The Gospel According to Jacob Rees-Mogg

And so it came to pass that in the year 2017 there was great confusion in the land of Albion, and much weeping and gnashing of teeth amongst the tribe of Tory following the failure of May’s snap election and the pessimistic voices whispering calumnies in the shadows about her future and abilities.  And yea, even as the pound continued to ‘fluctuate’ and Monarch announced that its birds would no longer take wing,  and the mad King Herrod slapped  a 219 percent tariff on the birds that Bombardier maketh, and the Pharaoh Barnier continued to tap his watch to remind us that the clock ticketh, the elders of the tribe of Tory did gather in great distress in Manchester for their annual conference.

Yet even in the great chamber there was no relief, as the angry tongues did hiss like snakes behind the Great Leader’s back, and conspirators seeking to overthrow the Maybot sharpened their knives even as they bared their fixed grins to show that everything was ok, and even Tory commentators warned that the tribe faced rupture.  Even inside the temple there were those who doubted the competence of the government and questioned whether it really had the ability to lead God’s chosen people out of the EU and keep the holy fire of Brexit burning, or whether in fact it was leading the nation towards irrelevance and national suicide.

In this time of trial and tribulation a multitude of false prophets stepped onto the podium to speak of even darker days to come should the party desert its leader, should its membership continue to fall, should the misguided youth of the land continue to worship at the feet of the false Marxist god Corbyn.

One by one they stood before the tribe to warn that a Labour victory would crash the economy if it came to power, thereby depriving the government of the opportunity to continue doing it themselves; that the European Union had killed all the bees of Albion and taken away the loaves and fishes that were rightfully ours; that the hearts of the Labour Party were filled with hate whereas those of the Tories were filled only with the sweetness and love that we have seen flowing through the land of Albion for so many blessed years.

And the Lord looked down on the empty seats and the sea of bored and stupefied faces and he heard the vacuous platitidinous speeches from a succession of careerists and incompetents and he observed the philistine Johnson rubbing his hands on his belly and chortling and he saw that none of this was good, and that the tribe of Tory indeed faced electoral oblivion.

And in this time of confusion, it came to pass that at a fringe meeting in Manchester a prophet of the Lord called Jacob Rees-Mogg did fetch up from his Somerset manor to reassure the faithful that everything was going to be fine because he believeth, and yea, they should believe too.  And his voice was soft and gentle and his words like honeyed gold, and even when the uncouth leftist rabble did heckle him and call him despicable, he smiled upon them and gently admonished them for their intemperate ad hominem attacks and reminded them that politics and people were two different things.

And indeed they are, for Jacob Rees-Mogg attacketh and hateth no man personally, and pitieth even the victims of his own polices, and is as polite and genteel to his enemies as he is unto his friends.   For verily he blesseth the food banks that have only become necessary because of in-work poverty, zero hours contracts and the benefit cuts that his government has imposed upon the poor and vulnerable.  He praiseth the EU nationals who have come to the land of Albion speaking only strange grunting foreign sounds.

He bestoweth his love and admiration upon them even though his own government has used them as bargaining chips and issued deportation orders against them for no reason and plunged millions of them into uncertainty and despair.   .Great was the wonder amongst the faithful at  such nobility of spirit.  And there were those who looked at his voting record and saw that it had always been thus, and that  Rees-Mogg had consistently voted against giving EU nationals any right to remain in Albion – yet still he found reasons to praise them.

All this was proof that he was a prophet sent by God to save the tribe of Tory, pursue hard Brexit and build Jerusalem in England’s green and pleasant land.  His disciples saw that he had voted against smoking bans and they smiled upon him,  for it was only just that non-smokers should have the right to get lung cancer along with those that smoketh.  And it was written in the scrolls of the elders of Albion that he had voted against same-sex marriage because homosexuals and lesbians were the spawn of Satan; that he voted against laws promoting equality and human rights for it was not fitting that people should be equal or have rights.

The scrolls also revealed that the prophet Jacob voted against an investigation into the Iraq war and his listeners knew that this too was just, for the Lord did not allow the actions of the British state to called into question or held accountable.   Great was their astonishment on discovering that one of the wealthiest MPs in Albion made more than £1 million in the last year alone, that he liveth in a Grade-II listed manor house, yet hath consistently voted to reduce housing benefit to social tenants with ‘excess bedrooms’.

The prophet’s disciples saw that Jacob had voted against paying higher disability or illness payments and they understood that this too was just,  for the taxpayer should not be burdened in this way and the Bible sayeth clearly that the sick and disabled cannot  get into work and have the opportunity to become millionaires like the prophet Jacob if they allow the nanny state to prop them up.

They saw that the prophet had voted to lower corporation tax  yet also voted to reduce welfare benefits to those who have least and whose lack of virtue and entrepreneurial spirit have brought them to the food banks that Rees-Mogg admireth so.

All this the Tory faithful saw, and great was their joy on seeing these things, so that they wondered how such a man could have been ignored for so long.  And so they crowded into the fringe meeting and heard the prophet Jacob tell them that leaving the European Union was ‘ Magna Carta, it’s the Burgesses coming at Parliament, it’s the great Reform Bill, it’s the bill of rights, it’s so many… It’s Waterloo, it’s Agincourt, it’s Crecy, We win all these things.’

And the faithful heard these honeyed words and they knew that it would be thus, that we had always won and would win again, and that the prophet Jacob would lead the children of Albion into the promised land.  And Rees-Mogg  did tell them that even the young saplings of the nation would soon be  ‘liberated’ on leaving the EU and that they would be able to ‘determine their own futures’ – though these futures would no longer include the right to live, work and fall in love in 27 countries.

Those who consulted the scrolls remembered that Rees-Mogg had voted to end financial support to some 16-19 year olds; that he had voted in favour of raising tution fees and against using public money to help provide guaranteed jobs for young people in long-term unemployment. Now the hearts of the faithful did melt as they heard him declare how much he loved and cared for the young.

And in a troubled land where love, good manners and noblesse oblige have been absent for so long, the faithful did marvel that a man who opposed abortion even in cases of rape could also make money from a drug used to induce abortions in Indonesia.

But this too was good, for they saw that this was a man who loveth even as he profiteth,  and they doffed their caps and kissed his pin-stripe suit and ran out into the streets to tell the world that a new contender had arrived and great was their joy as they shouted ‘ Behold! The Lord hath sent a prophet to save the nation and the Tory Party, and his name is Jacob Rees-Mogg.’

Batons versus Ballots: On the Catalan Referendum

The ‘nationalism of small nations’ inevitably draws its emotional power from a sense of victimhood and a history of oppression — whether real or imagined. Watching the confiscations of ballot papers in Catalonia over the last week, I was reminded of the raid carried out by 300 Spanish Army officers on the Barcelona offices of the Catalan satirical magazine Cu-Cut! on 23 November 1905.  Outraged by a satirical cartoon lampooning the Spanish military, the officers trashed the magazine’s offices. The Spanish government, under pressure from the upper echelons of the army, banned the magazine for five months, then passed the Ley de Jurisdicciones (“Law of Jurisdictions”), which forbade any criticism of ‘Spain and its symbols’.

Some Catalan nationalists will remember that episode. Others will remember the ‘Reapers War’ of 1640-52, or the Nueva Planta decrees imposed on Catalonia by the Bourbon monarchy following the War of the Spanish Succession and the 1713-14 siege of Barcelona, which deprived Catalonia of the medieval charters and privileges it had enjoyed under the Crown of Aragon, and which set out to extinguish any trace of Catalanism — including the Catalan language itself. Some may recall the martyred general Josep Moragues i Mas, drawn and quartered in the streets of Barcelona by the Bourbons in 1715.

My piece on yesterday’s referendum for Ceasefire Magazine.  You can read the rest here

Mayday! Mayday!

There are some politicians who look better from a distance, and Theresa May is definitely one of them.  May and her advisors are clearly aware of this, and they have done their best to shield her anything approaching close scrutiny. They have refused to let her participate in political debates. In an absurd attempt to present May as a politician in touch with ‘ordinary people’,  her team have arranged a series of increasingly bizarre stage-managed encounters with party loyalists in factories and other public places from which the public has either been removed or forced to remain silent about what it heard.

Not that there has been much to hear, except for incantations and soundbites.  But even if these theatrical flourishes have a tinny North Korean-style echo to them, Tory Central Office clearly prefers that hollow sound to anything approaching intimacy or proximity – and with good reason.  Asked on Radio Derby whether she agreed with the arch-buffoon’s characterisation of Jeremy Corbyn as a ‘mugwump’ she replied ‘What I recognise is that what we need in this country is strong and stable leadership.’

That wasn’t an answer, but it is pretty much the only answer May has to any question these days.   Well not quite.  On the Andrew Marr show on Sunday she was asked what she thought of the fact that many British nurses use foodbanks.   May’s immortal answer was: ‘People use foodbanks for complex reasons’.  These words really ought to be trailed in blazing letters across the sky or put on the side of a bus and driven from one end of the nation to the other, because they capture not only the essence of Toryism, but the essence of May herself.

Remember all those months ago, when May demurely announced her leadership bid, oozing sincerity and humility as she told the world that she wasn’t one of those politicians who ‘wear their heart on the sleeve’ but someone who just ‘got on with the job in front of them’?  How appealing those words sounded then – to some at least.   Remember last year’s Tory Party conference when she railed against ‘international elites’ and promised to stand up for ‘ordinary working-class people’?   Her observations on foodbanks make it clear – if there was any doubt – that the reason she doesn’t wear her heart on her sleeve is because she has no heart at all, and that she doesn’t have the remotest idea who ordinary working class people actually are or what is actually happening to them.

In that sense she is not much different from her predecessor, or from the cynical clowns who she managed to fend off to get the Big Job.   But May’s aura of can-do competence last year had an immediate post-Brexit appeal to an anxious British public that was feeling nervous about what it had just voted for, and desperate for any politician who seemed to know where the country was going and how they were going to get there. May seemed confident and superficially competent enough to suggest that she might be that person – especially given the competition.

In addition, her meaningless tautological insistence that ‘Brexit means Brexit’ appealed to those who don’t care where we’re going as long as we get out of the EU.  So all good, except that it wasn’t.  May’s image of competence was already looking tarnished long before she called the election.  No sooner had she become PM than she appointed a succession of chancers, idiots and ideologues to her cabinet who were patently unworthy of their positions.   She then went on to make speech after speech alienating her European negotiating partners and pandering to the popcorn-munching gallery of Farageland.

True, she was good at throwing puerile Mean Girls insults at Jeremy Corbyn in PMQ. But the more she appears in any other format that is not controlled or scripted, the more it becomes painfully clear that she is yet another rabbit peering into the oncoming headlights of history, who is as out-of-depth as her colleagues and equally unwilling to listen to anyone who tells her things that she doesn’t want to hear.

If there was any doubt about this, the leaked reports in the Frankfurter Allgemeine Sonntagszeitung (FAZ) on the Downing Street ‘Brexit dinner‘ ought to lay them to rest.  OK, I know this is a German newspaper, and nowadays we know that Germany is only using the EU to get what it didn’t get during World War II and all Germans are closet Nazis and therefore can’t be trusted.  But apart from that, there is no reason to dispute the genuine shock and incredulity of Juncker and his colleagues on realising how little May understands about what is at stake over the next few months and years and how little leverage she actually has.

Given the kind of country that we have become, and the kind of newspapers that have done so much to bring us to the cliff-edge that we are now looking over, no one will be surprised that some have tried to spin this debacle as yet another example of the sheer iniquity of these damned foreigners.  Whether it’s Tony Parsons ranting on about the war and calling Jean-Claude Juncker a ‘puffed-up political pygmy’ or the Daily Mail venting about the ‘bully boys of the EU’, we have become accustomed to an extremely low-level debate – usually sloshing somewhere around the gutter – about all things European for a long time now.

Others will recognize that it is not a good look to have European politicians suggesting that the Prime Minister of the UK is ‘delusional’ and ‘living in another galaxy’, and that such accusations do no bode well.   They may wonder why May’s timetable seems so blatantly at odds with that of her negotiating partners, and why it is that she seems incapable of understanding the things they are telling her, and why she refuses to listen to people who tell her anything different.

Given these terrifying limitations, you can see why she has chosen to campaign as a robot programmed by Lynton Crosby that simply utters the words ‘strong and stable…strong and stable’ over and over again, like a soothing mantra for a country on the verge of a nervous breakdown to mutter to itself before slipping into another night’s fitful sleep.

If you or I were Theresa May we would do the same. But fortunately we aren’t.  We are in possession of our faculties, and we can still vote against her.   It may not be possible to vote her out of office, but her majority can certainly be reduced.  If it was, that would be a kind of victory.   And we need to try, because this hologram-robot is asking for a mandate to strengthen her hand in the Brexit negotiations, even when she clearly does not know what she is doing.

Giving into such a request would be like putting your hands on a steering wheel, driven by a would-be suicidal maniac screeching at high speed towards a brick wall.  Normally, sensible passengers don’t accept requests like that, but these are not normal times, and there will be those who will blame the looming disasters on the EU and the ‘saboteurs’ or ‘EU quislings, rather than the madwoman at the wheel.

May is clearly attempting to make us complicit in her madness, and it isn’t too late to come to our senses and vote for anything and anyone that is not Theresa May and not Tory.

Alternatively, we can just accept her invitation to grasp the wheel.  We can stare into her glassy eyes and mutter over and over again ‘strong and stable…strong and stable’ in the hope that it will all just work out somehow, despite the mounting evidence that it really won’t.

 

Liberation Day

No matter what the future may bring, those of us who were lucky enough to be alive and British on March 29 2017 will never forget the glorious day when the United Kingdom finally threw off the yoke of the European Union.  In the years to come, perhaps very soon, we will hold a national holiday to commemorate our liberation from four decades of unrelenting tyranny and near-total darkness, in which we had seen our precious nation brought to its knees by the dictatorship of Brussels.

At last, our emissaries handed over the letter expressing the will of the people,  and we were able to believe that it was really going to happen.   It was the end of a nightmare or the beginning of a dream.  Or the beginning of the beginning or the first birdsong heralding a new dawn or the birthpangs of a truly Global Britain.  For some, it was only comparable to VE Day or the liberation of Paris.  It was a moment that so many of us had dreamed of throughout the years of toil and suffering under the EU’s slippered jackboot.

Even Jacob Rees-Mogg was barely able to maintain the stiff upper lip and hold back the tears of joy as the first members of the EU occupying army began to pack their bags, taking their subsidies with them.  Others smiled contentedly as the EU nurses left in the wake of the occupying forces,  at the thought of the NHS that would soon be theirs. Cornwall and Wales let out a sigh of relief at the thought of all the European money that they would no longer receive.  Ukip MEPs, hardened through decades of guerrilla warfare in the belly of the beast on salaries of only £84,000 a year plus expenses, came back from Eurostar with their sten guns and handgrenades, wondering how they would turn swords into ploughshares and forge new careers in a country where their single MP had just turned independent.

Watching the non-existent crowds in the empty streets, Michael Gove felt a lump in his throat at the thought that he would not be prime minister after all, but took consolation from the prospect of all those drugs that could now come onto the UK market without EU clinical trials,  and the green spaces that could now be built over without all that EU red tape to prevent it.  Boris Johnson shambled out into the street with his shirt hanging out over his trousers wondering how long he would have to wait before he could prime minister.

Others dreamed of bigger things. Oceans full of fish.  Selling cows to New Zealand. Factories and coalmines reopening. Empty motorways and well-paid jobs for all. And above all, controlled borders and no foreigners, even though the government is now saying that immigration won’t go down after all.

The Sun, passed out like Father Jack in a corner of the nation’s living room, lifted its unshaven head and belched as it warned the Eurocratic scum that if they failed to reach a trade agreement the UK would stop sharing our ‘world-leading counter-terror and crime-fighting abilities’ with the EU.  ‘Your money or your lives!’ the Sun croaked drunkenly, because we really are that great.  And because in any trade negotiations, as the Sun reminded us before passing out again ‘ our crack team of politicians and civil servants’ will always vanquish the ‘Brussels no-hopers.’

Truly the white man had got his country back,  and could look forward once again to taking the underground and not hearing Polish in a journey that would hopefully end up somewhere in the early 1950s.   And the white woman  could also rejoice, like the woman in Hastings who found historical parallels between our current slavery and the Norman Conquest, and concluded that ‘The concept of being governed by an unelected body would have been absolutely abhorrent to anyone in those days. It’s almost like the state has been lost. It was like another takeover, we relinquished our law and power to an unelected body.’

As any student of history knows, those Normans would never have allowed England to be taken over by an unelected body, so we could only put out the flags and cheer even louder that such great and noble thoughts had brought us to this pass.   And the left could celebrate too, because as John McDonnell reminded us not long ago,  ‘Brexit is an opportunity.’   Now the working class had spoken and delivered a fatal blow to ‘the elite’ and the neoliberal order and the British had the chance to get the socialism they had always secretly wanted – even if it was only socialism in one country.

Bliss was it to be alive, as Wordsworth once said about an equally historic moment, and it needed a poet to capture the beauty and the history of our own Liberation Day. Fortunately we had Theresa May, one of those rare politicians with a poetic license to make the impossible sound plausible and articulate the opposite of what is actually happening with absolute and total conviction.

Yesterday the vicar’s daughter reached new rhetorical heights as she reminded the nation that we are now going to ‘going to make our own decisions and our own laws’, regardless of the fact that we already do.   She told us that the government that brought us foodbanks, fitness to work tests and the bedroom tax would ‘build a stronger, fairer Britain.’   Like so many others, she urged us to ‘ look forward with optimism and hope – and to believe in the enduring power of the British spirit.’

She told us ‘I choose to believe in Britain and that our best days lie ahead ‘ and we ‘chose’ to believe it too, even though there was absolutely nothing to suggest that any such future lay ahead.   We did so because we had learned that fairies were real and because Brexiters warned us that they were tired of negativity, pessimism, and doubt, and some of them were even suggesting that those of us who harboured such thoughts might be traitors or criminals or collaborators with the EU death machine.

Our Great Leader also ‘chose’ to believe in ‘the British spirit’ and we did too, because the spirit can reach places where material processes fail, and she was ‘confident that we have the vision and the plan’ even though nothing that has happened since last June suggests that she has either.  She promised us that we would become ‘a magnet for international talent and a home to the pioneers and innovators who will shape the world ahead’ –  even though we already are exactly that.

Typically British in her magnanimity, she offered the olive branch to the European despots, and told them that she wanted to have ‘a new deep and special partnership between Britain and the European Union’ – as opposed to the old one which we already have.

She also promised ‘ a bold and ambitious free trade agreement with the European Union that allows for the freest possible trade in goods and services between Britain and the EU’s member states; that gives British companies the maximum freedom to trade with and operate within European markets; and that lets European businesses do the same in Britain’ – precisely the agreement that we already have.

She pledged to ‘ strengthen the Union of the four nations that comprise our United Kingdom’ even though Scotland and Ireland are already pulling away and Wales is unlikely to be far behind.  She assured the workers amongst us that ‘workers’ rights are fully protected and maintained’ even though the British standard of living ranks at number ten out of 18 European countries and the Institute for Fiscal Studies predicts that most British workers will be earning no more in 2021 than they were in 2008.

Last but not least, she reminded parliament ‘ at moments like these – great turning points in our national story – the choices we make define the character of our nation.’

She was right about that too.