Mayday! Mayday!

I’ve just returned to Brexitland after a week in the Aragonese Pyrenees with my daughter. During that time we continued to follow the tumultuous events that have convulsed our tormented island: Chilcot; the PLP’s viciously inept coup; the rapid extinction of the wretched Andrea Leadsom and the coronation of Theresa May; the ongoing racism coursing freely through the body politic.

Watching it from a distance there were a few shreds of minor comfort that could be drawn from the UK’s startling transformation into a political motorway pileup: the eclipse of Michael Gove and Boris Johnson; the indictment of Tony Blair by British establishment mandarins; the fact that England were no longer in the European championship.

That was about it really, and it wasn’t much.  Returning to the motherland on Wednesday rapidly dissipated the lingering glow of schadenfreude and the healing properties of sunshine and mountain landscapes, and reminded me that the country I was born in has become a thing to behold with more horror than admiration.  Within minutes of passing through the ridiculous signs aggressively proclaiming UK BORDER to all those foreigners out there stupid enough to mistake passport control for…passport control, I saw my first headline from the Daily Express: ‘Theresa May Will Stop Migrant Crisis.’

No surprises there.  The day the Express  fails to put the word ‘migrant’ on its front page is the day Richard Desmond will probably self-combust along with many of his readers.   Even more ominously a phone call to my mother revealed that Boris Johnson, the Great Liar whose ambitions had supposedly been thwarted by Michael Gove’s treachery, had been called into Downing Street for talks with Theresa May.

By the time we left the airport we found out that Johnson had been made Foreign Secretary.  I felt the beginnings of Brexit fever coming on again – a shaking hand and trembling jaw, eyes staring wildly in search of an escape route – as I tried to absorb the fact that the UK’s new foreign secretary is the same man who once lied again and again about the European Union as a journalist; who has made racist ‘gaffes’, as the media likes to call them, a stock-in-trade of his cheekie chappie persona; who suggested that Obama’s support of the EU was due to his ‘Kenyan ancestry’; a man who doesn’t read briefs; who used to shout ‘yah fishcakes’ when asked questions by the London Assembly; who was instrumental in winning the Brexit vote even though he had no plan what to do next.

I wanted to think it was funny, in a giggly, knockabout farce kind of way, as though I were watching a movie called Carry On Brexit, but I found I wasn’t laughing.  As the train sped across the East Anglian countryside we pored over our phones and read the media praising David Cameron’s ‘dignified’ last PMQs as though they were saying goodbye to a noble and benign statesman, rather than the Flashmanlike bully and glib PR man who gambled his country’s future to win a political argument within the Tory Party, and who still had the unbearable gall to talk of his dedication to the ‘national interest.’

We read aghast that MPs on both sides of the house had applauded a prime minister who will surely go down as one of the greatest political wreckers in his country’s history.  Some of these honorable gentlemen were Labour MPs who had previously shouted, heckled and sniggered at their own leader when he called for unity on the day that Cameron originally announced his resignation and apologized for the Iraq War.   Some of them  had sought to exclude Corbyn from the ballot in the leadership contest because they knew that he would win with an even bigger majority than last time.

These efforts were still going on even as our train continued to run through the stops. By the time we reached our destination we learned that the NEC had allowed Corbyn on the ballot after all – so generous of the NEC to allow a leader who won with more than sixty percent of the vote last year and still has the overwhelming support of his party membership to run.     But shortly afterwards we discovered that this act of largesse had outrageously cancelled out by a new announcement from the NEC that all members who have joined the party since February must pay £25 in order to vote in the leadership contest.

To say that this was dispiriting and unedifying doesn’t even begin to describe it.  It’s simply mindboggling to contemplate the strange combination of Ruritania and Banana Republic that the UK has become as it continues to sink into a swamp of rancorous decadence with a distinctly Weimar flavour as it frantically searches for new ways to exclude foreigners from the country and find itself a new post-imperial role in a world that mostly sees us as a bad joke.

On the surface,  Boris Johnson is the most obvious example of the Banana Republic jokey part.  We know this is a man who likes a laff, and his improbable recovery from the knife that Gove stuck into him is yet more proof, if any were needed, that in today’s Britain intellectual shallowness, narcissism, political dishonesty, racism and incompetence are no obstacles to the progress of elite white politicians, and might actually smooth their progress to high office.

But Johnson’s promotion is also evidence of why the Tory Party has ruled the country for so long.  After a brief period in which political bodies were piling up on stage like the final scene from a Revenger’s tragedy, the party has locked together behind Theresa May and produced a hard-right government that includes representatives of most of the factions that might have destabilised it.

Like Cameron when he first appeared as the Tory antidote to Tony Blair, May’s government has announced itself with lots of emollient ‘healing’ One Nation rhetoric. No one who looks at May or her team can take such claims seriously.    First of all there is May herself, the political equivalent of Cruella de Vil, who presided over a swathe of draconian anti-immigrant laws, deportations and restrictions, including the removal of some 50,000 foreign students falsely accused of faking English language tests,  and supported every bleak miserable decision that the Cameron/Osborne tandem took in the name of austerity.

Then there is Liam Fox, the equally rightwing former defense secretary whose ‘friend’ Adam Werritty accompanied him on official foreign trips and conducted private business that forced Fox to resign, and should have excluded him permanently from political office. And don’t expect much ‘healing’ from new Home Secretary Amber Rudd, who is a member of the political council of the Henry Jackson Society.  Or from the new Environment Secretary Andrea Leadsom – UK Mum of the Year – who knows as much about the environment as I do about astrophysics.

May clearly doesn’t know or care much about it either, and has now abolished the Department for Energy and Climate Change in the same week that scientists have warned the government to take urgent action to mitigate the effects of…climate change.  And then there is David Davies, the new ‘Minister for Brexit’ who even when he was campaigning in May didn’t realise that it is not possible to conclude separate trade agreements with EU member states.

For all the talk about May’s ‘safe pair of hands’ this is a hard-right, reactionary government that isn’t really likely to heal the nation even in normal circumstances, let alone when faced with the distinctly abnormal and unpromising circumstances in which we now find ourselves.  Nevertheless it is a government, and the fact that it even exists is a testament to the Tory Party’s ability to hold itself together when it counts, and lock the troops together after completing its ritual political slaughter.

While the new government purrs smoothly away – probably towards disaster but never mind – Labour’s wheels continue to screech frantically round in the mud into which the PLP has dragged the party.   Instead of trying to use the massive increase in membership as a basis for a revitalised social democratic politics, its MPs are actively seeking to neutralize and even expel their own membership, using the kind of gerrymandering practices that one would expect to find in Ulster in the 1960s.

The outcome of this struggle is by no means clear, but the fact that it is even taking place at all is an act of gross irresponsibility which suggests that many MPs have more in common with their counterparts on the other side of the chamber than they do with their own leader or their own members.

It’s also a tragedy, which opens up the chilling but very real scenario that May and her team of reactionaries and buffoons may prove to be far more enduring than they have any right to be.

 

 

 

 

Liars’ Ball: the Unbearable Lightness of Brexit

There’s a tendency in some fringe political circles at both left and right-wing political circles to imagine that the ‘system’ we have is secretly or overtly controlled by an all-powerful and all-seeing group of malevolent men who are able to direct events entirely according to their own whims..  They might be the Bilderberg group, the Illuminati, David Icke’s lizard-people or Dick Cheney and his neocon cabal holed up inside a mountain coolly pulling the levers of 9/11in order to justify endless imperial war.

The monumental political car-crash that has taken place in the last few days suggests a very different explanation of why things happen.  Malevolence is certainly not lacking in this horrendous episode; in fact it practically oozes out of every pore of the disgusting campaign that Leave is now erasing from the Internet.   In the last few days a succession of Brexiters have admitted that the promises they made and the outcomes they hinted at will not be realised, and they have also made it clear that they have no plan about what to do next.

Daniel Hannan has said that freedom of movement will not stop. Farage has said that the £350 million NHS promise was a mistake.  Ian Duncan-Smith now says that the promises made during the campaign were only ‘possibilities.’   Liam Fox says we won’t trigger Article 50 without a period of reflection.  In a stunningly fatuous and glib Telegraph article on Sunday, even by his standards, Boris Johnson essentially said that nothing would change as a result of Brexit.  We can all go on living, working and studying in Europe.   We will continue to cooperate with Europe.  The only change is that the UK will extricate itself from the EU’s extraordinary and opaque system of legislation.’

Something tells me that that is not what many leavers voted for.  Even the newspapers that did so much to promote and sell the Brexit idea to the public now admit that there will be serious negative consequences for their readers.  The Sun had a piece over the weekend on ‘how leaving the EU will affect your wallet’.  Among other things it warned that ‘buying goods or services will become more expensive’ – something that clearly impact on the British economy.   The Sun also suggested that inflation will rise, accommodation could cost more; unemployment may increase and wages could fall, leaving the average worker £780 worse off; that the falling pound would push up interest rates, thereby increasing rents and mortgages.

Other predictions included a shortfall in government income from taxation of between £28 billion to £44 billion by 2019-2202, leading to higher taxes and more cuts, which might result in some families losing as much as £2, 771 in benefits, according to another of those pesky experts who Leave exhorted the public to ignore, the National Institute of Social and Economic Research (Niesr) – in a report that the Sun now quotes as an authoritative source.

No wonder one Sun reader asked plaintively  ‘ Why didn’t you tell us before? Did you not think of this before the vote? Can we take it back now? Please?’ and another pointed out ‘ All info it would have been good to know BEFORE the vote. Thanks Sun.’

Some may conclude that readers who believe the Sun have only themselves to blame, but millions of people who read other papers also listened to the lies and fantasies propagated by Farage, Johnson, Gove, IDS & Co

Yet even if  you conclude that this deception serves some people’s personal political ambitions, it’s difficult not to conclude that overall, this is a massive enormous own-goal by the British ruling class, which  has precipitated one of most devastating national political crises in recent memory – when it was not even necessary.

In using the referendum as a vehicle for individual political ambition and a solution to internecine Tory political problems,  Cameron and his opponents have acted against the interests of their own party, against their own class,  as well as the interests of the nation as a whole.  They divided the country like no event in its history.  They have weakened the economy and lost money for their rich pals.  They have threatened the disintegration of the UK while simultaneously wrecking its reputation internationally.

It is now horrifically and terrifyingly clear that the men responsible for this disaster did not anticipate it and were woefully-unprepared for its consequences, and had in fact no plan whatsoever.  So we aren’t dealing with Bilderberg lizard-men here, but with political stupidity and incompetence on an epic scale by rulers who ‘neither see, nor feel, nor know’, as Shelley once put it, some of whom emerged from the weekend yesterday to share their grief and repentance with the nation:

David Cameron

In her famous study of historical mistakes and catastrophes The March of Folly, the historian Barbara Tuchman analysed a series of avoidable historical disasters and catastrophes from Troy to Vietnam, in an attempt to understand why rulers and governments sometimes pursue ‘policy contrary to self-interest.’

Given that we have all become spectators of precisely this phenomenon, it’s worth revisiting some of her conclusions.   Tuchman found various explanations for this tendency in government.  They included ‘the insidious spell of wooden-headedness’ in which governments and policy-makers become locked into a kind of internal group-think, so that its members stop asking critical questions about the policies they have chosen.

Tuchman saw this this tendency to ‘breed folly’ as a product of unaccountable power. since ‘the power to command frequently causes failure to think’.  Some these explanations might apply to our current predicament, but Tuchman also quotes Ralph Waldo Emerson’s warning that ‘ In analyzing history do not be too profound, for often the causes are quite superficial.’

Meditating on this, Tuchman rightly concludes:

‘This is a factor often overlooked by political scientists who, in discussing the nature of power, always treat it, even when negatively, with immense respect.  They fail to see it as sometimes a matter of ordinary men walking into water above their heads, acting unwisely or foolishly or perversely as people in ordinary circumstances frequently do.  The trappings of power deceive us, endowing the possessors with a quality larger than life.  Shorn of his tremendous curled peruke, high heels and ermine, the Sun King was a man subject to misjudgement, error and impulse – like you and me. ‘

This is true as far as it goes.  But ‘ordinariness’ doesn’t necessarily equate with ‘well-meaning’, and it can’t be offered as an excuse for the reckless gamble that led Lord Snooty and His Pals to push their country off a cliff.   That requires a combination of arrogance, superficiality, sociopathic indifference, reckless ambition and stupidity of a type that we have rarely seen displayed so openly in British politics.

And the fact that jokers like Cameron, Johnson and Gove have been able to perpetrate such a monumental folly on the nation is perhaps a symptom of a wider rottenness and decadence in the political system, in the ability of the ruling classes to churn out politicians of quality even on their own terms, and perhaps the folly is ours as well, since, as Tuchman argues:

‘The problem may be not so much a matter of educating officials for government as educating the electorate to recognize and reward integrity of character and to reject the ersatz.  Perhaps better men flourish in better times, and wiser government requires the nourishment of a dynamic rather than a troubled and bewildered society.’

Perhaps they do, but these are not the men we have, and they aren’t the times we have, and it is now clear that our society is far more troubled and bewildered than many of us knew.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

From Panama With Love

In a democratic society there are times when one can put politics aside, and be magnanimous in victory or gracious in defeat.   There are moments when you may be tempted to be generous towards even your bitterest political enemies, and even to show empathy with them, when they suffer personal tragedy, or when they or their families are attacked unfairly or subjected to physical violence.

Panamagate is most definitely not one of those moments.   This is not a time for peace, love and understanding.   It is not a time to assert our common humanity even with those who disagree with us.

It is absolutely not the time to show any sympathy or empathy with David Cameron. It’s true that Tory Central Office is working overtime to persuade the public to accept that Lord Snooty’s slippery account of his involvement in his father’s financial affairs was motivated by a ‘very human’ attempt to protect his family.

We should no more fall for that one, than so many of us once fell for the cuddly Cameron who used to ride to central office on a bike and wanted us all to hug hoodies.  Because this is the moment when karma has bitten Lord Snooty right on his pampered backside, the moment when the leader of one of the most brutal and inept governments in the history of the country has been well and truly hoisted by his own petard, and we should do everything we can to make sure it’s hauled up even higher.

This is the time to wake with a spring in our steps to the sound of the Animaniacs, as Lord Snooty heads for the rubbish heap of history and a new Downfall video.

Because this isn’t just a question of hypocrisy, although  a man who condemns tax avoidance in others as morally wrong and benefits from it himself is certainly a Grade A hypocrite.   And a man who tells the nation that ‘we’re all in together’ and hails the advent of the Big Society while forcing nearly a million people to depend on foodbanks is a hypocrite too.   So we can only celebrate the fact that Cameron has been weakened and diminished.  But it isn’t even the simple pleasures of schadenfreude – though these are not to be spurned when we are dealing with the leader of one of the most brutal governments in British history.

But Cameron is so much more than a mere hypocrite.  His government’s policies have made people poor and poorer and made them homeless.  In the name of austerity his government has inflicted savage welfare cuts that have actually driven people to their deaths.   Pretending to be a responsible leader taking ‘tough choices’, Cameron’s governments have  used the economic crisis as a pretext for privatisations and brutalist shock therapy aimed at transferring wealth to corporations and individuals who make use of the same mechanisms that his father did, many of whom belong to the sleazy, slippery world revealed in the Panama Papers.

This is the world  where gangsters, soccer stars, autocrats, and Surrey stockbrokers mingle.   It’s a world that includes Russian oligarchs and Tory politicians; a world where you can find  Ariel Sharon’s former advisor Dov Weissglass, the man who once defined the Gaza blockade as an attempt to ‘put the Palestinians on a diet, but not to make them die of hunger’ – and Tareq Abbas, son of Mahmoud Abbas, who owns $1 in shares in an offshore company registered to the Palestinian Authority.

It’s a world where you can find Assad’s bagman Rami Makhlouf, Simon Cowell, and Lionel Messi, all united by a single overriding aim – to keep as much of their wealth for themselves as they possibly can, regardless of what happens to the countries they come from.

They belong to the international community of money – perhaps the only authentic borderless community in the 21st century.    But many of the world leaders who have profited from Mossack Fonseca’s services have also acted within their national borders as instruments of financial capital, in imposing austerity on their own populations, but not themselves.

Take Peter Poroshenko, the Ukrainian Prime Minister,  who has won the praise of the IMF for imposing a draconian shock therapy program on his own people, which has reduced social income support expenditures, frozen the minimum wage, cut public-sector wages, and raised energy tariffs by as much as 56 percent. This is the Poroshenko who pledged to sell his chocolate business before he was elected.  Instead he got  Mossack Fonseca to set up an offshore holding company in the British Virgin Islands two months after his election, thereby saving himself millions of dollars.

A neat game if you’re rich enough to play it, and plenty of people are.  Like Argentina’s millionaire president Mauricio Macri, who defeated Cristina Kirchner last year on a neoliberal, anti-corruption platform.   Since he came to power in December last year, Macri has slashed the education budget by half, and laid off 14,000 public sector workers, the first of a projected 60,000 -200,000 layoffs.  Those who have protested these policies have been attacked by police with rubber bullets, tear gas and water cannons.

Yet now the Panama Papers have revealed that Macri didn’t declare two trading companies when he was Mayor of Buenos Aires.

Lord Snooty and His Pals belong firmly to this tradition, so now is not the time to shake our heads and say he’s done nothing illegal.  It’s not a question of illegality – yet.   It’s a question of politics, and a time to challenge the politics that have been imposed on us for so long, in which a wealthy elite spirits away its wealth while taking wealth away from the ‘little people’.

So let’s not detain ourselves for longer than a microsecond on the fraudulent opportunist Boris Johnson’s puerile and offensive  of the super-rich as a ‘put-upon minority’.  Johnson would like us to ‘ stop any bashing or moaning or preaching or bitching and simply give thanks for the prodigious sums of money that they are contributing to the tax revenues of this country, and that enable us to look after our sick and our elderly and to build roads, railways and schools.’

I say no, no, and no again.   Now is the time to keep up the pressure and pile on the criticism, to express all the outrage, mockery and contempt that we can muster towards politicians like Cameron, Macri and Poroshenko, who would impoverish the rest of us even as they enrich themselves.   Now is the time to celebrate the latest nail that Lord Snooty has just nailed into his political coffin, and remember the £50 notes that he and his mates once burned in front of the homeless.

Now is the time to sing along with the Animaniacs:

High lock, up goes the ship
Low lock, the ship takes a dip
First they raise the water level
Then lower it again
‘Cross the Panama Canal
It’s real easy

We pass the locks, with good moral
Forty miles on the Panama Canal
The crew yells out, ‘Thank you, Hal’
Forty miles on the Panama Canal

 

Cruel Britannia: Light Unto the Nations

This week, while our valiant prime minister was ‘battling for Britain’ amongst the bloodsucking Euro-hordes in Brussels, the Home Office approved the deportation of a 92-year-old South African widow who is blind in one eye.   These two events are not as unrelated as they might seem.  One of the key demands in Lord Snooty’s ‘battle’ in Brussels consists of persuading Britain’s fellow-EU members to restrict in-work and out-of-work benefits to European migrant workers and their families, and such actions are the stuff of patriotism in these bleak times.

So too is the deportation of 92-year-old Myrtle Cothill.  Cothill has been a widow for forty years, and for most of that time she lived in South Africa on her pension, with additional support from her friends and her local church.   When she became older and frailer she moved to the UK to be cared for by her daughter.   Cothill has an enlarged heart, poor hearing and she has lost the sight in one eye because of macular degeneration.  She costs the British state nothing and receives a £300 a month pension, but she is nevertheless physically and emotionally dependent on her family in England.

Despite this, the Home Office rejected her application to remain in the UK last December, on the grounds that her ‘condition was not deemed to be life-threatening’ and that ‘suitable medical treatment’ was available in South Africa, in the form of the Red Cross.  Cothill has been in the country since February 2014 -two years after changes in British immigration law drastically restricted the ability of adult dependent relatives to enter the UK.

Last October her application for leave to remain in the country on human rights grounds was rejected by an immigration tribunal, which declared that she had ‘obtained entry to the United Kingdom by deception, and that she and her daughter arranged their affairs with the deliberate intention of making her removal difficult.’

The tribunal vice-president declared that ‘Evidently neither of them is a person of credit and there is no reason why they should be believed…about the appellant’s circumstances.’ One can only assume from this judgement that Myrtle Cothill is not really 92 but a lot younger, that she can see with both eyes and she doesn’t have an enlarged heart, and that she does not require the emotional and physical care that a 92-year-old woman might need from her daughter.

Above all we should disregard her daughter’s insistence that ‘ My mother is in a terrible state.  She is just shaking and shaking….She should be with her family.  The heartbreak of leaving us at her age could finish her off and finish me off too.’

Of course no red-blooded British patriot can allow such blatant sentimentality and emotional blackmail to cloud their judgement, and we have learned again and again these last years that none of our institutions is more patriotic than the Home Office.

So on Tuesday a Home Office immigration enforcement officer informed Cothill that she was booked on Virgin Atlantic flight VS601 next Tuesday.   Cothill’s immigration adviser has described this decision as ‘contrary to every human instinct or duty to care for our elders’, but we have long become a country where human instincts that were once taken for granted have been revisited and reassessed according to other criteria, such as their cost to the taxpayer, or ‘hardworking families’ or simply British citizens per se.

Nowhere have these instincts been more conspicously absent than in our collective attitude towards the immigrants who have had the temerity to come to our shores.   I say collective, even though there are millions of people in this country who would be genuinely shocked and appalled if they were aware of the Cothill deportation and so many other similarly brutal decisions that have been taken over the years.   But these are not the people who are driving our viciously barbaric immigration policy, and they are not the people Lord Snooty is ‘battling’ for in Brussels.

Both Cameron’s flagwaving and the Home Office’s latest demonstration of ‘toughness’ are intended to placate a rightwing press that eats xenophobia as its daily bread.   Politicians – and Tory politicians in particular – have colluded with the tabloids in inciting that section of the British public that is most selfish, most paranoid, and steeped to its dismal core in hatred and contempt towards everything foreign.

Let no one be fooled by the fact that some of the most rabidly anti-immigrant tabloids have supported Cothill – whose father fought in the British army in World War I.  For these patriots individual cases are generally eclipsed by the generic portrayal of immigrants as parasites, terrorists, health tourists, rapists or invaders who take something away from ‘our people’,  unless they play in the Premier League.

Dripping with bile and whining victimhood about all the evils that immigration has perpetrated on our kindly, generous nation, these voices have drowned and smothered the better instincts of the British population, to the point  when the state is able to present even the most egregious acts of cruelty as just another routine demonstration of rigour and implacability in ‘defending our borders.’

The Cothill deportation is one more example of our vertiginous descent. Of course it’s shameful and disgraceful that our government should be even considering the deportation of a half-blind, 92-year-old woman.

But this is what we’ve allowed ourselves to become.  It’s what we’ve allowed our government to do in our name, and perhaps the most terrifying thing about it is that we don’t even seem to realize how shameful and disgraceful it really is.