Sweden on the Brink of Civil War

Right-wing Americans have been dissing Sweden for decades. At first it was because of its socialism; no patriotic American could understand or credit the good it seemed to be doing to the country in so many ways. I remember years ago while in the US reading in a paper that Stockholm’s murder rate was higher than Chicago’s. More recently it’s been because of Sweden’s generous immigration policy, which must be posing an existential threat to the country, surely? Remember Trump’s reference to Moslem riots in Sweden six months ago – ‘Who would believe it! Sweden!’ – which turned out to be totally fictitious: see https://bernardjporter.com/2017/02/24/rinkeby/. But the Trumpists haven’t learned – or, probably, wanted to.

Robin Ramsay has sent me these two pieces of ‘fake news’ from more recent American blogsites:

https://www.jihadwatch.org/2017/06/sweden-on-the-brink-of-civil-war-national-police-chief-help-us-help-us; and http://www.zerohedge.com/news/2017-06-24/leaked-police-report-exposes-23-muslim-controlled-no-go-zones-sweden-plagued-violenc.

(And you should look at some of the BTL comments on these.) They are, of course, utter nonsense. One has a picture of posters allegedly put up by Swedish jihadists to mark ‘Sharia Law’ areas, written in English! Sweden has immigration problems, sure, but nothing like as serious as this. Indeed, this other US website shows how the others were conned:


(again, from Robin). But I doubt whether this will persuade patriotic Americans. They believe what they want to. Sweden is a standing rebuff to all they hold dear: free market capitalism, Christianity, punishment, guns. So it can’t be real.

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A small gripe. A pretty good documentary on BBC2 last night, Who Should We Let In?, fronted by Ian Hislop, was largely based on a book of mine, The Refugee Question, and on quotes and illustrations I provided directly to the producer over the phone and through the internet; yet with no acknowledgment of my contribution at the end of the programme. Should I be miffed? Or simply pleased that my findings – original when I published them – have now entered into the general discourse? I guess that the slight disappointment I presently feel is unworthy of a scholar who should be more concerned to reveal truths, than to gain personal kudos. But we’re all human.

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Hubris and Harry

It has been interesting entertaining Swedish friends here in England at such an eventful and – probably – crucial time in our history. First there was the General Election, with the rise of Jeremy and the revolt of the Youth, and the Greek-tragic (hubris-nemesis) decline of the Maybot; then no fewer than three ‘terrorist’ attacks; and lastly the Grenfell Tower disaster, with all that can be inferred from this about the state of modern British society generally. I’m sure all this will provide them with dinner table conversation in Sweden for months. (They’re on their way back now.) ‘We were there…!’

I’ll get back to serious blogging soon. My foreign friends’ visit, on top of my operation – fully healed now, thanks – has rather held that up recently. Perhaps in a few days time…

In the meantime let me refer to Prince Harry’s recent claim, that none of the present Royals actually wants to be King or Queen, though they would, he says, take on the burden out of duty. It has been much criticised in the Press, but it has rather warmed me to him. I have little time for our Royal family (except Liz: she’s OK); but one of the few advantages of the hereditary principle, surely, is that it is likely to exclude ambitious people from the Head of State role, and in particular people who are solely motivated by personal ambition. They’re the dangerous ones. Look at the Maybot.

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Just over a year ago, before our referendum, I wrote a piece on Swedish attitudes to the EU, suggesting that Sweden might be tempted to follow Britain out of it: https://bernardjporter.com/2016/04/22/brexit-swexit/.  In fact, post-referendum, it appears that Brexit has had the opposite effect there. A recent article in Dagens Nyheter (http://www.dn.se/nyheter/varlden/svenskar-mer-positiva-till-eu-efter-brexit/, but behind a pay-wall, I think) argues that Swedes are ‘more positive towards the EU after Brexit’, with Britain’s departure being widely seen as a disaster all round, causing a re-think among the previously sceptical Swedes, 66% of whom are now in favour of continued membership. That must be because of the extraordinary difficulties that our Brexit is now facing, which were mostly unanticipated by the pre-referendum Little Englanders. If only we Brits could be permitted a similar re-think. But a democratic vote now, of course, would be undemocratic, on the grounds that a democratic decision has already been made. Holy Moses!

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Grenfell Tower

One of the great social scandals of the Victorian age was the existence of rich and poor ghettoes cheek by jowl in London, just like in Notting Hill today. Then the poor were hidden away in low slums, behind the mansions of the rich; now they’re put into high-rise tower blocks. I must say, having visited the posh part of Notting Hill often, I never noticed the towers, though I did sometimes wonder where all the proles who swept their lovely streets lived.

In the 19th century it was cholera that forced governments to do something about living conditions in the slums, cholera not being class-specific, but in danger of spreading from poor areas to rich. With tower blocks there’s not that danger. The residents of Westbourne Park Avenue are not likely to be infected by disease wafting down from them, so there’s no pressing necessity for a local Tory council to look after their working-class (and often immigrant) neighbours in the same way. Indeed, in many of these prosperous inner suburbs the main task of their politicians was to save money by subcontracting their poorer areas out to private profiteering management companies, or – if they could – to ‘cleanse’ them in order for ‘developers’ to come in and replace them by ‘higher value’ residences. One rather extreme conspiracy theory floating around Kensington just now is that this was the hidden agenda behind the recent fire. Even short of this, however, there’s no doubt that the Grenfell Tower disaster was, indirectly, due to London’s extreme inequality, and therefore to the effects of late, uncontrolled capitalism. There’s a clip on the internet of David Cameron in 2012 announcing it as his ‘main task’ to do away with the ‘health and safety monster’, in order to liberate ‘business enterprise’. (See http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/politics/david-cameron-i-will-kill-off-safety-culture-6285238.html.)

The fire at Grenfell Tower is not, so far as I know, spreading directly to Westbourne Park Avenue, or even showering ashes there; but the sight of that horrible blackened stump so close on the horizon must have some effect on the rich people living around it; and on the reputation of recent Tory governments: the very people who cut fire, police and medical services, for example, in the interests of ‘austerity’. What will happen to it now we don’t know. It could be razed to the ground in order to provide space for upper-class villas, but surely not even the notoriously insensitive Theresa May (she even refused to meet the victims) could allow that now. Maybe it could be allowed to stand as it is – as soon as it has been stabilized – as a dreadful symbol and reminder over the next few years of the evil of late-stage capitalism. The surviving residents could be housed in some of the nearby dwellings that have been bought up by rich Arabs and left empty as ‘long-term investments’. One Labour politician has suggested this; only to be dismissed as a ‘Marxist’. So be it.


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The Decline of the Press

I sometimes suspect that most Brits assume that their press is normal, and that foreign newspapers must be much the same. Nothing could be further from the truth. I buy newspapers in most of the many countries I travel through; few of them have a ‘tabloid’ tradition like ours. Swedish tabloids – evening papers – can be sensational, and of course focus on celebrity, like ours; but none of them peddles lies or pornography, or acts so blatantly as propaganda vehicles for the political causes favoured by their rich owners. It must be for that reason that Britain features only 40th in the prestigious Reporters Without Borders’ World ‘Press Freedom Index’, which will surprise those who take pride – false pride, as it happens – in our ‘press liberty’ (see https://bernardjporter.com/2017/04/30/press-freedom/). Foreigners are genuinely shocked by our newspapers. This is one of the major factors contributing to Britain’s generally low reputation in the world.

The decline of the British press began in the 1890s, when Alfred Harmsworth founded the Daily Mail as a purely capitalist venture; that is, according to ‘market’ principles, in order simply to satisfy a demand. As I’ve written in my Britannia’s Burden:

If that demand was for sport, gossip and sensation, then that was what the Mail would provide. It would not preach to people, or try to stretch them, which would be elitist and arrogant. Everything in the paper had to be attractive, exciting and easy to swallow. “Do not forget,” Daily Mail journalists were told, “that you are writing for the meanest intelligence.” These were the main journalistic criteria, not ‘truth’, which came a very poor fourth. For Harmsworth himself the overriding criterion was profitability. Because the Mail’s editorial line [at this time] was usually imperialistic, some people saw him as having a political aim. In fact a “famous Englishman” (unnamed) was probably nearer the mark when he described him in 1901 as… “only a tradesman speculating in the reaction”. The “yellow press” in other words was a product not of the political but of the commercial morality of the day.

The Harmsworth (Northcliffe) family, of course, still owns the Daily Mail. You’ll already know about the more recent low points in its history, including its backing for Hitler in the 1930s. In this connection I recommend Andrew O’Hagan’s eviscerating demolition of the present editor, Paul Dacre, in a recent LRB: https://www.lrb.co.uk/v39/n11/andrew-ohagan/whos-the-real-cunt. The word ‘cunt’ there gives you a clue.

So it didn’t all start with Murdoch, though he managed to pull his share of the press much further down the road to hell. The Times is the most obvious of his casualties, not because it’s the worst in his stable (that’s the Sun), but because it’s the one that has fallen from the greatest height. It used to be Britain’s ‘newspaper of record’; it’s no longer trusted as such. I imagine it has been replaced in that role by the Guardian, which is far more often quoted abroad.

The Guardian, in fact, is our only national daily quality left wingish paper, and so is something for us Lefties to be grateful for. But just at the moment few of us are. That’s because it does not provide quite the weight on the other side of the scales that some of us would like, in order to balance things up. The Guardian of course started out as a Liberal Manchester paper, but as the Liberal Party declined (in the early 20th century) it adopted a more generally Leftish slant. It was, and I imagine still is, the paper of choice for up-market Labourites. (The Mirror is the down-market equivalent.) But then we Lefties have no alternative among daily papers; which is what had most of us despairing of it before and during the recent General Election campaign. The dismissal by most of the Guardian’s columnists of Jeremy Corbyn was ignorant, as it turned out, and patronizing. It only U-turned and backed him at the very last moment: https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/ng-interactive/2017/jun/02/the-guardian-view-on-our-vote-its-labour?CMP=share_btn_tw. As far as I was concerned, this was far too late. I feel angrier towards the Guardian, in fact, than I do towards the awful tabloids. At least one can understand sheer villainy. If the Independent had still been going as a newspaper – it’s on-line only now – I’d have switched over to it. (I need a broadsheet, rather than a laptop, to eat my breakfast off.)

Here’s a very good analysis of the Guardian’s backsliding, by an ex-Guardian journalist: http://www.middleeasteye.net/columns/the-guardian-elections-coverage-never-get-it-right-Jeremy-Corbyn-really-wrong-972873248. As a current Guardian journalist myself – well, reviewer – I’m hoping the paper catches up with the new reality soon. The true Left needs an organ.

Or does it, in the age of ‘social media’? Print newspaper circulations are declining. The Guardian is always appealing to its readers for donations. (I’ve contributed, despite my irritation with it. I need my table cloth.) Apparently the Tory press has met its match at last, not from a new Left-wing newspaper, but with Facebook, Twitter and the rest. The intelligent young read computer screens, not newspapers. Which, unwelcome as it may be to an old breakfaster like me, is great news if it means that the influence of the likes of Murdoch, Dacre, the Barclay Brothers and Desmond is shrivelling under the computer’s flickering glare.

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The Way Forward

Just sent to the Guardian:

Easy. Let Theresa May go on formally with her minority government, weak as it is. Domestic legislation should be initiated by any party, and then voted on in the Commons, which will represent a return to our historical tradition of Parliamentary democracy. For Brexit: set up a bi-partisan committee to sketch out some ‘soft’ Brexit ideas, probably accepting the customs union and free movement. Put the negotiations in the hands of a small number of competent ministers: i.e. including Keir Starmer but excluding Boris. Then see what happens.

This should satisfy everyone, both in Britain and in Europe, except for the Brexit-maniacs on the Tory Right. It’s also a very British (Parliamentary) way. It would allow proper democratic decisions to be taken on the separate elements of all the parties’ manifestos. And it would elevate the recent electoral fiasco into a glorious opportunity, to restore consensual democracy to the nation that one-party government, austerity and Brexit have so bitterly divided. Out of weakness would come strength. What is there to dislike?

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I (Could Have) Told You So

Nearly all the commentators were wrong about this election, of course, except me; and even I was wrong to doubt how right I might be. That’s why I never allowed myself to hope, in spite of sensing the fundamental reaction across the Western world – and maybe beyond – against the effects of late-stage capitalism, which lie deep behind both the right-wing and the left-wing responses to what is currently called ‘globalisation’. Look back over my past posts here (here’s one: https://bernardjporter.com/2016/06/16/is-it-really-about-the-eu/), and you will find both the American Presidential election and the British EU referendum explained in these general terms, with the belief expressed that the very same grievances that had provoked both Trumpists and Brexiters could be exploited, and for what to me would be a preferable end, by a more radical Left. Sanders tried to do that in America. Now Corbyn has done it here. Hence the apparent transfer of about a third of the collapsed UKIP votes to Labour, rather than to the Tories, as those who saw politics in conventional Right/Left terms had predicted. That didn’t surprise me. What we are seeing now, basically, is a ground-shift to a new political discourse, arising out of the latest crisis of neo-liberalism, which the mainstream commentariat has been too imprisoned in its own older discourse to detect.

This has left that commentariat floundering. It has been bleakly amusing to see and read their reactions in yesterday’s media. Some of them deny Corbyn’s success, on the grounds that he didn’t actually win the election, did he? – which for someone who lives in Britain, and is aware of the height of the mountain he had to climb, appears ungenerous to say the least, and foolish at best. The reality is that with one enormous bound we (on the Left) are not yet quite free, admittedly, but are far further along that path than anyone whose mindset is constricted by the public discourse of the Blair-Cameron years could have imagined. Hence all their talk of Corbyn’s having ‘defied conventional wisdom’; by which they mean the wisdom of yesterday.

Then there are those – mainly on Right of the Labour Party – who seem happy enough to concede that they were wrong about his ‘leadership’, but make the excuse that this was because Corbyn then was a different creature from the Corbyn they see now. How could they have been expected to know that the man would turn so suddenly into Superman, when all they had had before them was a dozy Clark Kent? This is Peter Mandelson’s explanation: that Corbyn had somehow undergone a metamorphosis, or ‘character change’, which is what turned him into the utterly different animal that emerged from the election. A modified version of this is that he has ‘grown into the role’. Others’ changes of heart seem to be more qualified: yes, they now admit, he is a successful campaigner, and popular with the young folk (bless them), but that doesn’t mean they were wrong in doubting his capabilities as a real leader: i.e. as a potential prime minister. They’ll never be satisfied, of course, unless or until he becomes PM. And probably not even then.

In fact one reason they were wrong is that they never took him seriously even as Labour leader, and never allowed him to be viewed directly, without the mediation of the hostile (tabloid) and cynical (broadsheet) press, until the actual election campaign, which forced them – the TV networks, at any rate – to present him as he is. Theresa May’s arrogant incompetence helped here, of course, in providing a foil to his directness and honesty, which usefully boosted his ‘image’ at the same time as it was fatally destroying hers.

But the main reason is that, stuck in their ‘Westminster bubble’, and in Blair-time, they simply weren’t aware of the earthquake that had been slowly rumbling right under their feet over the past five years or so, making old political assumptions redundant; until they all fell into the hole suddenly and blindly, to the wicked amusement of those of us who had felt the earth moving – in my case I think deriving from my experience as a broad-based historian – but had been too nervous to quite credit it, against the opinion of all the political experts.

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O Bliss Was it in that Dawn…

It was the best possible result. Labour didn’t win, but the result humiliated the dreadful, authoritarian Theresa May, virtually destroyed UKIP, and embarrassed all those Labourites who had refused to back their leader because he was ‘unelectable’. What they didn’t realise – as I did, or at least hoped – is that the discourse of British politics has moved on during the last twenty years, from all those control-freakish austerity-lite can’t-offend-the-tabloids assumptions of the Blairites, which understandably put millions of people – especially the young – off politics altogether, to a more direct and honest and, yes, socialist approach, represented by Jeremy Corbyn.

That approach also had the advantage of kindling enthusiasm, which Blair-Cameronism was never likely to do. Corbyn’s massive success, when measured against the powerful forces and special interests and vitriol ranged against him, will be the lasting spiritual legacy of the 2017 Election. Whether this translates into a material legacy – a Left-Labour government ultimately – remains to be seen. But it already feels like the beginning of the ‘revolution’ I half-heartedly anticipated at the end of my last post (my damned pessimism, again). Waking up this morning, with the sun shining through my bedroom window, I thought I knew how Wordsworth had felt on hearing of the French Revolution: ‘O bliss was it in that dawn to be alive!’ The tide is turning. Britain is becoming a place to deserve one’s patriotic loyalty again. Kajsa thinks so. I may rescind my application to become a Swede.

OK, Jeremy can’t form a government. (He might have done if his own MPs had been more loyal to him.) But that only means that it’s a Tory government that will be forced to carry out the negotiations with the EU which the ‘Brexit’ vote requires, and which are bound to be excruciatingly difficult. I can’t see any good or credit or popularity coming out of them. May, if she stays on, will be enormously weakened by the catastrophic judgments she has been making over the past few weeks, which could be repeated in the diplomacy to come, and in any case have damaged her credibility and dignity, not only in Britain but also abroad. Quite honestly, she’s a laughing stock. Then there’s the pact she’s having to form with the DUP devil: homophobes, creationists, and just as guilty by association as Corbyn was with murderous terrorists. Better for her, or whomever succeeds her (Boris?), to reap the opprobrium that the Brexit negotiations will surely bring upon her, than Corbyn. That’s why it was the best outcome possible for the latter to lose the election, but against all expectations, and only narrowly.

And who knows what might be the further implications? Ducking out of Brexit and getting back to normality may be one of them, if things go right. And contributing to the more global fightback against Euro-American nationalism and what I call proto-fascism, augured by Jez’s soul-mates in the USA – Sanders supported him strongly – and other forms of liberal resistance in France, the Netherlands and Austria, is another. There may be hope for the world yet. Who would have thought it, of this grey-bearded, gentle, vegetarian, allotment-digging throwback to the 1970s? That’s where true ‘strength and stability’ – May’s robotic mantra – lie.

Besides, I enjoy Schadenfreude. I know I shouldn’t; but May deserved it.

(Here’s Jonathan Pie’s commentary. Says it all.)

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A Nervous Night

If this morning’s projections are right, we are headed for another overall majority of seats for the Tories, on the basis of 40% of the popular vote. That will allow May to do whatever she likes, contrary to the wishes of 60% of the voting public (and many more of the electorate at large). Few other countries would tolerate such a grotesque and undemocratic outcome. (I’ve blogged on this before: https://bernardjporter.com/2016/02/29/first-past-the-post/.) And that’s quite apart from Tory gerrymandering, the spreading of ‘false news’ to an almost Goebbels-ian degree, and the overwhelmingly anti-Left bias of the media, including in this election even the BBC. The result will probably be the end of the few remaining vestiges we in Britain have of the post-war social democratic settlement, and of any hope for an optimistic future. The late capitalist behemoth will have shed its flimsy restraints, and be free to career madly onwards: either towards a great new liberal utopia, or to its own and the planet’s bloody self-destruction – who can tell?

The election campaign has been an exhilarating ride while it lasted. Theresa May, elevating her own ‘leadership qualities’ to the forefront of the debate, was revealed to have feet of clay. Everyone accepts this, even on the Right: that her electioneering was disastrous, though her admirers – of whom I suspect there will be very few left soon, even if she wins – claim that this is no indication of how she’ll perform as prime minister. The Tory campaign was almost entirely negative, relying mainly on endlessly repeated clichés, much mocked (‘strength and stability’), and the character assassination of Jeremy Corbyn on the grounds that he is an old hippie throw-back to the 1970s. Most commentators assumed that this would be enough to ‘do for’ him. I’m quite proud to say that I was not one of them, from quite early on. Firstly, I didn’t think that the 1970s were that bad a place to go back to, if we needed to go back at all: https://bernardjporter.com/2017/05/11/back-to-the-future/. Secondly, however, with my much longer-term historical perspective, I knew that supposed ‘lost causes’ do often spring back into life. The example I gave was the ‘pro-Boers’ of circa 1900: ridiculed in almost exactly the same way as Corbyn was a year or so ago, only to be proved right, and victorious, in a relatively short space of time: https://www.lrb.co.uk/blog/2015/08/07/bernard-porter/whos-a-dinosaur-now/. Most politicians and political journalists who claim to have a knowledge of and feeling for history don’t go back that far.

The Labour campaign, by contrast, was glorious, with an excellent manifesto – again, even the Tories admitted that; a fantastic campaign of mass meetings – 10, 20, or 30,000 at a time, contrasted with May’s couple of dozen ‘trusties’ meeting in secret – I reported here from one of Corbyn’s: https://bernardjporter.com/2016/07/31/jeremy-in-hull/; Corbyn a far better speaker, and proving to have the ‘common touch’ in a way May emphatically doesn’t; and a real movement developing behind him. In over fifty years of fairly active participation in British party politics, I’ve never experienced anything remotely approaching it. It has got the blood coursing again in the veins of a demoralised old man.

If we could give extra marks – or votes – for political enthusiasm, the Corbynites would have run away with this election. But then the enthusiasts only represent certain groups. Young and first-time voters are the most remarked upon, if they can bother to actually vote; if they’d done so last year we’d still be in the EU. A lot of effort is being put this time into ‘getting the youth vote out’. Then there are public employees, especially in the NHS, schools and universities; scientists; the artistic establishment; grey-haired old idealists like me; some (not all) of the absolutely and relatively poor; and – in general – the better educated. Also, I think, women, but only marginally. (It will be interesting to see the post-election social analyses of voting patterns.) Scots will vote, again, for their Nationalists, who seem ‘progressive’ enough at present to work in harness with a Labour minority in England and Wales.

The trouble is that this leaves many millions of others: those who have a material interest in Conservatism – low taxation, for example; who are ideologically attracted to what they call ‘freedom’; who have a ‘conservative’ temperament in the literal sense of the word, being afeared of ‘change’; who are easily scared by bogeymen (bogeypeople?) and, more reasonably, by the dreadful threats they see, or read about, around them; who share prejudices and hatreds of various kinds (though obviously Leftists also have their own); who have all their political impressions filtered through the Daily Mail, the Sun or even the shockingly ‘centrist’ Guardian; and who are prone to sheer stupidity. (Which, again, is not to say that you can’t vote Labour for stupid reasons too.) Most of these are not enthusiastic, but are easily swayed by the minority on the Right which is. These were what made up Theresa May’s constituency, and will probably determine the result of the election in her favour. The grey, stodgy porage will come to the top.

But this is being written in the afternoon of polling day. This evening Kajsa and I will be watching the returns all night, with two bottles at our side: one of whisky to drown our sorrows, another of a good red wine to celebrate, if I and all the experts turn out to be wrong. If they do, it could be the prelude to the most astounding and significant revolution, or counter-revolution, in modern British history; and elevate silly old Jeremy Corbyn, together with Bernie Sanders, his soul-brother across the water, to be two of the great heroes of our time. Wonderful. I’ve been waiting a long time – since the death of Bobby Moore, in fact – to have a hero to worship again.

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