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Oh, Maggie, What Did We Do?

Anyone looking for a metaphor for the parlous state of the UK today doesn’t need to go very far. They only have to look at Theresa May’s speech at the Tory Party Conference yesterday. Just about everything that could go wrong did. The prankster illustrating the lack of authority the office of Prime Minister now holds. That letter falling off the slogan in the background which says it all about how austerity has hollowed away national cohesion and expertise. The slogan itself – a blatant example of truth reversal (they’re not building the country; they’re tearing it apart; they never do anything for everyone, they act for themselves, those who fund them and the extremely well-off.) A leader struggling to overcome the problems (albeit not entirely of her own making – though she didn’t do much to prevent their coming to pass and arguably contributed to their increase) in front of her.

And what on Earth was that about the British Dream?

There isn’t a British Dream*. We don’t do that sort of thing. We’re not USian.

But the phrase reminded me irresistibly of this song written by Roger Waters and taken from Pink Floyd’s album The Final Cut, from which I filched this post’s title. And the question it poses is a good one. I can trace all the ills that befall life in the UK today to that government from the 1980s. Kow-towing to the power of money, rampant exploitation of workers, poorly paid jobs, lack of social housing, high private rents – all have their roots in those times.

There are two unfortunate references in the song’s lyric, though. “Nips” (but that of course enables the rhyme) and “England”. She did damage to a hell of a lot more than England, Roger.

Pink Floyd: The Postwar Dream

*If there is it consists of getting the better of Johnny Foreigner and despising its own working class.

Counterproductive Tactics

What a spectacular misjudgement the Spanish government made in their response to the referendum in Catalonia.

Yes it did not have official sanction and therefore was illegal but to send in riot police and beat up citizens is not going to win over voters. It may have the diametrically opposite effect.

In a similar vein, if you wish to convince the citizens of a country with whose head of state you have a dispute to get rid of him themselves and that you are not a threat to those citizens in the way he claims then it isn’t perhaps the wisest pronouncement to say you will totally destroy said country.

Forgetting History

Jonathan Freedland in The Guardian on how T Ronald Dump crossed a line when he failed to condemn neo-Nazis after Charlottesville.

The worst thing was that the incumbent President of the United States – supposedly the leader of the free world – conveyed moral equivalence between Nazism/fascism and those who oppose it. That is breathtaking in its lack of awareness and abdication of responsibility for decency.

I have read an article which claimed that just because you opposed Nazism it didn’t mean your cause was necessarily good. What?

WHAT?

(The rationale was that Stalin fought fascism/Hitlerism, the implication, that since Stalin was bad then so, if you fight Nazism, are you.)

[I hesitated to post the link here as I didn’t want to encourage the writer in his false comparisons but finally decided to. (Here.)]

Quite apart from the outrageous insult his proposition is to those Allied soldiers who signed up to fight in the Second World War and even more so to those who gave their lives doing so, (it implies they were fellow travellers, duped) what a despicable piece of whataboutery that false equation represents. It gets the whole thing exactly the wrong way round.

The true state of affairs is that if you don’t fight Nazism/fascism then your cause is bad.

Apparently 9% of US citizens polled after Charlottesville believe that neo-Nazi or white supremacist views are acceptable. If the poll is representative that means 30 million people in the US share those beliefs. That is a forgetting of history right there.

How did it come to this? How did people come to forget those vile views (and the actions which resulted from them) were what their grandfathers had to fight against? How can a belief in the US as a bastion of freedom co-exist with an ideology whose aim is to extinguish freedom? (Even as that ideology is dressed up as a crusade for freedom of expression – or historical memory.)

A Professor Halford E Luccock of Yale University is quoted in the New York Times of 12/9/1938 as saying, “When and if fascism comes to America it will not be labelled “Made in Germany”; it will not be marked with a swastika; it will not even be called fascism; it will be called, of course, “Americanism”.”

Beware those who fly flags of whatever colour.

How Much Do Ant and Dec Get Paid?

The Tories came up with this wheeze to get the BBC to publish the salaries of its top earners as a way of kowtowing to the wishes of their masters’ at News Corp, Sky and elsewhere as part of their continuing project to undermine the BBC. The theory seems to be that people will object to TV Licence money being “wasted” on celebrities who (by definition) are not doing a “proper” job.

Agreed these are ludicrous sums, but no more so than top footballers’ pay (perhaps less) or the even more egregious amounts paid to heads of banks and CEOs/directors at large companies, who don’t do a proper job either.

And what’s appropriate for the BBC is surely good for its broadcasting rivals too.

After all, if I happen to buy a product that has been advertised on ITV, I still pay for Ant and Dec’s salaries even though I never watch them. Ditto for anyone that appears on Sky. Why should their payments be any more commercially confidential than those who appear on the BBC?

I look forward to the day when the salaries of those at ITV and Sky are made public instead of just being estimated.

I won’t be holding my breath though.

Bow Down. Know Your Place!

I have scarcely been disturbed so much by a British Prime Minister’s address than I was today by Theresa May.

The tone of her speech announcing her snap decision to have a General Election reminded me of nothing so much as President Erdoğan of Turkey who promised to ignore criticism by international observers of the recent referendum “result” in that country.

The way in which this has been greeted shows that the Fixed Parliament Act is not worth the paper it is written on. If a Prime Minister can just announce an election any time and everyone strings merrily along what was the point of it? Jeremy Corbyn’s acquiescence to the prospect merely gives him the opportunity to write his own long suicide note.

It makes a complete mockery of the electoral process – and to any objections Tories in Scotland may have to a second Scottish Independence Referendum on the grounds of weariness with ballots, or unripe time. The pretence that this is about anything other than embedding May’s own grip on the Prime Ministership is as breathtaking as it is mendacious.

And how can we believe anything she now says? This is something she emphasised she would not do and yet…. (OK she is a politician but this is brazen beyond belief.)

But none of that is my main concern. May’s line that “there should be unity here in Westminster, but instead there is division. The country is coming together, but Westminster is not,” is truly chilling. She is effectively saying that there should be no quibbling with her policies, that everyone should do as she says.

This is not any kind of democracy that I know.

Does she not believe in opposition? That those who do not agree with her have not just a right, but a duty, to speak out? (And to be represented in Parliament.)

It would seem, from her own words, that she does not.

This is the stance of a dictator.

So. “All hail Theresa Erdoğan, saviour of the nation.”

May Day

So. This is May’s day.

… — … … — … … — …
Dot, dot, dot; dash, dash, dash; dot, dot, dot. Dot, dot, dot; dash, dash, dash; dot, dot, dot. Dot, dot, dot; dash, dash, dash; dot, dot, dot.
Mayday! Mayday!

We in the UK have recently been sailing troubled waters but now we are coming out of a lea shore and are about to enter the full blast of the storm. Who knows what the political landscape of these islands will look like in three years’ time? A second Scottish Independence referendum has been made ever more probable by the UK goverment’s stance on a so-called hard Brexit and deaf ear to other voices.

Scottish independence might have been achieved on a relatively friendly basis in 2014 but I doubt that’s at all likely now.

The febrile English nationalists (for that is what they are) who have driven this headlong rush over a cliff have no thought of (or care for) Scotland – and still less for Northern Ireland for which this represents a double crisis, the “cash for ash” scandal having led to a breakdown of the power sharing arrangements. They will exact a heavy price for what they will no doubt see as a betrayal of “England, their England”.

I believe Theresa May is trying to look stern when she lectures all and sundry in the House of Commons and on television but to me she looks threatening – as in, don’t dare cross me, my revenge will be sweet – despite there being no substance behind her bluster. Scotland can look for no favours from her.

I never thought that another politician could achieve a position lower in my esteem than Margaret Thatcher did but Theresa May has managed it. (David Cameron, aka Mr Irresponsible, though he is entirely responsible for the mess the UK now finds itself in and amply demonstrated his irresponsibility by doing so and more so by running away from the consequences, is merely a buffoon by comparison.) May is potentially dangerous. Not so much in herself as in what may come after her.

The First Steps

Despite the First Amendment to the US Constitution the new President of that country has set in train a course by which freedom of speech in the US might be going to be curtailed.

This is the way a toddler responds to criticism. And neutering the press, is, of course, the way dictators behave.

It’s a classic tactic. Define an enemy against which your supporters can rally. Even when that so-called enemy represents the bedrock of your country’s system of governance – a system which you have sworn to protect.

Add in the fact T Ronald Dump has already gone for Muslims, Mexicans, transgender people, judges and now the press; who will be left to speak up when he comes for you?

To be clear, T Ronald, just because someone disagrees with you doesn’t make them a traitor to their – and your – country. Arguably it makes them more of a patriot than you are.

My country (or my President) right or wrong is a pernicious doctrine.

In fact in a democracy it is the highest duty of a loyal citizen to point out to his or her government when it is doing something wrong.

Core Values?

In yesterday’s Guardian G2 there was a wonderful scathing article written by the US born comedian Rich Hall dealing with recent events in his home country.

In it he satirises the US penchant for owning, and using on each other, firearms.

A striking sentence concerns the number of terrorist-related deaths carried out by people from the seven countries subject to the, now legally suspended at least till appeal, ban on entry to the US.

That number?

Zero.

(Though Hall does balance this by saying there have been three – thwarted – attacks using knives.)

I don’t suppose such satirising of what Hall characterises as the US core value of gun crime will change anyone’s mind, though.

Passages

From the Show Business world of my youth, Mary Tyler Moore.

From the Politics of my young adulthood, asker of the West Lothian Question, hounder of Thatcher over the sinking of the General Belgrano, a real thorn in the side of the establishment, Tam Dalyell. His home The House of the Binns is now in the care of the National Trust for Scotland. The good lady and I visited there a few years ago now and saw Tam at a distance. He looked frail. We did, though, later strike up a conversation with his wife, Kathleen Wheatley, over armorial china of all things, and she seemed a very down to earth person.

Well-known actor, a memorable Caligula in I, Claudius, also The Naked Civil Servant, The Elephant Man and Doctor of sorts, John Hurt.

Mary Tyler Moore: 29/12/1939 – 25/1/2017. So it goes.
Thomas (Tam) Dalyell: 9/8/1932 – 26/1/2017. So it goes.
John Vincent Hurt: 22/1/1940 – 25/1/2017. So it goes.

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?

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