It’s just one week to go before we get the first clue as to what voting Americans think and are prepared to do about Trump. Indications are (e.g. see fivethirtyeight.com) that the Republicans will lose control of the House of Representatives in next week’s mid-term elections, but not the Senate. Incredibly, Trump’s popularity ratings have risen a little lately, but he still has a 52% disapproval rating. Although it is hard to discern what the Democrats stand for, their success is still preferable to Republican success – at least it may give us some hope that the current trend of ugly, populist politics can be suppressed. That would be welcome in the light of Brazil’s election of a President who falls somewhere between Trump and the appalling Duterte of the Philippines (I wonder if Liam Fox has sealed a trade deal with him yet).
Another result to watch out for next week is a climate change related ballot initiative in Washington State, which proposes putting a price on carbon. This has led to one of the most expensive battles in the history of ballot initiatives. The fossil fuel industry has pumped in nearly $30 million to oppose the idea – and over a third of that has come just one company – BP America. You might have thought that after Deepwater Horizon, BP may have had better things to spend their money on, but apparently not. If it wasn’t for the necessity to fill the petrol tank up somewhere it would be best to boycott all oil companies (yes I know – get rid of the car).
It all just goes to show how grateful we should be for living in a country (I’m assuming I don’t have an international readership) that can boast of having such a robust democratic system which can’t be made to bend to the will of hidden influences and corrupt money, and which in the end always stands firm against malign or extreme temperaments. Hear, hear! Tally ho!
I haven’t watched Question Time for years. The same tired old formula of setting up contestants in a point scoring battle interspersed with incoherent shouting and plain prejudice became too exasperating. But after being tipped off by friends that last Thursday’s show featured that obscure giant slayer, the Tory MP for Morley and Outwood Andrea Jenkyns, I was intrigued enough to watch a bit of it on the iplayer, to see what qualities one of my successors as MP for Morley displayed.
It has to be said that she, like me, publicly called for the toppling of her leader. I sought Gordon Brown’s overthrow on the simple grounds that he was utterly unable to connect with the public. We would probably have lost the 2010 election anyway, but not by so many seats – we may have kept enough to look credible in coalition-seeking talks. Brown admitted he personally may have cost us 30 seats. Jenkyns on the other hand is a hard-nosed Brexiteer who thinks Theresa May is selling us out on Brexit. She told the QT audience that she was following her conscience, and because 60% of her constituents had voted leave, that is what she wanted too. Of course, she may herself have always been an ardent leaver, but she mixes up ‘following her conscience’ with ‘following her constituents.’ It may or may not apply in her case, but MPs who see themselves as their constituents’ delegates will in the end fail their constituents. As Brexit unfolds, and we see ‘buyers’ remorse’ setting in, the mood of constituents can change. The job of an MP is to represent their constituents’ views, but most importantly to stand up for what they think is the right course of action.
The danger of that position of course is that such MPs can be labelled out of touch and arrogant. I am sure a large swathe of pro-hanging people consider this to be the case. In the case of Brexit – a hapless mess we have got ourselves into thanks to a hapless PM (or two), a poorly designed referendum, a campaign fought with misinformation (on both sides), with electoral fraud (on one side) and lies (mainly on one side) – it is surely the job of an MP to exercise a detached, balanced judgement and seek to convince their constituents that matters of such import are treated with more than just another burst of sloganizing. Some hope.
As for Ms Jenkyns, I suspect she is making a name for herself whilst she still can. The most recent Boundary Commission proposals would see Morley and Outwood divided between two seats which are likely to retain Labour majorities. In psephological terms that should end the historical aberration of Morley not having a Labour MP, which it did between 1935 and 2015.
The prospect of turning the clock back always awakens in me some kind of Protestant Work Ethic reaction, which is to say I feel compelled to do something useful with the ‘extra’ hour. This means getting up at the usual BST hour and then, perhaps at about 11am move to GMT. So rather than sleeping through it (are we supposed to sleep for an extra hour? Hard at the best of times) I am consciously embracing the darkening of days.
As for tomorrow morning I don’t know what form of activity may ensue. Hopefully I will desist from spending more time on the annual ivy hack and plant a few bulbs instead. Or draw something for an hour. Or write something positive about Brexit. Now that would be an hour spent watching the minute hand moving ever so slowly.
Donald Trump makes a good point about speaking in civil terms about each other. How refreshing it will be to see him following his own advice. His oft-repeated description of his enemies and anyone who gets in his way as intellectually deficient, etc., etc. will now be heard no more. Except when it comes to all of his enemies and those who get in his way of course, like Robert de Niro for example, whose restaurant was threatened in a bomb attack, or Hillary Clinton, or Barack Obama, or Joe Biden, or – well, there’s quite a long list of people who by executive order will continue to be abused by Trump. Having said that, perhaps de Niro was asking for it when at an awards ceremony earlier this year he got a standing ovation merely for saying ‘Fuck Trump.’
This is a week when it’s been hard (and depressing) to know where to begin with our leaders’ hypocrisy and moral ambivalence. I note that the word ‘gaslighting’ is now achieving wider usage, used to describe the efforts of those in charge to make ordinary people wonder what it is they can reliably believe. Trump is too crude to make the best use of the technique, although as ever, one has to qualify that assessment with reference to the gullibility of his core support. But here in the U.K. (as we know) we are far more subtle, even to the point of not having to write down our constitution (since we’re all very civil and trusting). I wonder for how much longer we will be civil and trusting when every time another report comes out demonstrating how austerity has made things worse, the standard government line is ‘we’re spending more money on (the NHS/social services/police/education/transport- whatever, take your pick) than ever before? The abuse and misuse of political language has been around for a long time of course, and I would be the first to admit that New Labour was imbued with the culture of spin, but we now seem to be reaching new heights of infidelity to the truth. It seems now that everything that is said about our national or international state of affairs is said fully in the knowledge that no-one is really expected to believe it. And in the knowledge that democracy is always a few steps (at least) behind.
Google Theresa May and Saudi Arabia and nothing emerges in the top ten searches detailing May’s condemnation of the murder in Istanbul of the Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi. A search on the No.10 website also reveals nothing – although there are several references to the Skripal case. May’s tight lips are also in evidence when it comes to the millions now facing famine in Yemen. So far, the government’s only response to the Khashoggi murder – which the Saudis have now confessed to – is our International Trade Secretary Liam Fox pulling out of the ‘Davos in the Desert’ trade event in Saudi Arabia on the 23rd of this month. It’s curious that it has been announced that he is ‘pulling out’ – the government’s line over a week ago was that his ‘diary hadn’t been finalised.’ In other words, they were hoping against hope that the UK would still attend, to glad hand our friends in the Saudi royal family and keep the flow of arms unimpeded. This ‘pulling out’ will come as a blow to Fox, as the vestiges of this government’s self-respect appear still to have the power to interrupt his free trade mission, although I suspect the interruption will be just that, and brief. But what of all the other countries we will want to do big trade deals with in the wonderful unfettered post-Brexit free trade utopia? Are we really going to let ethical issues get in the way? This will indeed be a test for the neo-con theory that market liberalism naturally begets liberal democracy. Every gun we sell is a blow against dictatorship isn’t it?
What MPs and other politicos do to earn a crust when they leave Parliament/Whitehall, within certain rules, e.g. to prevent lobbying should largely be a matter for them, but even if they are no longer in the public pay I am sure that there are some things to be avoided even if they are entirely legal and above board. They might consider for example issues of reputational damage, not just to themselves but to their party. Tony Blair’s post-government antics have helped neither his reputation nor that of the Labour Party. The sight of Labour peers rushing to be a ‘Lord on the board’ isn’t very edifying either. Naturally, no-one bats an eyelid when Tories do that sort of thing – it’s expected of members of a party that represents the rich, the City and the powerful. One hopes that that tendency, which of course a la Mandelson became prevalent with New Labour will be frowned upon in Corbyn’s Labour.
Of course, the inspiration for today’s blog is the news that ‘Sir’ Nick Clegg is joining Facebook as Vice President for public relations or some such life-enhancing activity. He wrote at length about his heart-rending decision to move to California in today’s Guardian but didn’t find the space to reveal how much the discredited Zuckerberg will be paying him. Now what could get politics a worse name? In answer to that, I doubt Clegg’s move will have much impact: his fifth column support for austerity couldn’t make his name much worse whatever he does.
Bernard Porter’s latest blog - on the subject of poppies and remembrance - caught my attention today. He sums up what poppies are meant to mean, and by and large I agree with his view that they are not some sort of triumphalist, militaristic symbol – although it needs to be said that for some that point will be missed, not least I suspect in the upper reaches of an establishment that wishes to conceal many skeletons in its cupboard.
Back in the 70s, when I was in the RAF I refused to buy a poppy, even though they were sold by the (formidable) Station Warrant Officer’s wife. My objection then was that the black plastic centre bore the inscription ‘Haig Fund’ and my limited understanding at that time of the First World War led me to believe that Haig, and a sizable chunk of his class callously treated their troops as a cheap disposable commodity. I also objected to the idea that the human cost of war – and in particular a war which should have been avoided – seemed to be considered a matter of charity, rather than something to be paid for by the state. Indeed, it is still the case that too many ex-service people are left with trauma, physical and mental, which our government seems oblivious to.
During the noughties, and particularly after the 2003 Iraq war, public attendance at remembrance services rocketed and I wonder if after the Iraq debacle politicians learnt a lesson, making them somewhat more wary of going gung-ho into new conflicts. On this I suspect Jeremy Corbyn is firmly in tune with public opinion. There are still, of course, MPs on both sides who would send ‘our boys’ into any situation if it gave them the thrill of looking decisive. I would hope that the poppy could act as a symbol of rebuke to such jingoistic hubris. And the words ‘Haig Fund’ were dropped years ago.
Just lately I have been receiving a few calls on my landline. Such calls have been such a rare occurrence that one almost feels compelled to stand to attention when the phone rings, as I’m sure my grandparents’ generation did when they first had telephones installed. Now of course I can predict with 97% certainty that the caller will have an Asian accent and will be calling from ‘I.T. services’ and will have some urgent and worrying news for me about my computer. Usually at this point my routine has been to hang up, but today, when the call came again, I decided to play the part of a vulnerable old git who didn’t understand anything. This meant that my caller became increasingly impatient, revealing his hand as just another cold-calling (and cold hearted) scammer. I would have kept him on the line for a while longer, but he may have heard my stifled laughter. He tried to call back straightaway, but on not receiving an answer I can only assume that he will have thought his first call had given the doddery old fart a heart attack and had keeled over.
I visited my bank branch a few days ago, to pay in a cheque using the ATM. Yesterday I received a text from the bank asking me to fill in a survey about my experience. I would like to think that somebody at XXX Bank plc thought (at 8.42pm) that this was something worth chasing up. Let’s ask Mr Challen (of all people!) how he managed to slip that cheque (a cheque!) into the slot? Was it the right way up? Did the machine snatch the cheque with suitable panache? Did the machine decode the handwriting accurately? Did you get a prompt receipt? Was anybody looking over your shoulder (like one of our assistants)? Was your intercourse with us exceptional? Fantastic? Amazing? Fabulous? (We’re not quite sure which superlative to use, so we’ll take a leaf out of Virgin’s playbook and use them all.) Thank you for completing this survey! It will help us blend our customer experiences into the electronic synaptic structure of our impenetrable consumer satisfaction matrix, which will shortly have a massive dump. On you. Thank you again. Your custom is apprecitited/(enter code)EXIT:ENTER:Salutation signoff
The ‘big’ news today – laughably – is that the Speaker of the House of Commons, John Bercow has told his friends that he intends to stand down next year – ten years after being elected. This comes as no news to those of us who originally supported him, since he said many times that he thought two terms or ten years quite sufficient. The hacks know this of course, but it ties in nicely with the story of a bullying culture in Westminster. Naturally, leading the charge to oust Bercow are the Tories, who mostly never liked him and liked him even less when he allowed the Commons to have a greater oversight over the executive. Ministers hate being called to the chamber to answer for their cock-ups. Anyway, this ‘news’ will spark a race for the next Speaker, and I bet lobbying has already begun (probably started quite a while back, actually). Technically and by convention the next Speaker should come from the Opposition benches, since Bercow was nominally a Tory. But with a Tory Party on the ropes in the year of Brexit they will try desperately to get one of their own in. They might have a slight chance of success. Perhaps they should support someone from the DUP. There’s a cohort of individuals who understand democratic processes.
I watched a film the other night, Lord of War (2006) starring Nicholas Cage, who was perfect in the role of an utterly amoral arms dealer (I fear the word amoral to be redundant here, substitute ‘international’ instead). It grabbed my attention from the very start by its reference to Brighton Beach, New York. Google Brighton Beach and you will find that it is “Also known as "Little Odessa" due [to] its tight-knit Russian and Eastern European communities, Brooklyn's Brighton Beach is a lively neighborhood with many high-rise residential buildings. Traditional ethnic restaurants and food markets line Brighton Beach Avenue. The beach and boardwalk here are more laid-back than nearby Coney Island, catering largely to locals. Splashy nightclubs attract partiers in the evenings.”
Two people who had a particular interest in Brighton Beach were Donald Trump and Semion Mogilevich. Brighton Beach was a development opportunity for Trump. Mogilevich was (is?) a Russian Mafia ‘boss of bosses,’ close to Putin. Rather than me trying to sum up all the connections (which are complex) that tie Trump to the Russian mob, just Google Trump/Mogilevich and take it from there. It’s curious that this stuff doesn’t get more sustained attention in the mainstream media. I have reviewed a book on the subject for Lobster, available here. I do hope that the U.S. Special Counsel investigating the Trump-Russia connection comes up with the indictable goods.
I have been overwhelmed by the U.K. government’s condemnation of Saudi Arabia’s murder in Istanbul of a dissident Saudi journalist. It’s good to know that Theresa May has been in the vanguard of judges on the issue, but for the life of me I haven’t been able to find out how many Saudi diplomats have been expelled from the U.K. so far. None you say? Can that be true? Are we to assume our strong and stable leadership is in hock to the Sheiks? Perhaps one of the benefits of the further deindustrialisation of the U.K. economy post-Brexit will be a diminution of hypocritical sucking-up to places we shouldn’t be dealing with in the first place.