Shooting Ourselves in the Foot

This is not me, I wish it were. I found it hidden away as a comment on another blog post, and thought it deserved wider circulation. I particularly liked the comparison between Nigel Farage and Arthur Daley. (Remember Minder?)

Mike SwainI could almost feel sorry for the Brexiter ‘ultras’. They’ve been on a real journey, haven’t they? From triumphant, gloating euphoria, back to the swivel-eyed rage tantrums they used to have after reading billionaire-sanctioned stories about straight bananas and jihadi immigrant benefit cheats with 30 kids.

Their world is falling apart; Chicken Licken. An apocalyptic vision where the – now – grey cliffs of Dover tumble solemnly into the sea, as if to weep tears of stone and lament the glorious Britain that could have been. A haunting nightmare where bonfires of cricket whites burn in the middle of village pub pitches, and where goose-stepping Eurocrats issue directives via the proxy of ‘regulatory alignment’ in order to make proud English nationalists drink cold, tasty, crisp beer, and food that doesn’t taste like a combination of wallpaper paste and monosodium glutomate.

I can envision them now, surveying their suburban drives, watching their battered Union flags fly precariously on single threads as the shitstorm of betrayal shreds their shared vision of Brexit. A vision that, sadly, has only ever existed in their heads. A vision that was never on the ballot, yet sold to them by an Arthur Daley character in an Arthur Daley jacket, representing the opinions of an elite band of lobbyists who were already doing a mighty fine job of turning the UK into a deregulated sink-hole of private capital, tax-dodgers, precariat labour and crumbling public services. The fact they won’t’ be getting an opportunity to accelerate that process just yet is no real victory, and more akin to snatching a lesser defeat from the jaws of an even bigger defeat.

Now nobody ‘wins’. No Europtopia. No glorious, new British renaissance ruling the waves of trade and culture. And definitely not the ethnically-cleansed ‘send ’em back’ fascist dystopia the knuckle-dragging flag-worshippers pined for. It’s just a similar, but inferior deal, with a giant bill and no say in the future of trade relations, law-making and infrastructure projects.

And while it’s true you can heal after shooting yourself in the foot, the likelihood is you’ll never walk the same again. You certainly won’t be winning any races either.

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Railways and Refugees

Rail renationalisation can’t come soon enough for me. My train to London this morning was 40 minutes late; the train back – the last one of the day – cancelled. I’m on my way to Doncaster now hoping for a connection to Hull there. If not I think they have to get me a taxi back. We’ll see.

I was invited to a meeting of historians at the House of Commons to discuss refugee policy. It was opened by Lord Dubs (Labour), who as a small boy had escaped from Nazi Germany through the Kindertransport scheme. All very interesting and moving; but I felt my expertise in C19th British asylum policy was too marginal to want to waste their time with. (In a nutshell: there was no asylum policy; Britain let anyone – even known terrorists – in. The reasons for this are interesting, and the subject of my ultra-scholarly The Refugee Question in mid-Victorian Politics; but inapplicable to today.)

Two things I learned. (1) There are 60 million stateless persons in the world today. (2) Britain is the only country in Europe that goes in for indeterminate detention of immigrants, and on a Minister’s say-so alone. I smell the sulphurous whiff of Theresa here again.

In connection with this, one Tory Minister (no less) has recently recommended that all returning Jihadis or Islamists be hunted down and shot on sight. Just in case.

As for the Palace of Westminster: what I saw of it didn’t seem to be in as bad a state as has been made out. But of course you can’t tell from the surfaces. They’re already restoring the roof of the mediaeval Hall; and the Big Ben tower is clad in scaffolding. I found it interesting that on a plaque inside, they credited Barry alone with the Victorian building. No mention of Gothic God-botherer Pugin.

There was a train from Doncaster. It’s pulling in to Hull now…

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Stratford Olympic FC

I’ve not yet been to West Ham’s new venue – the former Olympic Stadium in Stratford East – but shall try to do so in order to test for myself the widespread opinion that it is wrong for football (it was built of course for athletics), and hasn’t the atmosphere of the old Boleyn Ground in Upton Park. I’ve written before about the crime that was perpetrated when the millionaires who own the club – one of whom made his money from pornography – dragged it out of the proper ‘East End’ by its roots, in order to compete on a more profitable global scale with the big clubs of Chelsea and Manchester City. (See http://www.lrb.co.uk/blog/2014/12/22/bernard-porter/like-the-ancient-romans/#more-20273; https://bernardjporter.com/2016/05/11/goodbye-to-boleyn/; and https://bernardjporter.com/2017/01/07/football-0-capitalism-5/.) That crime, of course, is now irreversible. The old stadium has been torn down, and is currently being replaced by (luxury, I think) flats; leaving a great bleeding hole right in the centre of the culture of the East End which will never be filled in. It’s a bit like taking St Peter’s out of Rome.

It’s all, of course, a symptom of the steady and seemingly inevitable encroachment of capitalist values (yet again: Marx was right!), crushing customary non-money loyalties and allegiances. West Ham are becoming a ‘global’ product, with global (i.e. foreign) players, engaged simply as mercenaries, rather than the Club’s truly representing – as it always used to do – the local area, through locally bred lads. Spectators are treated as mere customers, for profit. That the local ‘Hammers’ are faintly aware of this seems to be demonstrated by a new slogan being displayed at West Ham games just now: ‘We’re Supporters, NOT Customers’. That says it all.

The team that plays in the Olympic (now ‘London’) Stadium is no longer West Ham; any more than Wimbledon FC is still ‘the Dons’, after being moved to Milton Keynes. I suggest that it change its name – perhaps to ‘Stratford Olympic’, which might suit the pretensions of its owners more; and allow a new West Ham United to grow from seed in its old environs. Mind you, that environs probably won’t last very long, socially and culturally, if the flats that are now being built on the old Boleyn site are an early sign of the yuppification of the whole area eventually.

I’m on the edge of divorcing myself from the ‘Irons’ (still called that, from the team – Thames Ironworks – it originated as) after nigh-on sixty years of supporting them; but I thought I should first check the new stadium for myself, out of fairness; and also wait until the team is doing a bit better than it is now. I wouldn’t like anyone to think I was dropping the club because it was losing. It goes far deeper than that.

I’ll need a replacement. (We all have to have our tribes.) I’ve been going to watch Hull City ever since I first moved to Hull in 1968, but can’t really get up much of a warmth for them. (Hull FC is a different matter; but Rugby League isn’t on in the winter.) Tottenham attract me, but that might feel too much of a betrayal, being as they are West Ham’s major and most-hated rivals. Leyton Orient? I’ve been there; it’s nothing. Over the river, Millwall seem to have many of the cultural attributes I’m missing with West Ham, but not the brilliant playing history the Irons had in the 1960s. Besides, ‘sahf of the river’ is foreign parts for an Essex boy like me. Fulham have always seemed friendly, but are are a bit far away (West London), and owned by another capitalist; and since they built their new riverside stand no longer offer spectators the compensation of being able to turn around to watch the Boat Race if the football gets too boring. Obviously I could never conceive of supporting Chelsea. QPR? But that’s West, too.

Bloody capitalism!

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Kick Them Out

The number of people deported or threatened with deportation from Britain has been rising exponentially in recent months. Some of them have lived in Britain, worked, brought up families, and paid taxes for fifty years. Here is a recent example: https://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2017/dec/01/man-detained-threatened-with-removal-after-52-years-in-the-uk; but there are many more. I never thought I’d live to see this, in a country that has boasted of its generosity to visitors for centuries, and prided itself on its charitable flexibility when it comes to bureaucracy: i.e., not necessarily sticking to ’the rules’ if those rules occasioned clear injustices.

I suspect it dates from Theresa May’s autocratic tenure of the Home Office, and her anxiety to appease the Tory Right and Ukip by getting the numbers of immigrants down; or, at least – because the expulsion of a handful of fifty-year residents can’t possibly make a significant dent in the total – demonstrating to those monsters that she is ‘tough’. Theresa May is not a nice woman; nor, I would have thought, a truly ‘Christian’ one. I sometimes wonder about her vicar father. Has anyone researched his career and theology?

*

My apologies to the readers – mainly men, I have to say – who were upset by and critical of my decision to withdraw my posts on ‘sexual harassment’. No, it doesn’t mean I’ve changed my views. Or that I’m afraid of being ‘outed’ as a harasser myself. Yes, it did have something to do with the criticism I was getting from women (not Kajsa) who, I maintain, had grossly misread me, and some of whom were close to me – and hopefully still are, despite all this. As one of my (male) defenders wrote, ‘The posts themselves I thought very sensible but the whole subject is very charged at the moment.’ You can say that again. I withered under the scorn. I’m clearly not as brave as I thought I was.

‘Men are from Mars, women from Venus.’ Whoever invented that silly aphorism obviously didn’t know as much about the planets as we do now: Mars dry, cold and sterile, Venus a burning mass of volcanic lava. That figures.

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Deletions

I’ve taken down all my posts on sexual harassment.

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Mars and Venus

Deleted.

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Amnesty

Deleted.

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British Anti-Imperialism

Although she’s getting the brunt of the criticism just now for her imperialism – see https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2017/nov/22/british-empire-museum-colonial-crimes-memorial – Britain was obviously not the first nation to go in for this kind of thing, nor even the latest. I don’t want to get into the argument that has been going on for years now over whether the British Empire was a ‘good’ or a ‘bad’ thing, mainly because I don’t see this as a useful way of looking at it, and because my own researches have persuaded me that British imperialism was a far more complex and ambivalent phenomenon than seems to be assumed on both – or all – sides of the debate. For what it’s worth, my more sophisticated angle on this is spelled out in my books, and especially the latest, British Imperial. What the Empire Wasn’t (IB Tauris, 2016), which was intended for a ‘lay’ or popular readership. I’m not writing letters to the Guardian on this now because I don’t think my argument can be spelled out in the couple of hundred words I’d be allowed there, or even in a 2,000-word article. For a start, all kinds of deep assumptions would need to be unravelled before I could start. It needed a book or two for that.

One thing needs to be said, however, which can be put fairly simply, and should have a bearing on the larger question. This is that, although the British didn’t invent imperialism, they could be said to have invented anti-imperialism, which has arguably been just as significant a phenomenon in recent times. By anti-imperialism, I mean opposition to imperial expansion in principle. Many people, of course, have opposed the particular imperialisms they have been subjected to themselves. Boudicca and Caractacus are two of our (British) own. The Americans were anti-imperialists in this sense in the eighteenth century. The difference between this, however, and principled anti-imperialism is that the latter opposes imperialism in all its forms. The American revolutionaries didn’t, but only the British kind, insofar as it was felt to shackle them, and to prevent them from embarking on colonial adventures – to the west, south and north of the Thirteen States – of their own. (I don’t know what colonial ambitions Boudicca would have had if she’d won.) It was left to others to begin to criticise imperialism per se, after a couple of millennia in which ‘expansion’ of one kind or another was regarded as normal.

The most important of these was John Atkinson Hobson, who – drawing on the ideas of liberals and socialists before him – first came up with a theory that could be applied generally, to condemn his own country’s subjugation of others, rather than others’ subjugation of his. Imperialism. A Study (1902), which I based my PhD thesis on, was the first cogent exposition of what is now called the ‘capitalist theory of imperialism’, which underpins most critical interpretations of ‘imperialism’ today. (See my Critics of Empire, 1968, republished 2008.) This kind of anti-imperialism had a significant following in twentieth-century Britain; as great, probably, as the more positive ‘imperialism’ that is supposed – wrongly – to have permeated British society then.

Perhaps retrospective credit should be given to the British for this, to set against the discredit that their imperial record continues to heap upon them. If Britain was the leading imperial power in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries (and my British Imperial casts some doubt on that), she was also – and at one and the same time – the leading anti-imperialist country in the world. So you see what I mean about imperial history being ‘complex and ambivalent’! This is just one example. I wish modern critics would take more notice of it; not in order to be fair to us, the British – I don’t care at all about that – but in the interests of historical accuracy. That’s something I do care about.

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‘How You Play the Game’

Sport is there to be enjoyed. It’s not war. So why do so many Australian cricketers behave as though it were? And as though they can’t win matches simply through their skills, but need to demoralise their opponents first? First there was ‘sledging’ – Australia’s sole original contribution to the game. Close fielders try to rile the English batsmen with reflections on their appearance or their masculinity or their paternity or their wives and mothers as the bowler runs up. Of course there are ways of coping with this. (I like the story of – was it the Indian batsman Tendulkar? – who when asked by an Australian slip fielder why he was so fat, replied: ‘because every time I sleep with your wife she gives me a biscuit.’) And it’s no longer confined to the Aussies. But it’s pretty unpleasant in any case, and demeaning, in my view, to the modern Australian team.

Now it’s getting worse. First we had Australian vice-captain David Warner writing about how he needs to work up a real ‘hate’ against the English players to get him going in a match. He actually described the England-Australia rivalry as a ‘war’. And he has form: on the last Australian tour he punched Joe Root in the face. Now we have spin bowler Nathan Lyon claiming that the England team are running scared of the Aussie fast bowlers, and hoping that they can ‘end a few careers’. ‘It’s an unbelievable feeling’, he said, ‘knowing that they are broken’. Really? Better than winning? And than winning fair and square?

So, why do they present themselves as such bastards? There are reasons for it in cricketing history, but they are getting rather ancient now. (The infamous ‘bodyline tour’, when the English fast bowlers were instructed to bowl at the batsmen’s bodies rather than their wickets, was in 1932-3, for goodness’ sake.) It may be a result of colonial resentment against their old masters, despite the fact that most white Australians in colonial times were far better off and much more ‘free’ than the Britons who stayed at home. (I could understand it if they represented the Australian Aborigines; but even then it was the white settlers who were responsible for oppressing them, not – directly – the Brits.) Or is it resentment against their perception that we – the British – are looking ‘down’ on them; an attitude I came across again and again when I lived and taught in Australia, and which of course is quite unnecessary. (I had to work hard to persuade them that I wasn’t a sneering privileged Pom just because I went to Cambridge.) I’d hate to think it arose from an inferiority complex; but isn’t that what is supposed to motivate most bullies? I love Australia, more than any other country I’ve lived in, especially its natural social democracy. But this particular after-effect of Empire sometimes got me down.

I was looking forward to the upcoming Test series. Ben will be at the Melbourne game. But, back in England, I may not follow it as closely as I used to. If Australia win it will constitute a victory for a kind of cheating, which may make me feel better about it. (It won’t really count.) If England win, which apparently is unlikely without Ben Stokes, I imagine I’ll feel triumphant, but in an unpleasant – unsporting – way. ‘There, that’s taught them!’ Both reactions are unworthy. Neither is the kind that sport is supposed to give rise to. And all because of these Aussie war-mongers; who have ruined this particular series, even before it starts, for me.

‘It matters not who won or lost, but how you played the game.’ Ah, those were the days!

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The Sexual Harassment Thing

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