Harry in Canada

A week or so ago the Daily Mail devoted 17 (seventeen) pages to Harry and Megan, and their decision to leave ‘The Firm’, as the Royal Family calls itself, and settle in Toronto. I take little interest in our royal goings-on, even when they concern the deplorable Prince Andrew, and so am not qualified to comment on this matter here. Except to say that, as I understand it, one of the reasons for the couple’s discontent is the treatment meted out to them by the British tabloid press; and especially the scarcely-veiled racism it directs at the ‘ethnically mixed’ (apparently) Megan. That immediately warms me to them. I wonder what the tabloids now feel about their role in exiling what until now has been a major source for their journalism? Will it make them pull back? Of course not. They’ve still got whomever Labour chooses as its next party leader to smear.

All this comes at a time when major events both in Britain and the world should be much more newsworthy, and so have taken up at least some of those seventeen pages. It’s almost as if the Harry/Megan story were a planned distraction from, for example, Trump’s impeachment, climate change and the fires in Australia, eruptions in Indonesia, the Israeli elections; and – nearer to home here in the UK – the report on Russian interference in British elections that is being deliberately held back by Johnson (who should have released it before the last election), and his plans to emasculate Parliament to the advantage of the Executive. All this, quite apart from the much larger story of the grotesque corruption of our politics by the Right-wing media itself. But then you wouldn’t expect them to report on that.

Toronto, incidentally, seems a good choice, partly because it’s a fine and pleasant city, secondly because it’s still in the Queen’s beloved Commonwealth, and thirdly because it’s not the USA. Canada is getting a good press here in Britain nowadays. Perhaps it could be said to represent what the USA might have become if it had not broken away from the British Empire. – No, of course not; but it’s worth a thought.

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Ancestry

At a dinner party we gave last night for some of our fondest Swedish friends the conversation turned to our family backgrounds. All were Swedes, mostly Swedish-born, apart from me (now a demi-Swede); one of Indian origin; another from Sierra Leone; and a Latvian. That left six who had been born in Sweden. What interested me, however, was that all those six had recent ancestors who had come from elsewhere. Kajsa’s people on one side of her family were originally Walloon. Others boasted – or admitted to – Danish, German, various kinds of Belgian and other ancestries.

I was the odd person out. In the past I’ve tried to find ‘alien’ descendants, through DNA testing and (with Sylvia’s help) those ‘Heritage’ websites that trace your family back via census reports and the like. DNA has all my forebears coming from ‘Anglo-Saxon’ stock; ‘Heritage’ roots my father’s side in rural Essex for at least four generations. According to the latter we were all peasants, and many of us illiterate. That has been a disappointment to me, hoping as I did for something more interesting: Scandinavian, for example. (Tenth-century Essex was a great field for rape and pillage by the macho Vikings.)  But out of the ten of us at dinner last evening, I was the only ‘pure-blooded’ one.

I was also struck by the fact that all our guests had famous or at least moderately distinguished (by Swedish standards) relatives and friends. I had none of these until I went to Cambridge, and most of those were actors and comedians. (I was involved in dramatics there.) That may have had something to do with my class, and with where I lived before university. In a small country like Sweden, and an intimate community like Stockholm’s, it’s easier for middling-class people to rub shoulders with the ‘greats’, than in London suburbia.

Our circle of Swedish friends is varied, liberal and stimulating. I imagine this has a lot to do with their diverse heritages. In common, I think, with the Nazis, I used to think of the Swedes as ‘racially’ homogeneous. Thank goodness they’re not.

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Thick, or Left Behind?

The two stand-out social factors accounting for the divisions between ‘Brexiters’ and ‘Remainers’ are (a) age, and (b) education. This has been demonstrated over and over again statistically. In short: the older you were, and the less educated, the more likely you were to vote for Brexit. On the other side, young and well-educated people were – and are – far more likely to be ‘Remainers’.

It’s the second of these demographics which poses a problem for us relatively well-educated Remainers. One obvious inference is that Brexiters – and also Tory voters, incidentally – are ‘thick’. But we can’t say or write that, for fear of being calumniated and dismissed as ‘elitist’. That’s a powerful weapon in the hands of the populist Right. As well as that, however, it may not be fair – quite irrespective of whether or not Brexit was, objectively, a stupid choice.

For the fact is that if we consider the ‘stupid’ as a class  of people, there are reasons other than their stupidity for how they voted in 2016 and 2019. The following article spells this out: https://unherd.com/2019/12/brexit-has-exposed-our-education-apartheid-2/. Those with lower levels of education have also had a bum deal in other ways over the past decade or so: with regards to employment, for example; pay; prospects for advancement; their perceived position in society; and their self-confidence, or pride, as a class. Their level of education has been one of the main contributors to this situation, but it’s not the reason behind their voting preferences in itself. Education is a social signifier, as well as an intellectual one. That’s as obvious at the ‘bottom’ of the educational scale, as it is at the Old Etonian ‘top’.

Better education for the ‘bottom’, with more status accorded to it, might help correct this.  What the solution for the ‘age’ demographic might be, however, I can’t imagine. Something to make us grumpy oldies feel younger, perhaps. Monkey-glands? Face-lifts? Viagra?

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Classical Music for the People

I’ve only just discovered ‘Flash Mob’. This piece had me in tears. The spirit of the Europe we’ve rejected? It’s the faces of the onlookers and the children I was particularly moved by. Who says classical music is ‘elitist’?

If you’re new to them too, there’s plenty more of Flash Mob on Youtube, including a wonderful Ravel’s Bolero  and a chorus from La Traviata: all surprise performances in public places, with the musicians coming in one by one.

One is at Arlanda airport, where I’ll be flying out to on Wednesday. We ‘Swenglish’ hope to ‘celebrate’ our liberation from the evil European Empire at midnight on the 31st, in the best English pub in Stockholm: the Tudor Arms, if anyone is in the area.

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What I Did in My Hols

A very busy and productive post-Christmas break had me completing two books. Well, not really. The first was a new final chapter for the 6thedition of The Lion’s Share, entitled ‘Brexit and the Empire’; the second a Preface and a concluding chapter of a collection of old essays about Britain and Europe that I hope Bloomsbury Press will publish, to be called Britain before Brexit. (Originally I wanted Semi-Detached; but that title’s already taken.) Now that they’ve both been sent off to the publishers for scrutiny, I can return to blogging; sometime soon, I hope.

Happy New Year. (Unlikely, I admit.) Incidentally, you do realise that this isn’t the first year of a new decade, but the last year of the old one? Because there wasn’t a year 0.

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Hell on Earth

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I have no specialist knowledge or original ideas about the bush/forest fires raging now in eastern Australia, and so will refrain from commenting on them here. I know the area well, having lived for longish periods in Canberra and Sydney. My son Ben and his family are flying back to Melbourne tomorrow, after spending Christmas with me in Hull. The fires seem to be creeping across Victoria towards them.

Australia – with all its faults, including a succession of awful ‘Liberal’ Commonwealth Prime Ministers, and the sink of backwardness and corruption that seems to be Queensland – is my favourite country. (Sorry, Sweden, but you don’t play cricket.) I’ve also read a lot about the current Australian government’s obstructive line on climate change, boosted by its huge and unhealthy dependence on extractive industries like coal. Whether there’s a direct  link between this and the present crisis, I rather doubt. Closing the coal mines down wouldn’t put out the fires.

But could this be the one single dramatic event that silences the climate change deniers? If so, those poor burned-out Aussies may not have have suffered in vain.

Incidentally: has any religious nut yet put the blame for it on homosexuality? (Ben tells me Sydney is known as the ‘gay capital’ of the world.) I’m sure that must follow soon.

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Cocking a Snook

It looks like something out of Dominic Cummings’s playbook; though it’s a pretty obvious idea, and is probably in The Prince too. Get all your most outrageous actions in at the very beginning of your reign, so that they’ll be less fresh in the minds of your public when the time comes for it to renew your contract – at the next General Election, in Britain’s case. It’s also a neat trick to do them all over Christmas, when people are otherwise distracted.

The particular actions I’m thinking of are the peerage granted to the Tory (and racist) millionaire Zac Goldsmith as his reward for losing three elections in a row in London; the knighthood bestowed on Ian Duncan Smith, widely seen on the Left as the architect of ‘Universal Credit’, and hence the murderer – or at least the manslaughterer – of tens of thousands of poor, sick people deprived of their social security, in the interests (of course) of ‘austerity’; and – less materially, but significant symbolically – Boris’s jetting off anti-environmentally with his new girlfriend to celebrate Christmas on a private island in the Caribbean, while Jeremy stays at home to help the poor in his London constituency. To this we might add Jacob Rees-Mogg’s hypocritical tweet welcoming the birth of a ‘Saviour’ who would have cast him  out of the temple at first sight. Can anyone imagine any of this ten years – or even one year – ago? It looks like a deliberate provocation, cocking a snook in the direction of the rest of us, born of post-election triumphalism and the arrogance of Johnson’s class; reminding us all of that infamous Bullingdon Club photograph of the lot of them, secure in a sense of inherited privilege that most people believed democracy had knocked out of them. You can see from that that they just don’t care.

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There are also broad hints already of more substantial changes to follow: caving in to the United States over food standards, for example; undoing protective labour legislation; tying foreign aid to foreign policy; re-writing the British constitution to give a prime minister less fettered powers; and so on. All these new policies have been clearly signalled in recent weeks. They may come in very soon, for the same reason as those other outrages: to get them done before people can recover and rally against them. The last one in particular – coupled with Boris’s overt appeal to the new international tide of nationalist ‘populism’, and the recent entry into the Conservative party, if reports are to be believed, of 5000 acknowledged neo-Fascists (https://www.theguardian.com/politics/2019/dec/28/britain-first-far-right-members-5000-have-joined-tories-) – bodes ill for the survival of whatever scraps of ‘democracy’ we still retain. It may even presage a peculiarly British form of Fascism. That used to be dismissed as a paranoid fantasy. It can’t be any more.

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Presidential Melt-Down

Isn’t this demented? It’s the speech he was giving when he heard about the result of the impeachment vote in the House of Representatives. I imagine that the editing makes it look worse – this is just 15 minutes of clips taken, probably, out of context, and from a 2-hour speech. But how can Americans still support this rambling, childish, unstable oaf?

Mind you, we in the UK just now are hardly the ones to throw stones.

 

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All a Plot?

Could Corbyn, or a Corbynist political programme, ever have won against the forces that were arrayed against them? They had a lot going for them: an enthusiastic political base, especially among the young and (marginally) among women; a popular manifesto, by most accounts; a pretty easy enemy to pick off; and a leader whose transparent honesty and decency by contrast with the notorious duplicity and amoralism of his Conservative rival should have worked in his favour. But none of this mattered in the end. Labour’s fresh young activists could not overcome the stale prejudices of the older generation (mine), who won the election for Johnson; the manifesto was scarcely discussed in the media; and the remorseless personal campaign against Corbyn in the overwhelmingly Right-wing and billionaire-owned press succeeded in neutralising any appeal to his decency by egregiously lying about his supposed lack of ‘patriotism’, his sympathy for terrorism, and – and this was the most wicked of the smears, put about by sections of the Jewish community, whom I’d always up till then considered as a Godly and ethical people – his alleged ‘antisemitism’. It was almost entirely due to this propaganda that his personal reputation became so horribly traduced during the course of the campaign, so that by the end of it he was named ‘on the doorstep’ as one of the reasons why many voters couldn’t vote Labour. Added to all this was the fact that, under Britain’s ‘first past the post’ electoral system, with the winner taking all even with a minority of the votes, it was scarcely a fair fight, or the result a true reflection of the opinions of the people. So Corbyn may have never stood a chance; and it’s unlikely that any alternative leader with similar policies to his (nationalisation and Palestine) could have done so either. Which is far more dispiriting to Leftists and progressives, than if it had been the ‘fault’ of just one man.

The dark forces arrayed against him (and us) have precedents in previous British history, but none as powerful, cunning and apparently co-ordinated as in 2019. Which inevitably raises questions about whether it was all planned or plotted, in a great hidden ‘conspiracy’ between all those vested interests. That’s a dangerous speculation, because it can too easily be dismissed as a conspiracy theory, which no respectable commentator – and especially not a historian – wants to be associated with. As someone who has taken a fleeting professional interest in these things in the past – the ‘Wilson Plot’, for example – I’m unwilling to credit ‘conspiratorial’ explanations of this kind; that is, if they imply secret cabals of people – or extra-terrestials, in some versions – pulling the strings of world events towards some diabolical end.

On the other hand, the comparatively small number of people involved in the propaganda operation against Corbyn – a few giant newspaper proprietors and editors, ex-public schoolboys, financial speculators, the new breed of clever IT people, right-wing Tory politicians, and the ‘Israel lobby’; most of them with similar backgrounds and members of the same London clubs – does make it natural to suspect that they plotted together in some sense; but probably not Guy Fawkes-like. In certain select circles this will have all been part of their normal, open conversation. They will have been encouraged and even aided by members of the American Alt-Right, and possibly – in a subtler way – by the Russians. The BBC hierarchy might have been involved, but only because it shared many of the same backgrounds and values as our select group. Lastly, it seems likely to me that the Secret Services were closely involved, for their own reasons: possibly because they really did think – as Sir Richard Dearlove, former head of MI6, claimed publicly – that Corbyn posed a danger to national security. (See https://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/2019/11/24/former-mi6-chief-calls-jeremy-corbyn-danger-national-security/.) The spooks were almost certainly involved in the (anti-) Wilson plot of the 1960s and ’70s, and in the 1924 Zinoviev affair. So it would not be altogether surprising to see them here too. Some commentators are starting to lay some stress on this: for example https://www.mintpressnews.com/new-study-reveals-uk-intelligence-smear-campaign-against-jeremy-corbyn/263231/?fbclid=IwAR1DgT7gEAvwjBxwSfHD_NOPng9paEoz7LfwEKLFoSp9BYcBX-GJLrDlXeE#.Xf47s6blqaC.facebook. That’s hardly surprising, in the circumstances.

The main problem with ‘conspiracy theories’, however, is not so much that they can’t be proven, but that even when they can, it can’t be proven that they had the effects – the success – that is claimed for them. I think we can be pretty certain that there were a number of ‘conspiracies’ against the Labour Party in 2019, in a broad sense of the word; but not that these were decisive. Still, it’s important to know who were on the conspirators’ side; and about the anti-democratic powers – for example through the press, and Machiavels like Cummings – that they wielded. Perhaps next time we can find ways of countering them; hopefully without descending to their depths.

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Cunning Cummings

Labour’s main tactical error – among many lesser ones, I’m sure, like most of the other parties’, except perhaps the SNP – was to agree to a general election before  Brexit had been settled; either by voting Johnson’s ‘deal’ through – it was already halfway there, whatever Boris said about that nasty Parliament’s obstructing it – or by means of a second referendum. I imagine Labour was ‘dared’ into it by the prospect of the Conservatives and the press painting them as ‘chicken’ – or ‘frit’, to use Thatcher’s schoolgirl word – if they were seen to avoid it. The result however was to allow the election to be dominated by the issue of Brexit, and – so far as Labour was concerned – by many of its traditional voters’ deep resentment at its apparent equivocation on the issue. If Labour had either got its referendum in first, or  waited for Boris’s withdrawal bill to pass, the question would have been swept under the table before a general election fought on the issues that Labour wanted to fight it on could be called. The electoral situation then would have been entirely different.

I imagine that extreme ‘Remainers’ – like the Lib Dems – were partly responsible for this, elevating the EU issue above all others. That was self-defeating. As most people are now aware, the election hasn’t ‘Got Brexit Done’, as Boris pretended, because of the long negotiations that still need to be pursued in order to finalise Britain’s relationship with the rump EU. Those could  keep the UK within the – or a – European customs union, which is what Corbyn had proposed, and what he would have secured if he had been returned as prime minister. The Europhobe zealots wouldn’t have liked that, any more than the Europhiles, but they would have had to lump it. Then a new Labour government, which must  have come about in these circumstances – the Tories were just waiting to be skinned alive – could have turned to their manifesto promises, and started building the new, compassionate, internationalist, egalitarian and above all hopeful  nation that Corbyn seemed to promise to his young acolytes. As it is now, however the ultimate Brexit deal turns out, the Tories are left free afterwards to do their neoliberal pro-American worst to us.

I suspect that this was on Dominic Cummings’s mind all along. Brexit, being unfinished, could be ridden by the far Right to the sort of victory it  wanted. Europe was only a means to this end. He’s a cunning bastard. (‘Cunning’ implying not only ‘clever’, but also ‘unprincipled’.) I don’t think we’ve given him enough credit for that.

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