Peculiar People

When Margaret Hodge sadly dies and goes to her Jewish heaven – will it be for Jews only? I don’t know, but that would tie in with Netanyahu’s present plans for Israel – I predict that God is going to be very cross with her, in view of her shoddy libels on Jeremy Corbyn as ‘anti-semitic’. He (capital ‘H’)  may well be cross with Netanyahu too. I hope so. Luckily not all British Jews go along with Hodge, or with the Israeli Right. I was impressed with this interview with Michael Rosen recently: That just about lays it on the line to her. Let’s hope that the majority of Labour-leaning Jewish voters takes heed.

I’m not Jewish, though I sometimes wish I were: anything but boring old Anglo-Saxon. But I’ve had experience of an ‘exclusivist’ religion quite like Judaism. My paternal grandmother was a member of a (Christian) church in rural Essex called the ‘Peculiar People’: ‘peculiar’ in this context meaning something very close to ‘chosen’. It’s on Wiki: She used to take me along as a boy to services: I must recount my experiences there sometime. (They were quite weird.) Luckily Grandad and my father were Methodists, which was the tradition I was brought up in. But not before I’d grown to be uncomfortable with sects that only looked after their own. Or which wanted to create communities made up only of their own sort.

Multiculturalism may have its problems; but its influence is generally enriching. What would Shakespeare have been if he had not moved from boring monocultural Warwickshire to the colourful cosmopolis that was 16th-century London? Or Elgar, without his German Jewish friends? Or even little me, without the stimulating experience I had of living in a very multinational society as a graduate student at Cambridge?

That society included a few Jews of all sorts. They immensely enriched the culture of the rest of us; together with the Africans, Latin Americans, Asians, and even the North Americans. How dare the Israeli exclusivists want to keep all that for themselves?

Which takes us some way away from the awful Margaret Hodge; but that’s maybe not such a bad thing. British politics – and the Labour Party in particular – would be better off without her.

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Back in Sweden now, the long way round – Hull-Rotterdam ferry, then rail from there to Stockholm via Osnabruck, Hamburg, Copenhagen. It was tiring (with suitcases) but far more pleasant than by air. It gave us a super day in Amsterdam. (I liked our canal guide’s statement: ‘Dutch isn’t so much a language as a speech impediment.’) Maybe if they hike up the cost of aircraft fuel they’ll bring back ferry routes from north-east UK to Norway or Denmark. Overland (and sea) gives you the real impression of travelling.

Everything on the way confirmed my anti-Brexit views. So did every foreigner we talked with. They think we’re mad. But I fell to musing: what if the Brexiteers turn out to have been right all along? Suppose that, in fifty years time (Jacob Rees-Mogg’s latest estimate of the time the advantages may take to get through:, we really do become the powerful, self-confident, global – possibly imperial – power the Moggs of this world are looking forward to? Won’t he and his kind be lauded in the history books as national heroes?

In which case they’ll obviously need statues of them erected inside or outside Parliament. And that’s when more doubts begin to creep in. Most of the public statues we have already of great statesmen and women are of pretty normal-looking – even distinguished – kinds of people. How will the sculpted versions of Farage, Mogg, Johnson and Gove fare alongside them? A frog, a comic toff from the Dandy, a demented teddy-bear, and a trout who looks as if he’s being sexually penetrated from behind. I don’t know why they all look so ridiculous, or whether it’s fair to use their physical appearances against them in this way. Is there a connection between looking silly and acting silly? If not, nature has clearly dealt them a duff hand.

It’s more likely that their place in history will be on the side of the ‘villains’ and (hopefully) losers; not the real villains, of course, the Hitlers and Stalins and Margaret Thatchers, but the deluded patsies who often do more damage than the deliberate nasties – men like Neville Chamberlain, in reputation at least. (If you’ve followed this blog scrupulously you’ll know I think this is unjust.) Their physiognomies – like his – will probably make them figures of retrospective fun. I don’t envy them this. Historians try to be fair, but it may be an uphill task in the cases of these four.

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The ‘New’ Anti-Semitism

The row about anti-semitism in the Labour Party has broken out again:; and with no more reason or judgment behind it than was displayed when it was last aired a few months ago – see my earlier posts. Here is an excellent demolition of it published recently: That really ought to nail it. By any objective reading, conducted on the basis of a reasonable and objective definition of anti-semitism, and not one, for example, founded only on the opinions of Jews (that’s the most intellectually disreputable suggestion of the ‘New’ anti-anti-semites), Labour is the least  anti-Jewish of any British political party in recent British history. Corbyn has always stood strongly against racism of any kind. To tar him with this brush is a quite appalling slur. (It has to do of course with hostility to him as a socialist and pro-Palestine.) It’s almost enough to turn one anti-semitic. Of course I can and will resist this; but many radicals may not be able to.

Back to Sweden tomorrow, by boat and train. (We both dislike flying, and the cost at this time of year is not very different. Plus we live in a ferry port.) So, there’ll probably be another gap before my next post.

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Diplomacy Trump Style

Apparently Trump’s ‘tough advice’ to Theresa May, which she rejected, was to stop negotiating with the EU and ‘sue’ it instead: That’s the aggressive businessman speaking. But in any case, how does a nation ‘sue’ an alliance of which it is part? I look forward to his suing NATO.

Note also that, on being asked about the protests against him in Britain, he replied ‘Some of them are protesting in my favour, you know that? There are many, many protests in my favour.’ Sheer delusion. Most observers counted only about six pro-Trump placards.

I rather like John Cleese’s explanation of this. Trump is ‘pronoid’. Pronoid is the opposite of paranoid. A paranoiac is someone who thinks everyone is out to get him or her, without any basis in reality. A pronoiac is someone who thinks everyone loves them, also without any basis in reality. (See

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Trump in London

Yesterday’s disastrous visit of the American President must enormously weaken the hand – or at least the argument – of the Brexiteers among us. They were relying on a trade deal with the USA to compensate for our lost ‘free trade’ with the remaining countries of the EU. That was always a flawed ambition, with any prospective British-American trade amounting to only a fraction of the trade we will have lost with our present European partners, and subjecting us to poorer standards than we can now insist on: American ‘chlorinated chicken’ is the example usually given. Within the EU, of course, we can insist on higher quality food (and other things) than we would be able to do if we relied on free and unregulated trade of the kind the Americans would like. Trump’s now notorious interview in yesterday’s Sun newspaper, where he claimed that Theresa May’s current Brexit proposals would, by adhering still to EU standards, rule out any trade deal with him, at any rate, spelled this out more clearly than perhaps he realised. He obviously thought he was strengthening the hands of the Brexiteers, and particularly of his new British buddy Boris Johnson, who had just resigned over May’s plan.

He then added insult to injury by telling the Sun that May’s rival Boris would make a ‘great prime minister’. (Take that, Theresa!) His affection for him seems to be entirely due to the fact, as he said, that ‘he’s been very nice to me, he’s been saying very good things about me as president. I think he thinks I’m doing a great job. I am doing a great job, that I can tell you, just in case you hadn’t noticed.’ So that’s the way to get round him: flatter his narcissistic streak, which appears not to be founded in any great self-confidence, if it needs to be continually stroked like this.

Later, at Chequers, having clearly been told by his advisers of the harm these remarks had done, he tried to make up for it by heaping oleaginous praise on poor Theresa (I never thought I’d feel such sympathy for her!), and claiming that the Sun’s report of the interview had been ‘fake news’ – even though it had been recorded and shown to be accurate. How can you deal – or do business – with this man? Best to scuttle back under Europe’s wing.

If he needs to be flattered, he won’t have felt much affection towards the UK in view of the enormous – 250,000? – demonstrations against his visit that filled London and other major cities yesterday, and are the most newsworthy aspects of the whole event. Today’s Daily Mail paints these as the usual rent-a-crowd Lefty snowflakes, but they clearly represented far more than this. They literally filled the streets from the BBC to Trafalgar Square, and beyond that to Parliament Square: young and old, white and black, men and women (the separate Women’s march that fed into the main one was particularly impressive), Left and moderate Right. Apart from showing how thoroughly despised Trump is by most Britons, they also illustrated the creativity of the new generation of protesters in Britain today, with some bitingly humorous placards (my particular favourite was ‘Free Melania!’), and of course that wonderful baby-Trump dirigible.

This whole affair was unprecedented. Although the demos were kept well away from him, with all the meetings being held outside London – fancy a foreign leader having to be quarantined to this extent! – and despite the fact that the government put on a show of military pomp and circumstance of the kind he apparently likes in order to pander to his vanity, he must have been aware of the far more significant protests beyond his sight and hearing. Fox News must have covered them. That won’t warm him to us, or consequently do much for Britain’s chances of surviving alone in the wider world, when we’re cut off from the Continent. Brexiteers claim we are a ‘colony’ of Europe right now. Believe me, existence as a dependent ‘trading partner’ of America, on her terms, will feel far more ‘colonial’. (And I write as a historian of ‘imperialism’.) That’s one of the things the EU was supposed to protect us against.

He’s now in Scotland, at one of his ghastly golf resorts. Kajsa and I were in Edinburgh without our laptops this last week (hence the brief silence), where opinion is even more anti-Trump, despite his maternal roots on the island of Lewis, and his claim that everyone loves him there. He made the mistake – yet another one – of claiming that Scotland had voted for Brexit. It didn’t. Another reason why it shouldn’t be dragged out of Europe on England’s coat-tails.

I may blog about Scotland later. In the meantime, enjoy your chlorinated chicken.


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Blood and Loyalty

Well, that was quite a nail-biter, wasn’t it? (England’s penalty shoot-out against Colombia, for anyone who’s been off-planet for the past 24 hours.) I was surprised how thrilled I was, having told everyone that I’ve backed Sweden to win the World Cup final this year. (At 150:1. If I win it will enable us to buy a new boat.) That’s mainly out of political principle, of course, and in anticipation of my being granted Swedish citizenship shortly.

But perhaps blood really is thicker than any of these things. Mine – on my father’s side – is illiterate East Saxon peasant through and through, and for centuries so far as I and my family-history expert friend Sylvie can find out; although with poor Essex having been continually raped and pillaged by those Viking bastards (some from Sweden, I’m sure) a thousand years ago, I shouldn’t be surprised if I have some Nordic blood too. (I can imagine a sweet innocent little rosy-cheeked Saxon ancestor of mine being taken advantage of by a hunky Dane.) I must take one of those DNA tests to see.

On the other hand, it has been pointed out several times that the English team is a very multi-ethnic one, which means that at least I’m not being racist, or Ukippy, by supporting it. Here are some examples: – That’s my England! A great vibrant mix of peoples. Always has been, ever since the dastardly Danes.

It remains to be seen which team I’ll be supporting more when England meet Sweden on Saturday in the next round. I’ll let you know.

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But he assured us, faithfully, cross-his-heart-and-hope-to-die, that the British Secret Services had no part in or knowledge of American torture of prisoners during the Iraq War. Only ‘conspiracy theorists’ thought otherwise.

‘He’ was the Director-General of MI5, speaking at a meeting of ‘intelligence’ historians in Cambridge a few years ago, held under ‘Chatham House Rules’ (look it up): which means that I shouldn’t really be telling you this.

And now we learn this, officially:

You mean to say he was fibbing?

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Swedish Holidays

Nearly 23 years in this country and I still forget basic things about Swedish society. ‘Holidays’, for example. In Britain we regard holidays as times to relax, sit on the beach with a good book and a beer, do absolutely fuck all for a week or two, come back nice and brown, and refreshed for work. For Swedes holidays are not like that at all. For a start they have more of them: five weeks, fully paid, established by law, in addition to their frequent ‘public’ holidays, supposedly one day each, but usually stretching to two or three. It must puzzle Americans, who seem to regard holidays as non-productive, as to how Sweden can be such a prosperous society without working everyone to death.

But there’s more to the difference than that. Swedes don’t see holidays as relaxing. They spend them doing things: messing around with boats, mainly, or building summer-houses. Yes, building them. Even if they have perfectly serviceable stugor already, they have to extend them, repaint them, dig up the drainage, fix winter-water, scrape their rowing-boats’ bottoms, and mend their flakmopeder. (A flakmoped is a little three-wheeled motorbike with a platform at the front to carry luggage and grandchildren.) They’re not allowed just to sit around. If you’re not spending your time hammering nails into something, you’re ostracised by your neighbours. (I have a recording of hammering I place by me when I’m sitting in my deckchair. It generally fools them.) You have to have a project. That’s what their ‘holidays’ are: essentially projects.

Which is just by way of explaining why I haven’t been blogging recently. I had hoped to be able to this last week, which we spent in our sommarhus in the Stockholm Archipelago. I was also hoping to get into a huge book I have to review – about Gandhi: it looks terrific, but it’s 1000 pages long, and unlike many reviewers I feel I have to read every word. But no chance. The project comes first.

Back in Stockholm now. Hence this first (trivial) blog entry for a while. We’re all very excited about the football here. Apparently England might meet Sweden later on. A friend asks me about where my loyalties will lie in that event. I’ve told him there’s no contest. I’ve bet £10 on Sweden winning the World Cup; the bookmaker thought I was mad, but the odds were 150/1.  £1500 will buy us a new – smooth-bottomed – boat. As I pointed out to Phil: we live in a capitalist society. There’s no place for ‘loyalty’ there.

Still, I made a patriotic effort last night, from our bedroom window. It didn’t do any good: England 0, Belgium 1. But apparently that’s the result that may bring us up against the Swedes. (Those who aren’t immersed in their building projects.)

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Concentration Camps

Just to be clear: ‘Concentration Camps’ is the exact right term to describe the cages into which Trump is herding ‘illegal’ immigrant children on the Texas-Mexican border, after separating them from their parents. They were invented by the British during the Boer War (1899-1902) – or perhaps copied from the Spanish – in order to incarcerate, allegedly for their own protection, the womenfolk and children of their enemy. They were appallingly unhealthy places, with a high mortality among the inmates, and on these grounds provoked a substantial protest movement in Britain at the time (google ‘Emily Hobhouse’); but this wasn’t part of their original purpose. Unfortunately for the British Empire’s historical reputation, the term later became applied to Nazi extermination camps, which is why it sounds so bad in both the British and the modern American contexts. But it’s literally and historically accurate. ‘Concentration Camps’ exist to concentrate elements of a population. (John Field will bear me out here.)

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Nigel Back-Tracking

So, Nigel is getting his retaliation in early! Finally admitting that Brexit is going to be a disaster, he’s blaming it on the way it’s being implemented by the government. Brexit was a brilliant idea originally, but is currently being messed up by Theresa May and Co. Rather than accepting their version – whether ‘hard’ or ‘soft’, we assume: we don’t know yet – he’d rather we stayed in the EU. It looks like a volte-face, but really it’s just another variation of the ‘stab in the back’ theory; and one that allows him, whatever happens with Brexit, to carry on being the loud, complaining saloon-bar bore he always was.

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