Buying Yourself Out

Since the Brexit vote tens of thousands of British nationals have applied for foreign citizenships in order to cushion them against the fallout, and to maintain their sense of European identity. I’m one of them. Luckily Sweden isn’t a country that insists that you relinquish your original nationality before you assume hers (I’m going for dual nationality), but several European countries are.

For them, however, the Home Office has devised a trick to make the divorce less amicable than it might otherwise have been. They’ve slapped a fee on anyone who wants to give up being British; and upped it in the last week or so. I realise and have accepted that acquiring a nationality will incur a cost – for the administration, if nothing else; but it had never occurred to me that you could be made to pay for giving it away. This seems odd.

The motive can’t be to deter us from leaving; it’s too little (£300+ per person) to have that effect. It can’t be worth the money that the Government will get out of it; although I imagine the sight of us all scrambling to escape the Faragean tentacles of Brexit Britain suggested to a civil servant somewhere that it could be a nice little earner. It’s far more likely to add to our resentment, and indeed could even have been designed as a punishment for the ‘unpatriotic’. ‘No’ – (evil cackle) – ‘we’re not letting you go until you’ve paid for your treachery.’ That, of course, would be very much in line with the ‘hostile environment’ atmosphere that was Theresa May’s legacy to the Home Office before she became PM.

Here’s the news report: https://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/politics/brexit-latest-uk-citizenship-eu-nationality-foreign-nationals-passport-countries-a8369706.html. I wonder if it applies to dead former citizens. Or do they retain their Britishness in the grave? (Best place for it, I’m beginning to think.)

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When England was Feminist

I always knew the Scandinavians must be to blame! I’ve just come across an interesting article on an American historical blogsite on gender relations in England in Anglo-Saxon times: https://historynewsnetwork.org/article/168948. All lovely and equal, women independent, both sexes doing the cooking and washing up, women becoming tribal chiefs, breast-feeding shared…. Well, I may exaggerate a little. (Though Kajsa once tried to convince me that men could breast-feed if they only tried.)

But anyway, it seems that things were relatively fine and dandy pre-1066, in almost a paradise of gender equality. That was until the Normans came along: turning women into chattel, forcing them into chastity belts, not letting them play football, and so on. (Unless they happened to be Queens.) This was yet another terrible downside of 1066 – Britain’s only experience of being brutally colonised by foreigners. (Unless we count the Anglo-Saxon colonisers themselves.) Bastards! And no: the great cathedrals don’t make up for it.

But hold on a moment: who were these Normans? Second-generation Viking immigrants, mostly, reared on soused herring and wood-bark, and proud No. 1 in the European ‘Raping and Pillaging League’ at that time. Hence the name, ‘North Men’. I’m sorry, my feminist social-democratic not-been-in-a-war-in-200-years Swedish friends: you can’t escape responsibility for that. Without you, we wouldn’t be needing ‘Me-Too’ today.

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Pausen (Sw)

Sorry for the interval (Engl). I’ve been working on two projects recently: a paper on British emigration to the European continent for a conference in Amiens; and a short talk on Eva Reckitt, daughter of the Hull manufacturer (‘Reckitts Blue‘, anyone?) who became a Communist and was watched by MI5 – for a day’s conference here in Hull on notable local women. (I may publish it here too later.) Neither of these is due to be delivered until September; but with my summer looking to be taken up entirely hosting my large extended family and their relatives (16 in all, ages 1-45) on Svartsö – joyously – I thought I’d better get them researched and written up in good time. They’ve kept me preoccupied. I’m only now emerging, blinking, into the light.

Another post to follow shortly.

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Ken Resigns

I don’t think I’ll ever forgive the Israel Lobby – as I suppose we have to call them, although the phrase sounds more ‘conspiratorial’ than I intend – for pressuring Ken Livingstone out of the Labour Party, on a specious charge of ‘anti-semitism’ when he was simply making an accurate historical point. He’s a great Radical politician, the best Mayor London has ever had, and clearly without a single racist bone in his body. It was noble of him to fall on his sword, but that it was necessary indicates how low we have fallen in terms of public debate. I’ve written enough about this case on this blog. Now I’m hoping for just two things: that reasonable Jews come to his defence even this late in the day, if they dare – I know there are many of them; and that my utter despair at the campaign waged against him won’t affect my general attitude towards ‘the Jews’.

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The Wedding

OK, so I was wrong. I shouldn’t have boycotted the Royal Wedding. Apparently it was pretty politically correct: a mixed-race American bride, with a career of her own, and mildly feminist opinions; not ‘given away’ by her father (Prince Charles stood in, but we all knew she’s not his to give); multicultural music, including a ‘negro spiritual’ and one of Elgar’s softer pieces; and what everyone says was an ‘inspiring’ sermon, full of only half-hidden radical allusions, from a black Chicagoan bishop, after the manner of MLK (I’ve just watched it on YouTube). The vicar’s daughter now in No. 10 could learn a lot from him. There was also, of course, the building (‘Perp’); which an architecture nut like me was bound to appreciate.

Mind you, some of the shots of the congregation on that YouTube clip seemed to indicate that much of Bishop Michael Curry’s inspiration had gone over the heads of the posher members, with lots of them grim-lipped, or dozing off. And of course there’s all the other nonsense to take on board: the rather tacky gold-plated ceremony, onlookers festooned in Union Jacks (most of them American or Australian, judging by the interviews), and, curiously, nearly all the women in the chapel wearing what looked like flying saucers on their heads (a subtle reference perhaps to the ‘alien’ origin that some conspiracy theorists attribute to the Royal Family: google ‘David Icke’). Then there’s all those homeless people being turfed off the streets in Windsor so as not to spoil the view. (That says a lot about us.) Still, small mercies. And she does look lovely, doesn’t she?

My attitude to royalty generally is ambivalent. Of course it’s undemocratic, feudal, and hard on the royals (poor Charles! I wouldn’t like to do it); but a hereditary monarchy is not a bad way to separate the representative of a country away from its politics. (That’s the USA’s original sin.) So long as it can’t actually do anything apart from ‘represent’. I met Queenie once, at a shindig to celebrate the 75th anniversary of the Historical Association. I was half-pissed on sherry but reckoned it wouldn’t matter, if my prejudice that they were a family of in-bred idiots was true. It turned out not to be: in her case, at least. She asked me what I researched on, and I told her, in simple terms; only to be surprised by a highly intelligent follow-up question from her. I had to delve deep into my sherry-addled brain for an answer; which clearly took more time than they had allowed for. Afterwards I grinned inanely around me: wasn’t she impressed?! Later we were sent photos of the occasion; mine shows my lips blurred with the speed at which they were working, and Her Maj with a look of utter boredom on her face. Normally that would be something to frame and put up in one’s study. I’ve kept it hidden, however, only showing it to my nearest and dearest – in Kajsa’s case after about ten years. (Perhaps I’ll put it up on this blog one day.) But I’ve been a fan of the top royal ever since. Just her, mind: not the rest of them. Except maybe – now – the new Duchess of Sussex.

(I posted a pic of me and Queen here originally, but have deleted it. Sorry. I just didn’t like it.)

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The Turn of the Tide?

Encouraging news at last. (1) Students – intelligent young people most affected by the Brexit catastrophe – are planning a great new anti-Brexit campaign in the summer: https://leftfootforward.org/2018/03/students-union-throws-weight-behind-brexit-second-ref/. 75% of under-25s (those who voted) voted ‘Remain’ in the referendum. (2) ‘Jewish Voice for Labour’ – the genuine (I hope) representative of Jews in the Labour Party – has come out firmly against the smear campaign against the Party for its alleged ‘anti-semitism’, with an excellent definition of genuine anti-semitism, uncoupling this vile prejudice from criticism of the state of Israel: http://www.jewishvoiceforlabour.org.uk/campaigns/the-definition-of-antisemitism/. (3) Home Office lies and scandals over Windrush are being revealed at last, in a trail of evidence that must in the end lead back to the present Prime Minister, who was – as Home Secretary – the original author of them: https://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/2018/05/15/home-secretary-admits-63-windrush-migrants-may-have-deported/. (4) The East Coast mainline is to be taken away from Virgin and restored to the public sector again, renaming it ‘LNER’, which is the name it had when I was a boy collecting (steam) train numbers on the pedestrian bridge over Gidea Park station in the 1950s: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/business-44142258. Does all this presage Spring? – Down, boy!

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Beyond Our Ken

There’s another demand this morning, by the new President of the Board of Deputies for British Jews, for Ken Livingstone to be expelled from the Labour Party for making a valid historical point: https://www.theguardian.com/politics/2018/may/14/labour-ken-livingstone-jackie-walker-antisemitism-row. Shouldn’t this alarm all of us professional historians? And shouldn’t it also concern most reasonable Jews; for whom the continuation of this grossly misdirected campaign, on the same day as the state of Israel is shooting peaceful Palestinian protestors in Gaza, cannot do much to dampen what anti-semitism there may be in Britain.

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Their Lordships

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It’s difficult for a democrat to defend the House of Lords, of course, except by casting doubt on the institution of democracy itself. But this headline from the Daily Mail makes one want to, together with the Mail’s inclusion of the Lords as ‘traitors’, to join all those others it has smeared with this term – the judges, Jeremy Corbyn, ‘Remainers’, Ed Milliband’s dad – over the last few months. The Lords are unelected, and only there because their great-great grandmothers were screwed by the right toffs, or to reward political favours done by them to governments in the more recent past. They’re mostly old, and frequently caught by the cameras on the Lords’ red benches dozing in their ermine dressing gowns. They don’t exactly inspire a democrat’s confidence.

But, by ’eck – to use an expression I’ve picked up from my long sojourn in Yorkshire – can’t they pack a punch when they wake up?! Over the past few days they’ve rejected or crucially amended fourteen key clauses of the Government’s great European Union Withdrawal (or ‘Brexit’) Bill; which needn’t be fatal for any of those measures – the Commons can overrule the Lords – but will force the Government to think again, and is giving great heart to Remainers. In the course of the necessary re-debates  in the Commons, this Lords rebellion is likely to force the government into a ‘softer’ form of Brexit, at the very least; and could – just could – wreck the whole enterprise. This is why the Mail wants to send these ‘traitors in ermine’ to the Tower.

The democratic argument for listening to the Lords is that the Brexit process in itself was democratically flawed. I’ve noted this from the very beginning: https://bernardjporter.com/2016/06/16/is-it-really-about-the-eu/; since when revelations of the Brexiteers’ dark and sophisticated methods of influencing public opinion – secret donations, fake claims, Cambridge Analytica and all that – have reinforced the view that the vote in June 2016, with its narrow 52:48 result, was hardly a true reflection of informed opinion, at the very least. Popular referenda give the appearance of being the most democratic system there is; but their results need to be carefully tested and modulated before using them to trigger huge, existential changes of national policy like Brexit. That of course is true of all voting systems; – which is why we have the House of Lords.

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Labour and the Jews Again.

Anyone in any doubt about the true nature and credibility of the campaign currently being waged against Corbyn and the Labour Party, on the grounds of their alleged ‘anti-semitism’, should read these two pieces, published recently.

https://orientxxi.info/magazine/anti-semitism-orchestrated-offensive-against-jeremy-corbyn-in-the-uk,2446; and https://www.opendemocracy.net/uk/jamie-stern-weiner-norman-finkelstein/american-jewish-scholar-behind-labour-s-antisemitism-scanda.

I’ve said it before (see for example https://bernardjporter.com/2018/04/16/have-you-stopped-beating-the-jews/), but let’s say it again: criticising the Israeli government, and supporting the cause of the Palestinians, are not signs of or necessarily rooted in anti-semitism. But they seem to be the main complaints of the current crop of anti-antisemites. Similarly, pointing out that Hitler at one point supported a ‘national home’ solution for the Jews – Ken Livingstone’s notorious claim, for which the Labour Right want him expelled from the party – is a statement of fact, and not intended to imply that Zionists are Nazis, for goodness’ sake! And (lastly) a mural painting of capitalists sitting around a table is not necessarily directed against Jewish capitalists. (The problem with this is that Corbyn once endorsed it: see https://bernardjporter.com/2018/03/28/israel-jezza-and-imperialism/). But these seem to be the main items of ‘anti-semitic’ ‘evidence’ that Labour’s critics are currently offering. It’s pretty thin gruel.

I have to say that I’m personally getting fed up with – even enraged by – all this false anti-antisemitic propaganda; especially when it’s directed against and could derail the best hope we have at present of bringing the present crazy and dangerous stage of our national history to an end, and returning us to a decent social democracy. – Which itself poses a problem. Anti-semitism is not, I’m still convinced, a serious problem in Britain, and least of all in the Labour Party. It’s also far milder than other kinds of British racism, or the racism that important elements of Israeli-Jewish society display towards other ethnic groups. The outcry against it is clearly whipped up – and supported by the Israeli government – simply in order to stop a Palestinian sympathiser from getting into No. 10.

But – and this is my main point – the outcry in itself could easily provoke a new anti-semitism on the Left, if people come to blame it for Corbyn’s failure to win the next general election. I’m sure I can resist the temptation – I’m fascinated in a positive way by Judaism, and even planning a visit to Israel soon – but many on the Left won’t be able to. Launching this campaign against Corbyn, in fact, was a high-risk strategy for British Jewry, which could well rebound against them. Let’s hope not.

Just to make clear: I’m personally greatly in favour of Israel’s survival, despite its ‘imperialist’ origins, though I don’t think Netanyahu is going the right way about it. And – because this is often a charge brought against critics of Israel – none of what I’ve just written amounts to a ‘conspiracy theory’. Jewish fears of anti-semitism, in this British context, are wrong and misguided, but they are genuine, open and above-board. I’m not sure, however, that I could say the same about newspapers like the Daily Mail, whose anti-Corbyn philo-semitism seems of very recent growth.

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Royal Wedding

Written in my diary for 19 May are the words: ‘Royal Wedding. Be out of country.’ ‘Out of country’, of course, meant Stockholm. But now I find I won’t be able to avoid it even there: https://www.facebook.com/events/813022998888560/. So I’ll probably stay in England and bury myself under the duvet all day.

It was the British ambassador himself who alerted us to this, at a meeting of ‘Brits in Sweden’ called last week at his Residency, to discuss Brexit-related problems. (See pic below: I’m hovering in the corner at the back; Kajsa just in front of me, talking earnestly to the Political Attaché; the ambassador with crossed hands back right.) The ambassador was of course diplomatic on the issue of Brexit – when I said something mildly uncomplimentary about Boris, he said ‘Steady on, that’s my boss you’re talking about!’ – but gave the impression of wanting to help us poor expatriates. Kajsa says the coffee was the best she has ever tasted.

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About 20 of us attended, out of a total 30,000 Brits living in Sweden – though I’m not quite sure what ‘living’ means. (Short-term? Long-term? Accredited residents?) A show of hands revealed that 70% of us were applying for Swedish nationality.

What jarred with me a little – apart from the Stockholm street party – was the image the Political Attaché had on the back of his visiting card:

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Cringeworthy, I thought. And in any case ‘great’ in this context doesn’t mean that. See https://bernardjporter.com/2018/02/06/make-britain-great-again/.

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