Swedish Shenanigans

So far as I understand, and I’m open to correction by Swedish friends, the extraordinary events in the Swedish Parliament just an hour ago – PM Löfven losing a vote of confidence initiated by an unholy alliance between the far-Left Vänster party and the far-Right Sverigedemokraterna – came about because of the Centre-Left coalition’s proposal to end rent and price controls for housing, which have long been an essential part of the ‘Swedish model’. Left and Right both want to stop that. This of course reminds me of the Thatcher ‘reforms’ of the 1980s, which have done such damage to the British housing market subsequently. Here’s one angle on them:

That’s where Sweden might be heading. I’ve warned them….!

Löfven now, as I understand it, has two options. Either he resigns as PM, to be replaced by someone else. Or he calls an extraordinary General Election. If he did that, incidentally, it wouldn’t – unlike in the UK – displace the ‘normal’ election, due in 2022. The situation is full of uncertainties, and even of perils. I’ll let you know how it goes. (Sweden tends to be under-reported in foreign media.)

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Bucks Fizz

I’m disappointed that the press analysis of the Conservatives’ massive defeat at the hands of the Lib-Dems in the recent Chesham and Amersham by-election explains it purely and simply in terms of the comfortable middle classes’ concerns about local property prices. I’d rather hoped that it might have something to do with Brexit, Johnson, the authoritarian turn of his government, his Covid-19 response, and his general silliness. The good folk of Chesham and Amersham are after all more likely to be well educated than the Northerners who voted the other way in the by-election before this: enough to be able to ‘see through’ Boris; and for that reason will have voted for a party – the only one, I think – which is unambiguously against Brexit, and also – its other advantage – not tarred with ‘socialism’, which is always likely to frighten the horses in Buckinghamshire. One of the major dividers in the 2016 Brexit referendum, apart from age (oldies pro, youngsters anti), was by education, with the university-educated more likely to have voted ‘Remain’. (Unless of course they were only educated in the ‘Classics’.) I was hoping that this might have been reflected in this latest election, with intelligence – or at least education – overcoming the age and class factors. But apparently not. All the Amershamers were concerned about was their own NIMBY self-interest. That is, if the commentators are right.

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Back to the Varsity

I’ve been rather remiss at blogging recently; mainly because I’m trying to finish my Patriot’s History of Britain, and because I’ve been a little ‘under the weather’. I’m surprised anyone isn’t, in view of what’s going on in the UK. But I was sort of cheered this morning by an invitation sent out to old members of my Cambridge college to stay there during the summer for £57 a night (no meals. Or ‘bedmakers’, I presume!). It’s because in the pandemic season they’ve got no conferences to take the rooms. I have conflicting emotions about Cambridge: detesting the upper-middle class and deeply sexist culture there, which ultimately led me to resign my Fellowship; but having enjoyed it tremendously as an undergraduate: not only the study, but the social life, and the Cambridge dramatics, which I was involved in. In fact, looking back, I regard it as the high point of my life. I often dream about it, from all these miles away. (‘Varsity’ in my day, of course. ‘Uni’ was plebeian.)

So I may do this, perhaps in August, during the trip I have to make to the UK anyway to check references for the book. I’m hoping that by then travel restrictions will have been relaxed sufficiently for me to fly there without quarantining (I’ve had the vaxes), and to fly back to Sweden afterwards. I don’t want to be stuck in Boris’s Britain for longer than is necessary.

Here’s a pic of my college’s ‘Old Court’ (1340s). You can just see my old room in the shadows on the right – ground floor. Above it is the roof of the Cavendish Lab, where I’m told the atom was split.

Proper blogging to resume soon, I hope.  

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Dominic Mekon

Dominic Cummings really does look like the evil Mekon, as I suggested last year: https://bernardjporter.com/2020/02/13/journey-to-mekonta/. For those not brought up on the Eagle comic in the 1950s, the Mekon was the leader of the ‘Treens’ of the planet Venus – tall green men wrapped in copper hoops, and presumably women too, though we never see them – and the mortal enemy of ‘Dan Dare: Pilot of the Future’. This was all set in the 1990s – forty years in the future to the Eagle then.

God I loved the Eagle! And I’ve just bought a reprint of the first Dan Dare series – the Venusian one – to recapture my boyhood in my old age. The Mekon is introduced in the 30th issue, of 3 November 1950. He (or he may be an ‘it’) is a fantastically intelligent creature, with a huge brain, who worships only ‘science’, and despises human feelings, emotion and sympathy. 

Isn’t Cummings a bit like that? He certainly sounds a bit inhuman, and technocratic. And also somewhat Saturnine (yes, wrong planet, I know). I’m not however totally convinced about the intelligence that everyone attributes to him. He’s bright, certainly, but his main intellectual power seems to stem from the fact that he’s unwilling to be fettered by morality. Hence his altering one of his past blogs on one occasion to give the impression that he foresaw Covid-19 before everyone else. And if he’s so smart, why did he work so hard and effectively to get Johnson into power when – as he says now – Johnson clearly wasn’t up to it?

My characterisation of Cummings is that he is bright but has no depth. Just as Johnson is funny but has no depth. Life is not just numbers, algorithms, sheer logic, technology, intelligence, efficiency. Nor is it a game you learn at Eton. It has layers too. Cummings only sees the surface of things, and Johnson the fun side. Dan Dare, thou shouldst be living at this hour. You’d sort them out!

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Chomsky on Media Manipulation

Here’s something I was sent on Facebook – I can’t remember by whom. (Lucy?) The style is a bit clunky – I imagine the original Chomsky version must have been better written – but it helps explain what’s happening to us (in Britain) now.

Noam Chomsky, one of the most important intellectuals in life today, has drawn up the list of 10 media manipulation strategies. Give 5 minutes and you won’t regret it. If only to expand your knowledge.

1-The strategy of distraction. The primordial element of social control is the distraction strategy which consists of diverting the public’s attention from major problems and the changes decided by political and economic elites, through the flooding technique or flooding continuous distractions and insignificant information. Distraction strategy is also essential to prevent the public from becoming interested in essential knowledge in the area of science, economics, psychology, neurobiology and cybernetics. Keeping the audience’s attention deviated from real social problems, imprisoned by themes without real importance. Keeping the public busy, busy, busy, with no time to think, back to the farm like other animals.

2-Creating problems and then offering the solutions. This method is also called a ′′ problem-reaction-solution “. It creates a problem, a ′′ situation ′′ planned to cause a certain reaction from the public, with the aim that this is the source of the measures they want to accept. For example: letting urban violence intensify, or intensify or organize bloody attacks, with the aim of the public being those requiring security laws and policies to the detriment of freedom. Also: create an economic crisis to make social rights demotion and dismantle public services accept as a necessary evil.

3-The Strategy of Graduation. To make an unacceptable measure accepted, you only need to apply it gradually, to dropper, for consecutive years. This is how radically new socioeconomic conditions (neoliberalism) were imposed during the decades of the 80s and 90s: minimum state, privatisation, precariousness, flexibility, mass unemployment, wages that no longer guarantee dignified incomes: so, many changes that would have brought about a revolution if they were implemented at once.

4-The Strategy of Deferring. Another way to get an unpopular decision accepted is to present it as ′′painful and necessary”, gaining public acceptance, in the moment, for future application. It is easier to accept a future sacrifice than an immediate sacrifice. First, because effort isn’t that taken immediately. Second, because the public, the mass, always tends to naively hope that ′′everything will be better tomorrow′′ and that the required sacrifice could be avoided. This gives the audience more time to get used to the idea of change and accept it resigned when the time comes.

5-Reach to the public like children. Most advertisements directed at the large audience use speeches, arguments, characters and a particularly childish intonation, many times close to weakness, as if the viewer was a few years old creature or a mental moron. When you try to deceive the viewer the more you tend to use a childish tone. Why? Why? ′′If someone addresses a person as if they are 12 or under, then based on suggestionability, they will probably tend to a response or reaction even without a critical sense like that of a 12 person. years or less′′.

6-Using emotional aspect much more than reflection. Take advantage of emotion; it’s a classic technique to provoke a short circuit on a rational analysis and finally the critical sense of the individual. Additionally, the use of emotional register allows the unconscious access door to implant or inject ideas, desires, fears and fears, compulsions, or induce behaviors.

7-Keeping the public in ignorance and mediocrity. Making the public incapable of understanding the technologies and methods used for their control and slavery. The quality of education given to lower social classes must be as poor and mediocre as possible, so that the distance of ignorance that plans between lower classes and upper classes is and remains impossible to fill from the lower classes.

8-Stimulating the public to be complacent with mediocrity.Pushing the audience to think it’s fashionable to be stupid, vulgar and ignorant…

9-Strengthening self-guilt. Making the individual believe that he is only the culprit of his disgrace, because of his insufficient intelligence, skills or efforts. So, instead of rebelling against the economic system, the individual devalues himself and blames himself, which in turn creates a depressive state, one of whose effects is the inhibition of his action. And without action there is no revolution!

10-Knowing individuals better than they know themselves. Over the past 50 years, science’s rapid progress has generated a growing gap between public knowledge and those possessed and used by dominant elites. Thanks to biology, neurobiology, and applied psychology, the ′′ system ′′ has enjoyed advanced knowledge of the human being, both in its physical and psychological form. The system has managed to learn better about the common individual than he knows himself. This means that, in most cases, the system exercises greater control and greater power over individuals, greater than that which the same individual exercises over himself. 

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Workers and the Right

I’ve posted this (below) on Facebook already, but feel it should get the widest attention possible, at least among Radical/Socialist anti-Brexiters in the UK and anti-Trumpists in the USA. (The others won’t want to be bothered with it.)

Is it time, incidentally, for us ‘intellectuals’ who fear being dismissed as ‘elitists’ if we ever imply that our opponents are ‘stupid’, to get over that and tell it as it is? I’ve generally used terms like ‘misled’ up to now, which I still feel is right and fair. ‘Stupid’ would imply that there’s no hope for them, which is a depressing thought for a rational and thinking democrat. But I despair at the fellow in Hartlepool, for example, who was quoted saying that he voted Conservative because ‘the Conservatives have given us nine food banks, and Labour didn’t give us any’. ‘Misled’ doesn’t come anywhere near it.

But then of course democracy isn’t a matter of thought, but of feelings. That’s what the Right – people like Demonic Cummings – long knew, and what gives them the advantage over us.

Anyhow, read the article. It’s a long’un, but well worth it.

https://eand.co/why-the-working-class-is-turning-to-fascism-e4548784e7de

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Anonymity and Censorship

I think I know what constitutes genuine anti-semitism. I’ve just had a comment submitted on one of my blog posts (the ‘Oo let ’em in’ one) which definitely falls into that category. It’s from someone who has never commented on any of my posts before, so far as I can tell; but as it’s written under a pseudonym I can’t know for sure. I’ve always strongly objected to anonymous or pseudonymous posts, unless there’s a very good reason for the anonymity: personal risk, for example. I regard them as cowardly, like anonymous letters were seen in the old days. A few years ago I wrote a series of posts about this practice, for the LRB Blog, I think. And I never respond to such comments.

This one’s main argument (so far as I can work it out) is that Jews are at the hub of a world-wide conspiracy to flood otherwise happy countries with foreign immigrants, because Jews can’t ‘control’ happy people as they would like to do. The solution: ‘We just have to get the wretched jews off the back of humanity.’ – OK, my bar for calling something ‘anti-semitic’ might be pitched quite high; but this clearly offends.

My problem is this. I don’t believe in censorship, and have never ‘disallowed’ a comment on this blogsite, unless the author has asked me not to post it. It is interesting to see other people’s views, even if one disagrees with them. Maybe I should allow this comment: partly in order to read the responses to that. I’m strongly inclined not to; but would be interested in other readers’ views.

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Goebbels Lite

For me the most depressing thing last year – I realise I probably should have been more moved by people dying from Covid 19, or by the wars and massacres going on all over, but I’m afraid they didn’t upset me so much – was the vicious press campaign against Jeremy Corbyn, who is almost the only decent politician we have left in England, and the one who has been right about almost everything; and in particular the charge against him, and the Labour Party, of anti-Semitism

That was a difficult charge for Labour to combat when it originally came up in 2016, first because it was untrue; and secondly because it was the very last thing that Labour Party members would have suspected of themselves, in view of the Party’s strong and consistent line on anti-racism throughout its history, its strong Jewish membership, and the way its whole philosophy had been informed by Judaeo-Christian ideals. Honestly, the charge of ‘anti-Semitism’ took us (I was in the party then) all completely by surprise, which is why we didn’t take as much notice of it as we probably should have done. It was as if a tree were accused of uprooting itself and running around (I’m sorry, I’m living in a very sylvan environment just now, and can’t think of a better metaphor): i.e. simply inconceivable. Here’s my own initial reaction to it: https://bernardjporter.com/2016/04/28/anti-semitism-and-labour/; which was followed up by others along the same lines. I suspect that this may have been why ‘anti-Semitism’ was chosen by Corbyn’s enemies – as a charge so utterly ridiculous that we wouldn’t have prepared any defences against it.

Things got more difficult as the Right-wing press seized on it, knowing full well how noxious an accusation like this that would seem to readers brought up on images of Hitler’s death camps; almost equivalent to the charges of paedophilia that were also going around at that time. (I’m mildly surprised that the press didn’t accuse Corbyn of that too.) The effect of this on the hierarchy of the Labour party was two-fold: to panic like frightened rabbits into agreeing to ‘investigations’ into the supposed ‘problem’: it must be a problem, mustn’t it if the Daily Mail and Dame Margaret Hodge were saying it was; but secondly, for those on the Right of that hierarchy (aka ‘moderates’), to use it themselves to drive the dangerously socialist Corbyn out. The investigations duly took place, one of them under the auspices of the European Human Rights Commission (EHRC), and found virtually no evidence of anti-Semitism in the party: just a few marginal and ambiguous utterances or ‘tropes’, much less in fact than you would find in any other large part of the population; to which the Press’s reaction was to abandon this ground and instead to highlight a suggestion in one of the reports to the effect that Corbyn had not done enough to stamp anti-Semitism out. Actually he had been very active in this respect; but even if not who could blame him, in view of the fact that there wasn’t any serious anti-Semitism anyway?

The result of all this was that the mud remained sticking to him. I realised this when the driver of the taxi I engaged to drive me to Stansted Airport last July (to avoid the plague) told me that he had been going to vote Labour in the previous election, until he read about ‘all that anti-Semitic stuff’. This is only one example, I grant you, but I can’t believe he was alone. Indeed, this gargantuan smear may have been one (only) of the reasons why Labour lost that election, and so why we have landed up, as a nation, where we are today.

Since then we have learned much more about how the smear was orchestrated and pushed not only by the Right-wing press, but also by agencies of the Israeli state. I realise that might make me seem like a ‘conspiracy theorist’, but here’s just one bit of evidence:  https://electronicintifada.net/blogs/asa-winstanley/we-slaughtered-jeremy-corbyn-says-israel-lobbyist.  So far as Israel was concerned, of course, Corbyn’s sin was his support for a Palestinian state; and his criticism of the colonial expansion of Jewish settlements in the West Bank and of the over-reactions of the Israeli Defence Force to Palestinian protests and rocket attacks. (We’re seeing more of this just now.) His hostility to the present Israeli government, therefore, was either motivated by ‘anti-semitism’, or was a sign of anti-semitism in itself. So believes (or pretends) Netanyahu, who makes no distinction between the two.

As neither, apparently, did the Jewish Board of Deputies in Britain; at whose insistence the Labour Party was persuaded to adopt a ‘working definition’ of ‘anti-semitism’ tabled by the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA), which appeared to link anti-semitism with criticism of the state of Israel, but in truth didn’t really. (It only suggested that ‘anti-Zionism’ might be a mask for anti-Semitism. For a much sounder definition google this year’s Jerusalem Declaration.) When Keir Starmer became Leader of the Labour Party he not only embraced the IHRA statement as party policy, but also forbad constituency parties from even discussing it – or, for that matter, his expulsion of the pro-Palestinian former Leader from the party. (This was when student unions were being threatened with huge fines for ‘no-platforming’ speakers.) The party also incidentally wrote to me to warn me that my reluctance to believe that it harboured widespread anti-Semitism was anti-Semitic in itself. It was in protest against this that I resigned from the party last year. (I don’t imagine they noticed at Party HQ.)

The reason that this has come up with me again today is that yesterday evening I tuned into a ‘webinar’ launch under the auspices of the Haldane Society of a book on all this, called How the EHRC Got it so Wrong: https://www.versobooks.com/books/3922-how-the-ehrc-got-it-so-wrong (digital only). The speakers included – as well as prominent Jews (many Jews supported Corbyn) – Michael Mansfield QC, the human rights lawyer; Sir Geoffrey Bindman QC; Liz Fekete, Director of the Institute of Race Relations; Daniel Finn, Features editor of Jacobin magazine; and Peter Oborne, whose Assault on Truth: the Emergence of a New Moral Barbarism – about Boris – I’d just read. It was I think the best Zoom session I’ve attended; but deeply depressing. Hence the opening words of this post.

Here are a couple of the things arising out of all this whole unsavoury affair that most depress me. The first is the apparent power of all these lies to mislead millions, through tabloid press headlines, TV presenters and reporters nervous of offending various ‘lobbies’, and the other forms of propaganda that are blighting our whole public discourse today. I’ve met intelligent people who still take the lies seriously, on dubious grounds like ‘there’s no smoke without fire’, ‘all politicians are the same’, ‘the truth must lie somewhere in between’, ‘how can we take him seriously when he dresses like Worzel Gummidge’, ‘that’s just a conspiracy theory’, ‘she’s a member of the élite’, and so on: none of them taking account of the arguments (if there are any) themselves. And of course very few people are really interested in politics, which in any case are in bad odour generally today (‘they’re all the same’); so perhaps we shouldn’t expect any better. But it seems to spell the victory of evil over good; of advertising over truth; of lies over honesty; of Goebbels over Corbyn. It’s enough to make one – me, anyway – weep; not just for poor Corbyn, but for our national future generally.

The second depressing thing for me is the possible effect of this anti-anti-Semitic campaign on my own attitude towards Jews. (Not the Jews – they’re not a monolithic body; a fact that the British Board of Deputies seemed ignorant of.) One of the slights that Jews have always had to suffer is of their ‘race’ as brainy but evil conspirators: against Christ originally, then in the Protocols of the Elders of Zion, and in dozens of political events since then. ‘Pro’-Semitic gentiles have always objected to that as a slander. Yet here we have Jews – some of them – clearly launching a ‘conspiracy’ against Corbyn; which can only confirm that prejudice. Isn’t this dangerous for Jews and Jewish communities all over? Mossad may be playing with fire. It’s obviously not going to make Jews as a category or as individuals better respected by any British socialists who may as a result be inclined to generalise about Jewry, in the same way that some Jews have taken to generalising about them. I’m not affected in this way. But the Labour Party may be. If it’s not anti-Semitic currently, this whole deplorable affair, and the suggestion that it could have lost them a crucial general election, could make it so. 

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Fàilte gu Alba

Wasn’t this a sight for sore liberal eyes yesterday? Priti Patel’s evil regime being resisted by honest Glaswegians intent on rescuing their immigrant ‘neighbours’ from incarceration and/or deportation: just as they had used to in olden days? (See my The Refugee Question in Mid-Victorian Politics.)

https://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2021/may/13/glasgow-residents-surround-and-block-immigration-van-from-leaving-street.

Is this just Scotland? Or just Glasgow, perhaps. I know there’s not the same feeling there against immigration that there is in parts of England. They need more people. And, really, shouldn’t they be allowed to decide their own migration policies themselves? Another argument for Scottish independence, perhaps, freeing them finally from the tyranny of our proto-fascist government in England, and enabling them to become friends with Europe again.

Of course if that happens they might be inundated by a less welcome wave of immigration – of Sassenachs fleeing to escape the same tyranny. We’ll see whether they extend the same hospitality to us. I know at least one person who’s made the move already. I’ll have to ask him.

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‘Oo let ’em in?’

I’ve written about our appalling Home Office, with reference to its attitude towards and treatment of immigrants, before: https://bernardjporter.com/2018/05/31/our-unhomely-office/. Here’s a well-researched, insightful and deeply shocking piece about it in today’s Guardian. A long read, but worth the effort. – And we call ourselves a ‘liberal’ country?

The title of this post is taken from the public reaction to the ‘Sidney Street Siege’ in 1911. I’ve written about that too, but I can’t remember where.

https://www.theguardian.com/politics/2021/may/13/cruel-paranoid-failing-priti-patel-inside-the-home-office

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