British Colonialism in Amiens

British nationalists (i.e. Brexiters) often forget – or are ignorant of – the essentially ‘European’ identity of Britain from way back. I may pen a piece sometime on Continental immigration into Britain, and the ‘foreign’ origins of many, if not most, of our most distinguished citizens, from Queenie downwards, and from the day the Jutes (or whoever) footed it across Doggerland to eastern England, up to the present day. (I’ve written a book about one group of them – 19th-century political refugees.) That was enabled for most of this period by the absence of any laws prohibiting their ingress, which was unusual for Europe as a whole, and was in fact one of Britain’s proudest national characteristics at the time. Incomers were not even expected to have passports. ‘Freedom of movement’ was rarely challenged until the very late 19th century, and even then only in a few very local instances, mainly with reference to Jews fleeing from persecution in the East.

This liberalism also of course affected the egress, of Britons moving abroad. Most of the historical work on this has focussed on the colonies and America, where the great majority went. But a sizeable number also migrated to Continental Europe, and even set up little ‘colonies’ there. Because this category of emigration has generally been neglected by scholars in the past, I decided to contribute a paper on it to a conference on ‘colonialism’ in Amiens last week; which I may post on this blog if the conference proceedings are not published more formally. Diplomacy aside, Britain and the ‘Continong’ have always been intimately intertwined.

On the last day of the Conference we were taken to visit the Villers-Brettoneux Commonwealth cemetery and war memorial nearby. This year marks the centenary of the last big battle of World War I, which took place there. It was very moving; and a reminder of the extent and depth of Britain’s relationship with Europe in the past. You can’t get more involved in a country – more of a ‘colonist’ or ‘settler’ – than to be buried there.

Quite honestly, I wouldn’t mind being buried – or my ashes scattered – in Amiens. The cathedral is one of France’s greatest, which is saying a great deal, and the ‘water gardens’ a delight. I’ve often wished I was French. But apparently they don’t like us very much. Probably for the same reasons that don’t like us very much; especially with our present bunch of xenophobic idiots in charge.

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Swedish Election – Guardian

I’ve just sent this to the Guardian. They probably won’t print it.

‘I was looking in today’s leading article for a mention of the Vänster (Left) party. It’s one of the minor parties in Sweden, granted, with only 28 seats in the new parliament, but that marked an increase of 7% in their vote. This contrasts with the fortunes of the conventional main parties: the Social Democrats (minus 12%) and the (Conservative) Moderaten (minus 14%); but mirrors the greater successes of the right-wing Centre Party (+9%), the Christian Democrats (+7) and, yes, the Sweden Democrats (+13%). All of which bears out Jon Henley’s argument in your same issue, that the major trend here is the squeezing of centre and ‘establishment’ parties all over Europe by so-called ‘extremes’.

‘It follows from this that the answer to right-wing extremism both in Britain and in Sweden may not necessarily be to try to bolster the ‘Centre’, but instead to persuade voters that the Corbynite programme for Labour is not really that ‘extreme’. It’s similar, in fact, to the Vänster’s, as Left Swedish friends have been pointing out to me. In neither case would it have been considered ‘extreme’ in the 1950s and ’60s. If it can be seen to answer the real problems which underlay the Brexit vote in 2016, it could pull the carpet from under our equivalent of the Sverigedemokraterna – the austerian, xenophobic ‘hard’ Brexiteers – far more effectively than trying to prod the Lib-Dems into life again.’

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Sweden Veers Right (a Bit)

So, the results are in (the Swedish election), and the sky hasn’t fallen in. Sverigedemokraterna are up on last time, but not by as much as widely predicted a couple of months ago; and so are the Vänster (Left). The SDs are the third largest party, not the first or second, as was also predicted. The centre ‘Establishment’ parties have suffered the most. This repeats a pattern seen all over the ‘Western’ world, which means that it’s part of a global, not a narrowly Swedish trend. (You’ll know what I attribute it to: late-stage capitalism. Not immigration. That’s just a scapegoat.) So the Swedes shouldn’t blame (or congratulate) themselves. After all, 83% of voters rejected the SDs. For the moment, the last domino (see my previous post) still stands.

Which is not to say that we Lefties can relax. The ‘global trend’ is producing a European and USA-wide politics which is rejecting the old conventional Middle, and resorting to more radical ways. One of the proffered solutions to this, certainly in Britain, is to seek to revive the Middle, by ‘detoxifying’ both the Left and the Right (Corbyn and Johnson) so that they can come together; re-inventing the centrist Liberal Democrats, or even forming a brand-new party – headed by a non-politician, perhaps. There’s much Westminster chatter along these lines. A more likely alternative is that one of the ‘extremist’ parties, through popular persuasion, garners enough supporters and voters to see the other extreme, and the Centre, off. In that event they might come to be seen as not so extreme. (Corbyn, after all, is only trying to revive the British national post-war consensus. He wouldn’t have been seen as ‘extreme’ then. Could the same be said of Bernie – simply going back to the ‘New Deal’?) That’s what one really excellent piece by Professor Chantal Mouffe in today’s Guardian seems to be suggesting: https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2018/sep/10/populists-rise-progressives-radical-right. The Labour Party under Corbyn has begun this process, though it still has a battle on its hands against unregenerate Blairites, the billionaire-owned Press, and the subvert efforts of the Israeli state.

In Sweden the next stage is the formation of a working government, out of five or six parties none of which can form a natural coalition to make a majority. But Sweden has worked through this sort of problem before. Its present government, after all, is a minority coalition, which has worked pretty well. I’m sure it can do it again. I hope Löfven stays on as PM. He seems a good bloke, and is still head of the largest party. We’ll see in the next few weeks.

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Sweden: The Last Domino

Today is the day of the Swedish general election. Usually Swedish elections pass pretty unnoticed in the British press, but this one is arousing unprecedented interest there due to the rise of the extreme right-wing, anti-immigration, Nazi-origin Sweden Democrat party (Sverigedemokraterna, or SD), currently standing at around 20% in the polls.

The internet is on fire with dire warnings. One contributor to a ‘British Expats in Sweden’ site I follow has just posted this:

I am making contingency plans. Everything goes on a pallet at work, then I just up and leave with the same suitcase, laptop and the clothes I stood up in back in December 2013. Once back in England, I shall pursue every politician until every last Scandinavian has been ejected from the UK. It’s my experience that Swedes (and I am generalising) when they are angry about something are more dangerous than 1930’s Germans. I would not put anything past them. Take some advice from Q from James Bond … “Always have an escape plan”.

Or is that a joke? – On the other hand there are those mocking the ‘scaremongers’. Don’t worry, they say, Sweden is a civilized democracy; you’ll be OK.

Some of you seem to be describing Sweden as some Middle-Eastern totalitarian society if the SDs are to gain power. Well, Sweden is NOT that. and regardless of the outcome, Brits are and always will be welcome in Sweden. So please people, calm down, wind in those necks and let Sweden do what it needs to do.

There are two things that need to be said about that.  Firstly, the writer – on the same Facebook thread – seems to be only concerned with his own situation as a foreigner there, rather than with the repercussions of an SD success on the Swedes. Isn’t that a bit self-centred? Imagine someone saying that to a Brit about Germany in the 1930s: ‘don’t worry, youll be alright.’ – Secondly: he’s very wrong about Sweden being fundamentally different from other liberal countries in this regard. Many of the nations that fell to fascism in the 1930s had been comparatively liberal before then. As was the USA before Trump; or, if you like, Britain before UKIP. Liberal and democratic regimes can easily flip. Those of us who know our pre-War history can spot the parallels between then and now. Always keeping a suitcase packed may be a tad alarmist; but ignoring the warning signs is the height of irresponsibility.

It’s not only the Sweden Democrats who want to destroy Swedish liberalism. Right-wing Americans, of course, always have. Sweden undermines their whole premise of government: that it’s only the unfettered free market, harsh punishment and the Christian religion that make a country prosperous and virtuous. Sweden’s general contentment despite having none of these advantages is difficult for them to swallow. For years American Rightists have been trying to persuade their compatriots that despite appearances Sweden is really a very sick and tyrannical place, as evidenced in its Nordic Noir detective novels (mostly, incidentally, written by socialists, now dead, who would turn in their graves if they knew their work was being taken in this way); illustrated in several of Donald Trump’s public and libellous outbursts about Sweden – for example https://bernardjporter.com/2017/02/24/rinkeby/; and analysed in a recent New York Times op-ed (https://www.nytimes.com/2018/09/06/opinion/how-the-far-right-conquered-sweden.html), and in several books, one of which – Kajsa Norman’s Sweden’s Dark Soul. The Unravelling of a Utopia, due out at the end of next month – has just fallen through my letter-box for me to review. In Sweden some are starting to lay the blame for all this hostile propaganda on the activities of Russian hackers and trolls (are those the right words?) on the internet – with one of Russia’s foreign policy aims, of course, being to undermine democracy wherever it’s found. The Social Democratic middle way – which describes Corbyn’s position in Britain too – is coming under enormous threat from every direction. Sweden’s collapse, as the last liberal domino standing (I thank John Field for that metaphor), would be the greatest prize.

Or perhaps Sweden’s Dark Soul will persuade me otherwise. I haven’t read it yet. In the meantime, I’m posting this now in order to get it out before the results of the Swedish election are announced in a few hours. They may give us a clue.

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Boris Rows Back?

A lot of Brits are now turning against Brexit, in the light of recent revelations about the ‘dirty tricks’ employed by the Leave camp during the Referendum, the inclarity of the choice that was being offered to us by the Brexiteers then, and the bleaker future now being authoritatively predicted for us for when the separation is finally achieved. It would seem reasonable, therefore, to grant us a ‘rethink’ – a new vote on the actual terms of the eventual Brexit treaty – before the die is finally cast.

The main obstacle to this seems to be the argument of finality  that the Brexit side is currently plugging: that we’ve made our decision, which expressed the ‘will of the people’, finally, it is implied; and which to seek to overturn – however much the ‘will of the people’ may have changed in the meantime – would be an ‘undemocratic’ endeavour. That’s the line that Ukippers and the rabid Right-wing press are pushing right now, in order to prevent a second vote; and would doubtless continue to argue if a second vote went against them. The political passions that have been aroused, or more likely brought to the surface (see https://bernardjporter.com/2016/06/16/is-it-really-about-the-eu/), by this gruesome contest augur an uncomfortable future for the country, whatever the eventual outcome; even amounting, in some estimations, to virtual – though hopefully relatively bloodless – civil war.

That’s the reason why so many ‘Remainers’ are reluctant to argue for a re-run: fear of the attacks that would be launched on them by the press barons and others on the Right – ‘treason’ would be the least of the former’s charges – stifling rational debate and appealing to the very real and in many ways justified resentment of the poor and neglected – the ever-feared ‘great unwashed’ – against ‘the Establishment’.

One solution to this problem might be if one or more of the pro-Brexit Establishment reneged. This is why I was struck and mildly encouraged by this recent report in a London paper: https://www.thelondoneconomic.com/news/boris-johnson-deeply-regrets-going-down-brexit-route-close-sources%EF%BB%BF-reveal/07/09/. It looks very much like tittle-tattle, and so not to be trusted; but if Boris is  having a re-think, and trying to extricate himself from the Brexit morass, wouldn’t it be good if he came out publicly as having changed his mind on the whole issue? His career hasn’t been much damaged by volte-faces  in the past. It might even serve his prime ministerial ambitions, to be seen as a wise leader. (His hero Churchill was inconsistent, too.) It could be presented to him as the patriotic  thing to do. And it would surely be more likely to bring over a lot of present Leavers to the Remain side, bearing in mind the influence he seems to have had on them during the (first) referendum, than anything the Establishment Remainers could do. That might be Remain’s only hope.

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Capitulation

So the Labour NEC have given in over ‘anti-semitism’, and agreed to accept all the ‘examples’ appended to the IHRA definition of anti-semitism, as well as the definition itself (which they had already accepted two years ago). I can see why they did it – to get the Jewish community, or what is claimed to be the Jewish community – off their backs. But I still wish they hadn’t felt they needed to. The examples were offered not as parts of the definition itself, but as attitudes which might turn into or be hiding anti-semitism, and for discussion only. Some of them really are problematical. Here are three:

Accusing Jewish citizens of being more loyal to Israel, or to the alleged priorities of Jews worldwide, than to the interests of their own nations.

Denying the Jewish people their right to self-determination, e.g., by claiming that the existence of a State of Israel is a racist endeavour.

Drawing comparisons of contemporary Israeli policy to that of the Nazis.

Surely all these positions are at least arguable; and are argued even by some Jews. I’ve offered the opinion myself, only the other day, that Israel is self-evidently a religio-racist state; and the observation that Netanyahu’s rhetoric echoes Hitler’s in some regards (see https://bernardjporter.com/2018/09/03/anti-semantics/). As for the first of these ‘examples’: that seems to me to be amply borne out by the conduct of Margaret Hodge and a few other Jewish Labour MPs recently, in allowing their views about Israel to endanger the election of a Labour government in Britain, in what Labour MPs like Hodge ought surely to regard as the highest ‘national interest’ right now. Do these view now make me  anti-semitic, or disqualify me from membership of the Labour Party?

OK, so the NEC had to do it. But this whole affair – and the virulence and dishonesty of the ‘Jewish’ campaign against Corbyn – surely can’t have made Labour members more supportive of British Jews or even of Israel than 99% of them were before. It certainly hasn’t had this effect on me.

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Anti-Semantics

“The weak crumble, are slaughtered and are erased from history while the strong, for good or for ill, survive. The strong are respected, and alliances are made with the strong, and in the end peace is made with the strong.” That’s Binjamin Netanyahu, tweeting on 29 August. See https://twitter.com/IsraeliPM/status/1034849460344573952; which also carries the context. (It’s the perceived threat from Iran.)

Context is important. But several commentators have noticed the striking similarity between those words and some of Hitler’s in the 1930s. (They are, of course, pure ‘Social Darwinism’.) Does this make those critics ‘anti-semitic’ under the terms of the definition being urged on Labour today by the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA)? One of the ‘examples’ appended to that definition – not included in the definition itself, which Corbyn accepts in its entirety – warns against parallels being drawn between present-day Israel and Nazi Germany; which the IHRA claims might  indicate anti-semitism – but, it is implied, not necessarily. (Corbyn’s critics don’t appear to have noticed this.) Wouldn’t forbidding this comparison cut off a whole area of free and useful discussion? Semantics is often regarded as an area for nit-picking academics only; but here it really could be vital.

Of course Netanyahu – and Hitler – could be right… But that doesn’t invalidate the comparison.

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A Dangerous Game

We are now asked to at least try to understand  the concerns of many British Jews’ – hopefully not a majority – about Jeremy Corbyn. But we already know the reason. It’s not really because they feel he’s an ‘existential’ threat to them – that is, to their very lives in Britain. By comparing Corbyn to the notorious 1960s racist Enoch Powell, or even to Hitler, critics like Lord Sacks and Margaret Hodge are making grotesque fools of themselves. That Corbyn is a racist of any kind is a ludicrous charge, which an intelligent people – and aren’t the Jews stereotypically supposed to be that? – should be able to see through easily.

In fact Jewish concerns have little at all to do with the situation of Jewry in Britain. Britain has nearly always been, and still is, one of the least anti-Semitic, and therefore safest, countries in the world for Jews to live and work in. Labour has generally gone along with this. That’s not what really worries Corbyn’s critics. Insofar as their concerns are about Jewry at all, and not merely a cynical excuse for Labour ‘moderates’ and the Right-wing press to get at him, it’s Corbyn’s criticisms of radical Zionism, which is basically a political  ideology, although arguably founded on racism (a ‘National Home for the Jews‘), that are at issue; together with his hostility to the current extreme Right-wing government of Israel; and his support for the Palestinian people who were originally dispossessed of their lands to make way for the state of Israel, are undergoing further dispossessions at the present time (the new ‘settlements’ on the West Bank), and are being systematically oppressed by the Israeli authorities in a number of ways, even in the lands – like Gaza and the West Bank – they are presently allowed to eke out a miserable existence on.

The over-the-top extremity of the attacks on Labour ‘antisemitism’ must surely backfire on Corbyn’s critics eventually, to the benefit of the Labour cause. Let’s hope it doesn’t backfire on the Jewish community as well, actually stirring up the antisemitism it is supposed to be directed against. (See https://bernardjporter.com/2018/08/01/6808/.) But it may also have another positive effect. Before it came up few people in Britain outside the Jewish community knew much about Israel, its history, its activities on its borders, and its subvert interference in British politics. (On that, see https://bernardjporter.com/2018/08/10/the-plot-revealed/.) Now they know a little more, at least; and also about the Palestinian cause which Corbyn has championed so consistently. That could redound to his credit, and to the discredit of those who are seeking to undermine him. It could be a dangerous game they’re playing.

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Midsomer Murders

Summer is quite short in Sweden. (About six weeks; though Kajsa insists seven weeks at least.) But you know when it has come to an end when all the repeats of Midsomer Murders on Swedish TV suddenly stop. I’m convinced that the BBC makes MM mainly for the Swedish market. It gives stay-at-home Swedes their idea of what modern England is like.

In that connexion, we (English) used to complain that MM was too ‘white’ (although that’s how English villages probably still are – blacks are urban), and full of silly women, like the original Barnaby’s wife Joyce. Now that’s changed a bit. You occasionally see a darker skin or two. The new Barnaby’s wife is a professional woman (a teacher). And some of the murderers, even, turn out to be women. Is that a nod in the direction of gender equality?

CORRECTION (2 Sept). There was a MM  on one of the obscurer channels last night;  the old series, featuring a (literally) bloody battle between two church choirs. How much more English can you get? All-white, Joyce as sweet and vulnerable as ever. Perhaps Channel 8 don’t know the summer is over?

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Voting Systems, British and Swedish

I’ve posted about our (British) voting system before: https://bernardjporter.com/2016/02/29/first-past-the-post/. Here’s an interesting piece put out by STV, showing how the British and Swedish parliaments would look under each other’s systems. It’s in Swedish, but I’m sure you’ll cope.

https://www.svt.se/special/valsimulatorn-uk/

Of course, this doesn’t take on board the likelihood that British voters would vote in different ways if they had proportional representation. There would be fewer ‘wasted votes’, for example. And it would be easier to form new parties. – Incidentally, one of the main arguments in favour of our British (and US) ‘first past the post’ system, I remember, used to be that it produced more stable governments. That doesn’t seem to cut much ice today.

Tomorrow week we have our general election here in Sweden. It looks as if it will be close. We’ll see how it works out. My first impression of the electioneering on TV is that it’s far more polite and cerebral than in Britain. Also, of course duller, for those who would like their elections to draw blood. The election posters are dire – none of those ‘evil eyes’, or queues of Turks. Just a face and a milky-mild slogan. That’s good Swedish manners for you.

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