Secrets and Taxes

So Rishi Sunak is demanding a ‘rigorous enquiry’ into who leaked his family’s tax status. It seems to be a peculiarity of our culture that such matters should be considered to be so private and personal as to merit this degree of secrecy. (Is it the same elsewhere?) This is despite the fact that personal wealth and how it’s ‘earned’, taxed and and dispensed have vital social ramifications – and also roots – that make them of crucial public interest too. No man – or woman, for that matter – is ‘an island’, in the words of John Donne; or is truly ‘self-made’. Society contributed to their riches; so society should be allowed to know.

So, in my view everyone’s payslips and tax returns should be open to perusal by any of their compatriots; as I believe they are in Sweden, where it’s considered to be a ‘democratic’ desideratum – as it surely is. It follows that Sunak’s going to these lengths to hide his financial ‘secrets’ shows how fundamentally undemocratic his whole way of thinking is. And also selfish, petty and personal, when there are so many other questions, affecting millions more people, that are surely at least as deserving of ‘rigorous enquiry’. Child poverty, NHS underfunding, and the necessity for ‘food banks’, for starters.

Of course this is yet another ‘late-stage capitalist’ thing. Capitalists – in Britain at any rate – used to avoid direct participation in government and politics, in favour of occupations that could make them richer. Now they’re stepping up to take overt control over us. Sunak is not the only one. The current Health Secretary, Sajid Javid (also from Asia originally, which is a little discomforting), is the latest cabinet member to be revealed as having used the device of ‘non-dom’ status, and a US ‘green card’, to ease his personal tax burden when he was a banker in America. The monster is taking over at the top. Surely in the light of this no-one can any longer dispute that Marx was essentially right?

The very latest indication of this is the current threat to Channel 4. For American readers, Channel 4 is a ‘public service’ TV station that isn’t paid for by Government, but by advertising and by selling its programmes, and so doesn’t need financial ‘owners’ and investors to keep it going. It broadcasts excellent, innovative and popular programmes, commissioned from independent producers; and is in good financial health. One of its distinctive qualities is its ‘balanced’ reporting of news events, enabling more scrutiny of Britain’s current government than is found either on the BBC – scared of the government’s control over its license fee – or ITV. Yet the current ‘culture’ secretary, Nadine Dorries – a truly ridiculous figure, best known for her ignorance and for being filmed eating an ostrich anus on some silly ‘reality’ TV programme (but, to be fair, it must have been difficult for Boris to find intelligent ministers when his choice was restricted to Brexiters) – is dead set on ‘privatising’ it, and so turning it into a commercial operation like all the others.

There’s nothing wrong with Channel 4 that could justify this. Opponents are saying that the real motive behind its proposed privatisation is revenge for some of its programmes that have expressed or implied criticism of Boris and his government. But another might be more purely ideological: neoliberal opposition on principle to non-capitalist enterprises, even if, and perhaps especially if, counter to the claims of neoliberal ideology, they actually work. It reminds me of Thatcher’s privatisation in the 1980s of the dear old Trustee Savings Bank, mentioned in my last post: ‘owned’ by its customers, and working well, but not making a personal profit for anyone, and so ripe for privatisation on that ground alone. That marked the virtual end of ‘social’ banking in Britain (the TSB is no more), and – to my mind – also marked a narrowing of choice for all of us, forced as we now are to choose between only truly ‘capitalist’ banks. Which – as we all know after they fucked us all up in 2008 – aren’t necessarily as beneficial to broader society as neoliberal ideology would have us believe.

Sunak’s elevation to the Treasury, and the values he’s revealed while there, both in his last mini-budget and in the priority he seems to be giving right now to his own personal family fortune, are telling indications of the ‘late capitalist’ stage in our national story that we’re now at. Again: well spotted, Karl! Although I’m not quite so sure about the rest of the old devil’s predictions. Revolution looks a while off yet. A socialist revolution, that is; and in a UK whose collective brain seems to have been turned – by the capitalist press – to mush.

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A Confession

My first visit to the USA was in 1970, or around then, to teach ‘summer school’ at the University of Rochester, NY State. It was in the middle of the Vietnam War; one of my students was a refugee from a famous riot at Kent State University, where he had (he said) led the rioters in a burning of the American flag. (I won’t give his name, in case the Feds are still after him.) Other students missed classes in order to travel to New York City – or it may have been Albany: in any case a day’s travel – to argue for their exemption from the ‘draft’. – Interesting times, for someone on the safe edge of things; only slightly marred for me by the summer parties around swimming pools where I was virtually the only one not ‘high’ on drugs, and consequently boring. The best thing I took away from that trip was an LP of Arlo Guthrie’s wonderful and draft-related Alice’s Restaurant, which I still have. And some money.

It’s the money I want to write about here. I still feel guilty about it; and the current row about Mr and Mrs Sunak’s money has reignited that guilt. It was paid to me in the US with taxes (Federal and State) deducted; but still a fairly tidy sum to bring back to the UK. On my return I took it in to my bank to deposit; only for my bank manager – one of the old breed, a bit like Captain Mainwaring – to tell me I might be liable to British tax, on top of what I had paid in America. The way to get around this, he explained, was to open an offshore account, and deposit the money there for a year. So he fixed that for me; and so for a year I held an account in a Barclays branch in Jersey. After the year was up it was transferred back, UK tax free. I can’t remember the sum involved – it was fifty years ago, remember – but I think I used it for a deposit on my first house. It was obviously peanuts, compared to Akshata Murty’s millions; but it makes me a tax dodger in the same category as her, and as the tax avoiders we on the Left are so fond of criticising today. It probably makes me a bit of a hypocrite.

After this I changed my bank to the TSB, which was the only mildly socialist bank I could find at the time (the Co-op didn’t have a branch near me), and remained so until Thatcher stole it from its depositors, privatised it, possibly illegally; and it was bought up and destroyed by those capitalist bastards at Lloyds. But that’s another story.

I must say I felt qualms even at the time about my Jersey account; but no-one else seemed to be bothered. The ethos then was that you were entitled to employ any devious trick available to you to avoid tax, and that you were a bit of an idiot if you didn’t. Didn’t Trump say something like this? ‘Only little people pay taxes’? As an ex-banker, Rishi may well share that view. Which makes it pretty ironic – that’s the kindest word I can find for it – that he should be the man in charge of all our taxes.

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Two simple questions – maybe a bit pedantic. They’re to do with Rishi Sunak’s wife, Aksharta Murty, and her huge fortune, most of which she’s managed to avoid paying UK tax on, by choosing to claim ‘non-dom’ status: a common (and entirely legal) practice among the very rich in Britain; thus depriving the British Treasury – presided over by her husband, the Chancellor of the Exchequer – of many millions of pounds that it could have used rather better in these straightened times. (Whether it would have done, of course, is another question.) This has been the subject of much comment in the press, with most commentators – even some right-wing ones – deploring the hypocrisy and crass insensitivity of it; while others argue that as she broke no law there could be no problem with it; and wasn’t it rather mean and unchivalric – possibly even sexist and racist – to try to get at the Chancellor through his wife?

My points here are rather different, and focus on semantics, or the definitions of words. Firstly: ‘dom’, as in ‘non-dom’, is short for ‘domiciled’, and means ‘lives in’ (from the Latin, ‘domus’, or ‘home’). Murty was born in India, but incontrovertibly lives in the UK presently: at No. 11 Downing Street, to be precise, although she and hubby also have grand domūs (pl.) elsewhere in the country. Secondly, the money that comes to her from overseas she classes as ‘earnings’. But that’s a misnomer, surely? Most of her fortune appears to be dividends from gifts bestowed on her by her multi-billionaire father. To call these monies ‘earnings’ is surely stretching the meaning of the word somewhat. ‘Earnings’ are money you’ve ‘earned’, usually by work of some kind. Murty’s fortune wasn’t earned in this sense, but merely and fortuitously fell into her lap. ‘Profits’ or ‘unearned income’ would be better words for it.

Then there’s the question of where these profits are situated just now. Another notorious way in which very rich people can avoid taxation is by hiding their monies in overseas ‘tax havens’. Murty and her financial advisers won’t tell us whether this is so in her case. For in Britain your tax affairs are a personal and private matter, between you and your God; on a level with your sex life (if you can keep the tabloids out of that). So, unless a whistle-blower in Jersey or the Cayman Islands – or even HMRC – pops up to betray your confidences, your secrets are safe. But wouldn’t it be good, and socially defensible, if we could all know what these rich bastards were doing with their ill-gotten millions?

(In Sweden, incidentally, it’s very different. I don’t know about overseas ‘earnings’; but I do know that my Swedish tax return is already filled out with my salary and pension details when it lands in my postbox. And you can get up anybody’s tax details – I think – on the internet.)

The Murty situation stinks. But not because she’s an Indian, or a woman. It reflects the general opacity and corruption of the British financial system. Which is one of the reasons, as I understand it, why Russian oligarchs love – or used to love – the City of London so much. If he weren’t so compromised by his wife’s situation, Sunak should have the means to correct that.

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They’re All the Same

‘’Twas ever thus’ (see is only one of the false conclusions that people claim to infer from ‘history’. Another is ‘They’re all the same’ – and always have been, it’s implied. Usually applied to politicians, and to describe their venality and hypocrisy, it’s a way of undermining all of them, and consequently the ones you presently have in your sights. Just like ‘’Twas ever thus’, it also has the effect – or at least the tendency – of destroying faith in all governments, and hence in ‘the system’ overall. It’s a reason why people used to become ‘Anarchists’, if they had thought it through; and now are ‘Populists’, if they hardly think at all. ‘What’s the point in voting?’ if all political candidates are like this: ‘on the make’, only looking out for ‘Number One’, and ready to lie and swindle their ways into power? And of course this, too, is supposed to have been ‘ever thus’; which makes it doubly hopeless to try to change it.

It’s arguable that this way of thinking is one of the greatest obstacles to responsible democracy at the present time; accounting for low electoral turnouts in Britain and the USA, for example, and the widespread vilification of most democratic politicians. This, incidentally, and to refer back to my earlier post, was certainly not ‘ever thus’. There have been times when some British politicians, at least, were far more respected than they are today. Their low reputation now is partly their own fault, of course. The various scandals that have beset them over the past few years – votes for cash, expenses, duck houses, second jobs, illegal parties, bullying, sexual harassment, drug-taking – can’t be blamed on anyone but themselves. But it should be blatantly obvious – do I need to give examples? – that they can’t ‘all’ be like that. Other professions must be more essentially corrupt. (Estate agents? Popular journalists?) And there may also be another factor at work here, exploiting the depravity of some MPs, for different ends.

The popular Press, especially, has leapt on to these instances of depravity: partly because they are the juicy sort of stuff it knows will appeal to its readers; but also for more venal reasons. The British Press, remember, is mainly owned by capitalists – or ‘oligarchs’, as they would be called if they were Russian. In this ‘late capitalist’ age of ours, it is – or is conceived to be – a major interest of capitalism to be enabled to operate ‘freely’: that is, without let or hindrance, or sometimes even any regulations to restrain it; which is what the neo-liberal Right is presently offering. But of course to most reasonable people – including reasonable capitalists – capitalism needs a degree of outside control, in order to soften the injurious social impact of the ‘red in tooth and claw’ features of it. And that can only be done politically; which is as good a reason as any for the oligarchs to want to discredit politics and politicians altogether. This may help to account for the way Jeremy Corbyn, in particular, was treated by the Press and by the Tory Right in the last British election; largely, one suspects, because his transparent – even naïve – honesty didn’t fit the image they wanted to project of politics generally. ‘’Twas ever thus’ and ‘They’re all the same’ contributed to this.

They’re also a way of excluding ‘principle’ from politics, so enabling Machiavels like Dominic Cummings to ‘play’ it simply as a ‘game’. So far as we – the ordinary people who play along with this – are concerned, there are two further factors favouring both ‘ever thus-ism’ and ‘all the same-ism’ as contributions to political debate. The first of these is the healthy scepticism that ought of course to be encouraged in any electorate: a reluctance to accept authority without question, and a desire to find out what might lie beneath it. That’s fine so far as it goes: essential, in fact, if we’re to be able to make intelligent assessments of the policies being offered to us. ‘Intelligence’ however, requires thought; and simply replacing ‘authority’ with a blanket dismissal of any of it on the grounds of ‘ever thus-ism’ and ‘all the same-ism’, isn’t a thoughtful response at all. Indeed, this may be why these two approaches are so popular today. They don’t require critical thought. They’re ways of dismissing all politicians and their opinions without needing to come properly to grips with them; yet giving the impression that you have come to grips with them, simply because you ‘know’ what lies behind them. People need simplistic analyses like these, in order to make them appear sophisticated and critical, but at the same time to save them from the hard intellectual effort of serious thinking.

Now this may well have been ‘ever thus’: among many people, that is. And just now it’s difficult to know how it should be met, in order to insert a greater degree of rationality into our ‘democratic’ politics, and to counter the Machiavels. At present the House of Lords – a more calmly deliberative body – seems to be our best bet; extraordinarily, in view of its almost indefensible role and composition. Can ‘history’ give any other clues?

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Sweden and Russia

Swedes are far more alive than Brits are to the possibility of Russia’s attack on Ukraine spreading: to the Baltic States initially, and then – via Gotland – to Sweden itself. They – ‘we’ when I’m there – are obviously much closer to Russia than the British and Americans are, and have a history of attacks and feared attacks from that quarter. Kajsa and I live some of our time on an island in the Stockholm Archipelago: ideal for quarantining from Covid, and so safer, we thought; but only a stone’s throw (metaphorically) from Latvia, and within easy range of Russian missiles. I don’t think our island was ever invaded in the great age of confrontation between Russia and the Nordics; but other islands nearby have histories of having been burned to the ground by Russian warships in the eighteenth century. (Lots of trees there; and nearly every house is built of wood.) More recently Soviet and Russian submarines have been detected swimming around sneakily between the islands, and Russian military aircraft flying overhead. Sweden is shipping military hardware to Gotland. Citizens are being advised on how to make their basements into bomb shelters; and how to stock up on food to withstand a siege. Kajsa has just bought a wind-up radio and mobile phone charger, in case the public electricity fails. And there are scores of articles in Dagens Nyheter and the other Swedish papers on the Ukraine war; just like in Britain, but with the crucial difference that it’s taken more personally and immediately in Scandinavia than it is there.

In connection with this, I thought that this short post on a blogsite I follow – Scandinavian Brits – was interesting enough to repost here (with permission from Garry Jones, its author and the excellent ‘administrator’ of the site). It’s addressed to us ‘Swenglish’. But of course it poses questions that might also need to be considered by stay-at-home Brits – if the Bear’s claws ever reach that far.

If Putin attacks Sweden did you know everyone in Sweden between 16 and 70 is to be placed under military orders and can be ordered to go and stand in the front line with a gun and attack the invaders? Not just Swedish citizens, it applies to everyone living here….

‘My thoughts are: if Sweden resisted Russia millions could be killed. Entire cities could be bombed to rubble.

‘The question “why bother?” has to be asked. Personally I’d rather be alive under a Putin controlled Sweden than die trying to stop him taking over. Then we could remain living in a Sweden without a lot of cities with blown up buildings and millions killed in bombing raids. It wouldn’t be very nice if Putin came and I wouldn’t cooperate. But I’d still be alive.

‘There are a lot of very brave men who have been killed in Ukraine fighting Russia. They have one thing in common; they’re all dead. Ask their widows, mothers and children if they think the sacrifice was worth it. What’s it all about?

‘Obviously it’s best if someone kills Putin.

‘But is trying to stop him taking over Sweden worth dying for?

‘However. History tells us thankfully Sweden is geographically irrelevant and strategically worthless. One reason for Sweden’s 220-year neutrality is their national avoidance of confrontations, but another reason is there is nothing of interest here.’

Well, that’s a comfort, for the Swedes.

This post attracted a lot of comment, which can be read on the original site ( Personally, I instinctively resile against the argument being made here. Thinking back over the last World War: would I have been in favour of surrendering to Hitler on these grounds? (We could have been spared the deaths, and have recovered, pushed back and rebuilt, slowly.) But there is a kind of rationality about it; which needs to be confronted if we want – as I would – to take the more ‘heroic’ path.

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’Twas Ever Thus

No. I’m sorry; but ’twasnt. As a historian, I think I can confidently say that nothing approaching the present degree of governmental corruption, duplicity and incompetence has been seen in British politics over the last century or more. Of course one can point to examples of all these traits at certain times in the past, some of them egregious; but they never combined together to characterise politics as they seem to be doing today.

Nor do these past examples indicate that politics has always (‘ever’) been like that. That’s a common mistake of people’s using – or rather misusing – history to make present-day political points. Because they’ve found something like it happening in the past, they jump to the assumption that this is how it has ‘ever’ been. An example is the evidence Michael Gove gave to the Leveson inquiry into Press malpractice in 2019; when – in his usual self-confident style – he cited instances of scandal-mongering journalism in the 1790s, in order to prove that this had ‘always’ gone on. Of course that doesn’t follow. Because something happened in the late eighteenth century which bears a resemblance to today’s journalistic practices, it doesn’t at all follow that those practices were common in the intervening years too. In actual fact they weren’t, during most of the nineteenth century and the first three-quarters of the twentieth; when the Press – even the left-wing Radical press – was far more fair and balanced, and indeed intelligent, than it is today. To show that journalism – and by extension politics – were ‘ever thus’, one needs to provide evidence for the intervening years too. But people very rarely do. This applies to those on the Left as well. Citing, for example, the Indian ‘Mutiny’ or the Omdurman massacre or any of Britain’s other imperial crimes to prove that racism in Britain was ‘ever thus’, falls into exactly the same error.

I’m not sure why some on the Left feel they need to do this. My forthcoming Britain’s Contested History: Lessons for Patriots (the publishers now tell me it won’t be out until July) will I hope put them right – or a little bit righter – on these matters. So far as people like Gove are concerned, however, the ‘’twas ever thus’ argument helps to excuse the methods of men like Rupert Murdoch, his great patron, whose News of the World he was defending; on the grounds that if his sort of journalism had always gone on it must be ‘natural’, which meant that he (Murdoch) could not be blamed for it. You could make the same argument – and some people do – for a whole load of things. Poverty is the most obvious one: ‘the poor are always with us’. And cheating and lying. Indeed, the ‘’twas ever thus’ argument is one of the most powerful weapons that can be deployed against reform, or indeed any kind of change. Fatalism can only encourage acceptance and apathy. And ‘history’ – proper history that is, not the sort that simply relies on ‘precedents’ – doesn’t support it at all.

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One of the BBC’s chief selling points is that it is, or endeavours to be, ‘impartial’.  In yesterday’s Guardian, however, its chairman (Richard Sharp) was quoted as saying that this wasn’t a selling point at all; that people didn’t really want impartiality in their news broadcasts, but rather ‘provocation and sensation’, leaning them towards ‘more entertaining partisan outlets such as Rupert Murdoch’s expected Talk-TV.’ On the letters page of the same issue of the Guardian there were appeals to Keir Starmer to dumb down Labour’s appeal to the electorate, replacing the ‘counternarrative to whatever the Tory project is’, couched in ‘the deadening language of abstraction’, with ‘the effective use of short phrases’ to win voters over. That’s the Tories’ way, after all; and look how well it’s done for them. The underlying assumption behind all this is that ‘the people’ are too – what? ignorant? uninterested? lazy? misled? stupid? (please don’t say that) – to be able to cope with ‘impartiality’ and rational argument; and hence to make sensible choices when it comes to elections and (yes) referenda.

All of which may seem to be corroborated – especially if you’re partisan – by surveys showing that the more highly educated in society were more likely to vote for Europe and the Left in 2017 and 2019, and the less educated for Brexit and the ‘populist’ Right. ‘Highly educated’ generally means more rational; unless of course your education was at a ‘Public’ school. (Knowing your Latin declensions doesn’t necessarily mean you’re bright.) For the others, spending most of your leisure time watching ‘entertainment’ reality shows and funny quizzes on the television doesn’t necessarily fit you for considering serious things, or in a serious way. Hence – perhaps – Boris’s popularity; originally founded on an amusing guest appearance on Have I Got News for You, and then on a single memorable catch phrase in the last General Election: ‘Get Brexit Done’. Nothing else that he’s achieved in his political, journalistic and personal lives should merit this support; but that doesn’t matter beside the ‘entertainment value’ he carries: for now.

This must be highly depressing for the Opposition. Keir Starmer is never likely to take on a ‘clown’ persona as naturally as Boris. He’s a lawyer, after all. (The only entertaining lawyer I’ve come across is ‘Rumpole of the Bailey’, and he was a fictional one.) Labour have tried to find simple-minded slogans to rival the Tories’ advertising agents’. The best was probably ‘For the Many, Not the Few’, which undoubtedly caught on with the young; but not more generally in the face of the image drawn of Corbyn’s greyer seriousness. It’s also depressing, can I say, for ‘élitist’ academics like me, devoted to seriousness, and to its concomitants: truth, context, rationality, joined-up thought, and all those other things that are the very antitheses of ‘entertainment’ (although I do try to find places for a few jokes in my own books); and who may still be hopeful that some of these solider qualities might find their way into the national debate eventually – perhaps when our notoriously ‘unfree press’ has been liberated and cleansed.

Prime Minister’s Question Time in the House of Commons yesterday brought this home. PMQs is an almost unique feature of the British Parliamentary system, enabling ordinary MPs to quiz their chief minister on any public issue, to which he is supposed to respond intelligently and truthfully. With Boris this is never how it works out. Intelligent and indeed searching questions are put to him, by his own supporters as well as by the Opposition parties; only to be met by irrelevant waffling, cheap jibes and lies.

It was like this yesterday. It was as if Johnson thought he was on Have I Got News for You again. But we always knew he was like that. Even his supporters know it and accept it. Indeed, that was the really remarkable thing about yesterday’s performance: the way his backbenchers supported him to the hilt, ignoring the lies, laughing at his humorous put-downs (which are, it must be said, getting more and more predictable and hence less funny as the weeks go by); and raising the roof with their cacophonous shouting and whistling. (As usual; but worse than usual yesterday, it seemed, maybe because Boris had treated them all to a slap-up dinner – wine included – at the Ritz the evening before.)

Parliament is supposed to be a place of rational debate. It usually is, in its quieter moments. But what Tory backbenchers, and the people who tune into it on TV, mainly go for is the ‘provocation and sensation’ – ‘entertainment’ – it offers on occasions like this. The chairman of the BBC may be right. Which doesn’t, of course, mean that his great institution should give in to it. That way Fox News lies.

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Hell Hath No Fury

One of the effects of Brexit, and more recently of Boris Johnson’s elevation to the Premiership of the UK, appears to have been a sharp decline in the reputation of Britain abroad. Of course this is hard to prove or to quantify; but I’ve not come across anyone or any media in Sweden, for example, which has expressed admiration or envy towards Britain’s ‘liberation’ of herself from the tyranny of Brussels – let alone putting it on the same level as the Ukrainians’ brave resistance to Russia, as Boris recently gave the impression of having done; or which regards Boris as any better than a ‘clown’. The only foreign statesmen to have approved of Brexit are those who wished to take advantage of it in order to weaken Europe, and may have helped it along – I’m thinking of Russian money here – to that end. Otherwise Britain has been sorely diminished, internationally, by recent events; to the extent of inducing expressions of ‘shame’ from many Britons who formerly would have regarded themselves as pretty patriotic.

Personally I couldn’t care less about this; never having been very ‘patriotically’ inclined anyway, and knowing full well that my Swedish (and other foreign) friends don’t associate me with what is happening in Britain today. (Or in the past, for that matter; which will be obvious to anyone who has read my books, starting with my first, on British anti-imperialism.) For other Britons, however, being generally diminished and ridiculed as a nation must hurt them personally; and could even provoke dangerous reactions as a result. Even before the ‘ridicule’ phase, Brexit itself may have been partly influenced by a perceived loss of national power and prestige following (after a lengthy interval) the fall of the British Empire: illustrated perhaps by the ‘we used to rule half the world’ shouts of populist mobs recently. (‘Half the world’ is inaccurate in any case; but let’s skip that for the moment.) It may be regarded as ironic that the populists’ solution – Brexit – has probably done more to further undermine Britain’s power and prestige than even decolonisation did; but they probably don’t realise this; or perhaps don’t mind. (One is reminded of the Millwall FC supporters’ notorious chant: ‘Everyone hates us and we don’t care’.)

In any case their resentment is hardly likely to do as much damage in the world as similar defeats and disappointments seem to have done in the cases of other countries, whose subsequent aggressions could be seen – at least in part – as reactions to previous humiliations, real or perceived. Nazi Germany is the obvious example, of a nation reacting to the mortifying terms imposed on it after World War I; a lesson which luckily the Allies learned after the next War, with the result that Germany was treated very differently then, to good effect. Unfortunately the wisdom of that approach seems to have been forgotten when it was Soviet Russia’s turn to be defeated, and then continually humiliated, by the USA and the capitalist West; generating a burning resentment in the heart of Vladimir Putin in particular, culminating in his present crusade to ‘Make Russia Great Again’, bloodily.

The lesson? When you’ve won, don’t rub it in. Or, to adapt an old saying: ‘Hell hath no fury like a nation scorned.’ Especially with regard to countries where patriotism is important. Personally, I prefer the Millwall approach.

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Poor Hull

The P&O management’s monstrous decision to summarily sack 800 of its employees, in order simply – and expressly – to replace them by cheaper foreign labour, has caused huge distress here in Hull. Hull is of course – or perhaps now was – one of P&O’s main ports, for travel to Rotterdam and back (they used to sail to Zeebrugge too, but no longer), with the result that scores of my fellow Hullites have been put cruelly out of work in a matter of minutes. I’ve sailed overnight on the Pride of Hull several times, without any complaints; it’s a pleasant voyage, and gets you to the Continent refreshed and relatively carbon-free. But I doubt whether I ever will again. It’s not as if the company can’t find the labour – sailors, engineers, cabin-cleaners, stewards, etc; only that they reckon that the staff they have are too well paid. Hence their recruitment of workers who will undercut them; who will of course now have to be specially and hurriedly trained to run ships that very few of them will have been familiar with before. I wouldn’t like to sail with them in a storm.

I’m wondering whether this moral crime – a bishop has called it a ‘sin’ – was in any way enabled by Britain’s leaving the jurisdiction of the EU? I’ve not yet been able to find this out. It may well contravene British labour laws too. But even if not, the decision is certainly consistent with one of the principles espoused by the leaders and the financiers of the Brexit movement: to do away with ‘restraints on trade’ that they then blamed on the EU. ‘Neoliberals’ were in the vanguard of UKIP and of the other pro-Brexit movements. Labour legislation went against their understanding of what constituted ‘freedom’: which included the freedom of employers to hire and fire.

It’s not at all clear that those who voted for Brexit – including a majority of Hullites – fully understood this; having been seduced by the argument that Brexit would free Britons from ‘foreigners’. The foreign (Dubai) owned P&O management, and the scores of foreign ‘scabs’ being brought in to run ferries like the Pride of Hull – no longer much for Hull to be proud of – should disillusion them about this; and maybe about the beneficence of the capitalism ‘red in tooth and claw’ that we seem to be headed towards today.

My adoptive city has been through a lot over the past century: depression, German bombs, the destruction of its fishing industry, more depression, and the mockery of Southerners. It doesn’t deserve this.

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Homes for Refugees

I offered my UK house to a refugee family a couple of weeks ago, and should have someone coming around to vet both the house and me shortly. Obviously I had Ukrainians in mind at the time, but they can come from anywhere. I don’t suppose they’ll be aware of Hull’s reputation, so that shouldn’t put them off. (In any case it can’t be worse than Kyiv just now.) Otherwise it should be perfect for them: a largish old terrace house in a nice part of town which could sleep a family of two adults and two children easily (along with me and Kajsa when she comes), with shops, schools and public transport nearby; and a host who has actually written a book about Refugees! (In the 19th century, granted; but still…)

I’m grateful to Michael Gove for the offer of £350 a month if I’m accepted as a ‘host’, but I don’t really need it. Getting to know these people will be reward enough. I might also ask them if they could introduce me to some Ukrainian cuisine. I have no idea what that will be like.

I suspect that Priti Patel will be gone soon. But more on the grounds of her incompetence than of her cruelty and quasi-fascism. Which only go to show that however charitable you are to refugees, you can’t depend on their offspring displaying the same charity.

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