I don’t really think that Trump’s exemption of Britain and Ireland from his ban on flights from Europe is due to his having golf courses there. Or that Boris’s reluctance to take stronger action against the coronavirus pandemic has anything to do with the fact that, as it mainly seems to target oldies, it will save money on pensions and the NHS. Of course not! The trouble with Anglo-American politics today, however, is that you wouldn’t entirely put it past them. Have we ever had such untrustworthy leaders?

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The Dead Cat

Lynton Crosby has excelled himself here. Remember, he’s Boris Johnson’s Australian political guru (the one before Dominic Cummings) who invented – or at any rate is associated with – the strategy of throwing a dead cat into the room to divert attention away from more difficult topics. Coronovirus may seem a rather drastic version of this wheeze, and I don’t think any of the current conspiracy theories surrounding the new plague has claimed it as a deliberate distraction on the part of Brexiters; but it could have this effect. At its simplest level, it means that any future damage to the British economy that could otherwise reasonably have been ascribed to Brexit can now be blamed on Covid-19. With one bound – or, rather, a shudder and a cough – Boris is free.

It may seem insensitive to be speculating about its effect on politics at this time when people are obviously more worried about their health and that of others, but as one of those in two of the most vulnerable groups I feel I’m entitled to. All those who have so far died of it in Britain were in their 70s, and with pulmonary problems. That’s me. But that has political implications too. If the virus is mainly targeting oldies, it could have a crucial effect on the electoral demography of the country. Brexit was only passed – narrowly, you’ll recall – because older people voted for it in significantly larger numbers than the young. Kill enough of that generation off – sparing me, hopefully – and the balance is reversed. By rights, we ought to run the Brexit referendum again, to reflect the views of the survivors. Otherwise we’ll be being ruled by corpses.

For myself, I’m self-isolating as much as I can. We over-70s are being advised to, even if we haven’t been diagnosed with the virus yet. Don’t go shopping, we’re told; get your children to do it for you. (Youngsters are less at risk.) Mine are in St Albans, Manchester and Melbourne, so that’s a big ask; but I’m OK with Tesco deliveries. I had to attend my doctors’ surgery yesterday – probably the unhealthiest place to be – but I sat at the back of the waiting room, the regulatory two metres away from anyone else. I have my local painter and decorator in just now; he seems OK, but I’m listening out for the slightest cough. My most serious problem is that Kajsa can’t join me from Stockholm – they’re advised not to travel, especially in planes, hothouses of infection – and she has the same vulnerabilities as I have. Likewise, I can’t go there. If we’re going to die, it would have been comforting to do so in each other’s arms.

It’s all feeling like the early stages of one of those SF disaster movies I’m so fond of. Maybe it will wipe us all out. Which I’m sure we deserve as a race. So long as our greatest artistic achievements are somehow preserved, to tell visiting aliens how we might have been.

But of course there’s nothing to fear. Donald has told us so. And Boris: ‘Take it on the chin.’ Actually, underneath all my mock panic, that’s how I feel. I’m not really as worried as this blog post may suggest. Not for myself, in any case. And that’s despite being told by the experts that if there aren’t enough medics to treat all the victims (after Tory cuts to the NHS, of course), they’ll concentrate on those who could still have some years of active life left. It would also have the effect of reducing the NHS’s elderly workload. There’s a certain logic to that.

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Scandi Noir  

Something to look forward to, as I languish in bed suffering from the coronavirus. I’m showing no signs of it yet, but one case has just been reported in Hull. A whole one! And I’m in an at-risk group twice over: elderly, and with pulmonary problems. I wouldn’t have thought of worrying, if it weren’t for all those government instructions not to panic. That obviously means there’s something to panic about.

Kajsa should be with me, but they’ve been advised in Sweden not to travel. (All those Swedes at Arlanda coming back from their winter holidays in Indo-China, or the Italian Alps.) I’m presently self-isolating, having bought in enough food to last me a month. After that I’ll get to work on the cat that keeps trespassing into my house. (Any advice on how to cook them?) But presently I’m OK. The hermit life has its upside. I can work undisturbed.

And look at these treats lying ahead for me:! It won’t be the same without my own Scandi sitting next to me to watch them; but it will be some consolation.

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Jan Morris

Lovely interview with Jan Morris in today’s Observer. She’s 93. An amazing woman – born male, army officer, Times reporter, climbed Everest, best known as a travel writer, a Welsh nationalist, changed sex, wrote a book about it, Conundrum (I’m afraid I skipped the middle chapter, describing the operation); but originally known to me for her trilogy of books about the history of the British Empire, which I reviewed positively for its literary qualities – portraying the feelings surrounding the Empire from the point of view of the imperialists themselves, which needed to be done, even if we think those feelings were misplaced. It was around then that she wrote to me, on a postcard, about my Lion’s Share, which she said she (or it may still have been ‘he’ then) had started reading in the bath and had enjoyed so much she’d not been able to put it aside until the water had got cold. My most treasured review, albeit a private one! Here’s the link to the Observer piece:

Apart from that, I’ve been immersed in the bloody life of the Norwegian King Olaf I, about whom Elgar wrote his first extended choral work, which I’m to give a paper on to the Yorkshire branch of the Elgar Society later this year.

Hence no comments yet on the extraordinary political events taking place in Britain just now, in the course of our progress from democracy to authoritarianism. For isn’t that what the current Priti Patel incident is about? – Or about the coronavirus which is currently scaring Kajsa and me off flying to visit each other now, as we had planned. We’re both elderly, and with lung problems.

Back to Jan Morris: Conundrum was the book that first got me thinking about ‘gender’, and open to ideas about ‘gender fluidity’. Bless you, Jan.

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Monstering Labour

The recent propaganda campaign against Labour’s and Corbyn’s alleged ‘anti-semitism’ will go down as the most despicable in recent British political history. (Certainly if I have anything to do with the writing of it!) Those responsible for it – the Conservative press, the British Board of Deputies, the Jewish Chronicle, anti-Corbyn Labour MPs – should all be thoroughly ashamed of themselves. So should those who swallowed their wicked libels without properly examining them, often simply on the grounds that ‘Jews felt vulnerable’ – of course they did, in the midst of all this propaganda – ‘so there must be something in it’. In fact there wasn’t. It was nearly all lies. The Jewish community in Britain, or its self-proclaimed leadership, has done no favours to itself, or even to Israel, by mounting this deceitful campaign, which must eventually rebound adversely on it. I can even see it provoking a genuine ‘anti-semitism’. And of course it has also done no favours to the wider community it lives amongst, as not merely a ‘tolerated’ but also a valued and admired minority; by contributing – in whatever small degree – to the defeat of the only party and leader in the land that promised political and social reform along genuine Judaeo-Christian lines.

The following comes from a radical left-wing paper, which might provoke distrust among some readers; but it’s the best of a number of analyses of this scandal that I’ve read recently:

Corbyn’s  conduct and demeanour in the wake of the tragedy of December has been as dignified as one would expect from him. One of his aims was to transform British politics and society away  from the lying and sheer malevolence that characterise the government that – with the marginal assistance, among others, of the ‘pro-Israel lobby’ – defeated him in December. His failure should not be counted against him; unless it’s merely in terms of tactics. He and his supporters could not – perhaps could not hope to – effectively counter the massive disinformation machine ranged against him. Perhaps they should have tried; as Blair did, for example, by reaching his Mephistophelian bargain with Rupert Murdoch. Is that now the only way that the Left can win?

I still admire Corbyn, and have no regrets about having supported him. In the upcoming Labour leadership election, however, I’ll be voting for Keir Starmer. As a key shadow minister under Corbyn he must have supported the policies the latter represented. And I’ve always thought that politicians ought to have pursued other careers before aspiring to positions where they can tell their compatriots how to pursue theirs. Starmer’s previous career was highly distinguished one, and in the public  service. (Hence the ‘Sir’.) For me that overshadows other serious desiderata, like having a woman as a Labour PM. We’ll see how the Right-wing Press will try it on with him. It may not find it quite as easy to ‘monster’ him as it did the terrorist-friendly/communist-spy/anti-semitic/bad dresser (etc.) Jeremy. But I’m sure they’ll find – or invent – something.

I’m still, by the way, waiting for a response from the Labour Party to my ‘I’m Spartacus’ letter ( Will I be expelled, for expressing views like those alluded to in this post?

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Palme and Conspiracy

Conspiracy theories are – according to the comedian David Baddiel in his excellent TV programme on ‘Holocaust deniers’ the other evening – ‘how idiots get to feel like intellectuals’. I rather liked that! (All the more so because Baddiel didn’t try to drag Jeremy into it.)

I suppose it’s the originality of their thinking and the extent of their researches – often published at great length, and extensively footnoted – that make ‘conspiracy theorists’ feel they’re up there (here!) with the intellectuals. Unfortunately, without proper academic training, most of them, they don’t usually bring with them the critical balance that education, at its best, should provide. (Maybe the arch Holocaust-denier David Irving is an exception; but I understand that he dropped out of all his university courses, which weren’t in History in any case.)

An old ‘conspiracy’ has recently resurfaced in the Swedish news recently. Apparently the murderer of prime minister Olof Palme is to be authoritatively revealed shortly ( That mystery has been surrounded by ‘conspiracy theories’ ever since the event itself 34 years ago, which weren’t quieted when a man was arrested and imprisoned for it in 1988, but then exonerated and released the following year. Suspicion has fallen on the South African secret services, the CIA, the Swedish security service itself, and a dozen other agencies. Palme was of course a prominent and effective critic of apartheid and of the Vietnam war, and a man who broke with his upper-class upbringing to become a social democrat. (So he was a class traitor.) He had powerful and undoubtedly ingenious enemies. Maybe we’ll find out soon whether any of the ‘conspiracy theories’ surrounding his murder have any basis in truth.

For the problem with dismissive comments like Baddiel’s, and of those who immediately dismiss all talk of ‘conspiracies’ as the ravings of disordered and uneducated minds, is that people do  ‘conspire’, at every level of society – that hardly needs to be demonstrated; I’ve done it – and at the highest level of politics. Baddiel himself shows how Nazis conspired to cover up the Holocaust at the end of the War. We saw plenty of conspiring during the recent Brexit referendum and the British General Election. (I’ve blogged about this before: It would be beyond belief to think that politicians, newspapers and rich bastards didn’t indulge in this. And to dismiss such explanations by associating them with – for example – the Jewish blood libel, or David Icke’s claim that Prince Philip is a shape-shifting alien, is to unfairly cut off several avenues of quite legitimate enquiry. There are conspiracies and conspiracies. The question to be asked, in every case, is how effective  they are. For what it’s worth, vis-a-vis  the Palme murder my money’s on the South Africans. But we’ll have to wait and see.

By the way, David Irving went to my school, though I don’t remember him. I do hope he wasn’t taught by my – much revered – History masters. From my memories of the school more generally, however, that could be where he first learned about ‘conspiracies’.

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Point number 1: democracy is not the most efficient form of government. Point number 2: that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Efficiency can breed tyranny.

One of the major insults I remember being used against the Nazis during and after the 1939-45 War was directed at ‘German efficiency’. It was not a compliment, but was supposed to portray the Germans as machine-like, and consequently inhuman. The post-war Soviet Union was painted in a similar way. That was also the Mekon’s great flaw in the comic strip I referenced in my last post, originally appearing just a few years after the end of the War, and clearly modelled on Hitler and his robotic, jack-booted followers. The Mekon had been created by ‘Science’, searching only for efficiency, irrespective of any higher morality. Years before that we had the common image of the ‘evil scientist’ in popular fiction, and of the soulless ‘advanced’ civilisations from other worlds that threatened planet Earth in all those wonderful early Sci-Fi films. That this boasted ‘efficiency’ wasn’t really so efficient in the long run, when confronted with humanity’s untidier and laxer qualities, was usually the moral of at any rate the more ‘feel-good’ of these stories. Dan Dare always came out on top (and then usually let the Mekon free, for fear of compromising his own humanity). ‘Mr Hitler’ was no match for Dad’s Army – the epitome of the Briton’s supposedly softer kind of heroism. In the end humanity triumphed over ‘efficiency’; as it was bound to do, perhaps because it left more room for questioning and adapting to things. If Mr Hitler and Mr Mekon had had a more sceptical side, they might have been more successful, ultimately, than they were.

The slogan that won our last UK election was ‘Get Brexit Done’. What that was, basically, was a cry of impatience against the inefficiency  of the British electoral system, which had allowed the European question to drag on for so long. That ‘inefficiency’, of course, was due to the necessity of Brexit’s being subject to the ‘checks and balances’ that are supposed to be central to the British constitution (as well as to the USA’s); but ‘efficiency’ has no call for obstacles like this. Hence Johnson’s desire to ‘reform’ the constitution in order to undermine them: the delaying power of the House of Lords, for example, and the ‘interference’ of the higher judiciary; both of which are on his ‘To Do’ list for the next year or two. On top of that we have a ‘Special Advisor’ to Number Ten – the Mekon look-alike – who appears to view everything through the lense of ‘efficiency’; and, for a very short period (yesterday, to be precise), another – the young and callow Andrew Sabisky – whose views on eugenics and compulsory birth-control for the plebs seem to mirror closely those of the super-efficient Nazis, who also elevated scientific – or pseudo-scientific – solutions above a more generous morality.

Efficiency’s OK in its place. I quite like Swedish buses, for example, always turning up exactly on time. And I wouldn’t want to be operated on by an inefficient surgeon. But it can also be cold, heartless and mentally constricting, when applied to an essentially complex field, like national policy; and also, of course, wrong.


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Journey to Mekonta

With Dominic Cummings in the news this morning as the supposed evil genius behind Sajiv Javid’s surprise resignation as Chancellor – thus enabling Boris’s absolute control of government, on the way to Dominic’s ultimate vision of a new quasi-Fascist(?) way of governing – I thought it might be worth re-posting this earlier blog of mine, originally entitled ‘Separated at Birth?’


That’s Dominic (Demonic) Cummings on the left, and the evil Mekon on the right. Remember Dan Dare? I imagine many won’t; which is probably why this rather obvious analogy – as I thought – didn’t catch on.

I’m becoming very depressed about the scale of both Johnson’s and Trump’s successes. Dominic, in his diabolical way, was clearly right. Questions of ‘character’ don’t matter to half, at any rate, of the British electorate, just as they don’t matter to Trump voters in America. Have you seen those TV programmes featuring Trump’s rallies and interviews with their unbelievably stupid ‘fans’ bussing around the US to follow them…? After one of them last night I found myself wishing that that that flaming asteroid heading for the Earth so beloved of Sci-Fi disaster movies really would crash into us and force humanity to start all over again. The Mekon could be driving it.

One of the keys to both Trump’s and Johnson’s present successes appears to be the optimism  they give out: ‘MAGA’, and the ‘sunlit uplands’; however false that optimism turns out to be in the end. By that time we could all be Dom-dominated, robotic Treens. And without any Therons from the other side of the planet to help us out. (Anyone not brought up on the Eagle 60-70 years ago will have lost me there.)

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Jewish Morality

As a passionate anti-racist for all of my adult life, as you can tell from my books; an admirer of Jewish culture; and with a huge sympathy for the Jewish people’s sufferings, alongside others’, throughout history, I still cannot find it in myself to forget or forgive the conduct of certain British Jewish agencies and spokespeople in libelling Jeremy Corbyn and the Labour Party as ‘anti-semitic’ during the last British General Election. Apparently they’ve now started doing it to Bernie Sanders – himself a Jew, of course – during the American Democratic Primaries. Can it be a coincidence that both Corbyn and Sanders are self-proclaimed ‘socialists’? I’m reluctant to infer that it’s money that is the prime consideration here, because that might pander to a genuine anti-semitic trope that I’m reluctant to be associated with.

Besides, my understanding of Judaeo-Christian social morality – whose tradition I was brought up in – suggests that Corbyn’s and Sanders’s political principles are far more in alignment with that, than with the selfish late-capitalist anti-ethic that fuels both Trump and Johnson. Which is probably the reason for other  Jews’ resistance to the British Board of Deputies’ propaganda, and support for Corbyn; including that of Professor Geoffrey Alderman, the foremost historian of the Jewish community in Britain, and (I believe) one of Corbyn’s constituents. For a principled anti-racist to be accused of racism must hurt almost as much as accusing an innocent and loving father of paedophilia. It will take me a long time, on behalf of Corbyn and my Labour Party, to get over it, and to regard the Jewish community – though not, of course, my Jewish friends – as I once did. That is so sad; and must – if it’s a general feeling – do the cause of combatting genuine anti-semitism much harm. I don’t imagine for a moment that it was this ‘Jewish’ propaganda that lost Labour the election, though some Jews are boasting of this; but any influence it may have had must undermine Labour members’ previously close alliance with Judaism.

One result of this propaganda was to widen the definition of ‘anti-semitism’ to include opinions and attitudes that really should not have been part of it. The most notorious examples are support for Palestinian statehood, and opposition to Israeli colonialism (and its attendant atrocities) in the Palestinian territories. These are supposedly supported by an ‘international’ definition of anti-semitism which was never designed as a definition, and has been disavowed as such by its author, but which the Labour Party has been bullied – there’s no other word for it – into officially adopting. That has led to a number of Labour members being expelled for acting or speaking in ways that are supposed to contravene that definition, unjustly and – writing as an academic – irrationally. This has added to my personal pain.

One Labour member has confronted this by offering herself for expulsion, on the grounds that she, too, has criticised the government of Israel. Here is her letter, reprinted by the Jewish Voice for Labour, which I’ve recently become a (non-Jewish) member of. It has also been widely disseminated in Labour circles.

I’m thinking of following Natalie’s example. After all, I’ve criticised Israel too, in this small and insignificant blog.

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Nordic Child Care

The following article is about Finland, but it also applies to Sweden. In fact – remembering my own days as a father of small children – the Swedish parental leave and childcare systems were the first things that struck me about the country when I began my association with it 25 years ago. I so envied present-day Swedish parents for the assistance the State affords them when their children are young; not only mothers, but also fathers, who are just as much ‘liberated’ by being able to share the early stages of parenthood equally with their partners. I would have loved being able to take a year ‘off’, fully paid, to look after mine; and then had excellent free pre-schools to send them to afterwards. (And it would probably have made me a better dad.)

From a broader, societal point of view there can be no doubt that the system also contributes more to gender equality than any other reform one could think of. Hence Finland’s present progressive and enlightened women-dominated government. Nervous British men need to be assured that women in power don’t need to be like Thatcher or May. They had to force their way up through a patriarchal system. That could explain their sharp edges. Instead, learn from the Nordics.

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