All a Distraction?

I’ve been out of the UK for two months now – in body, if not in mind. How could I mentally distance myself from all that’s happening there politically just now, even if I wanted to? It’s all the doing of our modern media globalisation, of course, especially the internet – enabling us to keep in touch with everything that’s happening everywhere all the time. I sometimes feel nostalgic for the old days, when travelling abroad meant you could cut yourself off entirely from home. I remember flying back from a fortnight’s ski-ing trip in the Alps with friends about fifty years ago, remarking: ‘Anything could have happened while we’ve been away – a revolution, even.’ And so it turned out. While we’d been sliding down mountains in Obergurgl, Martin Peters had been transferred from West Ham to Spurs. For non-football devotees among you, or at least of that vintage, this seemed the equivalent of Netanyahu going over to Hamas. Nowadays I’d hear of it the very moment it happened. I can get away from Britain, but Britain follows me, via my smartphone. Of course I could switch it off. Kajsa’s always telling me to. But that’s a big ask.

As a historian, I ought to be able to suggest historical parallels for the political defections of the last couple of days, but I can’t. That has nothing to do with my exile. It’s the bi-partisan nature of the new ‘Independent Group’ that differentiates it from most of the great British parliamentary splits of the past: over the Corn Laws in the 1840s, Ireland in the 1880s, imperialism in the 1900s, the nuclear deterrent in the 1970s… and other lesser ones in between. ‘Centre’ parties have generally failed, but we don’t have many precedents that recruited from both sides.

All I can contribute as a historian is the broad view of things that a study of history can give you, which suggests to me that something else is going on here. It’s not just about ‘anti-semitism’ or Corbyn or ‘extremists’ infiltrating both parties, or even Brexit. It’s a result of a more seismic shift in British – and indeed Europe-wide and even American – political society, in which the hitherto accepted verities are being thrown into confusion in a way that can’t be reflected in our traditional political structures. All of these are breaking apart, but along fault-lines that don’t necessarily represent the fundamental causes of the crisis. We can all have our theories about what those causes are. Mine happen to be (neo-?) Marxist. It all has to do with the inevitable self-destruction of late-stage capitalism. But there are other possibilities.

If this is so, then the great ‘Brexit’ debate could be regarded as a mere distraction. I’ve suggested before that this makes sense of Jeremy Corbyn’s strategy: not to allow the issue to distract Labour and the country from the key social and economic transformations – including, most essentially, equality – that are required to bring us (back?) to a measure of national stability and relative contentment. How to do that now? The trouble is that Brexit is a vitally important issue in itself, as well as a distraction. The best that we Labour Remainers can hope for, therefore, is that it is resolved – ideally ditched, but short of that made as ‘soft’ as possible – in such a way as to settle the issue, in order to allow (1) the more fundamental debate to take place; and (b) a Corbynite – preferably still Corbyn-led – Labour government  to lead the country into it.

And we also, incidentally, must tackle the problem of foreign interference in our domestic politics. In these days this means not mainly the Americans or Russians, but the Israelis; whose complicity in measures to ‘take down’ Corbyn – because of his championing of the Palestinian cause – is by now indisputable. (Here’s the latest on this: https://electronicintifada.net/content/watch-film-israel-lobby-didnt-want-you-see/25876?fbclid=IwAR2UcqO7ylm8bMoGpCHriZnzZ6YnRGIHm-KVh94i2x4G4NkMQhcz8gRcl3Y.)  That this is so difficult to say these days without being accused of ‘anti-semitism’ indicates how active and insidious the ‘Israel Lobby’ is. Even Jews can’t say it – and many do – without being called ‘self-hating’. But that’s a familiar controversy.

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(Personal note.) Next week I’m off back to England. That I’ve been here in Sweden so long this time is because Kajsa broke her wrist falling on the ice about a month ago, and so needs me to help with things (or so I insisted). She’ll follow me shortly. But I need to get back, for my next solid bit of writing. I used to think – to return to my original topic – that the internet would enable me to work just as well here in Sweden, with my laptop; but I’ve found over the last week or so that there’s only so much I can do without my library. Kajsa can wiggle her fingers now, so she should be able to cope on her own for a few days. But I feel guilty about leaving her, all the same.

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Sledging, Smearing, and Three Tory Women

‘Sledging’ – close fielders throwing insults at batsmen in order to put them off – is one of the most unpleasant things to have entered cricket in recent years. Last week the English captain Joe Root responded to a homophobic piece of sledging by the West Indian bowler Shannon Gabriel – implying he was gay – not by protesting his masculinity, but with the words: ‘Don’t use that as an insult … there’s nothing wrong with being gay.’ What a perfect answer by the young Yorkshireman! He’s been roundly commended for it, and Gabriel fined and banned for a number of matches. I hope the Australians were watching. (They’re usually credited – maybe unfairly – with bringing ‘sledging’ into the game.)

Otherwise it has been good to see the once-great Windies back to their terrifying fast-bowling best. (They beat England two matches to one.) The cricket world needs them.

In the world of politics the sledging still goes on. Currently it mainly consists of ‘anti-semitic’ smears against the Labour Party, which are descending to an even sub-Australian level of ‘low’. What the latest Tory defections will mean for British politics, and for the ‘Brexit’ debate in particular, is unpredictable. If the new ‘centre’ party that might be emerging can put a stop to the swivel-eyed Tories’ ‘hard’ Brexit, or even to Brexit per se, then it might almost be worth the damage being done by the defections on the Labour side. Almost.

Who is to say what will come out of this? It seems more potentially unsettling for British politics as a whole – the party system, perhaps even our voting system (hopefully) – than the old SDP breakaway. The three ex-Tory women I thought spoke well at their press conference; unlike the ex-Labour malcontents yesterday. Poverty and inequality were two of their targets. I didn’t get the impression that they were two of the Gang of Seven’s (now Eight. And tomorrow?)….

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A Silver Lining?

OK, I’m coming out of my political depression now; and wondering whether something positive could be made of this terrible thing that’s happening to the Labour Party. If Philip Cassell, commenting on my last blog, is right, it could just be a simple ruse to force Corbyn to resign, to be replaced by someone more ‘electable’. This is unlikely to be one of the Seven, who will be marked for life by their ‘treachery’, and for that reason I agree with Philip that it can’t be seen as a ‘career’ move – unless a very stupid one. None of the ‘Maleficent Seven’ (like it?) appears any more ‘electable’ than Jeremy; most of them are very dull people, virtually unheard of before now, and with nothing but clichés to say for themselves at their press conference yesterday. (John Field’s comment on my last blog is on the ball here.)

So, a new leader would have to come from outside their circle. He or she would need to be someone who goes along with Corbyn’s policies, but doesn’t have his baggage: serial disloyalty to the party, being embarrassingly right about most foreign issues in the past, talking to terrorists, lack of respect for Her Maj, daring to support the Palestinians, shabby dressing, the allotment. There are suitable candidates for the succession. I imagine that the two I suggested in my last blog are beyond the pale for most Labour members; but others have been making a very good public impression by negotiating the Brexit quicksands calmly and intelligently. These include Emily Thornberry, Keir Starmer, Barry Gardiner and John McDonnell – if he’s not seen as too close to Corbyn. (My vote would go to Emily, but partly because she’s a woman, and could show us that women can be leaders in our political world without de-sexing them.) I’d trust – well, half trust – any of them to carry on Jeremy’s good work. On the other hand, I don’t trust the Labour Party membership to see things in this way; which is why Corbyn would need to resign voluntarily first, and anoint one or some of these as his possible successors. We’ll see. It would be unfair on Jeremy, whom I greatly admire (partly because he looks and thinks like me); but at least Labour would escape some of the vitriol heaped on it by the Press if he were to go. He then would go down in history not as a failure, but as the John the Baptist of New-New Labour, preparing the way for the coming of the Lord. And my original prediction, or suggestion, or hope (https://bernardjporter.com/2016/07/12/keep-corbyn-for-now/), would have come to pass. Glory be.

I still think we need to know where the Seven’s financial backing comes from – which their registering in a notorious tax haven won’t make easy. Also, the part played in all this – if any – by Israel; of which Scott Newton tells us (below) two of the seven are ‘Friends’. Just a suspicion; but probably enough for me to be suspected as an ‘anti-semite’ by the likes of Luciana Berger, who gave Labour anti-semitism as her main reason for joining the mutiny. You might not like ‘conspiracy theories’; but if yesterday’s rebellion wasn’t a conspiracy in itself, what was it?

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The Gang of Seven

I thought I couldn’t get more depressed about British politics, but this latest breakaway from the Labour Party has plunged me into an even deeper pit of despair. That’s despite the fact that very early on, when Corbyn was surprisingly and almost accidentally elected Leader, I had my doubts over whether he had the charisma to become an effective national campaigner for the kind of democratic socialism he represented, and which chimed in very well with mine (https://bernardjporter.com/2016/07/12/keep-corbyn-for-now/). My hope then was that he would reform, democratise and detoxify the old Blairite party, for someone else then to take over and lead to victory.

Then, however, he proved surprisingly effective as a campaigner in the General Election that May sprang on us, especially among the young, nearly winning it against tremendous odds; and I felt he performed pretty well thereafter in Parliament, albeit in a style that didn’t earn him the plaudits of those who want someone wittier, more aggressive and more – yes – charismatic representing them from the despatch box. Corbyn’s calm integrity, and his deliberate rejection of the politics of personal attack and insult, which I thought should warm people to him, clearly haven’t done him much good with those in the press and among the public who clearly like their politics to be more red-blooded. And then, of course, the picture that was painted of him in the right-wing press, seeing him through the eyes of a highly distorted version of the 1960s and ’70s, when his politics were forged, added to his discomfort. I was hoping that his example might bring in its train not only some new policies (albeit many of them perfectly good ones dusted off from the ’60s), but also a new dawn of political decency and rationality; exactly what, incidentally, I had hoped from Obama too. Then someone else could take over. (I had my eye on Hilary Benn. Or a come-back by Ed Milliband.)

I still think that’s possible; and even if not I’ve accrued more respect for Corbyn as leader now. But the rebellion of these seven Labour MPs, forming a new party (or ‘group’) strongly reminiscent of the ill-fated SDP of the 1970s, has, I feel, turned these hopes to dust. It was the SDP, remember, that helped bring Thatcher to power in 1979, and then, by continuing to undermine the Labour Party, sustained her. It could happen again, with equally unfortunate repercussions. It’s unlikely, surely, to help the Left in the great struggle before us. Surely they’ve thought of that? They must have some knowledge of such recent history?

So why have they done it? Each member of the group has given different reasons. One is the antisemitism that she still insists infects the Labour Party, which I’ve given many reasons to think is a false hare. (See https://bernardjporter.com/2017/12/19/more-anti-semitism/, which connects to my other posts on this too.) Much of the opposition to Corbyn appears to be personal, with the ‘Independents’ disliking precisely those characteristics which warm me and others to him, just as American Republicans do in Obama’s case. Some critics cite bad behaviour in private by his ‘team’, which of course I can’t vouch for or against; but which in any case they should surely learn to rise above. It doesn’t seem to have been over differences of domestic policy – the NHS, railway renationalisation, demarketising schools and universities, and anti-‘austerity’ generally: not that they have stated, anyway; except on the Brexit issue, where I concede that pro-Europeans may have a bone to pick over his caution with regard to a ‘people’s vote’. That pains me too; but I think I’ve given a good explanation for that, and one that holds out the prospect of a new referendum eventually, without provoking violent reaction, in recent posts (e.g. https://bernardjporter.com/2019/02/09/corbyn-the-strategist/). The other issue that they seem to think divides them from him is the ‘nuclear deterrent’ one; which incidentally is the same one that motivated the SDP ‘Gang of Four’ in the ’70s. Corbyn is ‘weak’ on ‘defence and security’. Which is why he was so much against all of Britain’s neo-imperial adventures in recent years. I disagree; but his critics may have a sort of point there.

Issues of defence and war have divided the Left in Britain for over a century. My PhD research featured one such split, affecting both Liberals and Socialists, in the early 1900s. Never have the resultant divisions done any good to anyone on the Left, though the one over ‘imperialism’ did little harm to Labour after 1918. This latest one, however, could do immense damage to the progressive (that is, anti-Neoliberal) cause today – and totally unnecessarily. It’s unlikely to spur a realignment of politics in order to scupper Brexit in time. The rebels would have done better to stay with Labour in the lead-up to it, if it ever comes. Then they could have shown their hand.

In the absence of a really convincing explanation for their rebellion, or rather for the timing of it, one is tempted to look for other motives. Careerism? Over-trust in opinion polls? The hostile press? Israeli money? The Russians? The Americans? – I’m unwilling to go down any of those latter paths; but it might be interesting to explore how many of the rebels are, for example, ‘Labour Friends of Israel’. OK, probably none; which knocks that conspiracy theory on the head.

Anyhow, the Split made the Swedish TV News tonight. So it must be significant.

PS. We’re told that the new group has registered itself not as a political party, but as a commercial company (in Panama); meaning that it doesn’t have to disclose where it’s financed from. Can this be true?

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Algorithms

Isolated as I am in my Nordic fastness, with only the snow and kindly and rational Swedes around me, all the news I receive from Britain is from Facebook, the Guardian online, and emails from like-minded friends. Nearly all of it is on the ‘Remain’ side of the Brexit argument, as also, incidentally, are most of books I get recommended by Amazon. The only exceptions are occasional quotations from ‘Leavers’, cited by Remainers simply in order to illustrate how stupid the latter are. Very few of those address the fundamental arguments, rather than merely repeating the mantra: ‘the people voted, accept it’. In other words, the whole debate on the ‘Leave’ side seems to be about the validity of that referendum of June 2017, rather than the issue that the referendum was (supposedly) about. So far as the present merits of Britain’s exiting the EU are concerned, the Brexiteers appear to have shut up shop. This gives the impression that they have no constructive case to make for Brexit, to counter the tsunami of evidence and forecasts that is coming out against it; which leaves one thinking that, on the underlying question, the Brexiteers have lost the rational argument. Why can’t they see that?

It occurs to me, often and somewhat uncomfortably, that one reason may be the kind of information that I am being fed by Facebook and the rest, which is carefully calibrated to fit in with my existing views. After all, this is what those ‘algorithms’ were shown to have done so effectively in both the Trump election and the Referendum, wasn’t it; albeit on the other side? Maybe If I were fed with a better balance of opinions, I wouldn’t necessarily change my mind, but I might respect the countervailing case more. I don’t know. But if those nerdish ‘hidden persuaders’ were so successful in moving the ‘people’ then, there’s little reason why they can’t influence the most critical (and even self-critical) ‘intellectual’ too, by controlling what we read, hear and see.

Clearly I need to get my name ‘algorithmed’ in a way that will allow me to receive arguments which at present don’t appeal to me. Perhaps a link to Moggy’s ‘European Research Group’, or the Daily Mail website, might do it. I’ll try it. Though I can see my mental digestion deteriorating as a result.

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Shamima Begum

I’ve sounded off about the ‘cruel’ Home Office before: https://bernardjporter.com/2018/05/31/our-unhomely-office/Windrush, the ‘hostile environment’ policy, those huge posters telling undocumented immigrants to scat – ‘or else’; people being deported summarily and quite illegally; the terrible conditions in the refugee holding camps; the Office’s entire lack of sympathy for asylum seekers and their children who may have risked death to come to Britain – this last a huge contrast to the 19th century Home Office’s treatment of refugees, about which I wrote in The Refugee Question in Mid-Victorian Politics… and so on.

(It’s the research I did for that last book which made me realise how fundamentally Britain has changed over the past century; with the inevitable corollary: that no characterisation of ‘British national identity’ can base itself on our history. We’re not the same country we were then. In some good ways, too, of course. But in any case, my general point is that heritage is not identity.)

It seems to have got particularly cruel when Theresa May was in charge. The ‘hostile environment’ was hers. What an extraordinary ambition for a ‘patriot’ to have for her own country! Almost her main purpose in life as Home Secretary seemed to be to get the numbers of immigrants down. It’s why she won’t budge, today, on her ‘red line’ forbidding ‘free movement’ in Europe; which, if she could show just a little more flexibility about it, could solve our ‘Brexit’ problem at a stroke.

It’s a mystery to me why she is so obstinate on this issue. Does she genuinely hate foreigners? (Despite having done a Geography degree?) Is she so convinced of the great unwashed’s xenophobia that she feels she needs to appease it at all costs? She’s a mystery; which is one reason why it might be useful to get to know more about her upbringing before she entered politics. She was famously, of course, the only daughter of a clergyman. I’ve mentioned before that it’s difficult to find out much about him, either (https://bernardjporter.com/2018/12/26/theresa-and-god/). That has given rise to rumours, unworthily, I’m sure, but not likely to be lifted by the known scandal of her ‘loss’ shortly after she became Home Secretary of a large file on paedophilia among the Establishment. But apart from that – and I probably really shouldn’t have mentioned it – you would have thought that the daughter of a vicar should have displayed more Christian charity.

The latest example of Home Office cruelty comes under her successor, Sajid Javid, who is apparently non-religious, though of Moslem heritage, and so seems to have avoided Christianity’s softer side. In any event his reaction to requests by Shamima Begum to be allowed to return to Britain – Shamima was an East London girl who joined ISIS in Syria four years ago at the age of 15, had two babies there, both of whom died in infancy, and is now nine months pregnant with her third – continues the Office’s cruel streak. (See https://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/home-news/shamima-begum-isis-bride-latest-uk-return-home-secretary-sajid-javid-syria-a8780401.html.) He ‘will not hesitate to block her return’. – But she was a child, for pity’s sake!

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Churchill the Villain

Doubtless John McDonnell will get a lot of stick from ‘patriots’ for expressing the opinion in a TV interview that Winston Churchill was a ‘villain’: https://www.bbc.com/news/uk-politics-47233605. He made it clear that he was referring specifically to his conduct as Home Secretary during the 1910 ‘Tonypandy Riots’ in South Wales – Churchill is supposed to have set the military against the strikers – and not to his career more generally. But the right-wing press is unlikely to make that distinction. For them, the Labour Shadow Chancellor, by attacking ‘the Greatest Ever Englishman’ in this way, has uttered something very close to blasphemy. I’m sure we’ll be reminded of it several times during the course of the next General Election.

No serious historian will dispute that Churchill had his ‘villainous’ sides. Everyone is a mixture of good and bad, although perceptions of which are the good and which the bad bits can change over time. India is, in my opinion, another huge stain on Winston’s escutcheon. And his policies and strategies even during the years of his greatest glory – World War II – are not without their critics. I’ve written about these, in two review essays: https://www.lrb.co.uk/v24/n02/bernard-porter/over-several-tops, and https://www.lrb.co.uk/v31/n16/bernard-porter/mule-races-and-pillow-fights. (They may be behind pay walls. You’ll just have to subscribe.)

But oh! His rhetoric, when it mattered! As a child of the War – quite literally – I’m afraid I can’t be persuaded to loathe his memory as some older and younger Leftists seem to do today.

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Future Plans (Personal)

A book proposal I sent to a publisher nearly a year ago, but which then dropped out of sight as the publisher (the excellent IB Tauris) was being taken over by the (equally excellent) Bloomsbury Group, has suddenly re-emerged, with Bloomsbury writing to say that they want to consider it again. It’s actually both less and more than a ‘proposal’; it’s a collection of my old articles, essays, reviews and a couple of blogs, together with some new material to bind them all roughly together, on the general topic of ‘Britain and Europe’ (going back to the Stone Age, and finishing with Brexit). It would be a companion piece to my already-published Empire Ways (IB Tauris), which is a similar collection of my old imperial history essays.

How that sold I don’t know, and haven’t bothered to find out. It’s bound to influence Bloomsbury when they consider the new proposal. Publishers are commercial enterprises, after all. But sales of my books have never concerned me  much. A couple have sold well, but others have merely had modest ‘academic’ runs. One was eventually pulped. That doesn’t matter to me. I write books because I enjoy writing them, and I like to see them in print in much the same way as one thrills to hold one’s new-born baby. Being in print also gives them a kind of solidity and permanence which electronic publishing, for example, can’t. (What if there’s a sudden sunburst that wipes out all our computer files?) And it means that my ideas are on record, for as long as the world lasts. That gives me comfort, aware as I always am of the cosmic impermanence of things. Which is why I’m so anxious to have Cosmopolis (my working title) out in print. Bloomsbury may turn it down; it is, after all, a bit of a mix, albeit (I think) a novel and stimulating one. If they do I may even try to publish it privately. If anyone here has had experience of this, perhaps they’d let me know. But I’d prefer a ‘proper’ publisher, obviously.

I’ve also been approached with a couple of other book suggestions, one of them with the attractive title of Farewell to Empire, which I may consider; and my and Kajsa’s Modern History of Sweden for Anglos, which we’ve been accumulating material for. The problem with all these projects is the work  that will be involved. Having just turned 78, and suffering as I do (or think I do) from ME and occasional depression, I find it difficult to sustain an interest in anything that requires that kind of effort. (I spend much of my time dozing off.) In fact I can hardly credit or understand the enormous work I put in over the past 50 years in researching the books I wrote then; just as I can’t think myself back to the time when I could – and did – do 50-mile walks and 10-mile jogs, or play squash and tennis energetically, and actually enjoyed it. That sort of physical activity is out of the question now, for bodily reasons (lots of ops); but I feel I should still try to keep my mind exercised.

Writing does that. It stimulates me creatively, so that just an idea for a piece, like this blog, once written down, will engender new ideas, and keep my mind working. It’s a kind of therapy. Not that I think that none of my ideas is worth anything objectively; but that’s not the main reason I write them down. It’s to keep me going, creatively, in ominous times, both personally (the end looming!) and politically – Trump, Brexit et al. Humans live to create. It’s what differentiates them from the other animals, and makes them akin to Gods. If they stop creating, they die.

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Bizet, Shakespeare and Political Correctness

I’m not against ‘PC’ in certain circumstances, to spare feelings where they’re worth sparing; but I have to say I object to it when it comes to the classics. The other day we saw a production of Bizet’s Carmen at Stockholm’s Kungliga Operan, where I assume that the liberties taken with it were for PC reasons. No bull-fighting; instead a wrestling match. (One of the fighters was nicknamed the ‘Toreador’, in order not to have to   change the words of the famous chorus.) The women didn’t seem to be working in a cigarette factory – ‘smoking can damage your health’ –  but in a centre for sorting second-hand clothing for Oxfam shops. (Or the 19th-century Spanish equivalent.) And Carmen of course wasn’t played as a seductress – after ‘Me Too’, women can’t be blamed for inflaming men’s desires – but as a girl whose attraction clearly lay elsewhere. As a result, the production was a travesty. (Not the music, which was played well under a woman conductor’s baton.) The whole point of Bizet’s ‘orientalist’ opera – Spain was France’s nearest ‘Orient’ – was that it should be bright, fiery and sexy. It’s in the music; but it needs to be in the stageing too. This was a cold and rational – very Swedish? – version.

The last time I experienced this sort of thing was in a Swedish-language production at Stockholm’s Dramaten theatre of Shakespeare’s Richard III,  in which Richard was entirely able-bodied. No hint of a hunchback – which I understand the skeleton recently exhumed in that Leicester car park shows he really did have. That necessitated some textual changes, with the early ‘Dogs bark at me in the streets’ soliloquy – so important to the play – cut out. We don’t want to associate physical infirmity with evil, do we? This incidentally was the exact opposite of a recent British version, which cast a genuinely disabled actor in a wheelchair as the king. I wonder what the PC brigade made of that?

How far can this go? A young King Lear, so as not to seem ‘ageist’? A white Othello? A gentile Shylock? I’m sure the last two have been tried; I’m just glad I didn’t get to see them. Quite apart from anything else, there’s enough in these four plays to show that Shakespeare could empathise with their disadvantaged villains – ‘If you prick me, do I not bleed?’ – which  provides a dimension to the age-race-disability aspects that merely censoring them out of the plays can’t do.

In any case, plays (and operas) are of their times, and in general – except perhaps to make them more comprehensible to modern audiences – shouldn’t be wrested completely out of those times; certainly not in order to conform to the sensibilities of the modern day. We ridicule Thomas Bowdler for having done exactly that with Shakespeare in the 18th century – cutting all the sexual and other references, to spare young women’s blushes. (We were still given those versions at my school in the 1950s; luckily our teacher de-Bowdlerized them for us. The result is that it’s the rude bits I remember best.) Today’s sensibilities are different; but pandering to them is no less ludicrous. And, of course, shockingly ahistorical; which I suppose is partly why I, as a historian, am so offended by this kind  of ‘political correctness’. (If that’s what it is.)

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On the Lighter Side…

Except that there isn’t one, is there? Nothing to laugh about in our present political situation. We’re being led and governed by walking and breathing jokes: Boris (‘he’s a card, isn’t he?’), Moggy (Lord Snooty), little Govey (‘we’ve had enough of experts’: how witty), Nigel (oh that saloon-bar banter! So non-PC), and all the rest. But it’s proving to be no fun at all. We can chuckle at the incompetence of our Transport Secretary, ‘Failing Grayling’, commissioning a post-Brexit cross-channel fleet from a company without any boats; but then we need to remember that we, as taxpayers, will be paying the cancellation fees on that. Gavin Williamson’s grand new scheme as Defence Secretary for beefing up the British military so it can confront the Russians head-on is more a matter for scorn, if not alarm – because it’s so stupid – than for humour (https://www.mirror.co.uk/news/politics/gavin-williamson-threatens-hard-power-13982359). Theresa May’s witty catch phrases – ‘strong and stable’, ‘Brexit means Brexit’ – and her Tom and Jerry-like headlong charges into European brick walls are becoming rather tedious with repetition. (Maybe that’s the cunning plan: to bore MPs into acceptance.) On the other side, Jeremy’s jam-making is no longer quite the hilarious put-down it used to be, even, one suspects, to the snobby upper classes, who buy all their confiture from France. Even foreigners – Barnier, Tusk, Merkel, Macron and the others – are not as funny, simply by virtue of being foreign, as they used to be. The only kind of laughter all this can generate must be the bitter, hysterical kind.

Here on the Continent, of course, it confirms our reputation for Engelsk humor; but not in a flattering way. ‘We always knew the English were mad.’ We are. And it’s not at all amusing. In our case the road to Hell is paved with bad jokes.

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