Saturday, 10 December 2016

A A Gill: A Man for all Seasoning

It's been a busy year for obituary writers: David Bowie,Terry Wogan, Prince, Tony Warren, Cliff Michelmore, Ray Fitzwalter, Ronnie Corbett, Paul Daniels, Victoria Wood, Johan Cruyff, David Herd, Mohammed Ali, Keith Emerson, Greg Lake, Leonard Cohen, Robert Vaughn, Fidel Castro, Peter Vaughan, John Glenn and now the Sunday Times columnist A A Gill.

Not being a regular reader of the Sunday Times - it looks as though it's lost its style to me - I was not familiar with Adrian Gill's food criticism; but I imagine that it was every bit as witty and perceptive as his television criticism. Before I was shunted out of my job as a regional hack I had a book of his TV pieces. On my last Friday I passed it on to a colleague in the hope that it would provoke both thought and laughter as it had done for me.

Gill's favourite target was costume drama - oh no, it's Dame Judi in yet another Georgian/Victorian dress and hat. If I remember rightly not even my beloved Middlemarch was spared. Try defending your fondness for Andrew Davies's adaptation to Mr G, I thought. Well, I think I can. The serial was not about wigs, country houses and four-wheelers but humility in all its various emanations - Bulstrode's sanctimony, Casaubon's lifeless piety, Lydgate's frustration, Dorothea's resignation and Sir James Chettam's unrequited love for Dorothea.  You can't always get what you want and all that - although that doesn't appear to apply to Sir Mick Jagger, a father for the seventh time at 73. The sound-track was good as well, good enough to win a BAFTA. You can't say that about many TV sound-tracks.

What larks, eh Pip? Mr Gill had an eye and an ear for the false note, the bogus, the pretentious, the duplicitous. I'd love to know his thoughts about the current TV drama obsession with serial killers on BBC1, 2 and 4 as well as ITV. Men killing women seems to me the acting out of a subliminal fantasy. Aren't there other subjects to explore, for example: political correctness and corruption, grooming in Northern cities, paedophilia in sport, the proliferation of food programmes in an age of obesity and seven days of the girlie-whirly Strictly Come Dancing across BBC1 and BBC2? 

I think he also had an appreciation of that which was genuinely touching, funny or authentic. He approved of sentiment, the kind that is not accompanied by a piano score in a minor key. He was made to engage in mental strife with this tattooed age in which style, the appearance of things, dominates over substance. Twas ever thus, you may say. I disagree. It wasn't like that in 1963 when Philip Larkin made the Beatles' first LP and Bob Dylan's Freewheelin' articulated what a lot of people were feeling but couldn't put into words. Look at the first part of Martin Scorsese's No Direction Home bio-pic of Dylan dominated by Pete Seeger, Odetta, Woody Guthrie, Dave Van Ronk, Howlin' Wolf, Muddy Waters, John Jacob Niles, a young Nat King Cole, Izzy Young and Joan Baez. That wasn't an age for old men pretending to be wise or young men posturing.

After George Orwell died in 1950, W H Auden said he would miss Orwell's opinions, implying that the loss was public not private: national life as a whole would be poorer for Orwell's silence. I hope that's not the case with A A Gill's passing. We need all the judicious, fearless, oxyacetalyne voices we can get to cut through the climate of conceit and delusion that surrounds us.

As readers of The Sunday Times know, he wrote his last piece of journalism for the colour supplement. The subject was his diagnosis, treatment and reflections on the NHS which, he asserts, suffers from a kind of institutional cancer:-

We know it's the best of us. The National Health Service is the best of us. You can't walk into an NHS hospital and be a racist. That condition is cured instantly. But it's almost impossible to walk into a private hospital and not fleetingly feel that you are one: a plush waiting room with entitled and bad-tempered health tourists.

You can't be sexist on the NHS, nor patronising, and the care and the humour, the togetherness ranged against the teetering, chronic system by both the caring and the careworn is the Blitz, "back against the wall", stern and sentimental best of us - and so we tell lies about it.

We say it's the envy of world. It isn't. We say there's nothing else like it. There is. We say it's the best in the West. It's not. We think it's the cheapest. It isn't . Either that or we think it's the most expensive - it's not that eiher. You will live longer in France and Germany, get treated faster abd nore comfortably in Scandanavia, and everything costs more in America......

......Actually it's not being told you've got cancer that is the test of character, it's the retelling. Going home and saying to the missus: "That thing, that cricked neck. Actually it's a tumour, the size of a cigar." It ought to come with a roll of thunder and five Jewish violinists, instead of the creaky whisper of fear.

People react differently to different cancers: most women think they'll survive, and statistically they're right. Most men think they'll die - and likewise......

......I'm sitting in bed on the cancer ward trying to get the painkillers stabilised and a young nurse comes in. "There you are. I've been waiting for you all day. You are supposed to be with me down in chemotherapy. I saw your name. Why are you up here?"
"Well, it turns out the chemo isn't working." Her shoulders sag and her hand goes to her head. "F***, f***, that's dreadful." I think she might be crying.
I look away, so might I.
You don't get that with private healthcare.

Friday, 11 November 2016

Leonard Cohen: Going Home

Even to talk about one's self at a time like this is a kind of unwholesome luxury. I don't think I've had a darkest hour compared to the dark hours that so many people are involved in right now. Large numbers of people are dodging bombs, having their nails pulled out in dungeons, facing starvation, disease. I mean large numbers of people. So I think we've got to be circumspect about how seriously we take our anxieties today," Leonard Cohen said in an interview published in July, 2009.

Well, he goes out as President-elect Donald Trump comes in. As Albert Einstein is reputed to have said: Coincidence is God's way of remaining invisible.

Leonard Cohen will be remembered by the unreliable media as a lugubrious Spock-like troubadour of mournful love songs. Of all the songs that Leonard Cohen wrote and recorded the ones I like most are not, wirh the exception of Suzanne and Famous Blue Raincoat, love songs. Ever since David Marlow, a Jewish friend with whom I shared a basement flat in Hackney in the early 1970s, introduced me to his work I think I have always preferred the outward Cohen of Story of Isaac to the introspective Cohen of Hey, That's No Way to Say Goodbye. I made my compilation last month after reading David Remnick's monumental interview with the man himself in The New Yorker. All of it is worth reading, twice; but here are the last two paragraphs, an apt post-script, Cohen signing off from the material world:- 

"I know there’s a spiritual aspect to everybody’s life, whether they want to cop to it or not," Cohen said. “It’s there, you can feel it in people—there’s some recognition that there is a reality that they cannot penetrate but which influences their mood and activity. So that’s operating. That activity at certain points of your day or night insists on a certain kind of response. Sometimes it’s just like: ‘You are losing too much weight, Leonard. You’re dying, but you don’t have to co-operate enthusiastically with the process.’ Force yourself to have a sandwich.

“What I mean to say is that you hear the 'Bat Kol.' The divine voice. You hear this other deep reality singing to you all the time, and much of the time you can’t decipher it. Even when I was healthy, I was sensitive to the process. At this stage of the game, I hear it saying, ‘Leonard, just get on with the things you have to do.’ It’s very compassionate at this stage. More than at any time of my life, I no longer have that voice that says, ‘You’re fucking up.’ That’s a tremendous blessing, really."  

My top twenty Cohen songs are:- Sisters of Mercy: Suzanne: Story of Isaac: Joan of Arc: Famous Blue Raincoat: Hallelujah: Who By Fire: Song of the Partisan: Everybody Knows: Tower of Song: In My Secret Life: Here it Is: By the River's Dark: In the Land of Plenty: The Future: Democracy: Going Home: Show Me the Place: Darkness: You Want it Darker.

Pick any one and you’ll find apposite lines that resonate with the times, trials and tribulations of the reality in which you’re living. The tawdry Trump versus Clinton scrap for the sepulchre of the White House prompted me to nominate You Want it Darker, the title song of Cohen’s latest LP, as the soundtrack for this particular movie. Others might say, ‘Yes, but what about the more sardonic Democracy? Or the ironic but poignant last lines from In the Land of Plenty:- May the light in the land of plenty/ Shine on the truth some day 

But of all Leonard Cohen’s songs I have chosen Going Home to send him on his way. God bless, Mr Cohen.

I love to speak with Leonard
He’s a sportsman and a shepherd
He’s a lazy bastard
Living in a suit

But he does say what I tell him
Even though it isn’t welcome
He will never have the freedom
To refuse 

He will speak these words of wisdom
Like a sage, a man of vision
Though he knows he’s really nothing
But the brief elaboration of a tube

Going home
Without my sorrow
Going home
Sometime tomorrow

Going home
To where it’s better
Than before

Going home
Without my burden
Going home
Behind the curtain
Going home
Without the costume
That I wore

He wants to write a love song
An anthem of forgiving
A manual for living with defeat
A cry above the suffering
A sacrifice recovering
But that isn’t what I want him to complete

I want to make him certain
That he doesn’t have a burden
That he doesn’t need a vision
That he only has permission
To do my instant bidding
That is to SAY what I have told him
To repeat

Going home
Without my sorrow
Going home
Sometime tomorrow
Going home
To where it’s better
Than before

Saturday, 5 November 2016

One Law in Belfast, Another in Westminster?

In the aftermath of Thursday's High Court decision, that the Government had not made a water-tight case for triggering Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty without a Parliamentary debate, I'd like to ask a question.

How come the Government failed so dismally in London, in spite of the efforts of Attorney General Jeremy Wright, when a similar attempt to scupper the Brexit process in Belfast was thrown out by a High Court judge?

The challenge was made by politicians from Sinn Féin, the Social Democratic and Labour Party (SDLP), the Alliance Party and the Green Party. They said the UK government could not trigger Article 50 without a parliamentary vote. The Brexit decision should be examined and voted on by parliament or, failing that, by the Northern Ireland Assembly.

Central to their argument was that the peace process in Northern Ireland would be put at risk by pulling out of the European Union. In the June referendum a majority of voters in Northern Ireland had voted to remain in the EU.

According the BBC in Belfast, the judge ruled that prerogative power could still be used, arguing that triggering Article 50 is merely the start of a legislative process in which acts of parliament will be necessary. "While the wind of change may be about to blow, the precise direction in which it will blows cannot be determined," he said.

Unlike his three counterparts in the High Court in London, he concluded that discussing the use of prerogative power to enact the EU referendum result was not suitable for judicial review  It had also been argued that the Good Friday Agreement gave the power of sovereignty to the people of Northern Ireland and that the Westminster government could not therefore make the region leave the EU.

But the judge rejected that argument as well, saying he could not see anything in the agreement or the relevant legislation that confirmed that view.

It's a strange equation to contemplate. England voted in favour of Brexit but can't have it unless Parliament says so whereas Northern Ireland, which voted against Brexit, can irrespective of both the Westminster Parliament and the Northern Ireland Assembly.  

You may say that a bear of astonishingly little brain, such as I, should not paddle in the deep and treacherous waters of constitutional and legal matters, especially where differences between Belfast and Westminster are concerned. Nevertheless, I find it interesting that none of the media reports, indeed none of the bloggers I have read since Thursday, have seen any merit in taking up this dichotomy.

Is that strange too, or merely an oversight by commentators and pundits? Some are busy exonerating themselves for not anticipating the High Court reversal; others are saying the decision is in reality good news for Brexit because British sovereignty has been endorsed. Only Peter Hitchens appears to be saying that both sides are talking bollocks.

The judicial review was without doubt an attempt to block the process of Brexit by putting the referendum result ino the hands of the Parliament. Everyone knows that in both the House of Commons Commons and the House of Lords there is a majority against Britain leaving the EU. That's why the three High Court judges' decision delighted the Remainers and outraged some of the Brexiteers.

Parliament is paramount for democracy, we are told. Is it? Wasn't this the same institution that voted for the invasion of Iraq in March, 2003, on the dubious evidence of a flawed intelligence report? Wasn't this the same hallowed institution many of whose members were caught fleecing British tax-payers six or seven years ago? Isn't this the same institution thought to be implicated in covering up or hindering investigations into a paedophile ring of the geat but not so good?

Oliver Cromwell was so disgusted by the carry-on in the House of Commons after the Civil War that  on April 20, 1653, he led an armed force into the Commons Chamber (as Charles I had done in January 1642) and forcibly dissolved the Rump, declaring: " You have sat too long for any good you have been doing lately ... In the name of God, go!" 

Who hasn't felt like that in the past few years?  It was Parliament where the vote in favour of the 1972 European Communities Act was gerrymandered by the the major party whips. Why would any self-respecting sceptic believe that this institution, which so readily gave away British sovereignty to Brussels, is the best place to protect and defend it now?

Saturday, 1 October 2016

Think Like a Champ, Don't Act Like a Chump

Donald Trump didn't invent the Mexican Wave; but the wall he proposed for the border with Mexico to keep out illegal immigrants has been reviled by his detractors in this country and elsewhere in Europe. 

However, the UK Government is paying for a wall to be built outside Calais to deter would-be economic migrants from Africa, Afghanistan and elsewhere from getting into Britain. And this weekend the people of Hungary are likely to vote against a European Union proposal to share out 160,000 refugees among its member states. 

The wall is the nearest thing to a world-changing idea that Donald Trump can claim for himself. The rest, to rephrase the last line of Hamlet, is ridicule. Mostly.

Television news clips from America about Donald Trump, prospective Presidential candidate for the Republican Party, are almost wholly negative. He is an object of mockery on programmes like the News Quiz on BBC Radio 4. No self-respecting social satirist or commentator has a good word to say about him though there are plenty of others, such as sexist, racist and misoginystic.

It reminds me of the time when George W Bush was in the White House. Clever people on radio and television took to referring to him as "Gyeorge Wyuh", as though they knew him personally. The contempt had the opposite effect it was supposed to have on me: even after the invasion of Iraq in March, 2003, which I supported, I was inclined to extend more sympathy to him than he merited.

I wish I could say the same about Mr Trump. While the chattering classes enjoy themselves depicting him as the great Satan - reminiscent of the sentiment that used to come out of the Islamic Republic of Iran about all things American - I ruefully reflect on the man I used to enjoy watching as the hiring and firing boss of American Apprentice and Celebrity American Apprentice. It was one of the few reality TV shows that I liked.

The BBC used to screen back numbers of the series, so that in 2010 I was watching shows that were three or four years old. That didn't matter to me: the pleasure was in the interaction of the contestants and Donald Trump's comments and judgements. In his mid to late sixties he was an object of fascination: the conspicuous ostentation - the Trump brand on everything, the helicopter, the jet, the sleek limos, the golden apartment in Trump Tower, the sharp suits and (especially) the immaculate ties of red, blue or gold, that hung perfectly below his chin like a Roman sword. Here was a man who seemed to be innately self-confident. My admiration had nothing to do with a desire to emulate him; I just felt he was a larger-than-life character who got things done. Of course, I suspended my disbelief.

That's why on the afternoon of November 17, 2009, I bought a copy of his book Think Like a Champion, sub-titled An Informal Education in Business and Life. Only an innately unself-confident person would buy a book with that on the cover. I underlined many passages in pencil as I read. Afterwards I appended, in pencil, a list of the 48 Laws of Power as compiled by Robert Greene and Joost Elffers, as well as the following by Steve Jobs:- 

Don't waste time by living somebody else's life...Don't be trapped by dogma...Have the courage to follow your own heart and intuition. They already know what you want to become...Stay hungry...Stay foolish.

The chapters of Think Like a Champion are no longer than two to three pages and each chapter starts with a maxim. Plato, Pythagoras, Oscar Wilde, Pearl S Buck and Aristotle, are among those quoted. The chapter Have the Right Mindset For the Job, for example, starts with one from Henry Ford:-Don't find fault. Find a remedy. This is what Donald Trump says on page 67:-  

I've also noticed how much time The Apprentice teams spend bickering and infighting, which is not only a waste of precious time, but annoying and sometimes even embarrassing. These people are highly qualified, and to see and hear them carrying on at length, many times over in inconsequential things, is a clear indication that they should heed Henry Ford's advice about finding a remedy instead of finding fault.

Mr Trump would have done well to have refreshed his memory before he started his campaign. A few quotes from Abraham Lincoln,, Carl Jung or even one Donald J Trump - 'Is it a blip, or is it a catastrophe' would have set a statesman-like tone. The TV debates with Hillary Clinton, the Democratic prospective Presidential candidate, could have done with one or two. 

The clips that I saw on television in the UK made him look condescending, petty and disruptive. He looked puffy and heavy in his dark blue suit. Mrs Clinton, head to toe in her Santa suit - a motorway diner bottle of ketchup - seemed lighter on her feet. Overall, what I was shown was depressing - as I knew it probably would be - as was the thought of either of these two in the White House. I could imagine the late Allen Ginsberg declaring, in a state of irony and shock: America! Is that the best you can do?

Friday, 15 July 2016

All That Post-Brexit Uncertainty

A friend of mine used to say that the only certainty in life was its uncertainty.

He wasn’t a quantum physicist parroting the principle associated with Werner Heisenberg in 1927. My friend described himself as a romantic capitalist who liked the adventure of entrepreneurship. He died of pancreatic cancer at the age of 47, a couple of years after surviving a serious cancer operation in London.

Uncertainty has been a feature of daily life ever since Albert Einstein proved that space is curved and time is not linear. If the behaviour of a quantum particle is unpredictable why should packets of quanta in the shape of human beings be any different?

And yet, post-Brexit, all you hear on the BBC and see in most of the papers, is that the UK is in a state of uncertainty. Some people have short memories. I remember that before June 23 uncertainty was rife about a number of things – the state of the NHS, the Cameron Government’s borrowing deficit, the likelihood of Roy Hodgson’s England football team achieving something notable in the European Championships.

We were far from certain about whether the summer would be sunny or changeable.

But now it seems all manner of things are being blamed for the uncertainty created by the Referendum vote to leave the European Union. Travel firms go bust – post-Brexit uncertainty is the reason given. The Governor of the Bank of England talks about cutting interest rates and then doesn’t do it – post-Brexit uncertainty is the reason given. Prime Minister Theresa May appoints Boris Johnson Foreign Secretary – post-Brexit uncertainty is…wait a minute, I’ll come on to that later.

The 67 years that constitute my timeline from 1949 could be described as The Age of Uncertainty, like one of the books making up the Roads to Freedom triology of novels by Jean Paul Sartre.

The Labour Government from 1974 to 1979, in which Jim Callaghan took over from Harold Wilson halfway through, was the embodiment of uncertainty, principally because of the dependency of support from other political parties.

Lucky Jim lost the 1979 General Election after Labour’s prolonged uncertainty turned into the Winter of Discontent. Out of piles of uncollected bags of rubbish on the streets of London, Margaret  Thatcher emerged triumphant, Britain’s first female Prime Minister and a template, did she but know it, for the daughter of Eastbourne clergyman Hubert May and his wife Zaidee.

The Cuban Missile crisis of October 1962, the assassinations of President John F Kennedy, the Reverend Martin Luther King and the collapse of Soviet Communism between 1989 and 1991, generated enormous uncertainty, as did the near total collapse of American banking and finance between 2007 and 2008. Remember that one?

Uncertainty has been part of life for longer than I can remember. I don’t suppose the Romans waiting for the arrival of Alaric’s barbarians in 410 AD looked upon the immediate future as a glass half full.

But just as there are always people who hope for certainty, there are those who refuse to accept the result of votes that go against them.

Assuming that the House of Commons doesn’t follow Tony Blair’s advice and vote down the EU Referendum result, the question of whether we should remain or leave has been settled - after all the past broken promises. The time has come to start shaping the future.

The ill-informed petulance of those who wanted to remain in the past has surprised and rattled me. What did they imagine they belonged to? A country with no name, no flag, no history or tradition, an all-inclusive borderless zone invisibly managed by a benign unelected bureaucracy?

Probably most of them are below the age of 43 and have no living memory of the way Britain was signed up for the European Communities Act in 1972, a process that included the gerrymandering of votes in the House of Commons contrived by the whips of both Edward Heath’s Tory Government and Harold Wilson’s Labour Opposition. 

Probably most of them have no memory or even interest in Britain’s pre-history of the EU, when this country was one of seven members of the European Free Trade Association. Efta, formed in 1960 to facilitate trade rather than a political idea, lost three of its members to the European Economic Community, Britain included. By one of history’s little ironies, freeing ourselves from the political octopus of the EU is likely to mean re-joining Efta. which now comprises Lichtenstein, Switzerland, Norway and Iceland. All four countries appear to be doing better than some of those who left, not only in trade but in football as well.

Probably most of the Remainers believe that continued membership of the EU means protecting the planet from man-made climate change. They won’t be pleased about Theresa May’s decision to scrap the Climate Change department as an independent entity and merge it with business and environment.

Probably most of them think that the EU embodies the equivalent of the United Nations: a consensus of national interests mitigated by four freedoms: free movement of people, goods, services and money.

Probably most of the Remainers think that leaving the EU inevitably means less freedom and more constraints; less altruism, less generosity and more selfishness.

Probably most of them really do believe that Britain is more prosperous inside the EU, not realising that we currently have a trade deficit in the region of £96 billion because we buy more from other EU member states than they buy from us. In short we import more from the EU than we export and our exports to Euroland are falling principally because of trade with countries in other parts of the world.

Probably most of them regard the EU as a bastion of peace and goodwill in a factitious world of national and sectional conflicts. The EU is a cosy harbour offering protection to 28 countries from the currents and storms beyond the arms of the harbour wall in countries such as Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan.

Now they feel all at sea or they think that Britain is all at sea. For a country with a long maritime history and tradition this response is odd.

Would the EU have prevented World War II, had Jean Monnet and Arthur Salter’s post World War 1 ambition been realised in time to stop Hitler’s rise to power in 1933?
The League of Nations didn’t. Hitler could have been stopped had Britain and France taken unilateral action in 1936 when Nazi Germany unilaterally re-occupied the Rhineland; but they didn’t and Hitler prospered.

Those who believe the EU’s hands are cleaner of blood than Pontius Pilate’s should take the trouble to look again at the break-up of former Yugoslavia in the wake of the collapse of the political entity known as the Soviet Union.

They should also re-examine what happened in Ukraine following political advances made by the EU.

And those troubled by refugee boat people fleeing conflicts largely stemming from political and military adventures by Britain and the US in the Middle East might ask themselves why the EU failed to respond adequately to the crisis.

Some commentators are now saying that Theresa May has set up her new Cabinet to sabotage Brexit. According to this interpretation the appointment of David Davis, Liam Fox and Boris Johnson is the equivalent of three men in a leaky boat up a creek without a paddle.

I always thought Mrs May was regarded as a pretty dull woman, not noted for cunning. In the six years of her life as a Cabinet Minister under David Cameron, I cannot recall anybody either praising or damning her for Machiavellian super-subtlety.

Barbara Castle once observed of Margaret Thatcher that when she metamorphosed from leader of the Opposition to Prime Minister her confidence and authority visibly grew with the job. Can this have happened to Theresa May?

If it has, why would she risk jeopardising her own Government and the future of the country it is supposed to represent by engineering a political catastrophe or, in the language of the EU, a ‘beneficial crisis’ that results in Baby Bunting Britain hurrying back into the swaddling arms of the EU?

Personally I think her three appointments have more to do with balancing conflicting elements in the Conservative Party – for the time being. The way things are now may not be the shape of things to come, especially if EU member states are subject to further damaging economic and migration crises.

Meanwhile there is a lot of background reading and talking to do by officials being recruited into the new department for leaving the EU, a necessary prelude to mapping out a strategy whether or not it is on the lines of the six-stage process detailed by Richard North’s protean Flexcit magnum opus.

Dr North, who seems to prefer notoriety to popularity, nevertheless has gifted the UK one tremendous idea: that leaving the EU is not an event but a process. This means it wasn’t accomplished on June 23; the result of the Referendum was an instruction to the Government to proceed, nothing else. Achieving it is going to be painstaking and demand a lot of time and patience.

Pieces to camera by excitable TV news journalists should be regarded as light entertainment. The process of working out the details is not going to be dramatic. Any attempt to sex it up should not be heeded. 

Wednesday, 6 July 2016

Time for Britain to Cut the Tie with America as Well

Having announced our intention to formally remove ourselves from the European Union, I hope that in future a British government will take steps to cut the Gordian Knot that binds us to the United States.

The "special relationship" referred to by David Cameron in the House of Commons today appears to be extremely one-sided. The current US President feels free to lecture British people about the merits of remaining subject to the control of an unelected, unaccountable European Commission, warning us that in the event of us ending that control we would lose out on future trade agreements with the United States.

I hope we do. I am sure this country could do a lot better by cutting loose from protectionist America which ensures that every deal it does benefits its own people at the expense of everyone else. Britain has paid off the Lend-Lease debt imposed by the United States during World War 2. Since then we have spent mega billions buying into American nuclear missile systems that we are never likely to use and all for the benefit of American armaments manufacturers.

American bankers and market traders wrecked the economies of the West in 2007/8, making fortunes for themselves by dealing in mortgages that were virtually worthless, bequeathing us budgetry austerity ever since. Thanks guys. You sure know how to treat your allies.

And now we know that a former British Prime Minister, Tony Blair, told former President George W Bush, a year before the invasion and occupation of Iraq, that he, Blair, was "with him all the way." And he was. In Iraq, then in Afghanistan. Six hundred and thirty-two British service personnel came back from those places in coffins. Hundreds more returned in wheelchairs.

Tony Blair evidently decided that Bush junior needed support in his attempt to live up to his father, George senior, and glorify his presidency with the laurels of military victory. I heard Blair apologists say today that in 2003 Iraq's President Saddam Hussein was a dangerous unknown quantity who, following 9/11, might supply Islamic terror groups with stockpiles of chemical and biological weapons.

Britain and the United States probably supplied Saddam with the technology between 1980-88 when, on their behalf, he sent his soldiers against the Islamic Republic of Iran. He was their regional ally. Al Qaeda was never active in Iraq when he was in power. That only happened two or three years after the American-led coalition invasion in 2003.

Go back a bit futher if you like to the invasion and occupation of Afghanistan by the former USSR, the time-scale of which almost exactly parallels the Iraq-Iran War. If the United States had not poured millions of dollars as well as weapons of massive destruction into Afghanistan (via Pakistan) to equip and train the mujahidin, the whole bloody mess that followed, and which prevails today, might not have happened. One of the consequences of that particular insurgency was the formation of Osama bin Laden's al-Qaeda group of trans-national Islamic fighters.

In short the United States helped to create the state of the world that now exists between Afghanistan and Africa by meddling in matters of no long-term interest to Washington. My last American hero was not President J F Kennedy but General George Marshall without whose plan, backed by about 17 billion dollars, much of Western Europe would not have so rapidly recovered after World War 2.

There was no such long-sighted, well-funded, plans for either Afghanistan or Iraq. I wouldn't be surprised if George W Bush had never heard of George Marshall. Do US presidents, as a rule, understand that other countries of the world do not exist specifically for the purpose of supporting the economic/political/military interests of America?

I dare say I won't see Britain cut the tie with the Star Spangled banner in my lifetime. But then I thought that about the European Union.

Saturday, 18 June 2016

The Referendum, Jo Cox and Democracy

Amid the Diana-fication, almost the beatification, of murdered backbench Labour MP Jo Cox, it would be easy to lose sight of the fact that Thursday’s referendum is simply that: it is not a General Election.

Judging by the way the media has pitched the whole contest as a scrap between Prime Minister David Cameron and Tory Rival Boris Johnson and UKIP leader Nigel Farage, you’d be forgiven for thinking that if the majority vote is in favour of leaving the EU, that will mean a change of resident at 10 Downing Street.

It won't. If the Leave campaign wins the man tasked with the responsibility of starting the long process of disengagement with Brussels won’t be either Mr Johnson or Mr Farage, but Mr Cameron – if he decides to stay as Prime Minister until his second term ends in 2020.

Daft as it may be to state the obvious, I have a feeling that there are people out there who think this is a first-past-the-post, winner-takes-all party political battle. As others have pointed out elsewhere the ownership of the Referendum is not the politicians but the public. Nor does it belong to the spectre of a slain MP.

Jo Cox did not die for democracy, she did not choose to martyr herself for the good of the cause. As far as anybody knows she was picked on and attacked out of the blue. If she had had a premonition of what was about to happen, I’m sure she would have done her best to have avoided it, at the same time ensuring that nobody else got hurt inadvertently.

I can understand the desire to make a collective public expression of sadness, if it helps people to deal with their anger, bewilderment or sorrow. But the immediate elevation of this reportedly personable woman to ‘stardom’ in the parliamentary firmament – first by the Prime Minister and then by sundry other politicians and journalists – struck entirely the wrong note for me.

And if this process continues when Parliament specially reconvenes on Monday I think public sympathy might turn to irritation, not about Jo Cox but with those exploiting her murder to say something sententious, not to say tendentious, about the current state of democracy in this country and its representatives.

Remember, in May 2008 – long before Jo Cox was elected to be an MP - the House of Commons lost a High Court case to prevent public disclosure of MPs’ expenses. Subsequently, these guardians of democracy tried to scupper proposed expenses reforms.

They eventually agreed to piece-meal reforms after forcing the Labour Government of Gordon Brown to drop a proposal to scrap the allowance for second homes.

In May, 2009, The Daily Telegraph printed a long series of articles from leaked computer discs highlighting some of the practices common in Parliament, such as ‘flipping’ homes to maximise expenses claims and changing the designation of second homes to avoid paying Capital Gains Tax.

The public, on the receiving end of austerity cuts, whose sons and daughters are killed in foreign wars allegedly in defence of freedom and democracy, whose homes are burgled and property stolen usually without any satisfaction of justice, tend to have the same regard for politicians, in both Westminster and Brussels, that they have for journalists and the groomers of children.

The memory of Jo Cox’s life should be honoured. It should not be used as emotional propaganda by those with another agenda.

Tuesday, 19 April 2016

Show Us Yer Joy

While campaigners for Britain leaving the European Union squabble about facts and tactics the more astute among them might pick up on a point made today by journlaist and former Conservative MP Matthew Parris.

He told an ITV news journalist that both the campaigns for remaining in the EU and leaving it tended to accentuate the negative: staying in was better than taking the risk of leaving, staying in would do more harm than leaving. Parris wondered why the remain campaign was so lacking in uplift: if being a part of EU was worth the time, trouble and expense, surely it was worth shouting about.

A good point, I thought, especially as the June 23 referendum is likely to be decided by the more than 20 per cent of people questioned by pollsters who say they haven't made up their minds which direction the country should take.

Are the undecideds likely to be excited by the Prime Minister declaring in his most plausible head boy fashion that Britain will be safer, stronger and better off in a "reformed EU" than outside it, like poor old Norway for example. It's a pretty uninspiring message especially when repeated, more or less, by uninspiring Opposition MPs such as Labour's Yvette Cooper.

The bland leading the bland.

If, as David Cameron claims, Britain is safer inside the EU marquee rather than outside it, he should explain why since 1973 mainland Britain has been subject to at least 65 terrorist attacks, killing more than 380 people, maiming and wounding thousands and costing billions. These include the M62 coach bomb attacck in 1974 which killed 11, the Birmingham pub bombings the same year which accounted for another 19, the 1988 Panam bombing over Lockerbie which killed 270 and the London bombings in 2005 which killed 52 and injured more than 700. Add on the bombings and shootings over three decades in Northern Ireland from 1968 and the casualties and costs mushroom.

While the EU in its various incarnations since 1973 cannot be blamed for the Provisional IRA or Al Qaeda, what has it done to justify David Cameron's assertion that membership has made us safer? Globally, of course, the Nobel Peace Prize-winning junta in Brussels has proved to be extremely dangerous. It encouraged the atomisation of former Yugoslavia following the end of Communism in Europe and the rage for independence that followed and had a hand in causing the bloodshed in western Ukraine by trespassing in Russia's sphere of influence. Latterly, the EU stands accused of making the refugee problem worse by offering blandishments to Turkey to act as a border guard for south-eastern Europe. On top of all this, of course, the EU's iron law of freedom of movement has led to a million or more economic migrants from Poland, Albania, Rumania, Spain and elsewhere coming to the UK.

You may say, so what? If you did I would reply that neither I nor anybody I know actually voted in any general election favour of any of this. It happened because decisions were made and taken elsewhere and simply adopted first by the Labour Government of 2004/5 and subsequently by the Tory-Lib Dem Coalition from 2010 to 2015.

Let's face it, the EU does not have an encouraging democratic track record. It has a history of ignoring national referendums when the result is not as expected. The people of the Netherlands, France and the Republic of Ireland were told to think again when they, respectively, voted against proposed EU treaties. Leave campaigners appear to have forgotten this in the heat of the debate about whether Britons  - "who never, never shall be slaves", according to the national anthem - should remain or go. Come on chaps, look back in anger at the crap that's been going on since 1973: the wine lakes, the butter mountains (in support of French farmers), the fish thrown back in the sea (in support of a fisheries policy contrary to our interests), the dotty carbon capture policies costing us billions and making millions for India's Tata Steel. Next time you hear business leaders and experts advocating continued EU membership for the sake of the economy, look back at the farce of Britain's short-lived membership of the European Exchange Rate Mechanism and what happened in September 1992. John Major's Government was forced to spend billions to maintain sterling's value on international markets in defence of this discredited system.

It's not as though the European empire has generated any interesting art, literature or music in the last 43 years - unlike the Roman Empire or Napoleon III's French Empire. The only bit of music associated with it that I can think of is the Ode to Joy finale of Beethoven's Ninth Symphony. A rousing and glorious blast of triumph appropriated by a bunch of furtive federalists. Ludvig would not have been amused. So come on, all you remainers, let's see the expression of your joy. Show the doubters and the truculent Europhobes something other than the usual spurious arguments. At least the leavers have a plan, Richard North's 420-page FLEXCIT, contrary to all the chundering in the media. For those who haven't world enough and time there is a 48-page summation available for a fiver called The Market Solution. Added to thse two documents, there is a new edition of The Great Deception, the history of the European 'project' that Dr North wrote with Christopher Booker, a copy of which I recently bought. In short, the leavers, in the words of Sir Humphrey, have well and truly "nailed their trousers to the mast". Which means they can't climb down.

In 1975, on the occasion of the first referendum about Britain's membership of the European Economic Community - the "Common Market" as it was deliberately and misleadingly called -  doubters were assured that joining Europe would make the country more prosperous, stronger, safer even. Forty years and 65 terrorist attacks later the wine lakes and butter mountains have been replaced by an Everest of debt and a schedule of Government borrowing that runs into billions every month. The money given back to Britain by the EU comes from us in the first place.

How different it all is from when I were a lad in Walthamstow, London E17, and Harold Wilson could be heard on the wireless worrying about Britain's "balance of payments", a matter of a few millions either in the black or the red. We thought the news was bad then. Little did we know.

Tuesday, 22 March 2016

Bombing the Soft Europeans

The departure terminal at Brussels airport was made to look like parts of Syria after the two Islamic State bomb attacks yesterday. And I suppose that was part of the purpose, to show soft Europeans what it's like to be on the receiving end of an unexpected bomb.

What the bearded holy terrorists may not know or if they do, understand, is that us soft Europeans have been on the receiving end of bombs of all sorts. We have a tradition of being bombed that goes back to the Franco-Prussian War of 1870, the ill-fated Paris Commune that followed and two World Wars. 

Seventy years ago in July, 1946,  militant Zionist terrorists blew up part of the King David Hotel in Jerusalem, killing more than 90 British military personnel and others. In fact, post 1945 the British have been bombed and shot at all over the world, especially in Northern Ireland. Central London, Guildford, Birmingham and Manchester have all been visited by bombers. Provisional IRA, IS or Al Qaeda, the result is always the same: splintered lives and blood up the walls.

Much of what I wrote in this blog on November 14, 2015, after the Paris shootings, stands for what I think now. My only wish is that television news would show a little more judicious discrimination in what they broadcast. How does showing people running away from a bomb site help anyone but those organising these attacks? And why do the earnest and well-meaning insist on buying into the regularly offered explanation of poverty, deprivation and disenfranchisement, for the radicalisation of young Muslims?

I've heard that excuse trotted out for more than 30 years. The result, certainly in Bradford, has been renewed efforts to adapt mainstream society and culture to the needs and demands of minority groups, accompanied by the usual press release superlatives, 'vibrant', even 'vibrancy', 'diverse' and 'community', as though the various sectors of the people who live here identify with one religious or cultural tendency. In fact, just for the record, life here is a lot more sectarian, tribal, clannish, than that simplification allows.

Crying the poor mouth, as the Irish say, is the usual way of staking a claim to resources. Ordinary people, by whom I mean working class white trash who don't work in education, local government, the media or the Church of England, don't fall for that. The others do. Some of them.

The earnest and well-meaning assume that the deprived and disenfranchised carry out the shootings and bombings. They don't. It's the educated, sometimes university-educated righteous brothers, who seek to impose martyrdom on total strangers. It's not money and opportunities these people lack but humility. 

Let's face it, yesterday was not a good day for the European Union. Prime Minister David Cameron has several times declared that due to Britain's membership of the EU, British people are "safer" and, by inference, the peoples of the 27 other members states are safer too. Safer until the next surprise attack sends body bags and reporters to another European city.

Saturday, 20 February 2016

Winning the Referendum - for the Outsiders.

Whether or not Richard Nixon's special counsel Charles Colson had a cartoon on his wall with the legend: 'When you get 'em by the balls, their hearts and minds will follow', the fact is that remains a terrible piece of advice.

It guarantees that come the day you relax your grip of said appendages their owners will turn on you and kick your arse - out of power. Forever. Yet between now and Thursday, June 23, the day when the people of the UK have the opportunity to vote to leave the European Union - the biggest single confidence trick of the modern era - we can expect a great deal of ball-squeezing to persuade the credulous to stick with what they are used to rather than risk change.

A host of rich and prize-winning celebrities from entertainment and politics will get extensive air-time and print space to hammer home the vital importance of 'staying in Europe' for the sake of trade, security, defence and inclusivity. The United States, they will be told, is in favour of Britain staying in the EU. That strikes me as a pretty good reason for baling out of the leaky boat that constitutes the EU's ship of state.

The issue is not the continent of Europe but the artificial political construct currently known as the European Union but which in previous incarnations was the European Economic Community ansd the European Community. The name of this federal state seems to be different with every significant treaty change so that Joe Public is never sure what he belongs to or what it means, leaving the way open for old Europhile politicical grandees like Kenneth Clarke and Michael Heseltine to talk down to them in tried and trusted cliches about Britain's position 'at the top table' of world affairs.  

Nor is the issue a black and white conflict between 'Little Englander' nationalism and pan-europeanism. It is about whether the free peoples, or allegedly free peoples, of the United Kingdom want to go on being part of an unaccountable  political organisation that arbitrarilly takes their money and tells them what they cannot do. I recognise that there are occasional readers of this blog who believe that membership of this organisation has enhanced the well-being of many people. In my opinion the EU, in its various forms, inadvertently started the war in Yugoslavia and damned nearly dragged us into military conflict with Russia by trying to sign up Western Ukraine as an associate EU member - the status that is being offered to David Cameron.

I think those BREXIT factions currently sniping at each other over who has and hasn't got the better exit plan have lost sight of what an amazing turn of events the forthcoming referendum represents.Three years ago, the likelihood of a Conservative Prime Minister, a professed supporter of EU membership, putting such a referendum into place was as remote as Leicester City topping the Premiership table. Armchair strategists felt confident in ridiculing anyone who looked forward to the day when that would happen. And when the unlikely looked highly likely they ridiculed the idea that the referendum might take place sooner rather than later, later being 2017.

The Prime Minister has put himself in this precarious position, partly to try to steal the thunder of the UK Independence Party of Nigel Farage and partly to prevent he Conservative Party in Parliament from being torn asunder on the issue of EU membership as was the party of David Cameron's predecessor John Major. Will his gamble pay off, will this turn out to be for him a beneficial crisis? If you beome transfixed by the know-alls, then yes, probably he will win the day on June 23.

I think it entirely depends on whether the out campaigners have the humility to learn a lesson from the election of Jeremy Corbyn as leader of the Labour Party. His unexpected victory was due entirely to popular support from the electorate at large, not the Parliamentary Labour Party, its fellow travellers and their cronies in the media. That's why the media has spent so much time subsequently undermining Mr Corbyn (ironically an advocate of EU membership), for he is there without their benediction. 

The referendum will be influenced by Question Time, Any Questions, staged televised debates and the Today programme, just as it will be influenced by blogs; but it will be won by those who go out into the country and address public meetings. This is what Jeremy Corbyn did, and he won overwhelmingly. This referendum won't be won on fine-print details, as some purists would wish, but on blood and guts passion and conviction. David Cameron is adept at that. But Nigel Farage is better, and he has the advantage of knowing the EU from the inside.

Our balls have been in the hands of lying Europhiles since the last referendum in 1975, when they told us that memebership of the EEC was vital for Britain's economic future. They knew all along that the project was really about creating a federal political state. The time has come to kick their arses once and for all and get out into the sunnier uplands of the wider world.