Belfast

I explained to the man in the tourist information office that this was my first visit to Belfast, having avoided it until recently because of the bombs and bullets. ‘Ah,’ he said, ‘the good old days!’

I was there accompanying Kajsa to her conference, in the role that wives used to play in the ‘good old days’. I remember attending an academic conference in Sicily years ago which was (I think) exclusively male, though that didn’t strike any of us at the time. (It was about ‘imperialism’, then a rather macho topic.) Many of us had brought our wives, for whom special facilities were laid on while their husbands were doing the serious stuff: coach trips, tea parties, etc. I thought it rather unfair that the same wasn’t done for male partners at this conference: a pub evening, for example. 

Still, it gave me time to wander around the city, and entirely to change my view of it: not a bowler-hatted Orangeman to be seen, and the bullet holes presumably all filled in. The people were friendly; and for an afficionado of Victorian architecture Belfast is a treasure-house. I personally rather baulk at the famous City Hall – imperialist architecture at its grossest – but there’s lots of Gothic, and odd variations of curious styles of the kind that give life and a quirky kind of joy to many Victorian cities. The Victorians weren’t all dull grey dogmatic Orangemen, either. If you’re there, visit the Crown pub: gloriously over the top.

Maybe the Troubles had one good effect, which was to prevent the ‘renovation’ of Belfast during one of the worst periods of British architecture.

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Rush to Judgment

Of course I have no better idea than anyone else, apart of course from the perpetrators, of who it was that planted the Novichok on the Skripals in Salisbury. It could still be the Russians. But the director of Porton Down – our main chemical weapons facility – says on Sky News today that he can’t verify this from the scientific evidence, which we were assured by the Government he would be able to; and which puts egg on the faces of ministers like Boris Johnson, who have been hurling insults at Putin on the assumption that he must have done it, with serious implications for our foreign policy and even, at a stretch, for world peace. It also redounds to the enormous credit of Jeremy Corbyn, who refused to knuckle under the savage onslaught of all those purple-faced Tories in the House of Commons (and some on his own side), who called him a traitor for not accepting Theresa May’s word on this. (See https://bernardjporter.com/2018/03/14/salisbury-and-russophobia/.) Lastly it shows that, at last, Britain’s secret services will no longer be cowed into conforming to ministerial bullying, as they were over Saddam’s ‘WMDs’ and the notorious ‘dodgy dossier’; and as the redoubtable Craig Murray has learned from his old FCO contacts the government tried to do in this instance too. (See https://www.craigmurray.org.uk/archives/2018/03/of-a-type-developed-by-liars/.)

Another thing the Porton Down man mentioned in passing was that Israel was likely to have stocks of these awful weapons as well. Could the Israelis have been implicated? (I hear whispers of ‘conspiracy theorist’ coming at me from all sides.) Which also makes a bit more sense of the great but deeply flawed ‘anti-semitic’ whirlpool they’re stirring up just now; probably discomfited by Corbyn’s stand on present-day Israeli policies. Corbyn has rejected the new ‘conspiracy theory’ that this is all an anti-Corbyn plot; but there can be no doubt that it’s useful to the pro-Israel lobby. Which must explain the ludicrous lengths to which its smears are taken: claiming, for example, that he is anti-semitic because he has met with the wrong sortsof Jews (https://www.theguardian.com/politics/2018/apr/03/jeremy-corbyn-called-irresponsible-after-attending-radical-jewish-event#img-1).

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I’m just now suffering – grievously – from what in these parts is called ‘viral vomiting’. Most unpleasant. I’m meant to be flying to Belfast tomorrow (a conference, at which Kajsa is giving a paper on ‘The Construction of the Male Intellectual’); then back to Sweden at the end of the week, to surrender my British passport for a couple of weeks in order to get a Swedish one, and to be regaled, or advised, by the British ambassador, together with a number of other Brits, on the implications of Brexit for us in Sweden. So I’ll miss the local elections. Which of course won’t stop me from commenting.

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Lord Sugar and Hitler

This – from Lord Sugar – is simply deplorable.

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Why is it that the Right concentrates so much of its venom on good and honest people – Obama, Corbyn…? It must be that they’re scared of them. As well, of course, as being bad and dishonest people themselves; and needing to display every public figure in a cynical light, in order to excuse their own duplicity and undermine confidence in democracy.

You really don’t need to be a ‘conspiracy theorist’ to see a hidden agenda behind the current campaign against Corbyn and his supporters on the grounds of their alleged ‘anti-semitism’.

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Jews, Jezza, and Imperialism

Back to anti-semitism.

Just think. (1) How many specific examples of Labour anti-semitism have you seen quoted recently, to justify the charge that Labour has a ‘real problem’ here? All the accusations I’ve read, of ‘deep pockets’ of anti-semitism and the like, are vague and insubstantial. Others – Ken Livingstone daring to mention Hitler’s support for a Jewish National Home where he could send all Germany’s Jews (true), and Corbyn’s initial support for an anti-capitalist mural in London, with just two Jews portrayed among the six bankers supposedly ruling the world – cannot possibly be read as unequivocally and essentially anti-semitic. Here’s the artist’s own comment on the latter:

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So Corbyn is probably wrong to renege on his support for it. But you can see why he did. He’s under seige.

I’m sure, as I’ve said before, that there are some anti-semites among Labour’s very large membership. But there are probably some paedophiles there too. That’s not to say that Labour has a particular or serious problem with either. I can understand why – in the light of their history – Jews and Jewish organisations feel sensitive over these issues; but that’s not to say that their suspicions are justified.

Second point (2). – I’m not a ‘conspiracy theorist’ – or don’t think so – but it was put to me by a friend recently that if Jeremy Corbyn became Prime Minister, he would be much less pro-Israel (pro-the present State of Israel, that is) and more pro-Palestinian than any of our recent PMs. That might be a reason for the so-called ‘Israel Lobby’ in Britain to smear him with one of the most shameful charges in post-Holocaust history, in order to prevent his coming to power.

And that’s easy enough to do, by lazily conflating criticism of the present right-wing Israeli government with racism. In fact a very large number of Jews, including many Israelis, are also hostile to Netanyahu’s regime, to Israel’s ‘occupied territories’, and the rest. (One of them is an acquaintance of mine who is working hard – and generously – for Israeli-Palestinian reconciliation.) Israeli right-wingers sometimes dub these critics ‘self-hating Jews’. Am I a ‘self-hating Brit’ because I’ve always opposed imperialism?

And what is Israel if it isn’t itself a consequence of imperialism? Remember that modern Israel was originally created as a Western colony in a land occupied for centuries by others. The same could be said of England, since the Anglo-Saxon invasions; and of course the United States. One difference with Israel, however, is that it happened much more recently, which means that the Arabs have closer memories of their dispossession than the Celts or the Native Americans. Which is emphatically not a reason to destroy Israel – we’re stuck with it now, and it has many admirable national qualities, especially when compared with some of the states surrounding it – but that the Israelis should be aware of their problematic origins, sensitive to the Arabs’ feelings as well as super-sensitive to their own, and more generous and accommodating towards their neighbours than they presently appear to be. That, after all, was the liberal and socialist dream that fired the original Zionists, with the considerable support of the British Labour Party in days gone by.

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Anti-Antisemitism

I’ve written before about the Labour Party’s alleged ‘anti-semitism’:  https://bernardjporter.com/2016/04/28/anti-semitism-and-labour/; https://bernardjporter.com/2016/05/04/antisemitism-again/; and https://bernardjporter.com/2017/12/19/more-anti-semitism/. It’s nonsense, of course; relying at best on an unscholarly confusion between Jewry or Judaism and the present Israeli government, and probably just a ruse by ‘New Labourites’ to discredit Corbyn: up there with the ‘Corbyn was a spy’ smear, but intrinsically harder to disprove. I’ve been in the Labour Party (on and off) for 50 years now, in a number of constituencies up and down the country, and alongside many Jewish comrades; and have never heard even the slightest whisper of anti-semitism there, even in coded form: but lots from the Conservative side, which is surely the anti-semites’ natural home. I’m sure we’ve got a sprinkling of members who sometimes let their hostility to capitalism or sympathy with the Palestinians push them close to anti-semitism; but Labour’s core anti-racist principles are a pretty good defence against their crossing that line.

The trouble is – apart from the damage these charges are doing to our cause and its leader – that it might rebound on Jews themselves. There’s nothing more likely to turn people into anti-semites than an anti-anti-semitic witch-hunt. Thank goodness my own love and admiration for Jewish culture renders me immune to this.

There’s a good answer to the anti-anti-semites here: http://www.jewishvoiceforlabour.org.uk/jvl/a-jvl-statement-on-the-current-attacks-on-jeremy-corbyn/.

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Cheating

There were two major examples of cheating revealed yesterday: by the Brexit side in the EU Referendum (https://www.theguardian.com/politics/2018/mar/26/pressure-grows-on-pm-over-brexit-cambridge-analytica-scandal-theresa-may); and by the Australian cricket team during the last test match against South Africa (https://www.theguardian.com/sport/2018/mar/26/australian-outrage-over-ball-tampering-born-out-of-teams-moralising-hypocrisy). Before you dismiss the latter as merely trivial, remember how important a part sport plays in Australian national culture. As a Remainer, but also an Australophile and a cricket lover, I’m not sure which of these two scandals upsets me more.

Neither surprises me. I’ve already written here about the seamy side of Australian cricket (https://bernardjporter.com/2017/11/21/how-you-play-the-game/), and – at least a dozen times – about the sheer self-serving dishonesty of Boris Johnson and Michael Gove. (Other Brexit leaders I’m prepared to excuse, as wrong-headed at best, or stupid.) The good thing about the Australian scandal is the reaction it has provoked among the Australian public, who seem as shocked by it as I am. That says a great deal for them, and for the survival of the good old British ‘fair play’ tradition in their corner of the ex-Empire; and bodes well, I hope, for the future of the game there.

The Brexit side’s cunning side-stepping of British electoral law in the other case is more problematical. It ought to render the result of the referendum invalid, and so trigger another vote. That’s what happens (albeit rarely) in British General Elections; but then only on a constituency basis, with one proven example of election fraud only invalidating, therefore, 1/600th of the total seats in the Commons. In the case of a national referendum, by contrast, we’d have to re-run the whole thing, nation-wide. Just think what the Brexiteers would make of that! They’d obviously paint it as a procedural trick by ‘Remoaners’ who ‘won’t accept the democratic will’. That line of argument might even boost their majority in a re-run, as a way of striking back, again, against the ‘élite’. So it looks as though there’s no way back.

Of course there has always been political trickery and cheating, at least since Machiavelli’s time. (Though my reading of Machiavelli, incidentally, has him explaining all these Princely chicaneries to the people in order to forewarn and fore-arm them.) The difference today is that it has become far more sophisticated than it used to be. The development of the advertising industry since the late 19th century has played a part in that. (See HG Wells’s Tono-Bungay.) With the very recent development of digital targeting (is that the right term?) by companies like Cambridge Analytica, which claims to have swung both the American Presidential election and the EU Referendum, political gerrymandering has reached a peak of influence and power, and one whose techniques are presently only understood by a small minority of nerdish technocrats. It’s this that makes this factor a special danger today: a danger, that is, to true democracy, based – so far as it can be – on transparency and truth.

A decline in public morality might have something to do with it, too. People seem less concerned with ‘truth’ these days, than with what will be believed. That undercover interview with the Board of Cambridge Analytica, which I’ve referenced already (see https://bernardjporter.com/2018/03/21/6525/), illustrated that. I’ve known people who, when quizzed about something or other, are obviously less concerned with veracity than with what they can get away with. When pulled up for this, their argument is that ‘everyone cheats. Haven’t you ever told a lie?’ Well, speaking for myself: No, not knowingly, and not on serious matters. But there are clearly a lot of people for whom this is the only reasonable approach. They distrust everything, and are consequently less likely to be trustworthy themselves. People like me are unrealistic, even naive. I claim I’m neither. I’m aware that many people – especially governments and political parties – lie: I’ve spent half my academic career working on the British Secret Services, for pity’s sake; but I’m unwilling to assume that this is the default position all round. Genuine ‘realism’ acknowledges that some people tell the truth. To assume otherwise can make one a cynic. A sceptic, OK; but a cynic, no. I don’t ever want to become one of those.

Of course it’s impossible to say how ‘new’, or more developed, this kind of approach is today. If it is more widespread, I wouldn’t like to speculate on the reasons. The prevalence of propaganda and its close relative, advertising, is one. The decline of the kinds of religion that emphasise ‘honesty’ might be another. (The Christianity I was brought up in did that.) The schools may be to blame, especially the previously highly honourable – if deficient in so many other ways – ‘Public’ schools. The development of red-in-tooth-and-claw capitalism is, to my mind, clearly another factor: ‘whatever sells’. The ethic coming over to Europe from the USA, which crudely divides people into ‘winners’ and ‘losers’, has had an influence, I think; the sneering cry of ‘Loser!’ from such as Donald Trump and the Daily Mail, exemplifies it. If we have to divide people in terms of their achievements, I’d prefer two subtly different categories: ‘successes’ and ‘failures’. Many ‘losers’ could be classed as ‘successes’ – I’d like to think that I was one – and ‘winners’ can be ‘failures’ in every other sense. Look at the Australian cricket team, even before this last scandal. And Brexit, as I guess we’ll discover eventually. We don’t have to accept cheating in order to win, honourably and genuinely; or to come out better, in a moral sense, than the ‘winners’.

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Boris and Adolf

Theresa and Boris are really ratcheting up the anti-Russian rhetoric. This must mean – mustn’t it? – that they have solider proof of Putin’s responsibility for the Salisbury attack than they are letting on. Otherwise surely they’d hold their horses.

Boris’s comparing Putin with Hitler (albeit circuitously) ups the ante quite a bit. Usually this kind of debating trick – called ‘Godwin’s Law’ (see https://bernardjporter.com/2016/05/15/the-hitler-card/) – indicates a certain weakness in the argument. And May’s and Johnson’s use of it today does bear all the hallmarks of a desperate attempt to distract attention from their much deeper political problems.

But they surely wouldn’t do this if they weren’t morally certain that the international chemical warfare inspectors now in Britain were going to support their version of events, would they? If they don’t confirm it, the egg on Theresa’s face will be enough to make several omelettes; and prove Corbyn’s caution triumphantly right. But I can’t imagine that May is so stupid as to run this risk. Which is one – devious – reason for giving some credence to the ‘Putin did it’ thing.

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This (below) is a pre- or early World War I poster I picked up at the Australian War Memorial Museum in Canberra. If I knew how to ‘photoshop’, I’d stick May’s face on it, and replace the sinking ship (the Lusitania, I presume) by an image of Sergei Skripal swimming for his life. It seems to illustrate the Tory mood. (As well as being a rather fine painting of its kind.)

 

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Skullduggery and the Right

The Right do seem to be more enmired in political skulduggery than the Left. In the past that wasn’t necessarily so – I’m not forgetting the ‘black arts’ practised by the Soviet Union in recent times, and clearly inherited by its – rather less Leftish – Russian successors. Otherwise however most of today’s much publicised ‘dirty tricks’ emanate from the Right, including those of Cambridge Analytica; whose activities were funded by an extreme Right-wing billionaire (the hedge-fund capitalist Robert Mercer), and were directed exclusively, so far as we know, in support of Donald Trump’s presidential campaign.

The organisation behind Cambridge Analytica, called SCL, is full of establishment and ex-military men (all men; Google it), including the Old Etonian Alexander Nix, CEO of the ‘Cambridge’ company, who gave that revealing – undercover – interview on Channel 4 News last night: https://www.channel4.com/news/cambridge-analytica-revealed-trumps-election-consultants-filmed-saying-they-use-bribes-and-sex-workers-to-entrap-politicians-investigation. It also has deep personal and financial connexions with the Conservative party, and even with (Old Etonian) David Cameron’s local Oxfordshire constituency. Others besides me have questioned what the Eton link says about the ethos of our ‘Public’ schools, from which he and so many of our Right-wing politicians are recruited; including the ridiculous Boris Johnson, Nigel Farage and Jacob Rees-Mogg.

Of course Rightists and Public school men do have a problem. It is unlikely that the majority of the ‘people’ will identify with them closely, which means that they have to be clever to win them over. One way is to contrive more popular personae for themselves. Farage, for example, is scarcely ever pictured without a pint of beer in a pub. Michael Gove’s notorious dismissal of ‘experts’ during the Referendum campaign was obviously intended as a way of distancing himself from the ‘elite’. David Cameron, the smoothest of all the Old Etonians, pretended he liked Gregg’s pasties – well known to be the favourite forage of the Northern working classes – before being caught out. ‘Under our veneer of privilege,’ it’s all meant to say, ‘we’re really just like you.’

This is deceptive enough. Add to it, however, some subtle Machiavellian plotting, and the Right is well on its way. We’ve seen it in the (billionaire-owned) tabloid newspapers, seeking to undermine Jeremy Corbyn – whom the Right are genuinely afeared of – with blatant lies: fake news, smears, invented ‘scandals’, and a photo-shopped image of him in a Russian hat. This is not new. Our ‘secret services’ have long been skilled practitioners of what is called ‘psy-ops’, or operating on your opponents’ minds. Election ‘fixing’ has been tried before, and ‘targeted’ propaganda has always been with us. But Cambridge Analytica have raised this to a whole new technological level. You have to be clever, even nerdish, these days to succeed; as well as well-heeled. And unscrupulous. That’s where the Right is gaining currently. Can anyone point me to similar ‘dirty tricks’ employed against the Right?

I’ve not yet worked this out thoroughly; but the relationship of the upper and wealthy classes to democracy must lie pretty near the root of this lack of moral principle in our ‘betters’. In modern British history Conservatives have always mistrusted the demos. Early on, before universal suffrage, it didn’t much matter, because the rich and fairly rich – those who owned property – were always better represented in Parliament than the plebs. That was the period – most of the nineteenth century – when the upper classes were, on the whole, and certainly in their own estimation, some of the most honourable and principled members of society – ‘an Englishman’s word is his bond’, and so on. Apart from a few bad eggs, usually nouveaux uppers and middles, they took pride in not lying or dissembling, politically or in most other ways. That’s what their Public schools taught them then, and was to a great extent the foundation stone of the latters’ prestige. (I’m waiting for the inevitable exceptions to be pointed out to me; but my extensive researches have persuaded me it was generally true.)

When ‘the democracy’ started becoming a threat, however, they gradually abandoned their principles, and started making things up. (An example is the ‘Zinoviev Letter’ affair of 1924, designed to smear the Labour Party. Right-wing spooks, as well as the Daily Mail were involved in this. Then there’s the ‘Wilson plot’….. But I won’t go on.) Other factors were the perceived threat from Soviet communism, which they knew was less principled, and so perhaps, they concluded, had to be fought off by the same underhand means; and from uppity natives in the empire, who also needed to be disciplined in underhand ways. Britain routinely interfered in ‘independence’ elections there, for example, and even plotted the assassination of nationalist leaders they didn’t like. Ruling was not like cricket any more. Cheating was OK.

Lastly, as the capitalist classes began to infiltrate the Public schools and Parliament, the amorality which is a pretty basic feature of capitalism also crept in. Boys (and some girls, I’m sure) were no longer encouraged to ‘tell the truth’, but only what they could ‘get away with’. That was in order to ‘succeed’. Whether this is what their Eton masters explicitly taught them, or it just rubbed off on them from their school-mates, is hard to say. But it was well reflected in that Channel 4 film clip of one of Cambridge Analytica’s board meetings; where one member, discussing ‘propaganda’, openly admitted – and wasn’t pulled up on this – that ‘truth’ didn’t matter, only what people felt. That’s it: the amorality of the Right, in a nutshell.

It’s difficult to counter this, if one is a part of the – more moral, I believe – Left. The Right are the ones with the more powerful weapons. The Left can’t turn those against them without betraying itself. The best it can do is to reveal and publicise the Right’s trickery as best it can. I notice today that the Cambridge Analytica scandal is being covered in the Right-wing tabloids too. That’s encouraging.

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In the meantime I’m thinking of leaving Facebook – they’ve allowed themselves to be used by Cambridge Analytica – which will be a shame. I’m not personally worried, but object in principle to my ‘profile’ being one of 50 million spread around the world without my knowledge or consent, and then selectively ‘farmed’ to support an evil political cause. The Victorians, of whatever class, would not have stood for this. (See my Plots and Paranoia, 1989.)

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Cambridge Analytica and the Devil

Yesterday I booked a flight from Manchester to Belfast on the internet. Half an hour later I received on Facebook an advert for a guidebook to Belfast, from another seller entirely and entirely unsolicited. Not very serious, you might think, and indeed possibly helpful. (I won’t however be in Belfast long enough to need a guidebook.) This sort of thing has happened to me before, and also I imagine to everyone else. Once, googling the name ‘Mata Hari’ (the WWI spy – I was writing about the Secret Services at the time) I was led to a Lesbian site – was she a Lesbian? not from what I know about her – which I quickly deleted, but which didn’t stop my being plagued with ‘Graphic Lesbian Sex videos’, from sources unknown to me, for weeks afterwards. Again, merely irritating. But it did set me wondering – rather later, I imagine, than most people – how widely, indiscriminately and possibly misleadingly this sort of information, innocently provided, might be being spread. And how potentially damaging, if it gets out to MI5, for example, or the government, or the police, that I access Lesbian pornography.

It didn’t occur to me then that the technology that allows this could be used not only for marketing products, which is unsettling enough, but also to influence ‘democratic’ elections. That’s what the recent Cambridge Analytica/Facebook revelations in the Observer and on Channel 4 are claiming (https://www.theguardian.com/news/2018/mar/17/cambridge-analytica-facebook-influence-us-election). Cambridge’s algorithms were certainly used by Trump’s presidential campaign to corral and influence voters, and very likely played a part in Brexit’s referendum campaign. A Channel 4 TV programme last night even had the CEO of Cambridge Analytica boasting about its more devious weapons: honeytraps (with ‘beautiful Ukrainian girls’), ‘dirty tricks’, and disseminating fake news (‘it doesn’t matter whether or not it’s true, only whether people believe it’). The CEO, incidentally, one Alexander Nix, is an Old Etonian, which, taken in conjunction with David Cameron and that inveterate liar Boris Johnson, also Old Etonians, must make us wonder what kinds of values our most prestigious Public School is instilling in its over-privileged pupils. As well as this, the genius behind the ‘app’ that gathers all this information, the Cambridge academic Aleksandr Kogan, is of Russian origin. Conspiracy theorists could have a ball with this. Historically Cambridge University and the Public Schools, after all, are no strangers to treachery. – But I wouldn’t want to run too far with that.

This clearly has implications for democracy. (You see why I put quotes around that word earlier on?) To work well, a democracy requires the public to have reliable information on which to base its decisions. We already know that our deplorable press in Britain does what it can to muddy and distort this information. (This is just one example: https://bernardjporter.com/2018/02/20/a-traitor-in-our-midst/.) Cambridge Analytica’s diabolically clever algorithms make this easier, and far less detectable. Voters are being presented with and selectively driven to fake news which panders to and confirms their existing prejudices, discovered by mining their Facebook profiles and their presence – even if just as customers – on other internet sites. That’s the original purpose of this technique. (It’s why I never seem to get Right-wing stuff channelled to me.) Of course we can’t measure the effectiveness of any of this precisely; but the fact that Trump’s election campaign engaged Cambridge Analytica at a cost of several million dollars obviously means they thought it was worth it. Which suggests that Cambridge’s subversive impact on American politics, and possibly on our own, if it turns out that the Brexit campaign made similar use of Cambridge Analytica, might have been considerable.

But it’s too late now, if we want to question the results of both of those campaigns. In a social and political environment in both countries in which sporting metaphors seem to have much more traction than any other, it would make us look like ‘bad losers’. ‘You lost. Get over it.’ The other great problem is that it seems to be doubting the intelligence of those who may have been influenced by these techniques. Those of us on the ‘Remain’ side of the argument often charge the Brexiteers with ‘stupidity’, which of course raises the latters’ hackles – and prejudices against ‘elites’ – no end. They insist that they were smart enough to learn the facts, and to distinguish between truth and propaganda. Tell them that much of the propaganda was so subtle as to be undetectable even by the brightest, and they still won’t give in. No-one likes to admit to having been fooled. So – in both America and Britain – we are saddled with disaster. The devil (educated at Eton) has won.

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Lion’s Share Mk VI

A dilemma: Routledge want to publish a sixth (!) edition of the Lion’s Share, but in order to justify calling it an ‘edition’ rather than a ‘reprint’ they want me to revise it and bring it up to date. I’ve already done that for the last four editions, and hated it. For a start, I’ve not really kept up with the new scholarship, having diverted to other things. It would take far too much work to catch up. Secondly, the fifth edition went up to 2012, which seems pretty ‘up to date’ to me. Thirdly, revising is never fun; it strikes me like returning to one’s own vomit. I am (to continue the rather unsavoury simile) heartily sick of all that imperial stuff, now it’s been kicked into the long grass by the post-colonialists, and is still – after all my efforts to discuss the legacy of the British Empire in a nuanced and subtle way – being publicly debated in the most simplistic terms: ‘are you for it or against? Come on. Yes or no?’ I feel I’ve already wasted enough of my time on this. Who listens to us academics?

Routledge suggested that, if I didn’t want to revise it myself, they could get someone else to do it for me. At first I resiled: messing around with my beautiful text? How dare they! So I suggested a compromise: that we keep it as it is, with a new short Introduction by me. But now I’m weakening; perhaps feeling less possessive towards my favourite (literary) child. It has grown up now, after all. It has been a favourite textbook (though I never liked its being described as that: I thought it was more) for universities and schools since 1975. It belongs to the world. It flatters me to think that it can still soldier on in this role for even longer. (Routledge obviously think so.) A properly revised edition could help in this.

So I’ve told them they can go ahead and try to find a collaborator – a young desperate scholar, presumably; older ones wouldn’t want to be bothered – so long as he or she doesn’t get rid of my jokes. And as long as I still get the ‘lion’s share’ (ha-ha) of the royalties. Any readers of this blog like to volunteer?

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