Bye-Bye Book

So that’s done. ‘The book’ completed, given very flattering reviews by the publisher’s (anonymous) readers, all their suggestions incorporated into the text, and ready to be despatched to Bloomsbury on Monday.  Which is a month before their deadline. Next step: the copy-edit, then proofs, then bang! Into the bookshops. With one or two free copies being sent to my favourite Tory MPs, like Jacob Rees-Mogg – to put them right about British history.

This will be my farewell to the writing world: my Vier letste Lieder (sp.?), if you will. The last few weeks I’ve been worrying that it might be my Bruckner’s Ninth: i.e. unfinished. Or my Mozart Requiem: completed by an inferior hand. (Obviously I’m not comparing myself…)

Not that I’m thinking of departing this world yet. Last night, however, I got chest pains that made me think I might be a goner soon. But it no longer matters, I thought, having finished the book, so I can die happy. (Until the reviews come out.)

Of course it wasn’t a heart attack. The main thing I suffer from, I’ve decided, is ‘hypochondriacal hypochondria’ (to coin a phrase): i.e. always assuming that anything that afflicts me is simply my mind making it up. The cure will be if it turns out to be something real, like a heart attack. That will be a kind of relief. ‘So I’m not wasting everybody’s time…’

I’m leaving the copy-editor to decide on some of my juiciest expressions. E.g. can I refer to Boris Johnson’s ‘wet dreams’ (of ‘global’ and even ‘galactic Britain’). Is it OK to describe the original African slave-traders – the ones who caught and delivered the slaves to the Europeans on the west coast – as ‘Moslems’? Can I mention the part played in the monstering of Corbyn by the (Jewish) Board of Deputies without being accused of anti-semitism? That would probably get me expelled from the Labour Party, if I hadn’t already left it. I’ll see what he or she thinks. (Probably a ‘she’ in my experience; a highly-educated young woman confined to the house and trying to cope with toddlers at the same time as my typescript.)

I’d be lost without some writing to do. Which is why I hope to get back to serious blogging soon. Although finding anything ‘serious’ to blog about is getting more difficult in this ‘Peppa Pig’ age.

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Britain’s ‘Free’ Press

Speaking of ‘corruption’, can anyone think of a more suitable word to describe the present state of Britain’s national press? ‘Free’ it is supposed to be; but it appears only 33rd in global ‘free press’ rankings, behind the Czech Republic and most of the West Indian islands, and way beneath the Nordics and the Netherlands, which head the list (see https://rsf.org/en/ranking/2021#).

It is difficult indeed to understand British newspaper proprietors’ claim that their press is ‘free’, except in commercial terms: that is, that anyone rich enough is free to buy it. That’s why they object so much to the ‘regulation’ they feared might be imposed on them at the time of the Leveson Enquiry, and why they managed to derail the second part of that Enquiry, which was to be on Press ownership. Phone-tapping and all the other dirty tricks their ‘freedom’ had allowed them to get up to pre-Leveson were easily surrendered, with crocodile-teared mea culpas from the likes of Rupert Murdoch – ‘the most humble day of my life’ (I imagine he meant ‘humbling’) – and the closure of his News of the World – perhaps the dirtiest paper of the lot, but not particularly political, and so less dangerous – in the wake of Leveson Part I.

Without Leveson II the tabloid press, plus the Daily Telegraph, remain ‘free’ to continue on their path of spewing out the vilest of right-wing and ‘populist’ lies and propaganda, in the interests of their billionaire and tax-avoiding owners, to the enormous benefit of our present undeniably corrupt government, and to the detriment, of course, of the Labour Party, and especially of Jeremy Corbyn: who has turned out to have been right about everything, but was never allowed a fair hearing. Remember all those libels against him: communist, anti-semite, Soviet spy, terrorist sympathiser; and the ‘Traitors!’ and ‘Enemies of the People!’ headlines (the latter directed at judges who were trying to uphold British constitutional law) in the Daily Mail? For people who don’t believe that ‘Fascism’ could ever take over in liberal Britain, I refer them to this clear proto-Fascist tendency on the part of the present Mail. (And of course to the same paper’s stand in the 1930s: ‘Hurrah for the Blackshirts!’ ‘Leopards’ and ‘spots’ come to mind.) If Johnson’s government, already showing authoritarian tendencies, ever does morph into a kind of middle-class Fascism, then we can expect the Daily Mail to be its cheerleader.

Which is why it was so extraordinary that the present government was so keen to have the Mail’s recently-retired chief editor, Paul Dacre, become head of Ofcom – the government agency tasked with regulating the media – in spite of the way he had run his newspapers before. Now we learn that Dacre has withdrawn from the competition, citing ‘political correctness’ and ‘wokery’ as responsible for this – which is a good indication of the way he might have run the office if his candidature had been successful. Thank God (or whomever) for that.

But on its own Dacre’s withdrawal doesn’t limit the harm that Britain’s ‘free’ press is still doing, and is likely to continue to do, to her political life; and in particular to her democracy, which in order to work properly really should be able to rely on genuine news, not blatant propaganda, and on a semblance of balance; rather than the sheer ‘corruption’ – yes, there is no other word for it – which afflicts it presently. Boris: Britain is a corrupt nation. And you – as a former Telegraph journalist – must bear some responsibility for this.

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Corruption on High Table

At Prime Minister’s Question Time yesterday Boris Johnson repeated his claim that Britain was not a ‘corrupt’ country, but on the contrary one of the least corrupt in the world. As I posted last Friday, that got me thinking about the level of corruption that actually exists in the country, and maybe always has.

Of course it depends on how you define ‘corruption’; but maybe restricting places at top universities only to those whose parents were rich enough to send them to Public schools might qualify? That was certainly the case at my Cambridge college. I got in from what was called in those days a ‘Direct Grant’ Grammar school, mainly fee-paying but with some places (like mine) paid for by the local Education Authority. That was considered a step towards ‘democracy’; although it was the ‘independent’ status of the school that got me into Cambridge, where I found that nearly all my undergraduate contemporaries were from much posher schools. After six years there, and an MA and a PhD, I was elected to a ‘Fellowship’, and so to the ‘Governing Body’ of the college.

It was then that I learned about what now I would term the ‘corruption’ of the place. We had a debate on ‘Admissions’, and about which schools to encourage to send their boys (yes, only boys then) to the college, by inviting their Heads to a dinner. I suggested we include Comprehensive and ordinary Grammar schools, and was invited to send in a list of likely ones. I did some research to discover which of those more plebeian schools had irrefutable academic reputations, and presented the Senior Tutor with the list. (I didn’t want my fellow Fellows to think I was offering them the great unwashed. They already had me pigeon-holed as their ‘token Lefty’.) Come the dinner: and none of the schools I had suggested was represented. I asked why, assuming that these schools had turned their invitations down. But no. ‘We looked at your list, Bernard, and decided that we didn’t want boys from those types of schools coming here.’ ‘Fuck me!’ I thought, though probably not in those exact words – we were rather politer then; ‘what on earth am I doing here?’ And so I resigned from the fellowship – albeit not before I’d landed a job elsewhere, which made it look perhaps rather less ‘principled’; and went on to Hull University, where I immediately felt more at home. My Cambridge friends were aghast: Cambridge to Hull? – But I never regretted that career move. (I’ve regretted others.)

That sort of thing – buying university places, essentially, or buying the kind of education that can get you into the ‘top’ universities – is not generally classified as ‘corruption’. But shouldn’t it be? If we broaden the definition to include this, we might conclude that Britain is in fact, and always has been, one of the most corrupt countries in the world.

I’m sure Cambridge and Oxford have changed since my time, and have begun to admit a larger proportion – if not a majority – of State school pupils. (Even my old college now has ‘girls’.) That may be because they just can’t get the intellectual quality of students from the male Public schools alone. Just look at Cameron, Johnson and Rees-Mogg.

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A Preface

Busy re-writing just now, so little time for blogging. I’ll get back to that soon. In the meantime I thought I’d post this: my (draft only) Preface to the book. Just a taster.

PREFACE

First, and to clear up any misunderstandings that the subtitle of this book may have given rise to, I should make it clear that it will not be a ‘patriotic’ history in the conventional sense: glorifying Britain, that is, and papering over her deficiencies. ‘Patriotism’ of that kind does no-one any good, and can do great harm in the wrong hands. It also, quite obviously, falsifies any country’s history if it only paints the ‘best’ side of it, when everyone knows that all histories are a mix of ‘good’ and ‘bad’, and of disputed choices of what should be placed in either of these categories; or indeed in the ‘neutral’ – neither good nor bad – one.

Furthermore, in my view no ‘patriotic’ history can be truly patriotic if it doesn’t address aspects of a nation’s present situation, arising from its past, which might need to be improved or corrected in order to make it better; which ought surely to be the objective of any true patriot. In Sweden, where I mainly live now, school children are taught about their nation’s ‘identity’ in relation to its aspirations for the future, rather than based on its past history. (That’s probably just as well, in view of Sweden’s chequered history before modern times.) It may be thought surprising that the British appear not to have thought of that, but still seem wedded to their ‘Island Story’ as one of the bases for their attraction and loyalty towards the bit of the Earth they happen to inhabit. That’s convenient for me, of course, as a professional historian, who wants to sell his books; but not if the versions of British history they read (or, more likely, view on TV) are less reliable than mine and my fellow professionals’.

 So this won’t be a celebratory history of Britain, with lots of flag-waving – an activity that used to be considered un-British, incidentally: too ‘showy’ – and with all the warts glossed over. Nor however will it be a hyper-critical version of the kind that might suit Britain’s denigrators more. That is not because I can’t find anything to criticise in Britain’s past history – far from it; but partly because I don’t want to condemn everything in it, or the nation as a whole, on the basis of these criticisms; and – more importantly – because all criticisms, especially from a later perspective, are likely to be subjective, and I should like to make this account as objective as I can. (That is despite my referencing personal experiences occasionally.) Yes, I am aware of the problems of this, both personal and philosophical – I’m fairly well versed in ‘postmodernism’ – and realise that my ‘objectivity’ may differ from others’; but I still believe that historians can get close to some truths, and in any event – and perhaps more importantly – can reveal obvious untruths, so long as they make allowances for their own biases, and don’t make moral judgments on the basis of them. Indeed, rather than judging, my aim in this book will be to try to explain. One of its purposes will be to uncover some of the common misunderstandings that many people appear to have about Britain’s history, and especially those that come in the form of generalisations about that history which take no account of its – to my mind fascinating – complexity.

*

From a more traditional patriot’s point of view there must seem much to admire in Britain’s past. For just a little country she has made quite a mark on the world. Conquering continents – all of them, except South America and Antarctica (poor old Captain Scott!); ruling perhaps a quarter of the world’s people at one time; the winner of three world wars (the Napoleonic being the first); inventing manufacturing industry, liberalism and freedom; splitting the atom and discovering DNA; giving the world its lingua franca, together with football and – for those sophisticated enough to appreciate it – cricket; spreading a great literature around the world, as well as, more latterly, popular music and period costume TV dramas: – all these are achievements for Britons to be proud of, surely? And all this from an island base of only 250,000 square kilometres, significantly smaller than modern Germany, France or even Sweden, stuck out on the edge of another continent, and with a pretty rotten climate on the whole. In view of all this, what country could be more deserving of national admiration and loyalty than Little Britain?

But of course there is another side. Yes, Britain can boast a proud history in many ways, although not necessarily all the ones listed above, which may be modified in the following narrative; but also a less-than-proud one in some others. In this respect she resembles every other country in the world, none of which could be said to have an entirely clean bill of historical health. In any case, the notion of ‘pride’ in this connection is problematic: with features that you might admire in a country being deplored by others – conquering continents, for example; and, perhaps more fundamentally, the idea of your being personally ‘proud’ of events and achievements that happened before your time being, quite simply, nonsensical. Besides, no-one surely is entitled to take ‘pride’ in the sheer accident of his or her birth. Only people who have chosen to live in Britain are strictly speaking entitled to that. That means immigrants. Many of Britain’s present-day ‘patriots’, the more ‘racist’ ones, might feel uncomfortable with that.

This book’s aim, therefore, is to give a very brief account of the history of Britain from around 1800-on, in order to help ‘patriots’ and others, including critics of Britain, to come to proper terms with it. It will be organised thematically as well as chronologically, and treated both narratively and analytically; with not much detail – that can be gathered from countless other books, or even from Wikipedia – but lots of ideas. It should probably be regarded as an extended essay, or a series of them, rather than – for example – a ‘textbook’. It certainly won’t be comprehensive. I have tried to make it readable, for amateurs as well as experts in the field. It will avoid major generalisations (not minor ones), until near the end, when one will be offered, but only tentatively – and, it has to be said, fairly unoriginally. That is because of the aforementioned complexity of Britain’s history over the past two hundred-odd years. The first chapter will outline some of the differences between Britons which contribute to this, and the country’s various reputations both then and now. There is not and never has been a single ‘Britain’, towards which everyone can be either loyal, or critical. That is important to know.

Nor is there – to continue the theme of ‘complexity’ – a single type of ‘liberalism’, or ‘imperialism’, or ‘progress’, or ‘conservatism’, or ‘socialism’, or ‘radicalism’, or of any religious denomination, or – arising from this – ‘of Britishness’; and so, it hardly needs to be said, of ‘patriotism’, which is so often seen in simplistic terms. ‘If people are not proud to be British, or of our flag or Queen’, as the Conservative MP Lia Nici tweeted in March 2021, ‘they don’t have to live in the UK. Perhaps they should move to another country they prefer.’ (I’ve actually done that, but for other more personal reasons too.) As it happens it was that statement of Lia Nici’s that provoked me into writing this book; following on as it did from some equally simplistic and shallow utterances – and even actions: toppling statues, for example – coming from ‘anti-racists’ and ‘anti-imperialists’ of the Left. My quarrel with them was not directed at their anti-racism, which I share, but at their simplistic views of it, taken generally out of context; and of ‘imperialism’ – one of my specialisms – more generally. (I also didn’t see why statues even of slave-traders, if suitably labelled, shouldn’t be kept standing in order to make passers-by aware of this sorry episode in Britain’s history.) Besides, judging people in the past is unprofitable, partly because it usually takes no account of the said context, which if you knew about it you might find at least partially excused them; and – more importantly – because it fuels the illusion, if the judgment is unfavourable, that they were to blame for what happened in history. I’ll be coming back to this question of agency in the final chapters. Before then, however, I shall try to be non-judgmental; although to be honest that will be difficult in certain cases, especially as we approach the present day. History is ongoing, after all, and I’m a product of it as well as one of its chroniclers.

So this will be a ‘warts and all’ account; but with the warts never obscuring the patches of fairly healthy skin. Indeed, patriots may well find some objects of ‘pride’ in it still – if that’s what they want – although not always the ones they might expect; and tempered, for accuracy’s sake, with some of the darker sides of British history: atrocities that were committed abroad, for example, under Lia Nici’s Flag, and in the names of successive Queens and Kings. But that will be up to them. It’s not my object in this book to encourage readers to approve or disapprove of any events or trends in the story I’ll be recounting, but only to lay some of the facts before them, as I see them, in order to get them to think about them, possibly in new and surprising ways, and then to come to their own conclusions. Those conclusions may not be simple; but it will be the process of thinking towards them which will be valuable, and should enhance readers’ understanding of the said complexity of Britain’s history over the past two centuries or so. In the end their views – their ‘lessons from history’ – may well turn out to be different from mine; but they will at least be more sophisticated than those of Lia Nici’s ‘patriots’, or of the statue-spoilers of Bristol.

*

Britain’s Contested History can be seen as a distillation of my nearly six decades of research into British history, specialising in certain aspects of that history: mainly British imperialism, foreign policy, the secret services, refugees, travel, and mid-Victorian architecture; about all of which I’ve published books and scholarly articles, as well as a longer and more conventional general survey of British history since 1850 (which rather bombed), and a couple of collections of essays. I’ll occasionally refer to these in endnotes, if I feel that amplification is needed of what I write here. (My endnotes, incidentally, will be minimal, so as not to interrupt the flow; and bearing in mind that the sources of better-known facts can be easily ‘Googled’.) But this account is different from those earlier ones in many respects, as well as being briefer; not based on any new archival research, for example, only my old studies; and having been affected by recent and current events at this revolutionary time in Britain’s – and the world’s – affairs. The impact of those events on my interpretation of Britain’s earlier history – for even writers on past times can’t avoid being influenced by present times – will doubtless show through.

One way is an emphasis on the question of Britain’s supposed ‘exceptionalism’, which might not have been necessary before ‘Brexit’, with its insistence on her difference from the European continent, arrived on the scene. During the debate over that it was the ‘Leavers’ (from the EU), who mostly appropriated both ‘patriotism’ and British history for their own cause, but without always understanding or even knowing much about the latter. The same is undoubtedly true of the other ‘camp’. I hope this book might offer some illumination to both sides: not simple answers to their questions, for history is rarely that straightforward; but some slightly more sophisticated ways of looking at them.

The book is being written in the unusual conditions imposed by another of the aforementioned revolutionary events: the coronavirus pandemic of 2020-21, which has forced me into a (pleasant) self-quarantine in the ‘summerhouse’ I share with my partner on an island in the Stockholm Archipelago, with wi-fi to connect me to the internet, thankfully (how ever did the Vikings manage without it?), but no way of accessing libraries or even my own collection of books and notes back in England. You can’t find everything through Google; and for a long time I was not allowed back into the UK unless I took expensive tests and then self-isolated for a couple of weeks on arrival, which I could not afford, either time- or money-wise, even though I had been fully Pfizered in Sweden. (England at one point insisted on NHS-administered vaccinations. ‘None of those foreign jabs!’) In this connexion I must acknowledge the generous help given me by the staff of Kungligabiblioteket in Stockholm, despite their own working difficulties under ‘lockdown’; and by my Hull friends Robin, Sally and Mike, who took care of my house while I was away and have been a source of intellectual stimulation too. The virus, then, can be blamed for a few gaps in the referencing, which will be flagged up when I come to them. On the other hand my current situation is providing ideal conditions in other ways, especially the isolation and peace, for the business of writing for both of us. (She writes too.) To Kajsa must go my heartfelt thanks, therefore – and much more – for sharing our wilderness with me, to what I hope will be a good effect both healthwise and authorially. My readers will be the judges of that.

Bernard Porter

Svartsö, Sweden

4 August 2021

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Corruption

‘I genuinely believe that the UK is not remotely a corrupt country, nor do I believe that our institutions are corrupt.’ That was an extraordinary statement for Britain’s prime minister to make on Wednesday; not so much because it’s untrue – although it may be (see below) – but on account of the fact that he didn’t need to make it, at a press conference in Glasgow during the climate conference, when the subject was not on the agenda; and because – so far as I’m aware – no-one has ever accused Britain of being ‘corrupt’ tout court, only Johnson himself, his buddies and perhaps a number of capitalists whose wealth has always been built on ‘corruption’ of various kinds. So why did he come out with it?

Obviously it was easier for him to make this generalised claim, than to address the particular charges of corruption made against him and his government, which in the light of the last few days’ evidence would be almost impossible to dispute in such cavalier – ‘not remotely’ – terms. It shifts the argument from his own wrong-doings to the more general question of the state of the nation he leads, possibly allowing the former to fade into insignificance against the background of the latter. But if so, it was surely a dangerous ploy. If the country and its institutions are so pure, how come he and the Conservative party can be so corrupt? Shouldn’t the supposed innocence of Britain as a whole throw their own crimes into starker relief? Might it not even signify that Johnson is behaving un-Britishly?

And it also makes one think. Maybe he’s wrong – we’re after all well used to hearing lies from Boris – and Britain and its institutions are corrupt. This is too large a question to address here, in a single post; but if you look at the way Britain’s democratic institutions are manipulated by money and a blatantly unfree press (only 33rd in the latest ‘press freedom’ index); at the Public schools; at gross tax avoidance; at Dominic Cummings; at London’s reputation as a launderer of dirty money; at the House of Lords; at Oxbridge entry; at the ways Britain’s public leaders are appointed (I’m thinking here of the heads of the BBC and Ofcom)… and at so many other examples of what should surely come under the heading of ‘corruption’ if they hadn’t become so normalised; – then one might begin to wonder whether corruption, or something like it, might not lie at the very roots of public life in Britain; rather than ‘democracy’, or ‘patriotism’, or incorruptibility, or decency, or any of her other supposed – and preferred – national and foundational characteristics.

It was that statement of Boris’s that got me speculating this way. That’s his problem. If he says one thing you immediately start thinking the opposite must be the truth.

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Back Again?

After weeks of being confronted only by the ‘White Screen of Death’ whenever I try to post a new blog, and being ripped off by shops offering ‘Laptop Repairs’ but then f*cking the thing up even worse when I take mine in to them for help, I may at last have solved the problem; or, rather, Kajsa may have solved it for me, by suggesting that I change my browser (is that the word?) from Safari to Firefox. This is just a test posting, to see if it works. Comments to this effect will be gratefully received.

Whether I can catch up with all the extraordinary things that have been happening on the British political scene (and others) during the couple of months I’ve been away I rather doubt. But I’ll try.

I’ve finally signed the contract with Bloomsbury for ‘The Book’, if anyone’s wondering. New Title: Britain’s Contested History. Lessons for Patriots. – It wasn’t my favourite, but my excellent publisher thought that my suggestions – A Patriot’s Guide to British History, and ‘We Used to Rule Half the World, Didn’t We?’ Myth and Reality – might be misleading. (As they were intended to be.) It should be out in the summer. £20.

More in a few days.

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Depression and Politics

I’m convinced that my depression – of which I’m deeply ashamed, as my generation was expected to be: ‘pull yourself together, man!’ – is mainly due to some chemical imbalance in my brain, for which I’m taking tablets. (‘Fluoxetin’. I’m not sure that they work – I still feel chronically ‘down’ – but how do I know I’ll not feel worse without them?) 

Whatever lies at the root of it, however, my worst moods are certainly triggered by politics, both at home and abroad. Currently they’re triggered – every morning when I wake up – by recalling the appalling political situation we have now in Britain: with a pretty extreme right-wing government hoisted into power by means of trickery and lies; a Labour ‘Opposition’ – the inverted commas are necessary – devoted to cleansing itself of all traces of the Social Democracy that defined Labour’s identity in its greatest and most effective years in government, including by expelling any member who dares to criticise Israel, even anti-Zionist Jews, and of course Jeremy Corbyn, who however ‘unelectable’ he might have seemed in 2019 offered easily the best solution to the Brexit ‘problem’, and was at least able to stimulate some enthusiasm  – not a terribly common ingredient in modern British politics – amongst the young, who are going to inherit this world we oldies are fucking up for them; and, lastly – amongst these ‘triggers’ of my depression – an electoral system that makes it difficult to see how any of this can be mended, at least before the next General Election, due in May 2024, and maybe not even then. 

I explore some of the deeper causes of this situation in the final chapters of my Patriot’s Guide to British History (about which, incidentally, I still haven’t heard from my publisher). One of these causes is undoubtedly the cleverness of those who conspired to bring about Brexit, for reasons of their own – mainly to ‘complete the Thatcher revolution’, as a few of them openly admitted – with quite remarkable success: playing on the grievances of ordinary people, with the help of rich backers and a highly partisan popular press, untruths on the sides of buses (or was it only the one?), and in the knowledge of the devious ways in which Britain’s ‘democracy’ could be manipulated both to achieve their immediate ends, and – probably – to sustain those ends in perpetuity. I don’t want to make too much of this, for fear of being labelled a ‘conspiracy theorist’; just as I’m unwilling to place too much emphasis on the part played by the British Board of Deputies in the smearing of Corbyn, which certainly had some effect in 2019. But there can be little doubt that the deeply flawed nature of Britain’s electoral system – not just ‘FPTP’ but also the character of her public discourse – made it a good pitch for ‘conspirators’ to bowl on; shattering the wickets of what used to be known as the ‘Gentlemen’. (As against the ‘Players’, or professionals. For Americans, that’s a reference to cricket.) 

Isn’t this enough to make one depressed? Even without the chemistry?

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Poor Boris

Of course I can’t be sure; but I suspect Hilary Mantel may be right to think that Boris Johnson ‘knows’ he shouldn’t be Prime Minister: https://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2021/sep/04/hilary-mantel-i-am-ashamed-to-live-in-nation-that-elected-this-government. If that is so, what a terrible burden to him this thought must be! Having striven all his life to be ‘world king’, encouraged by his schooling and his Tory supporters to think it would be ‘easy-peasy’, and wouldn’t, for example, require any serious thinking on his part, or take up much of his time, he now finds himself floundering in the middle of at least three god-awful national crises, only one of which (Brexit) was any of his doing originally, with a bunch of hopeless ministers to help him out, and with nothing but his teddy-bear image and a few rhetorical flourishes – most of them beginning to look a bit tawdry now – to sustain him. Even his loyal populist newspapers, it seems, are beginning to lose faith. It must be awful to be him just now: knowing deep down that he’s simply not up to it. I almost feel sorry for the bastard.

Which all bears out my long-held view that wanting to be Prime Minister (or maybe any other ‘top’ job) should automatically disqualify one from getting it. If it’s just the status you desire, rather than wanting to do something for society, you shouldn’t be allowed within a hundred miles of Downing Street. Politics isn’t a ‘game’ you learn at your Public school and from Cicero; or just a ‘career’. It’s far more serious and important than that.

Of course Johnson was – and is – simply the tool of other, far cleverer people, and of the late-stage capitalist beast that probably underlies everything that’s going on just now. If Johnson ever gets to realise that, it must make him feel even worse. I don’t envy him his dotage, thinking back on his failures. But maybe young Carrie will find ways to cheer him up.

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ABBA Tilbacka

I was never an ABBA fan at the time. I was persuaded they were too kitsch. (And I was getting into Bruckner then.) But I’ve grown to like them since; partly for their Swedishness: their unisex dressing, for example; and their ordinary decency, by comparison with most other pop artists, except perhaps for that boring old virgin (one imagines) Cliff. And ABBA’s songs are original, and far superior musically. I like their slow introductions, leading into memorable main tunes – ‘Waterloo…’ (A bit like Schubert.) – They used to write their songs, incidentally, in a sommarhus on an island very near to ours. I can hear the skärgård in them. 

What a thrill it was this morning, then, to learn that they were coming back, after 40 years of silence, with a concert in London next May. So they must be in their 70s now? Here are the two tasters they pre-released yesterday (if it works). I think they’re terrific. But that’s probably the kitsch in me. At bottom I must be a sentimental old fart.

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Is This the Way it Ends?

Brexit is a disaster, corruption is rife, the Government is incompetent, plague stalks the land, and people are being blown to bits trying to escape from Kabul. So Michael Gove decides to make a fool of himself. (Having apparently refused to pay the £5 entrance fee: ‘Don’t you know I’m the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster?’)

Good grief. That it should come to this…

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