ofthewedge

rooting around for grubs in diverse soils

Hacking democracy

Barry Gardiner MP got grumpy with Nick Robinson last week because the BBC Today Programme had read out the Sun’s stupid headline ‘Crash bang wally’ insulting Corbyn on a day of mishaps on the election trail. Rather pleasingly, Gardiner kept misquoting the title, not sure if intentionally, as ‘crash bang wallop’, so the cheap pun was lost. We should see more of such subversion of the gutter media – it is the kind of verbal play which Baudrillard, Lyotard and Derrida would philosophise about, in their poncey, gorgeously inaccessible ways.

Gardiner was just being grouchy, a bit Prescotty, and I don’t think he really advanced The Cause. He might have hit a genuine home run if he’d said that The Sun, just like the Mail and the Express, is filthy lie-strewn bum fodder whereby foreign tax-dodging elites wage a propaganda war on the Tories’ behalf which distorts English democracy, and that the BBC are tacitly colluding every time they read it out the bile which is spewed in their pages.

But it also made me wonder why on earth in 2017 the BBC and others continue to fixate on and promote the traditional print media, which has always been fawning cheerleaders for the Conservative Party. Printed newspapers are virtually irrelevant in the digital age – instead of privileging the old Fleet Street rags, public interest broadcaster had better read a balanced selection of the headlines of popular online news sites – the Huffington Post, Buzzfeed, even RT or Breitbart – not necessarily a problem so long as there is balance.

Endgame

I was late getting home. Our eldest was under a blanket,  glowering and saturnine, watching My Little Pony. Her mother had just tried unsuccessfully to interest her in a late supper. The little girl was in the danger zone, past bedtime on a school night. She could no longer tolerate contradiction of her whimsies, growing in erraticism with every minute, any opposition sent her into meltdown.

I lifted her up in my arms, escorted her up the stairs. She said she wanted a bath, but I refused, the day was over, I said.

Baaath, baaath, baaath, baaath, she intoned endlessly with tears on her face. It was like a delirious dirge.

-Please stop saying bath.

Eventually a brush of the teeth and a book teleported her back to civilisation. She was still fighting the inevitable except now without being socially offensive.

-Shall I say goodnight and go now?

-No I want you to stay

-Why?

-Because I like you.

She shuffled awkwardly the pages of a pocket book of puzzles and colouring opportunities that she had taken from her bedside table.

-You look at all the pages. Go on. All the pages.

Her speech was slurring.

-What do you mean?

-All the pages. … Let’s just close our eyes.

-You have brown eyes. Darker than mine. Daddy’s are green brown.

She fixed on a spot on my chin.

-You got glitter. You want the glitter?

-Er no…. Daddy loves you, my darling.

Eyes closed, deep breathing. She was gone.

-Daddy loves you very much. So much.

Her smooth, delicate, silent face. When she finally falls asleep each night, it is like part of the world has died.

Three dreams

In my waking life I do not hold David Cameron, Jeremy Corbyn or Donald Trump in very high regard.  But in my unconscious on sundry occasions in the last year or so, our relations have been quite sympathetic, even cordial.

I am persuaded that, just as implied in the Acts of the Apostles and the writings of Freud, God visits you in your dreaming to disrupt and to reset your prejudices, to help make you a better person.

One

I am watching the climax of the latest Superman film. Superman is getting properly beaten up by a beautiful but deranged young girl, on the grounds that he had earnesly declined to together with her. As he lay there broken, I was now in the film myself, trying to help him. He located on his person found some emergency serum thing which would enable him to recover his powers, she having presumably dosed him up on Kryptonite. His assailant then countered that she herself had some serum of her own that made her really fast. Anyway Superman and I managed to slip away to a couple of washing machines where I had been stuffing dirty washing. Superman’s jilted foe now reentered the scene, sliding in her stomach at speed towards us. She confronted superman and he said I think I have my powers back so your blows won’t hurt me. Indeed as she laid into him once more, he just smiled indulgently. Realising that her labours were in vain, she crumbled into a heap.

What have I done with my life? She railed. Here I am 25 years old at my peak and I am taking toxic substances to try to win someone who is not interested in me.

Superman by this point had, uncharacteristically, donned makeup.

I left them to their delicate business.

The washing machine had been stuffed with clothes and was now expelling a mighty jet of water. I was obliged to fish out the soggy clothes. I decided I would separate the colours from the whites and start again.

Then a sudden shift in the backdrop to all of this action.  There now entered a large delegation of officials which included bald William Hague, then Foreign Secretary, and a friend of mine who works in the Foreign Office. It was all something to do with the Germans and Americans.

The room cleared leaving noone but myself and none other than David Cameron, presumably to take a breather from it all. He mused aloud on how the Germans were now really into foreign policy and that they had made lots of visits to Islamabad this year.

Are you enjoying being PM? I asked.

Not really, he said. It’s all rather boring to be honest.

I sympathised.

What you need is a real job. Like banking.

He gave a polite, whimsical grunt. Then he left the room, me and the washing and my thoughts on the life choices of members of the aristocratic leisured classes.

Two

We were on a campsite by a river. It was summer, warm, but very early – 6am. We leave the tent and Jeremy Corbyn walks past with a young boy we assume to be his grandson. He is wearing a pensive face of rather cosmic melancholy.

I stop him, shake his hand and make some complementary, empathetic remarks about his ongoing travails, all of which he receives gracefully. He acknowledges that yes, life is tough at the moment and the day ahead will be another busy one, fresh with new and unheralded controversies.

We exchange parting greetings, I with a weak wish that he will have some time in between crises to enjoy the weekend.

Three

About midway between the election and his inauguration, I was a junior aide to newly sworn in President Trump. I was, suffice it to say, shitting myself. I went to to the Oval Office to receive my first instructions from him.

– I want you to go down to Congress and fix me a meeting with these people: Secretary Clinton, congressman so and so, senator such and such etc.

Yes of course, Mr President. What shall I tell them you wish to talk to them about?

He jerked back his shoulders, stifled a guffaw, opened his palms towards me. It’s the President of the United States!

Yes Mr President.

I pretended to understand who he wanted to meet. I clutched to my chest a dossier of papers, and wandered the corridors not knowing what to do.

Great Northern

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‘Good morrow, Benedick:

Why, what’s the matter,

That you have such a February face,

So full of frost, of storm and cloudiness?’

Much Ado about Nothing, Act V. Scene IV

A few days ago I watched Alan Bennett’s Diaries, a film about Alan Bennett writing and reading his diaries. In the final scene we see the Great Northern Sage reviewing the proofs of his latest volume of diaries 2005-2015, with his voiceover of the postscript to those diaries, the postscript which recounts reviewing the proofs of the diaries on the day of the Brexit referendum.  A sort of autobiographical infinity mirror after the fashion of Krapp’s Last Tape.

Alan Bennett, let it be said, has a February face. A face weathered with pessimism, erudition and God-knows how many cups of tea. February is The time of greyness above, below and inbetween, like the ashes the priest presses against the forehead at the beginning of Lent.  The muffled, doleful, heavy chords of the Cowboy Junkies’ 1992 Winter’s Song offers an appropriate soundtrack.

Hand in hand we’ve watched

The autumn fires burn

Summer’s dreams collapsing

Chestnuts in need of gathering,

The whole world lies rotting in the street.

The crocus is not here yet, the snowdrops were late arriving, but the robins are hopping gamely, there is a tribe of chaffinches bossing the edge of the forest and the blackbirds have started to sing a frugal song.

‘I imagine,’ goes Bennett’s entry for 26 June 2016, ‘this must have been what Munich was like in 1938 – half the nation rejoicing at a supposed deliverance, the other stunned by the country’s self-serving cowardice.’

The final line of the documentary, author’s sunken, unimpressed eyes are turned directly to the camera:

‘Well, we shall see.’

Post Brexit EU Diplomacy Redux 

Council meeting 

Member states: We have a problem.

Commission: Let’s do something. We will propose a solution in the European interest.

France: I agree we must do something in the European interest but national governments should be in the lead. [i.e. France.]

Germany: I welcome the Commission proposal but we will need to study details of the proposal.  [i.e. We have to manage Koalition politics and all the Länder]

In the margins 

France: I understand you have prepared a draft alternative to the proposal. 

Germany: Yes we have, but it is not fully mature. 

France: Perhaps you can share this with us informally in a spirit of solidarity.

Germany: Ok here you are,but we expect you to share your draft with us also. 

Council meeting 

France: This is the alternative proposal from France.

Belgium, Italy, Spain, Luxembourg: We would like to congratulate France on its proposal. 

Germany: ?!&@!?

Es riß! (Notes on everything)

rope

When Trump was sworn in as President yesterday it started to rain on Capitol Hill, raining on the modest throng of snowflakes and deplorables clustered on the first five segments of white tarpaulin along the National Mall, barely reaching the Smithsonian Information Centre, so far as I could tell. The rain was a sign of God’s blessing, according Franklin Graham, Trump’s evangelical gimp.  (I wrote last about how American evangelicals with their obeisance before Trump have now squandered what little hope remained that they might still deep down, after all, be Christians.)

I remember Trump Day in November. The morning in Brussels was replete with objective correlatives, spitty rain, mist, dark greyness. Soon after it was Armistice Day, with its soggy leaves and desperate branches. Leonard Cohen died around the same time, and I played some of his latter songs which with his gravel voice went up like a dirge for 2016. Tough guys are in the ascendant. Death and decay was everywhere.

I was on my own that week, my family with the inlaws, nothing left but work and beer, may be a game of football.  On the plane heading over to bring them home, I wrote some notes trying to untangle these strange happenings, and I have added to them this week.

Why politics?

People want to be able to live, have a family, have prospect of social advancement, be generally left alone and generally free from fear. Some people by their actions harm other people.  There is the butterfly effect or the law of Cleopatra’s nose (which, said Pascal, had it been shorter, would have changed the course of human history). All actions have effects, impossible to predict. That is why we have invented government and politics, law and judiciary, the separation of powers, rule of law, human rights. All life is evolutionary and selfish. It wants to survive and prosper. It is difficult, may be impossible to prosper, except at the expense of other people, other sentient creatures and the environment. We step on insects unintentionally or trivially, we breath in microorganisms, we farm and slaughter animals. Most humans have lifestyles which systematically harm the environment and it is now in big trouble. So some things need to be provided or prohibited by the collective. Though there is nothing unique about human cruelty in the Universe.

It’s hard to conceive of a human life outside society. If you are outside society then you might expect to live with your family beyond the laws, no taxes. Trump channelled this instinct with his schoolyard tubthump of America First at the Inauguration. But even if you isolate yourself then you cannot be allowed to visit cruelty on animals and the rest of the environment.

Humans have invented rules, laws and conventions to legitimise and prohibit certain behaviours. These laws, to have effect, require enforcement.  So you cajole, punish or dissuade – Obama and Cameron wanted to believe you could just ‘nudge’.  A given society is made up of so many people that not all laws will be what you want, not all people to your taste will be in positions of power, not all referenda and elections will go the way you voted.  But in peaceable democratic society, you accept these outcomes, that is the Social Contract.

On welfare versus looking after one’s own

Life is swings and roundabouts, ups and downs, you win some you lose some. But certain excesses are considered to be unjust, so must be contested, restrained, outlawed. Over the long term a person can lose so much, take so many knocks that they end up in a nasty situation.  If such a person has reached that position through wilfulness, then they are considered reckless and you have little sympathy for them. Otherwise they may be compulsive, a gambler, and you think they need clinical assistance.

To varying degrees, depending on where they position themselves on the left-right political spectrum, politicians will say you need to support such people. To be your brother’s keeper is assumed best practice if you are in church or family but for the abstract political state it’s more controversial.  What should you do if an entire neighbourhood, region or country becomes an impoverished and unhappy place?

As animals, our instinct is to survive. Protect yourself, live as long and happily as possible, procreate yourself for your legacy. You know that you need a support group to protect you – that is your partner and your family and best friends.

Christ subverted this.  He told his disciples to give up everything and follow him.

And going on from thence, he saw other two brethren, James the son of Zebedee, and John his brother, in a ship with Zebedee their father, mending their nets; and he called them.

And they immediately left the ship and their father, and followed him.

And he answered them, saying, Who is my mother, or my brethren?

And he looked round about on them which sat about him, and said, Behold my mother and my brethren!

For whosoever shall do the will of God, the same is my brother, and my sister, and mother.

Virtually none of us, least of all modern Christians, is capable of or willing to conform to these strictures. I could not and would not do this, partly because I don’t know what it implies.

Beyond family, you have an affinity with a wider network, your town, your school, your work colleagues, political party, nation, co-religionists. It is arrogant to assert that people are wrong in their beliefs and value systems, and require enlightening.  There is no objectively right or wrong value system.  But surely the human race has learned to seek to minimise harm to others in how we live our lives. So when you see someone strong hurting someone weak, you step in, or you at the very least feel as though you should step in. You disarm the strong man committing harm. You move him away, may be even put him in a prison. Sometimes the only way to stop the strong man behaving cruelly is to kill him, but since St Augustine we have developed theories on when such drastic action can be justified.  The classic radical left which now have their champion in Corbyn, says that states should not wage war.  What do you do if you are in England and you know that people are being abused tortured and killed somewhere else in the world?

Taxation

Taxation is taking things away from the people to enable the state to exist on behalf of the people.  What is a fair tax? If you have you should give. If you don’t have, you give less.  You should ideally tax things which are costly. For instance, unhealthy foodstuffs which make it more likely you will need state health care, pollutants which will damage the environment.  We ought to start taxing meat production and consumption. By any reckoning, we eat too much meat. It is intrinsically cruel and unnecessary, and the state should provide disincentives.

Inequality and unfairness

Hapless Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn stuck his neck out last week about European freedom of movement and then put it halfway back in again. Like me he cannot address immigration without talking about inequality.

When you sell something, you want to get as much from the buyer as possible, if you get a lot for nothing then you are a good businessman. If you get something for nothing you are an astute customer.

Everything always comes at someone’s expense.

You cannot escape the Selfish Gene. If you work for a non-profit organisation, the government, a civil society organisation, a church, you still want to be better than others, to advance. Not all can advance so you must advance at the expense of others.

Moreover, every job in every workplace is an attempt to be better at something than others. When you employ someone, you want to get more value from him than you pay him in salary. And when you are employed, you want to get away with minimum effort for what you are paid for. Or you put the extra effort in because you are using the job as a stepping stone. People who just work diligently for years in a single job are considered to be mugs, suckers and pigeons.

Inequality is usually the result of generations. Things are the way they are. When you are born, you get whatever your parents are able or willing to give or bequeath you. If my father gives me money, I take it. It’s for me. It’s not for anyone else.  Trump took millions from his dad.  It is a lottery.  It is not fair, but attempts by the state to interfere with this seem more unfair, and communist regime attempts to regiment family life have been barbaric and cruel – and have failed.

The laissez-faire politics espoused by politicians on the right means accepting the cruelties and harm of an unequal society from which they have benefited. They basically say that the way things are should be accepted. They use as leverage the predicament of poorer voters to pile blame on immigrants, and then cream off their votes. It is an extraordinary hoodwink, and it works every time.

This is exactly what Theresa May did in her Brexit speech last week:

In the last decade or so, we have seen record levels of net migration in Britain, and that sheer volume has put pressure on public services, like schools, stretched our infrastructure, especially housing, and put a downward pressure on wages for working class people. As Home Secretary for six years, I know that you cannot control immigration overall when there is free movement to Britain from Europe

There is pressure on public services because the government has not put enough money into them.Wages are low because of the market economy. Wealth in Britain is even more unequally divided than income. The richest 10% of households hold 45% of all wealth in the UK, the poorest 50% own 8.7%. May cannot talk about this. In her schizophrenic week of keynote speeches, her subsequent Davos speech implied that it that inequality was a problem of perception, not reality.

More May:

But just as we need to act to address the deeply felt sense of economic inequality that has emerged in recent years, so we also need to recognise the way in which a more global and individualistic world can sometimes loosen the ties that bind our society together, leaving some people feeling locked out and left behind.

Those ‘ties that bind our society together’ in her mind probably include the erstwhile sense of deference to social superiors which has always been relied on by Conservatives to hold the poor in check.

According to Thomas Piketty, American and European societies have become much more unequal as a result of the absence of full scale war for the past half century. To a degree, inequality is inevitable.  Everything is different. The fittest, the canniest, the best connected survive and thrive. It is not ‘fair’, it does not feel fair. Merit is also a fiction. But stark inequality destabilises society, so all suffer in a way.  Sixty-two people are as wealthy as half of the world.

Piketty and his former tutor, the recently-mourned Antony Atkinson (he was another to escape the world just in time), have proposed a global tax on wealth.  Global, because the French attempt at such a tax at national level has not worked.  You could instead have an upper and lower of wealth and income, set by Parliament and reviewed every year. The canny rich would move to another country. The canny poor will move to that country to enjoy the generous state.

What is the big deal with immigration?

Identity is important to us. We are generally wary of someone unlike you moving into space near to you.  People take possession of areas of the planet and become landowners. Their ‘right’ to such areas is a fiction, invented by humans.

People who want to improve their lives, may be even to save their lives, move around the world. Animals generally don’t want others moving into or close to your space. That’s why stags rut, and why blackbirds sing from the highest branch in the month of June. The social effects and grief felt as a result of immigration are exacerbated when new people move into densely populated areas with low wealth and income, and where the existing population have not experience inflows for some time. Immigration, from this localised perspective, threatens identity (intangible) and access to services that you want (tangible).

Objectively, peaceful movements of people enrich humanity. It makes lives more interesting and generates economic wealth. But most people do not have the luxury of enjoying objective, abstract truths.

How can you tell if a country is ‘full’? Let Parliament decide each year how many people are needed in the country.  Count the number of births and deaths and net migration. Then figure how many should be able to apply for residency and citizenship accordingly.

Responsible government wishing to improve the economy by mixing up the pool of labour with immigrants without exacerbating social tensions, could cause least damage by requiring immigrants to settle in wealthy, more sparsely populated areas. Germany has been trying to do this with refugees, though it is hard to square with EU law. The problem is that you cannot talk about immigration without talking about social inequality. So when you allow immigration to areas where people are already pissed off with life and politicians, you stoke the flames of social unrest and you play into the hands of right wing cynics.

People are also worried that immigrants do not share the ‘values’ of the host society. The Pavlovian first response whenever a lunatic goes on the rampage is to inquire of their ethnic origin and citizenship status.  So what can you do? Require them as a condition for crossing the border to take a solemn oath to respect women, renounce all violence, care for the natural environment etc.  Make it so if they are found to breach these undertakings they will be penalised and may be expelled from the country. But where do you expel them to?

Security

You cannot have 100% public security unless you instigate ‘1984’. Everyone is different and unpredictable. You cannot control them. They must be free as long as the harm they cause is not excessive: violence towards another person is clearly not acceptable.

In any case, the state should not control individuals. It should be local structures that keep nutjobs in check. But how can you force a man’s mother and father and wider family to take responsibility? How can the state assume responsibility for the deranged Tunisian who drove a lorry into a crowd in Nice on Bastille Day?

In the first half of the Prelude to Götterdämmerung, the three Norns, daughter of the Earth Goddess Erda, are weaving the rope of destiny. The women unwind and fasten singing of the past and present. The rope begins to fray; they struggle to grasp its strands. Then at last they try to stretch it and it breaks. Events are no longer following their expected course. The Norns disappear in terror.

No more speaketh our wisdom!

The world now shall hear us no more.

This is a really really great blog post. I mean really. I mean there are a lot of blogs out there, and some of them are good. But this one is just, you know, so great.

There is no document of civilisation that is not at the same time a document of barbarism

Walter Benjamin, Theses on the Philosophy of History

A while ago when it became clear that Donald Trump was going to secure the Rublican nomination for president, a friend of mine from Croydon offered a striking parable of what was going on. Trump, he said, was like an extremely drunk stranger in a pub that everyone finds hugely entertaining, as he lolls around spraying insults and obscenities with unrestrained abandon. The smiles on people’s faces suddenly fade to alarm as the stranger produces from his pocket a key and staggers out onto the street and gets into his car.

I followed @realdonaldtrump for several years while his rage against Obama reached the crescendo of his unlikely candidacy.  When he is not hectoring, I quite like listening to him. His circular rhetoric – I am so great, our people are really great. Our people are just the greatest, greatest people in the world. Ever. etc. – has a poetic vacuousness, a sort of preternatural elegance which I am sure harks back to earliest stirrings of human speech.  (‘Me Tarzan’: the history of language is one of ‘unfolding’ – Guy Deutscher.) I especially like it when he does that sort of soft almost non-speaking, usually when he is sidestepping an allegation – ‘Putin? I don’t know the man’ etc.  If only there was someone with integrity and benevolence able to harness modern anglo-saxon with the same unglossy directness.

But today Trump and his fascist entourage are reaching for the car keys. This shit suddenly got real.

It’s hard to fathom how, according to the polls, at least 40% of the voting population of the United States, that’s around 90 million adults, are so pissed off that they would put Trump in charge of the most powerful state on the planet. This includes the swathe of ‘evangelical’ Zionist Christians who have concluded that a female Democrat president would be worse than a sexually-depraved, anti-Semitic megalomaniac with a evident sympathy for the Ku Klux Klan.  They had already reduced the total of Christian theology to an obsession with sexual mores and abortion.  In fact one fascinating sub-plot to this election is the unmasking of the ‘Christian right’ as being just the ‘right’ and not Christian at all. The hypocrisy and mean-spiritedness is so stark that Tony Campolo, one of the American preachers who strident voices were always issuing from the in-car cassette player when I was a child, has now disavowed the term ‘evangelical’, which is supposed to mean ‘good news’, because it has become so contaminated with hatred and violence.  It was similarly masks-off in the UK too last week where, by the temerity and biliousness of their reactions to the High Court ruling on the Royal Prerogative and Brexit, the Right have revealed their true target to be not really the European Union but the general tenets of, deeply English, traditions of liberal democracy and social progressivism.

The United States is basically unfathomable.  It is seething with people and stuff made by people, mostly inhabiting the most artificially-contrived habitat in the history of the humanity. Bloated, unforgiving capitalism and the subjugation of nature. Recently I was in a cab in Washington DC and heard a short series of commercials on the radio which ran more or less as follows:

INVISIBLE INVADERS WANT TO DESTROY YOUR HOME! CALL TERMINIX AND DEFEND YOUR HOME FROM TERMITE INVADERS. IT’S YOUR HOME, NOT THEIRS!

OWE MORE THAN $10,000 IN FEDERAL TAXES? DON’T FIGHT THE IRS ON YOUR OWN. CALL THE TAX DEBT DOCTOR NOW!

COMPARE.COM! SAVING SAVE HUMANITY FROM HIGH INSURANCE RATES, ONE HUMAN AT A TIME!

To paraphrase and summarise the standard advertising message of America in 2016:

EVERYONE AND EVERYTHING OUT THERE WANTS TO FUCK YOU, AND ONLY WE CAN PROTECT YOU.

The next ad was for the Burger King ‘Supreme Breakfast Sandwich’ featuring two eggs, two sausages, bacon and, of course, ‘two slices of melted American cheese’. So this is a nation in the grip of paranoia, gorged on meat and slathered in oozing processed cheese.

Politicians seek advancement by giving electors what they want, or by just being seen to give people what they want. Good politicians try to do this without harming anyone or anything else in the process. But there are so few good politicians out there right now. Memories of 20th century cataclysms are moving towards abstractions.  ‘A quarter of Americans born since 1980 believe that democracy is a bad form of government, many more than did so 20 years ago.’ Americans and Europeans are more susceptible to fascism than at any time since the Second World War. Cynicism with politics, social inertia and interminably growing inequality and the impotence of the Left is the breeding ground for fascism.

Max Horkheimer and Theodor Adorno in the Dialectics of Enlightenment describe how the failures in civilisation  – evident in the 1930s and 40s and more and more apparent today – induces in people what they call ‘repressed mimesis’. Something must be repressed and suffer in order to make the alien famililar: in ancient times, humans and animals were sacrificed, in Europe since the Middle Ages ‘the object of the illness’ became the Jews. The Jews, as we see from Trump’s and other right wing movements, are still in their sights, but globalisation now presents many other ready targets.

If Hillary is, as predicted, mercifully, elected tonight, she will have merely injured the beast and she should not strike any note of triumphalism. Tomorrow morning there will be almost 100 million very pissed-off white Americans, most of them probably with guns. There are difficult days ahead.  Let us pray.

A radical Labour keynote speech on the UK and the EU

[This is what Her Majesty’s Leader of the Opposition should be saying. Yes I know I’m biased but it helps to get it off my chest. The blame for the 23 June debacle lies primarily with Cameron, but secondarily with the ineptitude of the current Labour Party.]

Brexit means Brexit.

Except that no one knows what Brexit means. You can keep repeating this motto as long as you like. It remains locked in a verbal merry-go-round. If you don’t know that the words mean, then the sentence, however potent, is meaningless.

Brexit means Brexit? Well, tautology means tautology.

During the referendum the British people were sold lies – from both sides – and were incited against each other and against foreigners. Some of you bought these lies.

There was no manifesto for the Leave campaign, so the peddlers of the lies cannot now be held to account. Although Prime Minister May seems to be trying to do so by putting the Brexit boys in charge of finding a dignified way out of the morass.  And if that is indeed what she is trying to do then I commend her for this, if for nothing else.

But don’t let the Tories fool you. ‘Brexit means Brexit’ is another Tory attempt to hoodwink the people, just like they did with the referendum and with Cameron’s hyped-up renegotiation of UK membership, which no-one really believed.

Brexit means Brexit is a ploy to detract attention from the government’s own incompetence in getting us into this mess, through a swift changing of the guard, swapping a complacent Etonian with a busy Oxonian.

You see, the referendum was never about the interests of the country.

The Tories needed open-heart surgery to get over their Europe fixation. Except with the referendum, they were allowed to inflict the ordeal on the nation as a whole, with uncertain consequences far beyond Britain’s shores.

A thin majority of voters voted for Brexit.

There were, according to the Electoral Commission, 46,499,537 registered voters in June 2016. 17,410,742 voted to leave the EU – that is, 37% of the registered voters voted to leave. 35% of the electorate voted to stay.

Most of the remaining 28% of the electorate were presumably not bothered either way.

Is it responsible democratic government to rush to action against the economic, environmental and strategic interests of our nation, purely on the basis that 37% of the electorate voted to leave the EU and 35% to stay?

Let’s compare this with the vote to join the Common Market in 1975. In that referendum, 43% of registered voters voted to join the EEC against 21% to stay out. That looked like a fair mandate.

The trouble is that referendums have no constitutional place in the UK, so they can be used by political chancers like Cameron to fix party political problems which, until this year, were never a problems for the country.

We must never allow a party – of whatever colour – to hold the country to ransom in that way again.

People have drawn comparisons with the lower voter numbers who delivered landslide victories to Blair and Thatcher.

But that is simply an indictment of the winner-takes-all electoral system. (Which we must fix too.)

At least in a General Election the outcome is only valid for a maximum five years, there is an opposition to the elected government, and there is representation at a local level to reflect the wishes of the majority of the constituency.

We had a vague, dumbed-down referendum on 23 June. No one know what we were voting for, so it acted as a waste bucket for all our problems. And with the referendum, if we allow the Tories to get away with it, there is no going back.

I recognise that people voted against the EU because they believed that the EU was responsible for too much immigration, for pressure on public services and underspending on the NHS, for the watering down of our national identity, for lack of accountability of the elites, for inefficient bureaucracy.

But I do not recognise the vote as a mandate to leave the EU in a way that harms the UK economy, its environment and its strategic interests, that weakens protection of human rights, that causes division within the country, that is used to legitimise hate crimes against people considered to be different.

So until then, with Labour in opposition, we will demand remaining in the EU until the Tories can tell us what they mean by Brexit:

What Brexit will mean for poor communities across Britain.

What Brexit will mean for ever growing inequalities in our country, and for the long term stagnation in median wages which hits ordinary working women and men.

What Brexit will mean for race relations.

What Brexit will mean for peace and reconciliation in Northern Ireland.

We will then demand a clear mandate from the people for taking us out of the EU on those terms.

But with a Labour Government, we will stay in the EU, and yes we will try to reform it.

And we will get on with fixing the real problems, which the people have told us need fixing.

So let the Tory Party mop up its own vomit.

We have real work to do for Britain.

Let’s remain. Remain to complain

 

blame canada

Your prophets are like jackals among ruins. Ezekiel 13:4

I wrote three years ago that a plebiscite might lance the boil of the EU’s perceived undemocratic illegitimacy. But the choice needed to be on a clear prospectus: what are we actually voting for or against? What is going on in the UK at the moment is not what I had in mind.

First of all, this referendum is about the Tory party’s failure to exorcise their inner demons since immolating Thatcher 26 years ago. Our current overlords cut their political teeth in the 1990s and have needed to purge their collective guilt for the decision in November 1990 to slay their messiah on the altar of the European project. A few years ago people grumbled about the EU like they grumbled about politics in general, but it was never among the top concerns according to the opinion polls. But the Conservative Party has long considered itself the incarnation of Britain (the ‘natural party of government’ etc.) so it is only natural for Cameron, their most patrician leader since Alec Douglas-Home, once restored to government, to make his party’s internal problem into the whole country’s problem: except of course that now it is not just a problem for the United Kingdom but a problem for the whole of the shuddering edifice of the EU and probably beyond. This insular referendum cannot be isolated from globalised politics and capitalism.

The tenor of the referendum debate has become so jaundiced, polarised and bilious that the murder of Jo Cox last week by an extreme right wing loon has led to petitions for the whole business to be aborted. But we cannot go back now. David Allen Green’s elegant unpicking of the whole premise of the referendum as unnecessary and non-binding is legally sound but politically implausible. But he is spot on that, because there is no concrete proposal to focus on, the debate is about everything and nothing.

Second thing: the Leave campaign have struck a chord with a lot of people, mainly in non-metropolitan England, because politicians are not giving them what they want. The chord Leavers strike is a dissonant one, transferring the blame for domestic frustrations onto to foreign shoulders. So, in the minds of large sector of society which is frustrated and irritated, foreigners, immigrants, migrants, terrorists,  bureaucrats and the EU all meld into one. And as the global establishment, freaked-out at the prospect of yet more political and economic uncertainty, have rallied to cause of Remain, Leavers add ‘experts’ and the ‘elite’ into this demotic cauldron of the damned. It is a mild British equivalent of Mao’s Cultural Revolution. (The same thing explains Trumpmania in the US, though it’s more dangerous because they all have guns.)

David Cameron’s team have today drafted for him a splendid, optimistic plea for sanity, the sort of positive endorsement of the UK in the EU which was needed but which he shunned for years while he acted as tribune of the grumpy eurosceptics. (Mario Monti said this in an interview with the Economist last week.) Now he is the Sorcerer’s Apprentice, desperate to contain the mayhem which he has unleashed in a bid to keep his party together.

The referendum campaign has exposed and aggravated fault lines right down the middle of the electorate. England versus Scotland, city versus countryside, graduates versus school leavers, pensioners versus young adults (though not very old pensioners: surveys indicate that people who experienced the last World War are more likely to appreciate than to disdain the EU project), and even Hindu versus Muslim. It has exposed the castrated condition of the post-Brown/Blair centre-left of British politics.  Most of all, it has exposed the unscrupulous hypocrisy and imperiousness of the Tory ruling class, prepared to stoke tensions between the indigenous poor and first generation immigrants.

Brexit cheerleaders such as Daniel Hannan, Isabel Oakeshott, Tim Montgomerie, Toby Young, Julia Hartley-Brewer and – the toadiest of all – Louise Mensch have aimed an endless stream of blinkered, reductionist rancour against the EU, perpetuating the myth that membership of the EU is what holds Britain (they mean England, they are always from blessed shires of England) back from utopia. As if our own shit doesn’t stink. These educated, privileged individuals seem to have no moral compunction. I was perplexed at why, in the wake of the horrific murder of Jo Cox, they were desperately urging everyone not to ‘politicise’ the outrage or to ‘jump to conclusions’ that the assassin had far-right politics, that he was just a quiet gardener with mental health problems. Yesterday before the Beaks Thomas Mair gave his name as ‘Death to Traitors Freedom for Britain’ – what might easily pass as a drunken paraphrase of one of the familiar Leaver slogans. It is as if these people consider any criticism of the far-right as effective criticism of themselves.

(There are similar quirks across the political spectrum: speaking ill of Israel’s government is tantamount to antisemitism, while you cannot condemn violence by Palestinians at the same time as supporting their fight for human rights and statehood.)

Bizarrely in contemporary Britain it has become worse to insinuate that someone is racist than actually to be racist. Timothy Garton Ash has just published a book decrying the threat to free speech of today’s squeamish generation demanding a right not to be offended.

So senior Tories, former Eton and Oxbridge chums, take their high japes and repartee out of the quad and onto the high street, chucking around hyperbole and inventing big numbers to frighten the plebs into voting for them. ‘Take back control’ is the mantra.  Who is taking control from whom? Well, Johnson and Gove are trying to take control of the government from Cameron and Osborne, that’s the only certainty. They incite baser instincts, telling people that their lives, identity and self-esteem which have been undermined by globalisation can be restored simply by leaving the EU. Such is the brazen hypocrisy – since time immemorial – of one faction of the elite telling people  not to trust the other faction of the elite. No more room? There is room enough on the country estates of the prominent Leavers for refugees and people who want to make a better life for themselves and their families. If you object to all things foreign, then you should evict McDonalds and Starbucks from the high street, turf out oligarchs and oil sheikhs laundering their money in London’s property market, stop buying cheap stuff produced by the underpaid and overworked in Asian sweatshops. That would be taking back control.

Blaming the EU and immigrants is the equivalent of the expulsion of the Jews from England under Edward I: a sop to prejudice from a bankrupt state.

All the while they are trying to harness and to indulge their court jester Nigel Farage, who is basically one of their own but slightly off the rails, the man who at Dulwich College had a Hitler fixation and decided not to bother with university and instead to make a packet trading in the city. (That Farage and Cameron are fellow travellers is betrayed by their shared idiom and speaking style – a fluent duck-and-jab, sprinkling their pronouncements with ‘and franklies’ as if being ‘frank’ somehow equates to telling the truth.)

A few hours before Cox’s murder Farage unveiled his ‘Breaking Point’ poster, an image directly lifted from Nazi propaganda insinuating that hordes of darkies were about to overwhelm England: because of the EU. It was a calculated intensification of toxicity, a ramping up of the populist rhetoric which was scheduled to continue in the last week of the campaign until the slaughter on the streets of Birstall rudely intervened and occasioned a brief moment of national reflection. There were signals, logically enough, that Farage would be given a post in a post-Brexit Johnson administration.

In effect this is a right-wing putsch masquerading as a public policy plebiscite.

Once Britain has flounced out of the EU, the same Leavers will move on to their next scapegoat.

I am an EU official, part therefore of that privileged class, so I have a personal and direct interest in the EU’s success. When I arrived in Brussels in 2008 it was three weeks after the Irish had voted down the Lisbon Treaty. I remember the high dudgeon of Commissioners and other EU politicians at this petulant act of ingratitude by a small nation which been one of the biggest recipients of the EU’s largesse. The prevailing attitude was – How dare they! Well, they will have to vote again until they give the correct answer. Here you had the much vaunted EU democratic deficit writ large. At this time the strongest advocates of ever closer federal union were in their pomp: the technocratic will to harmonise everything, it was peak ‘more Europe’. This was also the moment when the inner core of EU decision-makers decided to leave Turkey’s application indefinitely out in the cold, on the grounds that they were not really European (i.e. they were Muslim). (Sarkozy is still at it.) Since then, Turkey has become an increasingly authoritarian and intolerant bastardised Ottoman Empire, which the EU now has to bribe to stop people from bloodied Middle East and central Asia crossing the EU’s borders.

Arrogance and strategic errors are inherent to human politics.  But the European Union represents the most ambitious of all post-cataclysmic endeavours in the 20th century to stop countries fighting each other. The armies which for centuries looted and slashed their way around the continent have been largely disbanded, and only partly replaced by a host of suited bureaucrats. Thanks to the EU. The EU’s bureaucracy is in my view badly structured, but with 55 000 officials in a continent of 508 million it is no more ‘bloated’ than other tiers of national administration. Almost all of them work in a second language with a sense of ideals which is almost quaint in these cynical times. Its internal procedures like its buildings are impersonal and prone to abstraction. Its Byzantine snake-like policy-making process lacks transparency. The members of the European Parliament are generally there because they have been selected for their party lists by party apparatchiks. The monthly decamping to Strasbourg is a comic travesty. But these are the results of compromise agreements between democratically elected governments and the democratically elected parliament. The underlying ethos of the whole extraordinary project is inclusive social democracy and care for the environment grounded in human rights.

I can guarantee that, if you codified everything about the governance of Great Britain and Northern Ireland into a single document and put it to the electorate in a referendum, in the current climate more than ever, the majority of British voters would reject it. The problem is politicians lacking vision and growing inequality and economic uncertainty. That is why I argued a couple of years ago for referenda in every country that is or that aspires to be a member of the EU, with a simple statement of values and objectives that all citizens in their busy or torpid lives can understand. Let them vote yes or no, and for those that vote yes there would be a democratic mandate to talk and draw up complicated constitutions. I also worried that without such a recourse to the popular will the far right will rise up from the debris of economic decline and stagnation and the victimisations would begin.

This is happening now. A Brexit vote will accelerate this trend. The world will continue to spin on its axis.  Humans will continue to consume, defecate and multiply as before. But as the last people to remember World War II pass away in the next few years, the post-cataclysm efforts to work together will have gone into reverse, and all because of the vaulting parochial ambitions of Boris and his chums. At best, Britain will remain but it will have been such a close run thing that a rocket will have been fired up the arse of complacent Europhiles. We clearly cannot go on like this.

It’s time to save England, this beautiful mongrel nation, from itself. Remain, complain and do something to make it better.

Daily bread

krusty
I feel for all of you still reeling from the threatened vaporisation of the BBC online recipe collection. So to tap into the Zeitgeist here’s one that I guarantee will endure through all of cyber eternity:
1. Take one baguette ‘a l’ancienne or other crusty* loaf.
2. Stuff it with as much  rocket, water cress, young spinach and other bitter or peppery herbs as you can cram into it.
3. Pick it up.
4. Eat it.
*Americans don’t have time for crusty loaves. Around a decade ago I was hosting a couple of chums from over the water. It was a hot day so we thought we’d take them for some picnicking and tomfoolery on Hampstead Heath.  One of these guests (to protect his anonymity, let’s call him ‘Greg’), ran through our shopping list.
‘Wait a minute’, he said (in an American accent). ‘Crusty bread?’
‘Yeh, So?’
‘Dude, you describe something as crusty… you don’t eat it!’
Ah what a laugh we had that day.  Ha, ha…er… a-hem.