Déjà Vu

I read somewhere that Robert Schumann, recovering from madness, suddenly found he could write music again, and so got down to his piano, completing a couple of new pieces. His wife and admirers were chuffed at the thought of the old Schumann back, and eagerly looked through the new scores; only to find that they weren’t new at all, but pieces he’d written and published years before, and then forgotten about. Sad. 

I’ve just had a similar experience. Today I received – at last – a copy of my Britain Before Brexit, and leafed through it, as proud new authors do; only to find that I’ve already said there much of what I’m writing now, in my new book, A Patriot’s Guide to British History. I’d forgotten, too. Probably my age. Anyway, it means I may not need to continue with A Patriot’s Guide. I’ll ask my publisher what she thinks.

I can’t remember going mad in the meantime. I’ve never voted Conservative, for example. But friends will tell me.

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The town that hanged a monkey thinking it was a French spy! So not surprising, perhaps, that it voted Conservative yesterday. At least they can’t blame it on Corbyn, I thought, but I see that some commentators are. Why can’t Starmer re-mobilise some of the enthusiasm among the young that Corbyn so strikingly stimulated? Couldn’t he have kept that, and combined it with his more forensic approach? Why is Corbyn still banished, on a lie? Well, I’ve left the Labour Party now, so it doesn’t feel such a personal loss. And I now have Vänsterpartiet and proportional representation here in Sweden.

Two films to recommend: Paterson – wonderful – and the TV series Succession (or is it Successor?), which we’re streaming, and hating, but can’t draw our eyes away from. I take it it’s a true picture of Murdoch’s and Trump’s corporate hells. All very depressing.

I’ve gone back to working on my next book, A Patriot’s History, but with lots of doubts about it. One problem I have is my deteriorating memory, which means I forget in chapter 9 what I wrote the week before in chapter 8. – And I still haven’t received a copy of my last book, Britain Before Brexit, posted from the UK more than a month ago, but delayed, I presume, by the aforesaid Brexit.

Anyhow, I hope you like the new cover of my Lion’s Share: A History of British Imperialism. It comes with a finger puppet. I thought I should try to widen the market.

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We need to accept this: that the Right are cleverer than we are. By the ‘Right’, I don’t mean those who voted for Brexit and Johnson necessarily, but those who so successfully manipulated them. And I’m not sure that they really are so ‘clever’, rather than simply unprincipled. You can get an awful long way in this world by following the advice (or were they warnings?) of Niccolo Machiavelli, and reaching Faustian compacts with the Devil. (Or with Dominic Cummings, as he’s known today.) 

Anyone could see – especially after ‘social media’ revealed the true depravity of people’s thinking – that the British electorate wasn’t deeply interested in politics, except as a game. And that it could be easily seduced by superficialities, propaganda, lies, and pandering to its prejudices; at a time of general discontent; with the Press on your side; and with the help of a few clever tricks to divert all this into channels that suited the manipulators. It didn’t need Cummings’s great brain to work this out; only a willingness to put all morality aside in the interests of ‘winning’. Rightists, it seems, can do this. For moral Leftists – which I like to think describes most of us – it somehow goes against the grain. Is that why we’re destined always to lose?

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Ind Imp

This is supposed to be a picture of Boris’s and Carrie’s controversial £50,000 refurbishment of the Prime Minister’s flat. It may not be – apparently it’s simply from their chosen decorator’s catalogue. But if it were, what a wonderful illustration of the Brexiteers’ old imperial wet dreams!

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Floreat Etona

I don’t usually blame schools for their products. If I did I’d have to berate my own alma mater for producing David Irving, the Holocaust denier; although he was there a few years before me, and so couldn’t have been taught by the History masters who inspired me. (In fact I don’t think he did History there at all.) 

So it may not be entirely fair to blame Eton College for Boris. Eton of course also ‘produced’ George Orwell; and a handful of leading figures in British history, not all of whom were as awful as BoJo. (See https://www.thefamouspeople.com/eton-college.php.) I’ve personally known several ‘Old Etonians’, and two future headmasters, the second one of whom was a nice guy (a ‘colonial’). So let’s not generalise.

But…. What is it about this school that in modern times has gifted us not only Johnson, and I presume his father, but also David Cameron, Jacob Rees-Mogg, and Alexander Nix, the CEO of the now disgraced Cambridge Analytica whose Machiavellian ‘algorithms’ were (partly) responsible for getting Britain out of the EU? What unites all these characters above all is a certain public amorality that they must have picked up from somewhere; and with all of them having spent their formative years at Eton, obviously the finger of suspicion must first point there. 

It really is astonishing that in this day and age Britain should still be recruiting its leaders from the ‘Kynge’s College of Our Ladye of Eton besyde Windesore’ (founded 1440), whose main distinguishing feature is the whacking great fees they charge the parents of its students to go there: over £40,000 a year when I last looked, which is more than I ever earned in a year. Apart from anything else, this must greatly diminish the pool of potential talent from which they select their pupils. 

And it’s not as if Eton educates these boys (is it still only boys?) to a higher level of intelligence and ‘leadership’ that will compensate for this. Judging by those we see in public life today very few of them seem to be of better than low-to-middling brainpower. Some – Rees-Mogg, to give the most glaring example, judging from his recent book The Victorians: ‘this clichéd, lazy history that often reads like it was written by a baboon’: that was the Telegraph’s (no less) review of it! – are simply stupid. All they have is a little Latin and Ancient Greek to impress the impressionable with their ‘superior’ upbringing. That doesn’t denote intelligence; only memory. None of these people has any grasp of rational thinking, or of History after the fall of the Roman Empire, and still less of ‘life’ as it is experienced by normal men and (especially) women today. In former times the Public schools were better than this. They were supposed to instil what was called ‘character’ in their pupils: virtù, to use an old Roman word for it; honesty; truthfulness; ‘fair play’: the attributes (apparently) of the ‘Old English Gentleman’. Johnson and Co., however, show no sign of any of these qualities. 

What has happened to the Public schools since that great (query) heroic age? I think I know. They’ve been subsumed by capitalism (those huge fees) and its ethic. The British upper classes always were good at adapting themselves and their institutions to the temper of the times. All Eton turns out now are callow young men who play at life like a game, unseriously, encouraged to think that they are entitled to this by the cloistered courts they are surrounded by (actually I don’t know whether Eton has literal ‘cloisters’, but it works as a metaphor), self-obsessed and self-admiring, their juvenile language – those ‘piled-up bodies’ – and jokes learned at their school debating societies and never modified by adulthood.

Eton gives them, not a proper education, but – in the cases mentioned here – an automatic entry into the Conservative Party; which then releases them into wider society, to do their worst. Surely the School deserves some of the blame for this? (And we, of course, for putting up with it.)

Looking back, I see this isn’t my first rant against the Public schools. Here’s an earlier one, with some personal context: https://bernardjporter.com/2019/01/13/the-fcking-public-schools/. There are others. Sorry to be boring. But bloody hell: what a menace they are!

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Culture Wars

As a card-carrying Leftie, I’m a little unnerved by the times I get irritated by opinions of other card-carrying Lefties that irritate card-carrying Rightists too. One example is the ‘statue’ thing of a few months ago, which I blogged about at the time: https://bernardjporter.com/2020/06/12/imperial-statues/. I’m sorry, comrades, but it isn’t important! And wouldn’t it be better to leave the statues there, properly labelled, to remind passers-by of our national crimes (the point I was making in that post)? And to avoid riling reasonable people to no good purpose? 

The same applies to some (not all) of the ‘politically incorrect’ landmines we are supposed to avoid these days. A few years ago, after a lecture I gave in Melbourne, a woman in the audience went at me for referring to nations as ‘she’. The talk was about the persecution of refugees, for pity’s sake. (I wondered how she got on in ‘la France’.) I’ve been similarly attacked for calling an 18-year old waitress a ‘girl’. (Maybe ‘waitress’ is wrong too, in the same way as ‘actress’.) I do now avoid referring to ‘cripples’, ‘blindness’, ‘American Indians’, ‘men’ when I mean both genders, ‘blacks’ until I know what they currently want to be called, the ‘English’ when I mean ‘Brits’ and vice-versa; and a whole lot more. But I still don’t think it should matter, as much as it seems to in certain ‘progressive’ circles. Once in South Africa I asked a ‘Cape Coloured’ friend what they called themselves now, after the end of Apartheid. ‘We call ourselves “the people who used to be known as Cape Coloureds”’ was his reply; an admirably relaxed one, I thought. And it should have enabled ‘the people who used to be known as Cape Coloureds’ to concentrate on the important problems they have in their country, rather than taking offence at mere nomenclature. The same applies to British Leftists. We have a pandemic to deal with, an incompetent and corrupt government, the Brexit mess, and Priti’s incipient Fascism. And you choose to focus on what the transgendered amongst you are called?!

It’s for this reason that I also take the side of the Rightists on the question of ‘No Platforming’ in British universities: speakers being banned on the grounds, for example, that they have ‘incorrect’ ideas about gender – even if the topics of their talks are something else entirely. Of course there is a line that shouldn’t be crossed: a speaker explicitly inciting an audience to violence against gay people, for example, which existing legislation should cover in any case. Otherwise the ordinary standards of ‘free speech and discussion’ should always apply. I would even allow Holocaust deniers a platform; though I’d understand if that were felt to be a line too far for – for example – Jews. The only critical argument I would make against the no-no-platformers is that they are probably exaggerating the ‘problem’, for their own propagandist reasons. But that just shows the harm that these protests can do. Why give the Right the oxygen they need, allowing them to take the libertarian high ground, for no really important  purpose? And should we no-platform speakers who want to no-platform others?

The other grouse I have against the ‘Left’ concerns its use of the word ‘imperialist’ as if it equates with ‘Nazi’, and damns anyone even mildly associated with the British empire in the past to contumely as on a level with Hitler or (at best) Adolf Eichmann. That offends me professionally. I reckon I’ve always been as anti-imperialist as the next man (or woman); and I grew up as ‘our’ empire was being – thankfully – dismantled. But I’ve also studied  it, enough to realise the complexities behind its accumulation and its governance, and to know that the ‘exterminate all the brutes’ version of it – the title of a book by the Swedish writer Sven Lindquist, the phrase taken from Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness – not only does scant justice to some ‘imperialists’, whom I’m not particularly concerned about, but also enormously oversimplifies the whole picture of European ‘imperialism’ in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries; which is annoying to me. The misunderstandings implied here are too deep and too numerous for me to delve into and try to untangle in a blog post: especially when you can get hold of my recent British Imperial: What the Empire Wasn’t (IB Tauris, 2015: a snip at £20) to find out. But some of these comrades really do cheese me off. And – again – they distract us from the battles that need to be fought just now.

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Get It Done

If it was Demonic Cummings who invented that last election slogan, ‘Get Brexit Done’, for his former buddy Boris, it was a brilliant wheeze. There seems to have been a simple calculation behind it. Most people aren’t worried about policies these days, and even less about ‘character’ (apart from in the ‘Ooh! Isn’t he a character!’ sense). They want a prime minister who will ‘get things done’; especially things like Brexit, which had been boring the pants off them for years. They’re fed up with politicians, who they’ve been told are ‘all the same’, and only out for themselves; told, that is, by a Right-wing press whose main agenda is to undermine respect for politics in general, so that it can pursue its own mercenary agendas without interference. That’s why they rubbished Jeremy Corbyn so thoroughly: a man who was so transparently honest that he would be bound to undermine their general case. And it’s why they don’t seem to mind, and the public doesn’t seem to care, that Boris Johnson is the most lazy, clueless and deceitful prime minister Britain has ever had – ‘mad and totally unethical’ according to Cummings himself yesterday (https://www.theguardian.com/politics/2021/apr/23/dominic-cummings-launches-attack-on-boris-johnson); and some of his ministers (and one ex-prime minister) the most corrupt in at least recent British history. With the result, of course, that when Johnson did ‘get Brexit done’, and in short order, it turned out to be the disaster in so many ways that is now being revealed almost every day of every week.

The promise to ‘get things done’ is a common rhetorical device for politicians with an authoritarian streak. It was a big part of Mussolini’s appeal; and of the British Union of Fascists’, who called their party newspaper Action with reference to it. I imagine that it was also one of the things that propelled Donald Trump to victory in 2016, and explained the popular support for him despite his huge character failings, which – as with Johnson – his voters overlooked (originally) in return for his ‘getting things done’: especially that ‘wall’. And it is why both of them, Trump and Johnson, were so prepared to override or to exploit constitutional niceties in order to get things done: Trump by his use of Executive Orders, Boris by manipulating constitutional procedures – and threatening to amend them, later, in the interests of ‘efficiency’. Apparently that was one of Cummings’s wheezes, too. 

Boris can I think be characterised as a proto-Fascist, albeit a cuddly English one. But he and his acolytes in the Cabinet also seem to be taking on the character of something more mediaeval: of robber barons, who feel that their position and status entitle them to a degree of patronage which is entirely personal, and can be doled out without proper scrutiny to party supporters and chums; even blokes they meet in pubs. Is this getting through to people? And do they care? I suspect the answers to those questions are ‘yes’, and ‘no’, in that order. Which is what is depressing about present-day British politics.

And that’s without mentioning Israel’s oh-so-damaging influence: Priti Patel’s undeclared links; Keir Starmer leaving a Moslem meeting because he was told there was a ‘boycotter’ there: and so on. But then of course we’re not allowed to mention these, for fear of being tarred as ‘anti-semitic’. – In connexion with which have you seen the ‘Jerusalem Declaration’ on anti-semitism – https://jerusalemdeclaration.org? It’s a response to the IHRA ‘definition’ of anti-semitism which underlay the attacks on Labour in 2019. As a pro-Jewish pro-Palestinan – but even more, a pro-rational argument fellow – it made my spirit soar. I’m nervous of fellow Leftists becoming anti-semitic because of the baseless attacks of the ‘Israel lobby’ on them. Keir Starmer: please read, learn, and inwardly digest.

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Leaving off ‘the book’ for a while. I’ve written most of it in draft, and at amazing speed, but am unhappy with it. That’s partly because I thought I could finish it by recycling a chapter from my about-to-be-published Britain Before Brexit (BBB; chapter 14, if anyone’s interested), but it doesn’t seem to work. These short cuts never do. Final chapters have to grow organically out of what has gone before. In a bit of a Bruckner phase just now, I was put in mind of the attempts to complete his unfinished 9th symphony (actually 10th or 11th if you count symphonies nos. 0 and 00) by tacking his Te Deum on to the end. That didn’t work either. I’ll put the book aside for now, and return to it when my thoughts are more settled.

I still haven’t seen a copy of BBB, sent to me from the UK nearly a month ago, but delayed either by Covid or Brexit or Postnord – there’s no way of knowing which. It’s frustrating, not being able to hold my new baby in my arms.

Still, more time for blogging. Which will resume shortly, I hope. I’d like to write about present-day young ‘anti-imperialists’, who don’t know a bloody thing about it; the Right-wing coup in the UK; liars in government; and depression. (If I can get out of the one I’m in now.)

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The German Vaccine

We’ve just had our first ‘jabs’. We had to wait for them longer than we would have done in the UK, but English friends are congratulating us for having been given the Pfizer vaccine, rather than the Astra-Zeneca. I understand that doubts are being raised over the latter. And that as a result the tabloids in Britain have stopped calling it the ‘Oxford vaccine’: is that right? In fact the development of all these vaccines is tribute to internationalism, which the Right-wing press clearly don’t like. There was a Swedish input into Astra-Zeneca, but you don’t get people here calling it the ‘Swedish vaccine’. Nationalism really is a revolting thing when it tries to ride on the back of saving lives.

I know nothing about the relative merits of these vaccines, simply because it’s complicated and I don’t have the knowledge. It’s not because: ‘oh, you can’t ever believe anything these people say’, which seems to be a common response these days to just about anything that politicians, especially, tell us. It’s a lazy attitude, releasing us from the necessity of inquiring and checking. I can understand why it’s so widespread, in view of the number of times we have been fooled by Establishment figures in past history; and in view of the blatant lies and even crimes of Britain’s present set of leaders. ‘Dodgy Dave’ is the latest; how unjust that Dennis Skinner was removed from Parliament by the Speaker for calling him that just a few years ago! Boris is far worse, of course, and Rees-Mogg not much better. 

I wonder where these three learned their immorality? Perhaps at their schools….? – Wait a minute: isn’t that something they all have in common? Perhaps we should find out what that school was, and get it closed down? 

Otherwise, writing is going fast – 25,000 words so far – but I’m doing that thing I always do, in common, probably, with most writers: waking up in the night convinced that it’s all crap. My problem is that sometimes it is crap. I’ll take a break from it now, to recover from what everyone tells me will be my body’s reaction to the jab. (Or is that just Astra-Zeneca?)

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Immersed in my new book now (10,000 words under my belt!), so little time to blog. Hence the radio silence recently. There’s so much nonsense (in Britain) to write about, but I can’t see how I can add to what others are saying. We’re still on our island, having endured a whole winter here, which is rather heroic; but deliveries from Systembolaget have kept us going. (Two boxes of wine a week and a bottle of gin every fortnight – is that excessive?) We hope to go over to the UK in July – I need to check references – but that depends of course on the plague and travel restrictions. No jabs for us yet – we blame Boris for stealing all the EU’s Astra-Zenicas; but we’re hoping to get those next week. I’ll be back blogging sometime. In the meantime, here’s a rather good piece about the stereotypical picture of us ‘Ex-Pats’ I picked up on the net recently.

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