What Now?

I wouldn’t particularly welcome a revolution; firstly because you never know how they’re going to turn out, and secondly because – on the personal side – I’ve got a certain amount of ‘stuff’ I’d like to keep. But it’s hard to see how we Brits (or half-Brits, in my case) can get out of the mess we’re in without one. Parliament isn’t working. The Labour Party doesn’t seem to have much going for it just now: nothing, that is, to inspire the enthusiasm  (but also to provoke the hostility) it did under Corbyn. Our politicians aren’t half the men and women they used to be; unsurprisingly, in view of their poor reputation as a class, which stalks ahead of them. Those who rise to the top – in cabinet – seem to be the worst of the lot. This must be the most incompetent, dishonest and corrupt government Britain has ever had in her history. The bulk of her ‘people’ are apathetic, accepting it all as ‘normal’, and dreadfully misled by their media; manipulated as that is by plutocrats who don’t have their true interests at heart. This isn’t just the result of Brexit, which has simply been used – I would say – by those plutocrats and others to pursue their  interests. How else would they be able to ‘complete the Thatcher revolution’, which is the explicit ambition of many of them? (Viz. my next book.)

There may be ways of correcting all this: electoral reform, press reforms, tax reform, social reform, political education (that is, simply teaching kids about ‘democracy’ and the checks and balances that are necessary to keep it ‘pure’); but that would take far more time than we have at our disposal, with the forces ranged against us, including apathy and stupidity, and the widespread popular prejudice, especially, against ‘politics’ of any kind. Incremental reform may not do it. Which would only leave the barricades.

But in the meantime it may be worth trying for an anti-Tory electoral coalition next time around (that looks awfully far away just now!) to emphasise the Conservatives’ – and especially these extreme authoritarian Conservatives’ – minority appeal in the country as a whole. I would put aside my own Leftist principles – and my doubts about Starmer – to achieve that. Once Boris and his crew have been replaced by a wider-based progressive government we can debate and see to all the other things that need mending (culminating in the climate crisis – if there’s still time). Is that the way to go?

Even this, however, might require more popular backing than seems likely now. For a political shift on this scale people need to get really worked up, and against their true enemies; not immigrants or the EU, but the Brexiteers, and the plutocrats behind them. (Hopefully Eton would lose a bit of its shine too.) Unfortunately I can’t see much sign of this just now. Virtually the only ‘anger’ I can discern out there (from across the North Sea) is over empty supermarket shelves; and even those are being blamed by the yellow Press on the EU. 

Are people only  thinking of their stomachs? And in the individualist selfish way Thatcher taught them to? And not for example about Priti Patel’s assaults on their traditional liberties? Is not being able to buy Spanish peaches (or whatever) a solid enough foundation for a popular movement that could remove a government peacefully; and – more to the point, perhaps – replace it by a liberal one? If not I can see only a kind of fascism, or a much less gentle Leftist revolution, looming ahead. 

So let’s go for a progressive alliance: Labour, Lib-Dems, Greens, SNP, PC, Independents and the ‘wetter’ (and wiser) of the Tories, shelving their tribalism for a while, and pulling together for the common good. Like they are supposed to have done in World War II. 

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Why We Are Where We Are Now

I see what they’re doing. They’ve worked out that very few people really care about politics, or about the conduct of their rulers; so long as it doesn’t involve paedophilia or… actually, I can’t think of anything else that would turn people seriously against them. Politicians’ minor peccadillos – cheating on expenses, using their influence to reward themselves and their chums, sticking their dicks into dead pigs’ mouths, and of course barefaced lying – are now accepted with a shrug, as characterising the whole breed – ‘they’re all the same’ – and so discrediting politics overall. ‘OK, Boris is a disaster, but Corbyn would have been worse.’ Which incidentally makes me half-grateful that Labour lost the last election: just imagine what the press would have made of a Corbyn government coping with Covid-19 only a tenth as badly as Johnson’s! (Or even better.) 

The demeaning of ‘politics’ is nothing new, of course, but it has been immeasurably exacerbated by politicians’ own scandals over the past decade or so (expenses, especially), and blown up by the Right-wing popular press in pursuit of its own agenda, to prevent regulation of itself (Leveson), and – beyond that – to stop the ‘people’ from interfering with the ‘market’ generally. One result has been a noticeable decline in the intellectual and moral  qualities  of the men and women who are elected to represent us. That must be obvious. (Especially the Old Etonians, of course. When will we summon up enough courage to abolish that appalling institution?) Another has been the collapse of all resistance to the ultra-authoritarian measures that are being enacted right now – most of them on Priti Patel’s initiative – to undermine basic democratic and liberal rights that were fought for in Britain over centuries. They include our freedom to protest, for example, and to uncover government wrong-doing, now to be categorised as ‘spying’; and the constitutional ‘checks and balances’ which used to protect us from hasty and foolish legislation; in addition to offending against our wider global and indeed humanitarian obligations, like the duty to rescue people found drowning at sea. These are being protested, but seemingly ineffectively, and not particularly popularly: indicating, again, the weakness of our – I would say traditional and patriotic British – defences against these appalling assaults. ‘The people’ don’t care. It’s the genius of our ultimate rulers – the ‘they’ of my first sentence – to have jumped to this. (Maybe Boris isn’t as stupid as his comedic persona suggests.) Brexit and the myths surrounding it, against the background of an anti-political popular media, gave them the perfect opportunity to manipulate this situation to their own advantage. That’s why we are where we are now. What ‘their’ real purpose is, is not difficult to deduce.

I can’t see a way out of this; short of Michael Gove being revealed as a kiddy-fiddler. (No, of course not.) So it’s neo-fascism – of the cuddly Boris variety – next stop. Never trust an Etonian; and an Etonian comedian least of all.

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Authoritarian Misrule

Finished A Patriot’s History of Britain yesterday – apart, obviously, from corrections and additions to come later. I never trust my computer – or electronic things generally – so I decided to copy all the files on to a memory stick, preliminary to printing them out on to good old-fashioned paper, in case there’s a sunburst or something that wipes all these invisible things out. Then: Panic! The files disappeared! All that work wasted! I screamed and thrashed about, in what I imagine was the first stage of a nervous breakdown. Then Kajsa came up and sorted it out. I don’t think it’s because she’s cleverer than me (although incidentally I think she is), but simply because she can remain calm. Anyway, everything is ready for the print-out this afternoon, when we’ve bought more paper. Then, holding my baby in my arms, I’ll feel more secure. 

My publisher still has to accept this final version, although I can’t imagine – after the glowing reports we received on the Proposal – that they’ll turn it down. Apparently their ‘Board’ doesn’t meet until next month, which is a bit of a bugger if the book’s to come out before Christmas, as I’d rather hoped. It’s very topical; which means that it could get out of date quite soon. In particular, Boris might be gone in the meantime; which may render the term I coined for his government this morning (in the bath, where all my best ideas come to me) may seem less apt than it does today. The phrase is the one at the head of this post. Has anybody thought of it before, I wonder? I’m quite pleased with it.

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Per Capitalism ad Astra

I guess I’m in a minority – possibly of one – among Leftists in supporting and admiring our despised capitalists’ ambitions to spend their ill-gotten gains on space rockets; when, as so many are pointing out, the same amount of money could do a lot of good in combatting famine or homelessness or climate change or one of the other horrors afflicting or threatening us here on earth. But surely there should be enough lucre in rich people’s coffers for both? And there must be other items of expenditure by rich bastards – like big houses and expensive yachts and donations to the Conservative Party – that are far less worthy than are trips to Mars, or even to the edge of space? And – most importantly –  someone has to get going with developing the means for us – the human race – to find a home on another planet, for when our planet dies. As it will, of course, by plunging into the sun eventually, or by us humans killing it off far sooner than that. Possibly very  soon, if present climatic conditions are anything to go by.

Ideally it should be governments, and coalitions of governments, that should be doing this, as they are to an extent – especially America and China – right now. But will they do it quickly enough? It’s hard to imagine this, especially when they’re in the hands of democracies – or “democracies” – with other priorities, and pestered by the ‘charity begins at home’ brigade most of the time. I hugely disapprove of Musk and Branson for how they accumulated their riches. And I’m sure you can read a lot of cod ‘psychology’ into the penis shapes that their ambitions are taking on. But at least they’re investing their fortunes in humanity’s future; which is more than can be said for most plutocrats.

Personally I’m not greatly worried about humanity’s demise. But I would find it infinitely depressing if I thought that its cultural achievements would not survive for ever. If Musk or Branson could help save Mozart for eternity (Mozart standing in here for other great works of art, of course) all would be forgiven, in my book; even their tax avoidance, destruction of small businesses, exploitation of labour and designs on the NHS. I long to know that my descendants, aeons in the future, could still hear Mozart played on a terraformed Mars. And then in Alpha Centauri; and beyond.  If we need capitalist bastards to do this for us, then so be it. It might even be thought to justify capitalism.

Sorry for the long pause, by the way. Eight week old puppies take a lot of looking after. And they don’t seem to have any respect for writing.

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Big Brother

Am I getting paranoid? A couple of weeks ago I inserted a couple of references into the text of the book I’m currently working on – full publication details, etc – which I got from the British Library website. 24 hours later Amazon sent me an unsolicited message suggesting I buy these selfsame (and rather obscure) old books from them. Do they monitor one’s ‘Word’ files? Then I saw my (Swedish) doctor about a (query) broken ankle, only to receive an advert for elasticated ankle socks: again, shortly afterwards. Thirdly: we’re in the process just now of buying a new ‘Soft-Coated Wheaten-Haired’ puppy; again, I’ve been plagued with unsought offers of exactly the same breed from all over. And yesterday we went to a friend’s summerhouse for lunch under a canvas awning that had been (mysteriously) torn; we were discussing – verbally – how our friend could get it replaced, when – immediately – I got more Facebook adverts from an awning-maker. Coincidence? Or Big Brother? 

At least I don’t get any of those adverts for penis-extensions any more. (I used to wonder how they knew.) Or about Lesbian sex, apparently prompted by my googling ‘Mata Hari’ – the WW1 exotic dancer and spy. (I was working on the history of espionage at the time.)

Anyhow, here’s the new doggy. We collect her at the end of the week. Kajsa wants to call her ‘Doris’. Sounds a bit like ‘Boris’; which will be very apt when she starts pissing all over the floor.

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Just to say that I have been banned from Facebook for 24 hours for posting a picture of three Swedish poets with huge stomachs deporting themselves in a field naked (no genitals visible); which apparently goes against Facebook’s ethical standards. This probably means you won’t get this post. Could you let me know if you do?

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Poetry and Nature

Three Swedish poets, one of them Gustaf Fröding, seeking inspiration through dance. (Steady on now, ladies!)

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Foreign Jabs

It’s amazing and frightening what Johnson’s government is getting away with – being allowed  to get away with – under cover of the pandemic and the football controversy, and on the back of a Parliamentary majority gained through lies and chicanery. First there was was its ‘extreme’ version of ‘Brexit’, pushed through against most people’s obvious wishes, with the results we’re beginning to see now. Secondly there was Priti Patel’s drastic limitation of the right to protest, which is usually regarded as a fundamental democratic liberty. Then there were the measures passed yesterday to facilitate privatisation in the NHS. After that came Priti Patel’s almost unbelievable – except it is Priti Patel – proposal to prosecute and imprison captains and ‘helmsmen’ of ships who dare to try to rescue drowning asylum seekers at sea; which goes against universally-accepted maritime law, as well as, of course, against any definition of morality. On top of all this there’s Johnson’s rampant inefficiency, cronyism and corruption. (Appointing an ex-Bullingdon chum to his Ethics Committee?! Is he serious?) Coming up, and well signposted in the last Tory Manifesto, are the limitations to Parliamentary and judicial scrutiny of legislation that Johnson and his cleverer Machiavels are no doubt working on now. Only the other day Parliament agreed to cut Britain’s foreign aid budget drastically. We know that Patel wants to bring the death penalty back – is that going to be in the next round? 

Living just now in my own political asylum none of this is going to affect me directly, though I still feel depressed about its effect on the country I was brought up in, and whose virtues, I felt – if you can attribute ‘virtues’ to countries – always balanced out its defects. Like very many people in England just now, judging from their comments, I no longer recognise the nation I used to feel comfortable in, and – yes – even mildly ‘patriotic’ towards. I’ll be touching on that in the book I’m just now in the process of completing.

That is, if I’m allowed to. In order to do that I was planning to take a short trip back to Hull in September to check a few notes and references I can only access there – not through Google, for example – and which are fairly necessary to my apparatus criticus. (Or can I use the pandemic as an excuse?) The other day I felt encouraged by reading that travellers from Sweden to Britain would be allowed in without the need to quarantine, so long as they’ve had their two jabs: which I have, in Sweden (Pfizer). Then today I learned that the jabs would have to have been administered by the NHS. Can narrow nationalism get any more petty? None of those nasty foreign jabs! So I’m likely to stay in limbo for some time yet. 

Well, there are worse limbos. And the longer I stay here, the more Swedish I’m beginning to feel. Which means British, but in the old way.

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Viking Imperialism

We called in at Gripsholm Slott on our way back from Värmland. They’ve re-erected this Viking-age runestone in the gardens there. The inscription reads (I’m told; my Old Norse is not quite up to it): 

‘This stone was set up by Tola in memory of her son, Harald. He was Ingfar the Far-traveller’s brother. They fared like men, far after gold. And in the east gave the eagle food. They died southward, in Serkland.’

‘Serkland’ is apparently the land of the Saracens. ‘Giving the eagle food’ means to kill people. So much for Kajsa’s claim that the Swedish Vikings were just peaceful traders, unlike those pesky Danes. 

In fact Swedish history is full of ‘imperialism’, if you look for it. After the Vikings there were settlements in North America and West Africa, a slave-colony in the Caribbean (Sweden abolished colonial slavery long after Britain), significant European conquests during the Stormaktstiden (have I spelled that right?), a Svenska Ostindiska Companiet, based in Göteborg, just like the English one; the acquisitions (somehow) of Finland and Norway, and then of course IKEA. Most of that, of course, was before the woke-ish Social Democrats got in.

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Today I feel better. The response to the racist outburst that followed the England football defeat on Sunday has been heart-warming. These include the graffiti plastered on the Marcus Rashford mural in Manchester being painted and posted over within a few hours by decent young graffiti artists; the enormous wave of support and sympathy for Rashford on social media; the considerable backlash, led by prominent footballers, which is developing against Johnson and Patel for their arrant racism and condemnation of ‘taking the knee’ (as ‘Marxist’, for pity’s sake!); reports – are they true? – of the team’s wish to boycott the usual post-tournament reception with the PM in Downing Street; and what seem today to be signs of backtracking over these issues by at least one prominent Tory MP (Steve Baker: Guardian 13 July). The latter is obviously becoming afraid that his government’s cynical tactic of fuelling the ‘culture wars’ in search of ‘red wall’ votes might be counter-productive, when it targets popular young black footballers. And it might  indicate that racism in the country as a whole is neither as popular nor as endemic as the Right had calculated. That’s what I fervently hope.

Immediately after the match I was less aware of the possible ‘racial’ repercussions of those penalty ‘misses’ than I should have been. There’s a simple explanation for this: although I was watching carefully it didn’t dawn on me that all the failed penalty takers were black. That’s because I simply never notice people’s skin colour; not as their primary characteristic, at any rate. To me they were just young footballers. I accept that this is a naïve view, which of course this whole affair has now painfully brought home to me. But my original belief, or hope, that more Britons are becoming more ‘like me’, severely dented as it was by the events of Sunday night, has now been at least partially restored by these post-post-match developments. We’ll have to see how it goes from now on. This affair could mark a turning-point.

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