he wants to preside over a place full of scruffy, disinterested legislators that’s up to him. His claim that nobody seems interested in the business of the chamber is however laughable. It more often than not had fewer than a dozen members present at any given time. Most ’debates’ were unengaged, with the biggest question being whether you, as an insignificant backbencher would be called to speak after all the grandees had had their say and then buggered off until the ’summing ups.’
Now Speaker Hoyle is opposed to there being an elected second chamber, a la Gordon Brown’s suggestion that the House of Lords should be replaced with a slimmed down, elected chamber. He believes such a thing would challenge the primacy of the House of Commons. This is bollocks. The powers of such a new second chamber would be proscribed by law, and that would seriously contain any challenge to the primacy of the House of Commons—which is in effect the highest court in the land. Hoyle is the voice of the establishment in a way which Bercow wasn’t, which largely explains why Bercow wasn’t elevated as is the norm to the House of Lords. Hoyle seems content to assume that letting MPs’ sartorial standards decline is modernisation enough. This is the shallowest nod to ‘democratisation’ imaginable. The irony is that Hoyle likes to wear the robes of office himself. He wants respect. As the establishment’s chum, presumably.
My festive card this year wished all recipients a Happy Saturnalia. Saturnalia of course preceded the Christian festival and I dare say Saturnalia itself built on earlier mid-winter festive traditions. The Romans anyway had a good time of it. Wikipedia reports “In Lucian's Saturnalia it is Chronos himself who proclaims a "festive season, when 'tis lawful to be drunken, and slaves have license to revile their lords" I especially like the last bit, and I bet Mick Lynch would too. Perhaps our current Winter of Discontent can usher in a new awakening amongst wage slaves.
+Just out of interest I also checked Wikipedia to see if there was a consensus about the date of Jesus’s birth. There is none, not even over the year of his birth, never mind the month or day. It’s all pure speculation, whereas there’s no doubting the time of Saturnalia which is from the 17th to 23rd of December. I think King Charley 3 should bring forward his TV speech to the nation by a couple of days, which would also tie in nicely with the findings of the 2021 Census which showed that the largest group answering the question on religion said ‘no religion.’ I could go on in this vein, but I think I’ve made my point.
+Naomi Wimborne-Idrissi, the recently elected member of the Labour Party’s National Executive Committee has been expelled from the Party on the most specious of grounds. I suspect she was a) the wrong type of Jew and b) she was the wrong type of Jew. It’s that pathetic. She is appealing the decision, but it will be given short shrift. It would be funny if it weren’t so tragic: the first line on the back of my membership card says “The Labour Party is a democratic socialist party.” (emphasis added) I wonder if Sir Keir has read that bit? There is an open letter of solidarity with Naomi, addressed to the Party’s leadership. It can be found on the Jewish Voice for Labour website.
+The US Congress has agreed to publish Donald Trump’s tax returns—at long last. This presents a conundrum for Trump, whose usual response to anything truthful revealed about himself is to call it fake news. If he suggests that these tax returns are fake, perhaps he should be prosecuted for submitting fake returns. The irony is that in all probability, they will have a high fake content. This will be an interesting story.
+Jeremy Clarkson says he hates our beloved Princess Meghan and would like to see her pelted with excrement. A lovely piece which the S*n was happy to publish. It’s the kind of stuff they pay him to produce, no matter that he subsequently apologised and the S*n removed the crap from its website. I have to apologise, somewhat belatedly to Clarkson though—once, whilst talking to a group of trainee journalists, one of them asked me what I thought of Clarkson. Jokingly I suggested he should be strung up from a lamppost. I shouldn’t have been surprised when the comment ended up in a newspaper diary column. It gave the great petrolhead the opportunity to castigate me in his Sunday Times column the next week. He called me a climate change anorak. How offensive was that?
+I had the pleasure of being in the audience for a performance of Handel’s Messiah in Amsterdam’s Concertgebouw last Saturday. Very good it was, and after the interval in which free wine was served the whole thing seemed to pick up gusto, with the audience itching to follow tradition and stand up for the Hallelujah Chorus. Apparently that tradition began when George II attended a performance and was so moved by it he stood up. It is de rigueur for everyone else to follow suit. But during the performance I was moved to wonder whether the Netherlands might be in the running to be nominated one of the most civilised countries in the world? (The wine was working wonders at this point.) Or might it be known as one of the most laid-back countries in the world? Anyway, a couple of days later Mark Rutte, the Dutch PM made an official apology for his country’s role in the slave trade. The audience for the Messiah, so far as I could see was near enough 100% white. George II may have been moved by the Chorus in 1742, but all that Christian blessedness did nothing to stem the booming slave trade. Random thoughts.
It now appears that HS2, which by most accounts will turn out to be a very expensive white elephant, is a ‘woke’ project. That’s what you’d come away thinking after reading this Daily Telegraph headline: “Jeremy Hunt faces Tory rebellion over £7bn government spending on ‘woke’ projects.” Seven billion on wokery? What a scandal! I guess as far as many Telegraph readers go, that’s enough, they’ll be fuming that a Tory Chancellor can be so conned by lefty woke plots without having to read anymore. But read on. The article says:
“ . . . the publication of a new report by the Conservative Way Forward group on Monday, . . .will claim that £7 billion of public money is spent on “politically motivated and divisive activities” each year. The group’s research is based on an audit of government accounts and Freedom of Information requests to 6,000 public bodies, and will point to spending on equality, diversity and inclusion (EDI) initiatives in government, arms-length organisations and contractors including the company building HS2. EDI jobs in the public sector cost the taxpayer £557 million a year, the report will claim, while billions are spent on diversity initiatives by quangos including on contributions to a campaign on “unlearning whiteness” by the publicly-funded Arts Council.”
So the real ‘wokery’ spend (according to these redneck Tories’ own report) is actually only £571 million. And some of that goes to the Arts Council—shock! Horror! There’s a regular target for Tories, who probably would prefer more to be spent on Covent Garden, the Arts Council’s biggest recipient. There are two aspects to this story that disturb me—first its misleading headline—a very common occurrence in the right-wing media and secondly, the content, which is as much about the Tories ’cultural wars’ as anything else. I have just watched Simon Schama’s ’History of Now,’ (on BBC iplayer) which I think is an excellent riposte to the elitist Tory view of art, which simply cannot cope with the post-modern. The Tory culture wars are embedded in their affinities with the imperial order of hierarchies. One of these hierarchies is that Great Art emanated mainly from the Western canon, and most of the rest sits in a pecking order of greater or lesser inferiority. It may be the case that if something is not Great Art it may not even be classed as art at all, in which case it shouldn’t get a penny from the Arts Council.
One of the most notable artists who challenged this worldview was Joseph Beuys, who asserted that we are all artists. He was also a ‘leftie’ if such an appellation is appropriate for one of the founders of the German Green Party. His activism I am sure offended the old elites—I believe he was finally relieved of a university teaching post after he declared its courses freely open to everybody. And he sought to promote alternatives to the prevailing economic order, that is, capitalism, which not only drains the creative instinct in individuals (unless it’s related to entrepreneurship which is in capitalist terms good if it seeks to make more capital) - but all this is seen by some as not the role of the artist. Great Art is meant to transcend politics (tell that to Gustav Courbet).
I sought on Google to find what ‘unlearning whiteness’ meant in terms of getting an Arts Council grant but didn’t in my brief attempt find anything. Obviously Tory researchers dig deeper to find the material that suits their argument. But I did discover a website by an American ‘unlearning whiteness’ practitioner and coach, called Bear Herbert (a they/them) who made it clear what this business is all about:
“This work is intended for white people who have at least a basic analysis of systemic oppression who are seeking to dig deeper into their own personal culpability in upholding racist systems, behaviors and dynamics. The cost for this work is $1800, which includes 12 hour-long sessions of support over six months, with email and messaging support between calls. Because dismantling capitalism is an essential part of dismantling racism, I offer no-interest payment plans freely. A standard payment plan is $300/month for 6 months, or $150/month for 12 months. I have limited spots for sliding scale clients with financial need.” (emphasis added) Unlearning Whiteness — Bear Hebert (bearcoaches.com)
Well, I can’t imagine what there is in that that might offend a white middle aged or elderly Tory! It combines unlearning whiteness with an entrepreneurial spirit! Of course, here in the UK it’s the danger that the public purse could be paying for such liberation that offends.
Anyway, it’s over to Jeremy Hunt now to decide whether to cut all this taxpayers’ money going to wokery, and needless to say, that means that HS2 contractors, in between digging tunnels and laying sleepers through Tory shire constituencies must cease training their hi-vis jacketed engineers in how to combat their guilt-ridden innate whiteness.
For what it represented, Trump’s attack on the US Constitution has been roundly and rightly condemned. His only concern was to assert his ‘right’ to win an election he lost. But should liberal-minded people be so quick off the mark to pile in on the poor, deluded man? For all the wrong reasons he as at least revealed one essential truth: the US Constitution is a genuine barrier to a fully functioning democracy. It gives a clear, built-in advantage to rural, reactionary states. It provides for mechanisms in the electoral college to defy the popular will. It was written in a world composed of entirely different circumstances and in subsequent decades had no substance for millions of enslaved Americans. Of course, this is not Trump’s concern, and no common ground exists with his call to suspend the Constitution. But perhaps he is just the person needed to open a can of worms.
+As we all contemplate bankruptcy when our winter fuel bills roll in—and now that we face our first potential sub-zero temperatures this year—I am tempted to fondly remember the days of my childhood, back in the 1950s and indeed the 1960s. These were the days when bedroom windows frosted up on the inside and one could draw one’s finger across the frozen patterns in the glass. Such excitement! I know a number of people who can remember those hardships, and of course went on to adulthood with central heating asap. Central heating was unheard of in the places where we lived (certainly not in the outside chemical toilet), and I suppose one just had to get used to the alternative of roaring fires and toasted muffins (I made the last bit up). Now of course at a more senior age, as one’s circulation diminishes it’s best to keep warm, and it is with infinite gratitude that OAPs are getting a little help from the government. That in itself elicits a warm glow, a feeling of belonging in a caring society. How cruel it was that our previous PM, who introduced this compassionate response was herself cruelly slain (even if she did kill the Queen with her handshake, maybe). For the Tories compassion comes naturally for their essential demographic. Everybody else just needs to work hard and will count themselves lucky to get a pension before they’re 70. And it’s a shame that the Christmas bonus hasn’t kept pace with inflation—it would be worth a handy £108 now. Well, we pensioners, rolling in clover as we are can’t have everything!
+The Democrat’s win in the Georgia senate run-off election may (I hope) have the benefit of curtailing the influence of Senator Joe Manchin, whose blackmailing power when the Senate was split 50/50 must be reduced as the Democrats now have 51 senators.
+Joe Manchin would be very proud of our government, with it having just given the go-ahead for a new coal mine in Cumbria. Apparently most of its coal will be exported. I seem to recall it being said that its coal would be mainly used in the British steel industry, thereby reducing the need for imported coal—but it appears that there is not the domestic demand from our steel industry any more. Of course, ministers will insist that tackling climate change is a big priority, so we can rest easy. Part of the argument is: if we don’t sell it, somebody else will, so this won’t make any difference to global carbon emissions. The company will be looking for a King’s Award for Exports, and we’ll hear this is the greenest coal ever.
+Sir Keir Starmer has launched his ‘Power To The People’ wishlist—it’s not called power to the people, obviously, and given that Gordon Brown, not much known as a decentraliser wrote it, we’ll have to wait and see if any of it reaches the manifesto. I have a sense of déjà vu. Prior to the 1997 general election, Labour made a lot of noise about electoral reform—it commissioned Roy Jenkins to write a lengthy report on the subject. It sounded good and modernising but when Blair got a landslide victory, that zeal melted away pronto. If Starmer gets a thumping majority, will he actually want to devolve power? And as has already been pointed out in certain rebellious circles (Skwawbox) Starmer’s original leadership pledges evaporated immediately, not least as they may have applied to internal party democracy. I would hope that this report does lead to something, even though it leaves out electoral reform. The first past the post system is past its sell by date, doesn’t deliver what it says on the can and corrupts political life. Its non-presence is a gaping hole in this report if it is intended to rejuvenate our political life.
+It's not all doom and gloom here in jolly old Scarborough. We had a bit of a light show over the weekend, during which I snapped a lady diving for the Moon (see below).