© The Public Library Ltd / From the Daily Record
Tomorrow is April 1st, better known in the United Kingdom as April Fool’s Day. Traditionally it’s a day when British people play jokes on one another – interior decorators send hapless apprentices off to the shops with instructions to buy ‘a tin of black and white paint’ or ‘straight hooks’, the BBC broadcasts a news report about a drought threatening this year’s spaghetti harvest in Italy, and so on.
This is because British people love jokes. But that’s not to say Britain itself is a joke nation. No, quite the reverse. With just one year remaining until the UK Brexits from the European Union and takes on the world on its own again, it stands poised to show what a totally serious, formidable, non-ridiculous, non-joke place it is.
I know this because Jacob Rees Mogg, that undertaker-like darling of the Brexiting Conservative Party right, wrote an opinion piece in the Daily Telegraph on March 18th stating that Tory Prime Minister Theresa May would soon “lay out the facts to the EU: Britain isn’t a joke nation and Brexit will mean Brexit.” Right on, Jacob. I mean, look at what’s happened in the UK this past month of March 2018. How could anyone conclude that Britain is anything other than a deadly serious nation?
Jacob himself proved this on March 21st when he was part of a protest at the UK government’s agreement to stay in the EU’s Common Fisheries Policy for an additional 21 months after Brexit officially happens next year. The protest took the form of him and former UKIP leader Nigel Farage heading out onto the Thames in a trawler and bunging some dead haddock into the water as a symbol of their displeasure. Well, Jacob would have headed out in the trawler and dumped the haddock, but it transpired that said trawler didn’t have a permit from the London transport authority to moor anywhere and was unable to pick him up from the quay. So after a quick press conference by the river, Jacob had to leg it back to the Houses of Parliament while the trawler, dead haddock and Nigel Farage were left chugging about the Thames looking for a place to dock.
That was unfortunate. But obviously, nothing resembling a joke.
Revelations this month about Jacob Rees Mogg’s Conservative colleague and British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson weren’t remotely joke-like either. Boris had condemned Vladimir Putin and the Russian authorities after the poisoning of Russian double-agent Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia in Salisbury on March 4th. Then it became public knowledge that Lubin Chernukhin, a Russian banker and the wife of Putin’s former deputy finance minister, had once paid the Tory party £160,000 for the honour of playing a game of tennis with Boris, supposed Scourge of the Russkies.
Yes, if a lesser politician had been embroiled in an episode like this, it would have looked like a giant, stupid joke. But since a man of Boris’s stature and dignity was involved, it didn’t.
© Sky Sports / From the Daily Mirror
March 11th saw Conservative Party participation in another sporting event. A bruising footballing encounter between bitter rivals Glasgow Celtic and the famously pro-British, famously Union Jack-waving, famously loyal-to-the-throne Glasgow Rangers took place at Rangers’ home ground of Ibrox Stadium. Acting as one of the linesmen that day was Douglas Ross, the Tory MP for Moray, who’s a football official as well as a politician. Dougie helped get Celtic’s Jozo Simunovic sent off after he allegedly elbowed Rangers’ Alfredo Morelos. He was heard screaming “Red card! Red card!” from the line, even though as a match official he could have communicated in quieter tones with the referee using their mics and earpieces. Afterwards, many wags remarked on how despite playing at home, and having their opponents reduced to ten men, and having a Tory MP manning the line, Rangers still managed to lose.
Note how I said ‘remarked on’ there. Not ‘joked about’. Because Britain isn’t a joke nation.
What other non-joke things are there to report this month? Well, there’s the dodgy affair of the British political consultancy firm Cambridge Analytica, who’ve played controversial roles in the Leave EU referendum campaign and Trump election campaign. Cambridge Analytica were helped in their work by a data breach involving the personal details of about 50 million people, ‘inappropriately’ taken from Facebook. Then, on March 19th, Channel 4 aired a secretly-filmed clip of the firm’s CEO Alexander Nix bragging to a potential client that during elections his company could compromise certain politicians by setting them up with prostitutes and filming the results with hidden cameras.
Nix saying this whilst being filmed with a hidden camera himself was ironic. But not funny. Because Cambridge Analytica is a British company and Britain, as we know, isn’t a joke nation.
Obviously, anti-Semitism is no joking matter. So what should we make of the row about it that engulfed Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn in March? Corbyn, we learned, had once defended a political mural on a London wall that’d been accused of demonising Jews. Now Corbyn claims that he hadn’t looked at the mural closely enough at the time to realise it was Jew-bashing. What’s that, Jeremy – a picture of disgusting rich capitalists playing Monopoly on top of the bodies of the bowed naked proletariat, capitalists with prominent noses, spectacles and bushy Fagin-like beards? Why, sure. Anyone could have missed suggestions of anti-Semitism in that.
© Mike Kemp via Getty Images / From the Guardian
So no jokes please about Jeremy and his apparent myopia here. He’s leader of Her Majesty’s Most Loyal Opposition in the not-a-joke nation of Britain.
Meanwhile, Britain’s newspapers have done nothing joke-like this month either. Certainly not the Daily Mail, which reacted with apoplectic rage to the news that Britain’s post-Brexit, just-liberated-from-the-European-Union, patriotically-blue passports would be produced by a French–Dutch company. “Why,” it demanded of Britain’s ruling class on its front page, “DO you hate our country, its history, culture and the people’s sense of identity?” And on March 29th, with precisely one year to go until Brexit, the Mail’s right-wing Siamese twin the Daily Express published on its front page a big picture of the White Cliffs of Dover. Not to imply that one year from now the UK would be careering over a cliff, but to illustrate a stirring quote by Boris Johnson: “Our national journey out of the EU is almost over and a glorious view awaits.” The photographer who’d originally taken that picture of the cliffs later pointed out on Twitter that the cliffs weren’t as white as they’d appeared in the Express. Evidently the newspaper had photoshopped extra whiteness over their mossy green cliff-faces: “If anything sums up #Brexit – it’s the Daily Express making my pic of Britain look whiter than it is.”
That almost sounds like a joke, you know. But it can’t be. Because this is 2018 Britain: most definitely not a joke nation.
© From twitter.com