Berlioz and Boris

Just to say that I’ll be on my hols for the next three weeks – SE France, to visit La Cote Saint-André (birthplace of my favourite composer), and one or two other places. Grenoble has a Musée de la Revolution, which Kajsa is keen to see. And I’m sure they must have some old poets, novelists, artists and philosophers buried around there. Everywhere else in France has. (Any advice?) We may also imbibe some vin. Gosh I love France, with all its faults. I’m sure that many English people, like me, wish they were French. But we don’t dare admit it.

I probably won’t be blogging much, therefore, over the next few weeks. In my mind I’m working on a piece on Boris and History for when I return. I’ve bought his Churchill, and written to the Head of History at Eton. With all the damaging revelations about Johnson coming out just now – most of them well-known already – he wouldn’t stand a chance in any other historical era; but the old Tory blimps and blimpesses who will be choosing our next prime minister don’t seem to care. ‘What a card!’, ‘boys will be boys’, and so on. Imagine Trump at Eton, if you can. Apparently they’re mutual admirers. Not for the first time in recent years the word ‘farce’ seems to fit our British politics exactly.

In the meantime, and to take our minds off it, here’s Berlioz at his most soothing, sung by the inestimable Anne-Sophie, now a compatriot of mine:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wmUtwR7W9DM. I’ll be humming it all the way down.

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Cricket and Europe

On the plus side of my ‘good and bad effects of the British Empire list’, I always used put the spread of cricket. (Sometimes it was there alone.) It must have been the Empire that spread cricket, unlike football, because there are virtually no non-British ex-colonies that took it up.

That I always think is a shame. Cricket isn’t just a game. It’s an art-form and a civilising influence. It could almost be said to justify the British Empire, on its own. ‘Forget Amritsar; we gave you the LBW rule.’ If continental Europe could learn to play it, the Empire’s divine purpose in history would have been accomplished.

Which is why I always get a thrill when I espy cricket being played in Sweden; and then am disappointed when I get closer to it, and see who  is playing. It is always south Asians, usually the Bangladeshis who run the ‘Indian’ restaurants there; all in perfect whites, and with all the necessary equipment. They even had sight-screens for one game I happened on near Gripsholm. Today I discovered that, as well as the main Cricket World Cup going on now in England, there’s a sort of mini-World Cup of all the national ‘B’ teams, with Sweden, Norway and Denmark taking part. But then I looked at the scorecards. All the players had Indian or Pakistani names, with just one exception: one ND Laegsgaard of Denmark. That looks pretty Norse. Obviously I’m not prejudiced against Indians or Pakistanis – I hope that doesn’t need saying – but still this suggests that cricket is an ex-imperial game still. It’s not yet properly penetrated Europe.

I have a theory about this. In England cricketers used to be divided between ‘gentlemen’ (amateurs, usually upper-class), and ‘players’ (professionals, who couldn’t afford to take the time off that it takes to play a cricket match without pay). They had separate changing-rooms, different ways of printing their names on the scorecards (‘Mr’ for the Gents, plain ‘Smith JJ’ for the Players), and there was an annual match between them – ‘Gentlemen versus Players’ – at Lords. It was there that one noticed that most of the best batsmen in the country were ‘gentlemen’, with the bowlers coming from the ranks of the ‘players’. For a ‘gentleman’ to get a decent game of cricket, therefore, he had to engage working-class men to bowl to him.

Then they went out to rule the Empire, most of them upper class; and so – without a regular supply of white proles – needed natives  to bowl at them. That’s how the Indians and all the others learned the game. Later on the natives found that they couldn’t play amongst themselves without having batsmen, and so taught themselves to bat. That was the origin of the great West Indian teams of the 1950s and ’60s, and the Indian team of today; surpassing the English inventors of the game in every department.

The lesson to be taken from this is that for a nation to be able to avail itself of this inestimable benefit, a century or two of British imperial control are necessary. I don’t suppose the Scandinavian countries would be much in favour of this. (Especially now.) But it’s a great shame. If Sweden could put out a team full of Sjöqvists and Anderssons, alongside the Mohammeds and Guptas, I’d feel that Britain’s ‘civilising mission’ in the world had finally come to pass.

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Brexit and the Empire

I’ve mentioned before that I was asked to revise my The Lion’s Share for a 6th edition, but that I couldn’t face the prospect of going back to my old sick: https://bernardjporter.com/2018/03/19/lions-share-mk-vi/. So Routledge found me a young American scholar to do the job for me, with my just adding a final ‘Epilogue’. Unfortunately he has had to pull out. So I asked Routledge if they could reissue the book unrevised (I don’t think it needs it), but with my still providing that new Epilogue. They’ve said yes, but want a short proposal for their committee. So here’s what I’ve sent them.

‘BREXIT AND THE EMPIRE’

Since the fifth edition of this book was published, Britain has passed through – is still passing through, as I write – one of her major national crises; one that will determine her very identity for decades to come. Strictly speaking, and at first glance, Brexit had little to do with the Empire. It all happened a few years after British imperialism as it is usually understood had come to an end. It involved Europe alone, not the colonies or ex-colonies. But it cannot be left out of any up-to-date history of British imperialism – imperialism, note; The Lion’s Share was never a history of just the British Empire – for a number of reasons.

The first is that it can be regarded as a fitting end-point of Britain’s imperial career, when the historian can say with some finality that the imperial story was over, and so the book on it (my book!) can be closed. After dealing with the loss of her formal empire in a constructive and dignified way, by engaging co-operatively with one of the major potential successor superpowers to hers, she decided to cut her political and economic ties with Europe and return again to a position of isolation. Except ‘return’ is perhaps a misleading term, as she never had been isolated from the European continent in the whole of her history – I’m hoping to publish a book of essays shortly arguing this – and in any case not as isolated as she ran the risk of becoming after Brexit. Brexit therefore could be said to mark the end of Britain’s long history as an international and internationalist nation, which her ‘imperial phase’ was an aspect of.

Not only that, but it threatened to turn the imperial tables on her entirely, by pushing her into the situation of a colony of another empire, America’s, by making her dependent on the USA economically – with the demands the latter would make on her in exchange for a trade deal – and also diplomatically; a trend, of course, that had started when Blair followed America into her war with Iraq. This was in spite of the ‘Brexiteers’’ claim that Brexit would wrest back Britain’s ‘control’ in the world, and even their portrayal of the EU as an ‘Empire’ that she was ‘liberating’ herself from; which rested on an entirely erroneous and simplistic understanding of ‘imperialism’; as the main text of this book has shown. (I imagine they weren’t given it to read at Eton.)

Which brings me to my second reason for wishing to round the book off with a consideration of the Brexit process. One of the explanations widely given for Britain’s long suspicion and ultimate rejection of her formal European connexion, especially by foreign critics (I can supply quotes), is that her people still hankered after the glory that the Empire had been supposed to give their forebears; and in some cases even had dreams of reviving it. The rhetoric of Boris Johnson and Jacob Rees-Mogg may give some credence to this, in view of their prominence in the ‘Leave’ campaign; giving rise again to suspicions about the History they were taught at their common alma mater. (I may contact Eton’s History masters to ask!) This nostalgic, ‘imperial’ way of thinking probably goes wider than them, but not much wider than the (nouveaux) upper and public school-educated classes they represent. I think I can show that for ‘ordinary’ Brexit voters the Empire played a very much lesser part, as it always had. (See my The Absent-Minded Imperialists.) The Empire’s relevance here is not that its decline genuinely lay behind Eurosceptic feeling generally, but that it may have done so among certain members of the political elite, and that it was used as an explanation and hence as a way of demeaning Britain by European critics.

In much the same way, the old Empire is very often quarried for explanations as to why present-day Britons are so ‘racist’ and ‘xenophobic’; despite the unlikelihood of their being significantly more so than other nationalities, and without bringing on to the other side of the account some of the more positive legacies that the imperial age may have left to Britain: like, I would say, the internationalism that was always an essential element of it. That’s quite apart from its (highly contested) effects on the wider world.

Obviously, the chapter will also need to offer a narrative of the Brexit process, continuing in the style of the previous chapters. Equally obviously, that won’t be possible until we know how Brexit turns out. (If it ever does.)

Lastly, the chapter will offer some final thoughts on ‘imperialism’ generally.

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Eton’s Peter Pan

I take Tony’s point, in his comment on my last post, that Eton has ‘produced’ (if that’s the word) some good Lefties as well as Borises. But that’s because they’ve rebelled against their background, as many kids do.

My take on Boris is that he’s never rebelled against Eton, or even really left the school. (Sorry, ‘College’.) In many ways he hasn’t grown up. Talk like his (‘piccaninnies’, ‘pillar-boxes’, ‘fuck business’) are part of the natural language of boys at these kinds of school. I know this from my experience at a school that tried to emulate the publics, and then at a very public-school dominated Cambridge college. It’s what passes there as ‘wit’. Some men never grow out of this; probably the ones whose ‘schooldays were the best days of their lives’. You still find it on Oxbridge High Tables, for example, among quite elderly – and, in their fields, of course, presumably brilliant – men. Others, including many of those who become Conservative MPs, still think in this kind of way privately, and in their gentlemen’s clubs, but manage to put on a more democratic and respectful veneer in public.

Boris has never been able to do this. He’s still  an Eton schoolboy – the Peter Pan of the Remove. I always imagine him in short trousers. That’s his problem; or, rather, our problem with him, when he becomes our PM.

Is it the same with independent school girls?

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Eton Mess

It’s largely Old Etonians who have got us into this ghastly situation. (I wonder what sort of History they teach them there?) So perhaps another Old Etonian should be made to get us out of it. But not Boris.

Rory Stewart, another Old Etonian, could be the man. He’s the most reasonable-sounding (relatively!) of the current bunch of Tory leadership hopefuls. Perhaps he escaped Boris’s History teacher? But of course the Conservative Party membership who are tasked with electing our new Prime Minister (what a farce!) won’t like that. So – unless Boris makes an utter fool of himself at tonight’s TV hustings, which is possible; and  enough of a fool to look foolish to the old buffers of  the Tory Party, which is less likely – it looks as though he’s is going to get it. And the rest of the world will fall about, laughing and crying. Sic transit gloria…

Eton Mess, by the way – the pud – is quite tasty. Just messy. A bit like Boris?

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Escaping the Guillotine

Many years ago I developed a theory that the reason why we in Britain didn’t guillotine our aristocrats in revolutionary times was that they played this clever game of making themselves out to be cuddly and eccentric old half-wits who were not dangerous enough to be worth executing. (I’m sure I put this in an early book, though I can’t now remember which.) But of course this was only a disguise – as we’re learning today with our present batch of recently-surfaced Old Etonians. OK, so these are not echt  aristocrats; but they’ve taken on all the characteristics of the old PG Wodehouse class, in order to lead the rest of us into a sense of false security. Who would believe that such a teddy-bear as Boris, or the Beano’s Lord Snooty-Rees-Mogg, could ever be dangerous? That’s what we were supposed to think. Cunning, these aristos.

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Jewish Voice for Labour

For those aware of the plots against Harold Wilson and his governments in the 1960s – brilliantly chronicled in Ramsay and Dorrill’s Smear! (1992) and much more briefly in my Plots and Paranoia (1989) – it will come as no surprise that foreign governments are at least contemplating interfering in the British political process today in order to prevent Corbyn’s coming to power after the next election. In the ’60s the villain was mainly apartheid South Africa. Now it’s Israel – whose machinations are proven – indeed videotaped – here: https://www.theguardian.com/world/2017/jan/08/israeli-diplomat-shai-masot-plotted-against-mps-set-up-political-groups-labour; and, secondly, Trump’s America, apparently in defence of Israel: https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/national-security/pompeo-pledges-not-to-wait-for-britains-elections-to-push-back-against-corbyn-and-anti-semitism/2019/06/07/dfeaa180-9c27-4495-9322-3d16b7d1541a_story.html?noredirect=on&utm_term=.207bd5f138d9.  For its part the USA of course has a long history of interfering in and subverting other countries’ elections, mainly in its own (supposed) interests. (As also, to be fair, has Britain.) Which is another reason why we should not be too surprised.

It’s this, I believe, that largely accounts for the ‘anti-Semitic’ smears against Corbyn and the Labour Party that have been surfacing – and then re-surfacing – in recent months, and about which I’ve blogged before: e.g.  https://bernardjporter.com/2018/08/01/6808/. None of this is rooted in any genuine evidence of significant anti-Semitism, but rather in Corbyn’s support for the Palestinian cause; which of course isn’t incompatible with support for Israel, but is  implicitly critical of the current Israeli government’s – and especially Netanyahu’s – typically imperialistic policies of apartheid, violence and colonial settlement. On the Israeli Right this makes no difference. Anti-Semitism and criticism of Israel are, or indicate, the same thing.

And mud sticks. You can see this in the speeches of many of the current claimants to the leadership of the Conservative party, most of whom can’t resist a dig at Corbyn and Labour on these grounds. In any future election they’re clearly going to play this card for all it’s worth. Some of this mud is even being slung by the ‘Jewish Labour Movement’, which goes back to 1903; possibly – in their case – as a ruse to get rid of the too radical Corbyn, or else out of a genuine concern for Jewish lives in Britain that the Israeli ‘lobby’ has stirred up. Not, note, the ‘Jewish’  lobby, which is a misnomer: partly because the JLM certainly doesn’t represent all Jews.

Indeed, it’s in order to counter claims that it does, that a rival organisation has recently been set up within the Labour Party called ‘Jewish Voice for Labour’. (See https://www.jewishvoiceforlabour.org.uk.) I’ve just joined it as an ‘Associate’ member. (To be a full member you need to be a Jew.)

In connection with which, it has been heartening recently to read the contributions from many British Jews in response to the ‘anti-Semitic’ slur. Here are two; the first by the leading academic authority on the history of the Jews in Britain; the second (if you can get it up) from one of Corbyn’s Jewish constituents.

  1. https://blogs.spectator.co.uk/2019/05/is-jeremy-corbyn-really-anti-semitic/
  2.  https://secure-web.cisco.com/1PVO4aGYSrBkY0cymdIyNiK7BZUtaeoN9qz3khEuzjG2gbncIt2Rclmg3NhKC7fdwaKhdKxa1A5oeJ4M4Ahz1U7zCT4TeJII7OkbMNCQxO9gs9Jg0PDefymgjrhXtrEGrj8WXkv9M5kdarAp8FH3BpMqzzo_x1bL-2Q96dAzWXwDOx4Ud2Qzg9DozJs0BpGQ5lHiy430QOswlNQYM-YOEChR02T7fzxNpEWUfmi6LrATGmjN5YSd2ZNsMLFlBL4j3/https%3A%2F%2Fskwawkbox.org%2F2019%2F06%2F11%2Fvideo-councillor-and-grandma-on-being-jewish-in-labour-last-couple-of-years-have-been-best-for-many-many-years%2F.

But who will credit them, if their prejudices and political interests are better served by smears?

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Compromise

The case for ‘Remain’ is, in my opinion, unanswerable. The Left-wing argument against it, that it will free us from European neo-Liberalism and enable us to establish ‘Socialism in One Country’, disregards a more isolated Britain’s vulnerability to the demands of neo-Liberal imperialism emanating from the USA: chlorinated chicken, the NHS up for grabs, and all that. The 2016 referendum that was deemed to have established Brexit as the ‘will of the people’ is well-known to have been corruptly manipulated, and unlikely to reflect the ‘will of the people’ now. Even if the Brexit case could be stood up on its merits, which it can’t be, still the behaviour, characters and hidden agendas of those who have been leading the campaign for it, including most of the present candidates for the Conservative Party leadership, together with the occasional thuggery and incipient fascism of some of their stupid – or grossly misled – supporters, should have shaken any half-rational electorate out of it by now. And if those same electors had any regard for Britain’s prestige abroad, which as self-styled ‘patriots’ they profess to do, statements like that recently presented to the Foreign Office by one of its retiring ambassadors – https://www.theguardian.com/politics/2019/jun/12/brexit-shambles-has-ruined-uk-reputation-says-senior-diplomat, confirming, as it happens, my own experiences abroad, often retailed here – should have raised major concerns.

There can be little doubt that Brexit will be a deeply wounding and humiliating disaster for Britain. Let’s not mince words: it is barking mad. And yet two of the candidates for the Tory leadership threatened this week to prorogue Parliament, no less, in order to force a ‘No Deal’ exit – the most extreme form of Brexit – through by ministerial dictat. Surely a British Parliamentary democracy won’t stand for that? It gets madder every day.

God, I wish we could get out of it, and return to the not  terribly onerous relationship – has anybody been able to give examples of how exactly the EU has handicapped us? – that we had with our European friends before. Maybe we still can. Another mass demonstration is being planned in London for October 12 to urge the government to row back. I’ll try to be there. I feel that strongly about being European.

But…. oh dear. There remains that dreadful Referendum; and the massive distrust of authority in the country which it both reflected, and will be only confirmed and boosted, maybe dangerously, if the Government is seen to ‘go back on its word’ and flout ‘the people’s will’. For a democrat that must count for something, if not as much as is claimed for it. Even putting aside the chicanery and corruption, the Referendum result certainly didn’t give the government a mandate for a ‘no deal’ Brexit, but rather the reverse: voters were repeatedly assured that it would be the easiest thing in the world to get a deal with the remaining EU which would be as favourable as the arrangement we have now within the EU; to ‘have our cake and eat it’, as Boris Johnson put it during the campaign. But by the same token it didn’t – unfortunately – give any mandate for our remaining, as nor do any of the public opinion polls that have been taken more recently. (The original referendum result was close, with just 2-3% in it; polls suggest that any re-run would likely reverse that, but by no larger margin.) So Britain is still deeply divided on the issue. All of which should – I would claim – be an argument for compromise.

A reasonable compromise would be the one that Corbyn tried to urge on Theresa May, but which she flatly rejected: Britain’s leaving the political union but remaining in the European Common Trading Area, and so still subject to EU commercial rules, including free movement; otherwise known as the ‘Norway Option’, or something like it. If the extreme Leavers can’t swallow this, they should be reminded of the narrowness of their victory in 2016, and the basis on which it was secured. Leave voters would probably accept it, as having essentially respected their ‘will’. Remainers like me would be deeply disappointed, but then, as democrats, we should be willing to go along with it; both on democratic principle, and in order to forestall years more bickering and bad feeling over this issue, and even the possibility of civil war (of sorts).

That’s why, although I support the Remain option, I don’t blame Corbyn for not doing so more unambiguously.

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Stupidity

I’m  at Arlanda, downing a storstark  before my flight back to a UK I scarcely now recognise, thrown into utter confusion by the stupidity – yes, stupidity – that is Brexit. I was planning to write a piece on that stupidity, until I spotted this New Statesman essay by a leading economist that says just about everything I wanted to, and much better than I could. Why waste effort on something when someone else has done it for you? Read it; it’s very good.

https://www.newstatesman.com/politics/economy/2019/01/why-uk-cannot-see-brexit-utterly-utterly-stupid?fbclid=IwAR03u7yoF4sinCLBxsOciLXnl47IraP8AnVqotPeP9ir7oAd98GRMnNZs4g

He’s right about foreigners, by the way. The Swedes I now live amongst are too polite to call us Brits stupid – politesse  is part of the Swedish character – but you know that’s what they feel underneath. And sorrow, for a country and a people they’ve generally rather liked.

I’ve always felt a little bit embarrassed to be British here, mainly because of the Empire (which I feel they don’t really understand); but now I feel nationally mortified, even, by being associated with the likes of Bojo, Govey, Moggy and Farage. My Swedish friends are very kind. ‘It’s OK, Bernard. We know it’s not your fault. Here, have an aquavit.’ Still, are the Brexiteers fully aware of the damage they’ve done to Britain’s reputation in Europe? Little Englanders that they are, do they even care?

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Poor Govey

A number of our Tory politicians began as journalists, and then moved on to politics. Not all journalists are rogues, but the ones who write for the Right-wing press very often are. Boris Johnson is a key example, filing anti-EU stories from Brussels that he knew were lies. The EU’s insisting on ‘straight bananas’ was one of his. He was once sacked by his editor for one of his lies, though not this one. Michael Gove is another, and arguably even more immoral than Bojo; writing pieces attacking middle-class drug-taking at the same time as it has now been revealed he was regularly sniffing cocaine; and that in his 30s, mark you, so hardly a ‘youthful’ indiscretion. His hypocrisy has even been called out by the Daily Mail, despite his wife’s working for the wretched rag.

Is it something about journalism, at this lower end of the scale? Journalists write for effect, which it’s possible to do while being honest and accurate too, but easier if you have little regard for the truth. Both these clowns, one of whom seems likely – though not certain – to win the Tory leadership over the next few weeks, seem to speak and legislate also for effect, without any deep research, thinking or regard for honesty. They’re our equivalent of the Fox News/Trump phenomenon in the USA, and probably equally dangerous. (They’re very friendly with Trump.) Just contrast them with the transparent honesty, even naivety,  of Jeremy Corbyn; yet it’s Corbyn and his team who are vilified in the Tory Press. Look at the treatment Diane Abbott got when she was found drinking a small can of rum and soda (or something) on a train a few weeks ago; and contrast it with the sympathy accorded (in the main) to Govey for his far more serious – imprisonable, as it happens – crime. Of course, Abbott is (a) a woman and (b) black. And as a socialist she threatens all the press lords’ ill-gotten gains.

I first took against Gove when he gave evidence to the Leveson Committee on the Press, when he gave a historical account of the development of the Press in Britain which no-one there tried to counter, because they didn’t know as much about it as I do. I won’t go into details; but he mainly argued that the British press was always as bad as it is now; based on the false premise that if you can find something happening many centuries ago, it must always – that is, in all the years in between – have been thus. (If I remember rightly he went back to Roman times.) That was nonsense with regard to the nineteenth century British newspaper press before it was taken over by speculative capitalists around 1900. But Gove was so smooth and arrogant with it! It’s curious that he should be so widely regarded as an ‘intellectual’, for he has none of the sense of truth or rationality – the intelligence therefore – that true intellectuals should have. Maybe the cocaine affected his brain.

I might be able to forgive his drug crimes in the 1990s; as I can all the other Tory leadership hopefuls – eight of them so far – who have been suddenly admitting to much lesser drug offences – marijuana, etc. – and at much earlier periods of their lives, over the past few days. But the dishonesty: no.

Still, I probably shouldn’t worry. Cuddly lazy-but-funny upper-class eccentric Bojo will probably beat him to the leadership of the Conservative Party. The Tory ex-colonels, small businessmen and blue-rinse ladies who run the party in the country love a ‘card’, especially if he’s a reactionary. (And he’s just promised to reduce the higher rate of tax for them!) So he’s the one we should be worrying – nay, panicking – about.

Moral: don’t trust journalists in politics.

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