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I Miss the Soviet Union

Remember those bad old days of the Cold War? The evil Commies who stamped on people’s rights and stifled individualism?

Well, maybe they weren’t so bad after all.

Yes, life in the Eastern Bloc wasn’t a picnic and freedom of expression is a good thing – provided it isn’t taken too far.

But… The existence of the Soviet Union kept big business in the West honest (to a point.) Inequality was much less pronounced in the UK then than it is now; in the US too I wouldn’t wonder. With the example of a competing economic system to hand there was a brake on excess, those inclined to it restrained their greed. When so-called Communism (a description which was woefully inaccurate, there was little communal about it, it was an autocratic oligarchy) collapsed, the brakes came off and CEOs and executives of big companies let their impulses off the leash. Thoughts of paying and treating fairly the true source of any wealth created by a company’s endeavours, the workers, evaporated. Instead, those workers were squeezed, marginalised, treated with contempt, their abilities to protest curtailed – at least in the UK.

There is a thought amongst certain people – on both sides of the Atlantic – that government is in and of itself a bad thing, “A conspiracy against the people.” (These are probably mostly the same people who want to do whatever they like with no comeback.)

A Trump Presidency may be the experiment that tests that idea.

To destruction.

Unfortunately it won’t be its advocates whose lives will be destroyed. In times of turmoil it rarely is.

Lack of government does not mean freedom, it means anarchy. It means no protection against predators and wrongdoers. It means those with the deepest pockets have no barriers to their avarice prevailing. (It also means they in turn have no protection beyond what they can buy.) In effect, though, it means slavery – either real or (poorly) waged – for the majority.

Regulation of human activity – in any sphere – is actually a necessary constraint. “Freedom from” is as important as “freedom to”.

Which leads to the thought; if you are a woman working in the Trump White House, how safe will you be in terms of your personal autonomy? How free will you be from coercion?

Stop the World: I Want to Get Off

“Now it’s time for America to bind the wounds of division; have to get together. To all Republicans and Democrats and independents across this nation, I say it is time for us to come together as one united people.

“I pledge to every citizen of our land that I will be president for all Americans, and this is so important to me.

“I’m reaching out to you for your guidance and your help so that we can work together and unify our great country” – Donald Trump.

“We will make Britain a country that works not for a privileged few, but for every one of us.

“The Government I lead will be driven, not by the interests of the privileged few, but by yours” – Theresa May.

“Where there is discord may we bring harmony” – Margaret Thatcher.

Well; the last of these three didn’t work out well.

I don’t expect the first two to do so either.

Trumping Democracy

I happened to catch on BBC rolling news today a “speech” given by one Donald J Trump. This consisted mostly of him opening his mouth and letting anything pour out (or, as the phrase has it, letting his belly rumble.) There was absolutely nothing of substance in it whatever, merely the assertion and vacuous sloganising of a blustering braggart and bully.

I note that he has also repeated his belief that the US Presidential election is rigged against him.

So, let me get this clear; the reopening of an FBI investigation against his opponent isn’t rigging but its subsequent finding “no evidence of criminality” is? Is that perhaps because the first was to his advantage and the second wasn’t? (And yes, Donald, it is possible to trawl through millions of emails in a few days. There’s something called a “search” function that will allow you to do precisely that.)

The claim of rigging sounded to me remarkably like someone who thought they weren’t going to win anyway getting their excuses in first.

Yet the attitude behind it is the culmination of a trend I noticed a long time ago whereby Democratic Presidents don’t seem to be afforded the same leeway as that accorded to Republicans.

You may remember eight years ago I predicted that Barack Obama would face four (or eight) years of hounding if he were to be elected. I wasn’t wrong. As I recall it started as soon as he was sworn in (or even before if you don’t think the original swearing in was legitimate.)

To claim the election is rigged goes against everything the US is supposed to stand for. The cornerstone of democracy is that leaders are replaced peaceably – and the new one is accepted by the old and his/her supporters. Claims of illegitimacy put that peaceful handover in danger (and in the case of a country awash with firearms might even lead to civil war.)

There was also the small point of Trump suggesting during the campaign that he didn’t know what the “Second Amendment people” would do if his opponent wins. To which I say this, if Trump loses and the then President Hillary Clinton is subsequently assassinated the prime accused in any court case ought to be Donald Trump, for incitement to murder.

Later on the BBC news showed a speech by Clinton in which, by contrast, she appeared measured, thoughful, rational and reasonable. (To be fair that wasn’t a big ask.)

Mr Trump has been revealed (is even proud of the fact!) to have paid little or no tax for at least a ten year period and hasn’t released details of any tax payments in the years since. I find it incredible that a tax avoider can put himself forward to become the head of state of a country to which he has made no such monetary contribution. (My view is that it is the duty of a citizen to pay the taxes necessary for the country in which they are domiciled/make a living to be run successfully. And to do so without complaint. The only point to be debated is the level at which the taxes ought to be levied, not whether they are to be ignored.)

In amongst his ramblings Trump said America* was a laughing stock.

Not quite yet, Donald. Not quite yet.

But if you are elected President the US will not only have become a laughing stock overnight; it will have removed itself from the status of a serious nation and be seriously weakened as a result. Far from making America great again it will diminish it hugely. You can not have someone with the character traits of a narcissist in charge of a country’s diplomacy. Especially when that country is the most important in the world and whose actions may impact on allies and potential foes alike. (I shudder at the thought of any such person being in charge of the nuclear launch codes.)

US citizens might say their election is none of my business. To that I would reply “no annihilation without representation”.

A former US President once used the phrase, “Speak softly and carry a big stick.” Good advice; especially the “speak softly” part.

*Don’t you just love that appropriation of a whole two continents’ name to a polity which occupies only a small portion of its landmass?

Poppy Watching Again

I was actually thinking last night it was that time of year again, and also that if I caught sight of any of that unholy brigade of Farage, Johnson, Gove, Fox and Davies sporting a poppy this year I would be livid with rgae.

How dare they?

How dare they blazon their attempt to corral patriotism to their own ends?

How dare they coopt the sacrifice of those who died in the cause of better relations with our European neighbours rather than worse ones?

I actually saw some poppies for sale in the bank today when I was paying some bills. When I got home I got my first sighting of this year when there was a guy labelled as a historian wearing one on the news. He was commenting on the non-story of the Russian aircraft carrier which travelled through the Straits of Dover today en route to Syria, saying they normally went by the top of Scotland as it was shorter that way.

Really? Shorter to go straight down the North Sea than travel across the top of Scotland and all the way round Ireland?

I suppose the Scharnhorst, Gneisenau and Prinz Eugen etc made their channel dash in 1942 because that was the longer route? Pull the other one.

I found the tone of the news coverage of this perfectly unexceptional use of international waters to be verging on the hysterical. I do hope we are not being softened up for something.

Mr Irresponsible Just Can’t Help Himself

Not content with all his other serial idiocies culminating in being reckless with the UK’s future and then walking away from the resultant mess I today heard on the news that the man this blog knows as Mr Irresponsible, aka former UK Prime Minister David Cameron, is to resign his parliamentary seat.

He can’t even be bothered to give another four years commitment to constituents who were reasonably entitled to expect he would serve out his term till the next General Election. (The reasons he advanced for his decision were entirely spurious by the way. It is perfectly possible for him to be a back-bench MP and not cause the Government any bother at all.)

I would hope the good citizens of Witney give his party a bloody nose at the consequent by-election for being troubled totally unneccessarily but of course they won’t.

No doubt he has a very lucrative job (more likely jobs plural) or even sinecures lined up with some of the people and organisations whose interests he favoured while in office. To them I say; take care. He’ll mess those up just like everything else he has touched. I hope you come to regret it. He certainly won’t.

Theresa May Not

Of course I caught on the news Mr Irresponsible‘s last Prime Minister’s Questions. What a parade of sycophancy that was (with a few exceptions.) The man has been an absolute disaster for the country and he ended up being applauded for walking away from it! [On which note whatever happened to the convention that applause was unparliamentary? They just make it up as they go along.]

And did anyone else notice the journalist’s comment that austerity was forced on him? Forced? FORCED? It was a choice, a political choice that could quite easily have been made otherwise. In all probability it contributed mightily to the situation we find ourselves in. They say journalism is history’s first draft. In this case it was history being rewritten before it was history. David Cameron’s place in history is of course utterly secure – as the worst Prime Minister since the office was instituted, with the possible exception of Neville Chamberlain (though even he managed to delay war with Hitler till the country’s defences, in the shape of the RAF, were just up to the task.)

Then there was the fawning over the new PM, Theresa May. Did nothing else happen in the world today?

I did notice her claim that her government will not be to the favour of the privileged few but for those who are struggling. This reminded me of “where there is discord may we bring harmony” and we know how well that worked out for the less privileged.

And in one of her first acts….. She has appointed Boris Johnson as Foreign Secretary!

Words fail me.

Apart from:- on this evidence, Theresa certainly won’t.

What is Occurring, Terence?

The title of this post is, of course, taken from the TV series Minder, George Cole‘s signature role.

It is however the only appropriate phrase with which to greet the latest news from the soap opera that British politics has become. Yea, verily; Angela Leadsom – it seems only two seconds after anyone first came to hear of her – has abandoned her attempt to become Prime Minister.

So, not only is the architect of the catastrophe, Mr Irreponsible, quitting, his main nemesis been shown up for the buffoon he is and betrayed, his assassin defeated, and one of the last two standing has weaselled out (which is entirely in keeping with the way she weaselled in.)

Who leaned on her? Is Angela Leadsom really so thin-skinned that she cannot take criticism of a statement she made – on tape – to a journalist? Why has she suddenly decided she is no longer the person most suited to run the country? She seemed confident enough about her abilities a week or so ago.

This is the sound of the Tory party closing ranks, partly to presume upon Labour’s disarray, partly because it is just what Tories do. They can be ruthless in cleaving to what they see as their advantage. Its members may feel cheated of their chance to give their input but I suspect the Tory grandees have never been too keen on democracy – even democracy within the party – and may always have been looking for a way to engineer the result they wanted.

But…. To look at it another way it is actually a coup d’état. The Government has been removed and will be replaced with another, another that is liable to propel the UK even further rightwards, make it even more divided, even less fair, even more prepared to kowtow to the barons of the Press and their agenda, even less likely to address the concerns of those whose votes were suborned in order to enable it, even more likely to eviscerate – and even dismantle – the NHS and the BBC.

She may possibly have been the lesser of two evils but if the answer is Theresa May what the hell was the question?

And note, the wider electorate has been totally excluded from all this. I very much doubt there will be a General Election to sanction the change of government and due to the Fixed Parliament Act our new Prime Minister will have four years to do more or less as she wills. Her government’s majority of 12 in the House of Commons will not see serious inroads, unless there are by-elections. Tories, without the bee of the EU in their bonnets, won’t want to upset the apple cart.

On a happier note, congratulations to Andy Murray on winning Wimbledon for a second time. A thoroughly professional, accomplished performance.

Exit. (England 1-2 Iceland)

Euro 2016, Round of 16, Stade de Nice, 27/6/16.

It’s hard not to think that there’s some sort of karma about this result. After England voting to leave the EU (loosely referred to as Europe) its football team has just departed Europe unwillingly.

The commentator on ITV called it a humiliation and also used the word embarrassment. The unspoken assumption (though it was all but articulated) was that England should always be beating Iceland.

Well; to anyone who had watched Iceland’s group games this was no surprise. Iceland are supremely well organised, the players know what they’re supposed to be doing and play for the team and each other. They drew with Portugal and group winners Hungary and then beat Austria, well fancied before the tournament began. If that wasn’t sufficient warning as to what to expect what would be? Using words such as embarrassment and humiliation is extremely disrespectful to a group of players who work their socks off and have no little ability. I expect France will also find it hard to break them down in the next round.

Iceland know their limitations and strengths, and play to them; as a team. The same was true of Italy earlier in what was a magnificent team performance against Spain.

In this respect it is also hard to resist the temptation to remark that English football commentators have an inflated idea of the worth of their country’s footballers based on club performances. Just reflect, not one of those players is good enough to play for an overseas team. They appear effective at club level only because they are surrounded by foreign players who make them look good. And the clubs of the league they play in have not made too much of a splash in the so-called Champions League of late. (OK, Liverpool made the final of the Europa League this season but that was mostly due to foreigners, manager included.)

England’s most penetrative player tonight was an 18 year old who was only brought on to the pitch when it was far too late and has in any case not yet had the enthusiasm and any latent talent knocked out of him by unwarranted expectation.

Three Days On

When I got downstairs on Friday morning still trying to digest the result of the UK’s referendum on EU membership and the intention to resign of Mr Irresponsible aka Call me Dave aka David Cameron – who may now forever be known as the man who wrecked Britain – the sun was shining (briefly,) the birds were chirping, the bees were humming, so in one sense the vote didn’t matter. The sun will shine (at times) the birds will chirp and the bees hum (well we can hope) under any political circumstances.

But of course it does matter. The UK has been thrown into political turmoil, a rudderless chunk of driftwood at the mercies of whatever vicissitudes the markets and the attitudes of our spurned EU neighbours may put in our way and with both its major political parties internally at odds now that the Parliamentary Labour Party is attempting a putsch.

(I must say it takes a particular political genius, Dave, not only to trash your own personal political future, your place in history and the country’s fortunes with one act of folly but also with the outcome of that same act to throw into sharp relief the divisions between your political opponents such that it is they who make the headlines.)

The only stable political entities within the UK for the foreseeable future are the devolved ones in Edinburgh, Cardiff and Belfast and the likelihood of the last one remaining stable is dubious at best.

But it seems that these devolved assemblies have to agree on EU withdrawal and to consent to the required changes in the Acts which set them up (see articles 70 and 71 of this House of Lords document.) Given that a substantial majority of Scots who voted in the referendum expressed a wish to remain in the EU the Scottish Parliament is unlikely to do this. What a mess.

Today the sun isn’t shining, I can hear no birds chirp nor bees hum. Tomorrow doesn’t belong to me.

Where Do We Go From Here?

Under normal circumstances I would be welcoming the intention of David Cameron (known to this blog as Mr Irresponsible) to resign as Prime Minister of the UK as in my opinion he has been the worst incumbent of that office in its entire history (and there has been severe competition for that title.)

However; these are not normal circumstances. The prospect of either of the leading lights of the Vote Leave campaign, Boris Johnson and Michael Gove, succceeding him as PM is beyond nightmare. The direction in which the UK would travel under their auspices is not one I would find at all congenial. That Scotland may be given the chance of another vote on independence from the UK as a result of the EU referendum does not alter that conviction. I would not wish what would then be our nearest neighbour to be under their leadership. It is to be hoped the Conservative Party turns away from them and chooses someone else but quite who is actually up to the job is not evident.

I was going to call David Cameron’s decision to cave in to the bullies’ demands for a referendum a catastrophic misjudgement, but I don’t think he made a judgement at all. Everything in his political life so far has gone his way and he thought that situation would continue. But he is a weak man and has reaped his reward. The verdict of history will be harsh.

And what will happen to that southern neighbour when the promised £350 million a week for the NHS doesn’t appear, when immigration stubbornly refuses to fall, when visas are required to travel to the EU, when jobs fail to be created and employment conditions worsen further, when the anger and resentment which Vote Leave has stoked but whose underlying causes they will neither address nor ameliorate, bursts out? Against whom will that anger be directed and in what form? Anyone who looks different? Who sounds different?

What happens to the fragile peace process in Northern Ireland?

How encouraging will this be to right wingers across Europe? What if the Front National wins power in France and starts to discriminate against Muslims – which they surely will, or worse – enraging those with a grudge against “Europe” even more. You can be sure the likes of ISIS/Da’esh will not make a distinction between French Crusaders and British ones.

The immediate future is going to be immensely troubling. This has no simple outcome. The EU cannot afford to be easy-going on the negotiations which have to take place for a UK withdrawal. If they were it would only provide encouragement to any other country which might think of leaving. In any case what incentive would it have to be lenient to a country which has just slapped it in the face. Divorce proceeding are notorious for their acrimony.

As for the main advocate of the UK leaving the EU these past twenty odd years, Nigel Farage. There is now no reason for his party to exist or for him to appear on television ever again – a consummation devoutly to be wished. There is only one phrase fit for him. Il faut cultiver son jardin.

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