The Victors

Of course it’s a great victory for Boris Johnson and Dominic Cummings, and for the spirit of Machiavelli hovering over their heads. It’s also a triumph for our Right-wing press, perhaps the least ‘free’ and fair in Europe; and for Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin, both of whom were backing Boris for national reasons of their own. Lastly, because one of its effects is likely to be the continued onward march of unfettered Anglo-American capitalism, it could be said to bear out those Marxists who hold that capitalism cannot be reformed (a la Corbyn) but must be allowed to go on to self-destruction before it can be replaced. That, after all, is the main trend just now all over Europe, in the strange guise of ‘populism’, and taking on quasi-fascistic forms. Britain can’t, it seems, escape the grand imperative of history, any more than any other nation. In her particular case, Brexit is the horse her ultra-Right have ridden to their victory.

Just as in a ‘Khaki’ election, so here Brexit was used to override (or ‘trump’) every other issue. First it was the issue itself, albeit with Europe serving as a scapegoat for other concerns; then the time it was taking to settle it, which was inevitable in view of its complexities, but which Johnson blamed on Parliamentary ‘obstruction’, which enabled him to mount a ‘people versus Parliament’ campaign. ‘Get Brexit done’ was virtually his only appeal to the voters. Well, now perhaps it will be done; although most authorities believe that, with detailed trade negotiations to follow, there’s a long way to go yet.

What the election result can’t do is to ‘bring people together again’. For a start, the Scots will be even more determined to break away from a Union whose policy towards Europe doesn’t represent their democratic wish at all. Then the Northern Irish won’t be too pleased with Johnson’s arrangements for them. In England the 48% who originally voted for Brexit – it would almost certainly be more if the referendum were taken today – won’t rest content with a result largely achieved by lying and fraud. That spells years more angry division. Corbyn’s strategy might have healed our wounds. But that’s out of the window now.

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What To Do if We Lose?

On my way to vote this morning I was buoyed by all the Labour posters in the windows of our professional middle-class inner suburb. The only non-Labour one was a solitary Green. (Bless their hearts!) But of course I’m worried about the country generally. And thinking about what we should do if Boris does get the overall majority he wants, and leads us into a bad Brexit: a quasi-colonial relationship with the USA; a sell-off of the NHS; a bonfire of all our other social services; abolition of the state-funded BBC and Channel 4 (the latter because it ridiculed him: shades of Donald Trump); the derision of most of our neighbours; and – last but emphatically not least – a brand-new constitutional settlement putting greater powers into the hands of the Executive – i.e. him – at the expense of the Legislature and Judiciary (see https://bernardjporter.com/2019/12/02/back-to-the-stuarts/). All this quite apart from my – widely shared – distrust of his morality, veracity and character.

My dilemma now is this. In view of all the blatant and unprecedented deceptions, illegalities and dirty tricks that have helped bring us to this point, will we Lefties, Remainers, liberals, and disillusioned old-fashioned Conservatives be justified in refusing to accept the result, and fighting back extra-parliamentarily?

But of course it’s not done and dusted yet (while the polls are still open). I’ll be watching the results come through tonight, hoping for a miracle. Apparently young voters are braving the driving rain in order to get out and vote. The country depends on them to bring it to its senses. Not my generation, which is the one that has let them down.

So far as I am personally concerned I always have Sweden to flee to. Or do I? On my last visit I learned that the Moderaten (Conservatives) are planning an electoral alliance with the Sverigedemokratera (Sweden’s equivalent to UKIP), whom they had spurned like lepers before. (Sorry, lepers.) In Britain, of course, the far Right has taken over the Conservative Party. That seems to be the dominant political trend of the time.

I don’t want to man the barricades (although – be warned – I did gain the rank of ‘Marksman’ in my school CCF). But Brexiters have threatened this, if the election goes the other way. Why should we keep to the rules when they don’t? (That by the way was Churchill’s excuse for bombing Dresden.)

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Island Stories (Review)

Back in Blighty, and back to serious blogging soon. And aren’t these serious times? In the meanwhile I’m posting here a review of mine that has just been published in the Literary Review. Or, rather, my original version of it; the LR  edited a couple of things out, including my waspish reference to Cambridge High Tables.

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David Reynolds, Island Stories. Britain and its History in the Age of Brexit.  294 pp., William Collins, 2019; £16.99.

Bernard Porter

It’s probably too much to hope that anyone on either side of the current ‘Brexit’ debate will have a proper grasp of the history which many of them claim backs up their positions on the issue. This is despite the fact that a number of the leading Brexiteers have themselves dabbled in British history, and even written books about it; most notably Boris Johnson with his fairly well-received The Churchill Factor. How One Man Made History (2014); and Jacob Rees-Mogg with The Victorians. Twelve Titans Who Forged Britain (2019), which was – it is fair to say – not so well received, at least by academic historians. (‘Clichéd’, ‘lazy’ and ‘mind-bogglingly banal’ were just three of the terms used to describe it.) The problem with those books goes beyond the actual history recounted in them, and is indicated by the subtitles of both, which imply a view of how history is ‘made’ which not many of today’s academic historians would share. Both regard history as essentially moulded by ‘great men’. Most commentators on Johnson’s book saw it as an effort to acquire at least a patina of Churchill’s ‘greatness’ for himself.  (His Churchill book has been called an ‘auto-biography’.) Very few academics, of course, can claim to be ‘great men’, even in the making, or would want to be; which may be one of the less reputable reasons why they were so rude about Johnson’s and Rees-Mogg’s trespassing into their territory.

Another is that they disagreed with the emphasis on Britain’s past national ‘greatness’ that these two authors clearly felt their ‘great men’ (and one great woman, Queen Victoria, in Rees-Mogg’s account) had created; so, no doubt, offering hope to Prime Minister Johnson that he could do the same. This scepticism over their country’s high status could be attributed to a simple lack of patriotism, such as one might expect of ‘liberal élitists’; but is also, David Reynolds would say, borne out by a proper reading of British history. By that he doesn’t mean a reading that over-emphasises its less admirable aspects – though these should certainly be given their place, in the interests of balance, fairness and truth – but one that acknowledges that Britain’s history has been highly complex – ‘this is a book about “stories”, plural’ – and was to a great extent beyond its own, and therefore even its ‘greatest’ men’s, control. ‘In reality,’ writes Reynolds,  ‘“we” have been “made” by empire, Europe and the world as much as the other way around’. This is crucial. And when it comes to what is generally acknowledged to have been the ‘Leave’ campaign’s most effective slogan – ‘Take Back Control’ – it must be salutary, at the very least.

The core of the book is built around four main themes, pursued across the last thousand years of British history. The first is the idea of ‘decline’, stemming of course from the notion of Britain’s former greatness, and possibly also feeding it retrospectively. (We must have declined from something.) Margaret Thatcher was particularly moved by this. ‘I can’t bearBritain in decline. I just can’t. We who either defeated or rescued half Europe, who kept Europe free, when otherwise it would be in chains. And look at us now!’ Hence her ambition to ‘make Great Britain great again.’ (Did Trump get this catchy slogan from her?) This has been the Right’s obsession ever since Britain’s ‘decline’ first began to be noticed around the time of the Boer War; and also – as Reynolds points out – some of the Left’s, although in a different guise. It is certainly one of the things feeding into Brexit. In the view of the Right it all came down to a lack of national ‘nerve’, or ‘leadership’ – in other words of ‘heroes’; like Churchill, to whom, as Reynolds puts it, ‘the heroic narrative has been sharpened down’ in recent years. Hence Johnson’s book, and his own pretensions.

In the following chapters on ‘Europe’, ‘Britain’ and ‘Empire’ Reynolds spikes most of these arguments: for Churchill’s dominating ‘greatness’, for example; for Britain’s achievements in World War II – forget the Battle of Britain, think Singapore; for the myth of Britain’s ‘splendid isolation’; for the notion that her imperialism was either a sign or a source of strength – ‘Looking back now,’ he writes, ‘the great British Empire seems like a bit of a con’ (how dismissive can you get? But he’s quite right); and for the idea that Thatcher really did anything to reverse Britain’s ‘decline’ in any meaningful sense. In fact it was her neoliberal economic policies that were largely responsible for the social divisions in Britain which were the real fuel for the Brexit vote – nothing at all to do with the European Union – so contributing to the final decline into national chaos that marks the country’s situation today.

In any case, whatever Britain’s ‘greatness’ really consisted of, it can’t be attributed to strength of individual ‘will’. Reynolds’s book is punctuated throughout with examples of the ways good (and bad) fortune mainly determined her progress during the years: from her literal insularity, through that ‘Protestant wind’ that scuttled the Spanish Armada, the fact that Europe’s internal squabbles left Britain the pick of the wider world to colonise freely in the nineteenth century, and her early industrial start. Without these slices of luck she could never have sustained her illusion of ‘greatness’, which was always artificial and fragile, and which renders the condition she is in now the normal one for a nation her size. Which means that it doesn’t need to be ‘explained’, and cannot hope to be reversed by returning to past glories, as Johnson appears to wish. Finally, it was only a ‘decline’ in relative terms. Those people (there can’t be many of them – it probably depends on what kinds of schools they went to) who bemoan the fact that Britain is not ‘top dog’ any more forget that although ‘other dogs are bigger… the British dog is now a lot fatter than a century ago.’ Which is the better measure of the nation’s good? If you think it’s her so-called ‘greatness’, Reynolds writes at one point, ‘this may not be the book for you.’

For those who believe that the great Brexit split really was over ‘Europe’, Reynolds supplies a brief history, over a thousand years, of Britain’s relations with her Continental neighbours which should at the very least disabuse them of the idea that she was never a ‘part’ of it.  Even ‘Britain’ itself  – Teresa May’s ‘beloved Union’ – has always been a smoke and mirrors thing; and was certainly not as ‘exceptional’ – in its ‘liberties’, for example – as British patriots like to claim. (Think Ireland, which seemed to take Brexiteers by surprised in the autumn of 2019; and the Scots Nats.)

‘Both sides’ in the Brexit debate, writes Reynolds, ‘tended to use “history” instrumentally’ – although, to be fair, nearly all his examples are taken from the ‘Brexit’ side. The ‘Remain’ camp mainly gets away with it lightly; apart from some possibly unfair (rather Cambridge High Table?) comments on Corbyn, whose views on the EU were, after all, rather more nuanced than most, which is usually what academic historians like. Reynolds’s main complaint against the Remainers is that they failed to make a sufficiently positive case for Europe, which could itself have been based on history. But it’s the Right who were guilty of actually distorting the historical record. For David Cameron, one of whose favourite books was apparently Henrietta Marshall’s Our Island Story. A Child’s History of England (1905), history ‘seemed to figure mostly as a reservoir for national pride’. For others ‘the past served as a repository of slick historical analogies’, or of ‘sound-bite warnings’, like Boris Johnson’s notorious citing of Hitler to warn of the dangers of the EU ‘superstate’. None of them used the past in what a professional or academic historian would regard as a proper way. ‘Johnson, of course, was a rhetorical showman, who understood the utility of history as entertainment.’ Which is probably why more people will read him than Reynolds; and why it’s such a shame that the ‘Remain’ side never had a popular rhetorician to compare with him.

This is a splendid book: a clear, well-written and highly stimulating account of the flaws in our understanding of our national past that bedevilled the great existential debate of 2016-19, and helped produce the result it did. We could have done with it two or three years ago. But then ‘real’ history, based on extensive reading, research and the wisdom of a true historian, takes a while to write.

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Back to the Stuarts

The following comes towards the end of the current Conservative Party manifesto. Armando Ianucci has brought attention to it in a recent tweet. He thinks it’s alarming, as do I. It clearly arises out of Boris Johnson’s frustration at the very proper ‘checks and balances’ that Parliament and the Courts imposed on his recent efforts to drive his Brexit legislation through quickly, and without proper scrutiny; which of course is what led him to trigger the current election.

But its implications go far wider than that. It could empower the Executive over the other branches of our government to a degree unknown in peacetime Britain since the seventeenth century. It also fits in with the populist – ‘people against Parliament’ – narrative that Boris has being trying to push in the campaign. That way, of course, lies Fascism. Which is not to say, of course, that we’re anywhere near there yet; but it is well to be forewarned.

Here’s the passage (p. 48):

‘After Brexit we also need to look at the broader aspects of our constitution: the relationship between the Government, Parliament and the courts; the functioning of the Royal Prerogative; the role of the House of Lords; and access to justice for ordinary people. The ability of our security services to defend us against terrorism and organised crime is critical. We will update the Human Rights Act and administrative law to ensure that there is a proper balance between the rights of individuals, our vital national security and elective government. We will ensure that judicial review is available to protect the rights of the individuals against an overbearing state, while ensuring that it is not abused to conduct politics by another means or to create needless delays. In our first year we will set up a Constitution, Democracy & Rights Commission that will examine these issues in depth, and come up with proposals to restore trust in our institutions and in how our democracy operates.’

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Chapter 14

Back in Sweden, I’ve just completed my additional chapter for the sixth edition of The Lion’s Share. It’s called ‘Brexit and the Empire’. I thought of pre-posting it here, but it’s rather long. The publisher and I are hoping to get the book out at roughly the time that we leave the EU. If we don’t  ever leave, which is still possible, I’ll need to adapt it a bit, but not by much. It’s about the Brexit movement, rather than Brexit itself.

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Otherwise, and on the great issue of the day, I’m feeling a little more cheerful than when I left England. The polls seem to be improving for Labour. Boris, now exposed in an unfamiliar (i.e. serious) role, is getting universal condemnation and scorn for his waffly, ignorant and mendacious TV interviews. Jeremy is looking more statespersonlike by contrast. Or is this simply the stuff I’m getting through Facebook, automatically selected to fit my prejudices?

In the face of criticism by correspondents, I’m still enamoured of Corbyn’s approach to Brexit. Why should he come down on one ‘side’ or the other, when (a) he’s anyway a critical  ‘European’ (like me); (b) there’s a compromise to be had, which (c) will be far more likely to ‘bring the country together’ than either of these two alternatives, and (d) is the most transparently ‘democratic’ of them all, simply because it gives the final say to an informed (this time) electorate?

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What is Brexit Really About?

For any historical event, there are usually several layers of explanation, interacting with one another. In the case of Brexit I wouldn’t like to claim that what I offer below is the only explanation, but it’s worth considering, among all the others. It may look like a ‘conspiracy theory’, but it isn’t really, because it doesn’t require a small group of people ‘breathing together’ (conspirare) in secret. Often people act in unison but independently of each other, and for their own reasons. And their beliefs and actions may not in themselves be the ultimate causes of the events they appear to be promoting, but may be affected and even formed by impersonal, and unperceived, forces beyond their control.

Our present political difficulties, I should like to suggest, come into this category. Here, the ‘unperceived force’ is the ‘crisis of capitalism’ that has been impatiently predicted for decades by Marxists, but seems only just to have arrived; after several false alarms that were defused in the past by, for example, imperialism, wars and welfare socialism, all of which acted to solve, temporarily, the inherent and inevitable self-destructive tendency of late-stage ultra-free-market capitalism. That’s the elephant in the Brexit room, looming over the deliberate or conscious motivations of the ‘Brexiteers’ themselves, including nationalism, racism, romanticism (Boris), self-aggrandisement, anti-élitism, and the host of littler resentments and prejudices that surround what is called ‘populism’ today.

Many of these motivations are inconsistent, even contradictory; but one major one in the case of the leaders of the Brexit movement shines through. That is the ambition to ‘free’ Britain from unwelcome economic and political restrictions, some of them emanating from Europe but not all, in order to return Britain to the condition that is supposed to have been hers in the glorious nineteenth century, before all those interfering socialists came along. Because the USA is seen as the true inheritor of that tradition in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries, the nation that is still holding the torch of ‘freedom’ proudly aloft, it is natural for the Brexiteers to wish to get closer to her, notwithstanding ‘chlorinated chicken’, the marketisation of the NHS, and all the rest. It also explains President Trump’s support for Brexit, and his closeness to Boris Johnson and Nigel Farage. If Britain achieves Brexit along Boris’s lines, then it is almost certain that she (or rather, her government) will follow it by using her newly acquired ‘freedom’ to dismantle some of the domestic restrictions on enterprise represented by, for example, trade unions and legislation on ‘health and safety’. That will bring her closer both to the neo-liberals’ utopia, and to the USA.

Of course Brexit is ‘about’ Brexit for millions of those who voted for it; either that or – as I have argued before (https://bernardjporter.wordpress.com/2016/06/16/is-it-really-about-the-eu/) – arising out of a general resentment against the Tory-Lib government, austerity and our flawed political system. For those who have seized the reins of the movement over the last three years, however, and have now taken over the old Conservative party (Keith Simpson’s) almost completely, like those extra-terrestial human-devouring aliens in the old science-fiction movies, it is about something else. It’s the culmination of the movement Margaret Thatcher set in train in the 1980s in what I’ve called elsewhere the ‘Great Reaction’ against the social democracy of Attlee’s and Wilson’s Labour Party, and has been growing in ascendency ever since, even through ‘New Labour’ times. We can tell it’s really that if we examine the social and financial situations of most of its rich and privately-educated leaders and propagandists; including, of course, the billionaire and tax-avoiding owners of 85% of the British Press. It’s also borne out by their quite unbalanced hatred of Jeremy Corbyn – who is reacting against the Great Reaction – which is what is mainly firing the Conservatives in the present election campaign. It is also suggested by the unprecedented political cheating and foreign meddling (American, Russian, Israeli) that have brought us to this situation. Lies and dissembling are more characteristic of capitalism, I would venture to claim, than of the Left. It’s something to do with advertising, commercial amorality, and ‘winning at all costs’. – But I’ll put some more thought into that.

The Right has been sitting waiting for this since the 1960s. Now Brexit has given it the perfect opportunity to achieve its long-term aims. The ‘anti-semitism’ row has been a further unexpected (because untrue) bonus. What a bit of luck (for the Right)! Whether or not this entirely or even mainly explains Brexit, it’s undeniable that the neo-Liberal Right has cleverly exploited whatever other reasons there may have been for it, to its own material advantage. And it may well win.

I’m off to Sweden soon, but will be back just before the election. The result of that may decide whether I move to Sweden permanently, to get away from a country I used to love but now hardly recognise any more. I’m not alone. 8,000 Brits have applied for and been granted Swedish citizenship over the last year. And the figures are probably higher for warmer countries.

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‘Boris Will Always Let You Down’

Good to see my old student Keith Simpson MP, saying this on TV yesterday: https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-norfolk-50467008. Keith was one of my favourite early students, despite our political differences, and the fact that in my courses on British history I didn’t cover the military side as much as he would have liked. He later went on to become a notable military historian, as well as an MP. He told me he married a General, in order to be saluted when he visited Army camps with her. (I’m sure that was in jest.) He’s 70 now, and not standing in this election, which is a shame. He’s one of those old-fashioned Tories I’ve always got on well with, by contrast with all those ideological right-wing public school-educated journalists and financiers who seem to have taken the party over recently. I trust Keith now to carry on sniping at our mutual enemy from behind the lines.

He’s on wiki: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Keith_Simpson_(politician). And there’s a clip of him here on an old TV discussion programme with an incredibly drunken and quite incomprehensible Oliver Reed: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9_hBnSkQZCQ. Keith is the other one with a moustache. Reed offers to take him on ‘tash to tash’.

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Which Side is He On?

I really can’t understand what’s not to like about Corbyn. But that’s possibly because I see a lot of me in him. And I wouldn’t make a good PM either. Some recent criticisms of him seem simply ludicrous: wonky glasses, pronouncing ‘Epstein’ in an antisemitic way… (really?!). (It was the German pronunciation of ‘stein’.) Yet people, judging by the ‘Vox pops’ on TV, seem to lap them up.

His (or rather, Labour’s: it’s a collective effort) new Election Manifesto, launched yesterday, ought to be a winner, promising all the things that social democrats like me have been yearning for for years. The Daily Mail, of course, calls it ‘Marxist’. (Do they have any idea what ‘marxism’ really entails?) If successful, it could stop our long Thatcher-generated decline in its tracks, returning Britain to the progressive path it was on before she – or, rather, the neoliberal tide of the time – took over. And Corbyn clearly means it all; unlike Boris’s unconvincing promises – unconvincing because they go right against all the principles he’s been holding to, or pretending to, hitherto.

Boris anyway should have ruled himself out of contention already because of his obvious and notorious lying over the years. How anybody could possibly trust the empty, clownish idiot (knowing Greek doesn’t make you intelligent) who was revealed during his TV ‘debate’ with Corbyn, I can’t credit. (Apparently he’s ducking out of future one-on-one debates.) It must be that – as in the USA – voters simply don’t care about ‘honesty’ any more. Otherwise why did the Conservative Central Office dare to put out that propaganda on the internet disguised as a ‘fact check’ site – and then not turn a hair when it was very quickly revealed as such? (See https://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/politics/election-debate-tory-fact-check-uk-twitter-boris-johnson-corbyn-a9209816.html.) I imagine they’re relying on the common popular reaction to this kind of thing: that ‘oh well, politicians are all the same; they all do it’. In this way Labour and Corbyn become tarred with the shit (apologies for the language, and for the mixed metaphor) that really should only attach to the Tories.

Then they go on about Corbyn’s reluctance to say whether he’ll back Brexit or Remain in his promised referendum. For pity’s sake; the ‘Brexit’ choice in that referendum will be a new deal with the EU that he hasn’t negotiated yet. How can he decide at this stage whether that will be worth voting for? I won’t know, until I’ve seen it. If it retains the single market and freedom of movement I might even vote for it. I imagine that Corbyn might too. But at present that’s just a pig in a poke. And the crucial issue is, surely, that he’s proposing a nationwide, and this time better-informed, democratic vote on it; which ought to be valued much more highly than his personal and premature word as ‘leader’. Politics is not always black or white, this or that, chalk or cheese. The ‘ishues’, as Tony Benn used to call them, are always more subtle and complicated. But politicians like Johnson, and much of the ‘commentariat’, don’t seem to be able to rise to that intellectually. ‘Which side is he on?’ sounds a bit like ‘have you stopped beating your wife?’

Lastly, on this whole Brexit thing: one thing that strikes me about Labour’s new programme is how European it is. Commentators have already pointed out that, however expensive it appears measured when against Britain’s spending under Austerity, it doesn’t look at all excessive by the side of several other European countries’ national expenditures, especially those – like Germany and the Scandinavian countries – which are generally reckoned to be far more stable, prosperous and efficient economically than we are. That’s because they are – if only marginally – more Social Democratic, compared with a Britain whose distinguishing feature in Europe since Thatcher’s time has been her abandonment of even mild socialism and her closer adherence to neoliberalism. Hence the support that Brexit and other forms of Europhobia have recently attracted from the political Right (in the ’70s it was more from the Left); and of course from the Americans. That ought to make Corbyn a pro-European. But, again, that will depend on whatever ‘deal’ he manages to negotiate in the meantime.

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Randy Andy and Bonking Boris

What fun it has been over the past couple of days! Firstly that excruciating interview with the Duke of York over his relations with the American billionaire and convicted serial paedophile Jeffrey Epstein. Then, the following evening, an investigation into the present British prime minister’s relationship with another American, Jennifer Arcuri; which turns out to have been as ‘close’ – that is, sexual – as was widely suspected, until he dumped her, provoking last night’s electrifying ‘woman scorned’ performance on TV. What a treat for the tabloids! It reminds me of a headline I once read in the old News of the World, which I thought represented in one short sentence the main foci of the ‘yellow press’: ‘Duchess Wore Turban at Naked Parties’. It’s just what we needed, to take our minds off Brexit for a while.

Of course neither of these events is important in itself. ‘Boys will be boys’ (sorry!), and there’s little harm in those who are attractive, rich or important enough to be able to, seducing young women (or men) whenever they like, so long as it’s done consensually. I’m always grateful that I was none of those things, and so was almost never subjected to temptations which might have got me into trouble later. Likewise, I’ve never taken much interest in Royalty; which is why the other week I turned down an offer of £800 from the Sun newspaper to comment on the latest episode of The Crown, about the relationship between Harold Wilson and the Queen. (I’ve not watched The Crown, though I’m told it’s good.)

What were important, of course, were certain implications of the two affairs. The first was the accusation that Prince Whatsisname’s paedophile friend had provided him with an under-age girl to sleep with; which she claims, but he denies. The second was the fact that Boris, as Mayor of London, had granted substantial and profitable favours to his mistress’s commercial business, without declaring her as an ‘interest’ on the London Assembly’s books. Both of these are crimes, the second of which the London Metropolitan Police are currently investigating. That makes these events more than just merely titillating.

More generally, both of them illustrate quite vividly some deeply unattractive features of our British class system, as it relates to the upper classes and Royalty. Both Boris and the Prince appear to believe – or did, before these rows broke over their heads – that their positions in society rendered them immune to the moral constraints that ordinary people are subjected to; able, in other words, to do almost as they liked. In Boris’s case that also involves serial lying. In the Prince’s, it goes along with an entire lack of understanding or empathy for the wider problem, of child sexual abuse, that his behaviour was suspected to be a part of. Even if he had not noticed at the time that this was going on – which seems scarcely credible – he should have realised it by the time of his TV interview. (Especially as he is – or was – a patron of the NSPCC.) This illustrates their arrogance. These people really do live in a different world. All of them are immensely rich, too, which may have something to do with it. Yet there they are: over and above us still.

Then – quite fortuitously – came the BBC’s splendid new adaptation of HG Wells’s The War of the Worlds. That began with a Martian attack on Woking. (It’s the same in the book, too, I seem to remember.) Did anyone else notice that it was the ‘Pizza Express’ in Woking that the Duke claimed furnished his alibi – he claims he was there with his kids – for the night his under-aged girlfriend maintained he danced ‘sweatily’ with her in a night club before taking her off to have sex with her? What is it about Woking? I’ve not been there; but I’m sure it doesn’t deserve to be invaded by both the Martians and Prince Andrew.

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Back to My Teens

Man (in the non-gendered sense) cannot live by politics alone; and to relieve the unmitigated horror that is the present Brexit situation, I’ve been digging back into my adolescent interests and enthusiasms for comfort and escape. A search in my attic today revealed a whole portfolio of paintings I made in my teens, some of which I now think are quite promising (I may post a few images here later), making me wonder why I abandoned the artistic career which everyone at the time thought I was marked out for, and became a dull academic historian instead. The history, of course, brought the politics along with it.

I also discovered some large bound and illustrated books I made about local East Anglian churches, which were one of my other deep interests, and still give me great pleasure. There’s nothing religious about this. As an agnostic I regard these beautiful buildings mainly as symbols of human endeavour, community and aspiration, rather than of any particular religion.

Here is the title page of one of them. The lettering, too, is mine; we didn’t have word processors to do this sort of thing for us sixty-odd years ago.

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