Joke nation

 

© 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 FrenchDutch 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

 

Jockalypse now

 

From derekbateman.com

 

As the British general election approaches – 20 days and counting – I’ve tried to avoid the UK’s mainly right-wing press.  Tried to, but not succeeded.  I can’t understand why I should want to peruse the Sun, Daily Express, Daily Telegraph and Daily Mail, seeing as the opinions expressed therein usually induce in me a feeling of alarming numbness that’s attributable either to the onset of a stroke or to my will-to-live exiting my body.  Yet peruse them I do.

 

Maybe the reason for this is similar to the reason why motorists, approaching a serious accident-scene, unconsciously slow down and peek out of their side-windows in the hope of glimpsing some horribly mangled bodies.  It’s because of a primordial and morbid fascination with the hideous.  However, I prefer a different analogy for my inability to stop reading Britain’s right-wing newspapers.  It’s like how small boys will cluster around the edges of an open sewer, a sewer awash with rancid effluent, curious to sample its glorious yucky stinkiness.

 

A notable feature of this election campaign is that, so far at least, the Scottish National Party has had a substantial lead in opinion polls in Scotland.  It looks capable of usurping the Labour Party as the main political force north of the border and could win a pile of new seats in Westminster.  This raises the possibility of the SNP having a major say over who gets to form the next government of the UK as a whole – especially since UK-wide polls show the Conservative and the Labour Parties bobbing along neck-and-neck with a hung parliament being the likely consequence.  The SNP, under their new leader Nicola Sturgeon, has said her party won’t do a deal to ensure a Conservative government; but they are willing to prop up a government run by Ed Miliband’s Labour Party – provided Ed rediscovers a little of the socialism that’s supposedly in his party’s DNA and tailors his policies so that they better fit the SNP’s (and traditional Labour’s) left-of-centre sensibilities.

 

Speculation that a Labour government might be put in power – and drawn leftward – by the SNP has not gone down well with the scribes of the Sun, Express, Telegraph and so on.  In fact, the newspapers have treated the prospect as something so apocalyptic that if there was a nuclear holocaust tomorrow and the start of the ensuing nuclear winter was marked by the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse riding around sowing the landscape with biblical plagues of frogs, flies, boils, locusts, etc., it wouldn’t be half as ghastly.

 

From the Daily Record

 

The Sun – whose proprietor Rupert Murdoch, as they say, needs no introduction from me – got its scare story about the potential Labour-SNP socialist nightmare in early.  On March 10th the tabloid published a piece, written by Kevin Schofield, entitled TARTAN BARMY / ‘WRECKING BALL’ PLANS OF ED (sic) SNP PALS.  This was accompanied by a picture of Miley Cyrus from her 2013 Wrecking Ball video straddling the titular big steel ball, but with Nicola Sturgeon’s head and a tartan bikini superimposed on it, courtesy of Photoshop.  Presumably, this symbolises how Sturgeon and the SNP would induce Ed Miliband to demolish all the sensible policies of Conservative Britain — policies such as fiscally flaying the poorest and weakest in society with a welfare-slashing cat-o’-nine-tails whilst spending £100 billion on renewing a Trident nuclear missile system that, because of its massively destructive nature, can never be used.  (Unless we suddenly decide to take out Boko Haram by nuking Nigeria.)

 

The timing of the Sun’s Nicola-in-a-tartan-bikini picture was impeccable.  It appeared just two days after International Women’s Day, the theme of which this year was, according to the UN, ‘empowering women’.

 

Where the Sun leads, the Daily Express is sure to follow.  (The Express is owned by soft-porn magnate Richard Desmond, who in 2010 was said to be worth £950 million – although as he recently donated a million to Nigel Farage’s right-wing-loony / fruitcake United Kingdom Independence Party, he’s presumably now only worth £949 million.)  March 18th’s Express featured a piece by Chris Roycroft-Davis with the headline LABOUR PLUS SNP WOULD PRESIDE OVER ECONOMIC DISASTER.  This warned of SNP-inspired doom and devastation, of “ultra-Left bampots and crankies” dictating “how the United Kingdom is governed”.  Even Scottish people who don’t support the SNP – and there are quite a few – may have objected to the following assertion: “Many of us are already sick of the excessive subsidies English taxpayers send over the border.  Is it part of Cameron’s foreign aid policy to let Jockistan have even more?”

 

Now on to the pantomime villain of the British mainstream media, the Daily Mail – Hiss! Boo! – which is owned by the 4th Viscount Rothermere.  (He’s worth £720 million and is handily in possession of non-domicile tax status, which according to his Wikipedia entry means he pays “almost no UK tax on his income, investments or wealth”.)  On March 6th, historian and former newspaper editor Max Hastings penned a Mail article entitled THE TERRIFYING PROSPECT OF THE SCOTS RULING ENGLAND IS NOW ALL TOO REAL.  Max accuses the Scots of sinking to a new low – they’ve started to resemble French people.  And Greek ones.  The horror!  “Like the French and the Greeks, the Scots seem immune to rational argument about their circumstances and prospects.  They simply challenge the Westminster parties to declare who will pay most for their support… it is deeply dismaying that a substantial part of the population of this island seem eager to endorse the fantasy economics which have become the policies of the SNP and of Labour.”

 

Interestingly, the articles by Schofield and Hastings didn’t appear in the Scottish editions of the Sun or Mail, only in the newspapers’ English editions.  Evidently, people in Scotland – or Jockistan – are too poor and primitive to have access to the Internet and social media, so nobody there will ever find out what the English versions of the Scottish Sun and Scottish Daily Mail are saying about them.

 

Max Hastings described Nicola Sturgeon as “red in tooth and claw”, which is almost gentlemanly compared to what columnist Bruce Anderson has written about her: “It is less a question of a splinter of ice in her heart, as a few scraps of heart tissue clinging to an icicle.  She has all the human warmth of a tricoteuse waiting for a tumbril.”  Anderson is the author of two recent pieces about Scotland in the Daily Telegraph – one on March 21st entitled HOW TO CRUSH THE NATS’ HOPES FOR SCOTTISH INDEPENDENCE and the other on April 4th entitled NEVER BEFORE HAS SCOTLAND BEEN QUITE THIS DELUDED – and his view of what is happening north of the border is not an optimistic one.  Not only are Scottish politics dominated by a harridan who sits knitting Liberty caps next to a guillotine (presumably set up outside Bute House in Edinburgh’s Charlotte Square), but Scotland’s mood, writes Anderson, “is extraordinary.  Over the past few months, millions of Scots have been baying at the moon…  Not since the thirties has a once great nation been in the grip of so many delusions.”

 

From www.nvcc.libguides.com

 

The rabidly anti-Scottish independence, pro-United Kingdom Daily Telegraph is owned by David and Frederick Barclay, tax-avoiding billionaires who are holed up in the Channel Islands – more precisely on Brecqhou, which is the smaller sister-island of Sark.  Fascinatingly, their Wikipedia entry claims that, after feuding with the Sark government, the brothers have “expressed a desire to make Brecqhou independent from Sark – building on the research of William Toplis, the painter, and others, who argued that Brecqhou was not a part of the fief of Sark.”  So the Barclay brothers’ love of unity and hatred of separation apparently don’t extend to their own backyard.

 

Up until now the journalists I’ve quoted have been English (or in Anderson’s case, Northern Irish) ones.  However, plenty of right-wing Scottish commentators have been equally, if not more, determined lately to stick the boot into Scotland for its current enthusiasm for Nicola Sturgeon and the SNP.   I suspect this is because if you’re right-wing and Conservative in modern Scotland, like these journalists are, you’re likely to feel very lonely at times.  And loneliness breeds bitterness.  Also, I’m sure they’re encouraged by their editors to be as anti-Scottish as possible.  Because the resultant articles are penned by Scots, the publications in which they appear can’t then be accused of anti-Scottish xenophobia.

 

For example, the right-wing website www.capx.co  published on April 7th an article by Scotsman Chris Deerin entitled SCOTLAND HAS GONE MAD.  Deerin accused his native land of being “a soft and sappy nation, intellectually listless, coddled, a land of received wisdom and one-track minds, narrow parameters and mass groupthink.”  The “viewpoint that dominates our polity and media”, he claimed, is “an unholy alliance of nationalists, Greens and socialists.”  And he wailed about Scotland being populated with paranoid crackpots: “We have become a land peppered with conspiracy theorists who believe in secret oil fields and MI5 plots and rigged polls…”

 

Incidentally, I find claims – advanced by the likes of former MP Jim Sillars and former ambassador Craig Brown – that MI5 is meddling maliciously in Scottish politics far-fetched.  But then again, in the run-up to last September’s referendum on Scottish independence, some big establishment figures like UK Home Secretary Theresa May and Lord George Robertson of Port Ellon made dire warnings about the threat an independent Scotland would pose to national and international security.  If these warnings were true, wouldn’t MI5 be failing in its duty not to interfere in Scottish politics and thwart the SNP in its objective of making Scotland independent?

 

(c) AFP / Getty Images

 

Deerin’s article was illustrated with a photograph of a stripped-to-the-waist bloke with Pictish-style tattoos and a Scottish saltire painted on his chest.  This photo and this particular bloke seem to have adorned every Daily Telegraph article about Scotland during the year leading up to the independence referendum.  Presumably, the figure’s embodiment of the irrational – if not animalistic – aspects of Scottish nationalism was intended to terrify genteel, pension-age Telegraph readers and make them choke on their tea and crumpets in the English Home Counties.  Now the bloody thing has migrated over to www.capx.co.  Find a new photo for your articles, guys, please!

 

I don’t want to, but I suppose I should mention Glasgow-born Tom Gallagher, Emeritus Professor of History at the University of Bradford, who’s had a bee in his bonnet, a chip on his shoulder and a stick up his arse about the SNP for as long as I can remember.  On the creepy, right-wing, Muslim-baiting, trade union-bashing, UKIP-loving website www.thecommentator.com, two Gallagher-authored articles about Scotland have appeared lately.  One went up on March 3rd and was entitled SEEDS OF TYRANNY BEING SOWN IN SCOTLAND?  It likened Scotland to Russia – “once briefly… free” but threatened by “creeping tyranny”.  I have to say that since there are nearly 40 national and daily newspapers in Scotland and only one of them – the National – openly supports the SNP and its goal of independence, I suspect tyranny in Scotland will have to creep a hell of a lot further before Nicola Sturgeon is able to cow the media and run the place like Vladimir Putin runs Russia now.

 

The second Gallagher piece came on April 13th.  Entitled SCOTLAND 2015: TOTAL ELECTORAL POLARISATION, it announced ominously that “Scotland is convulsed by confrontation as the SNP and its supporters intimidate opponents.  Democratic civility is treated with contempt, and prejudice and disdain are the order of the day.”  Like Bruce Anderson, Gallagher sees parallels between modern-day Scotland and decapitation-crazy France just over two centuries ago: “Perhaps Nicola Sturgeon is a lawyer with a finely-tuned sense of history: Robespierre, the lawyer who led the French Revolution at its most crazily radical stage, ended up on the guillotine.”

 

Incidentally, look who’s pictured above Gallagher’s article on March 3rd.  Yes, it’s that stripped-to-the-waist / Pictish tattoos / saltire-on-his-chest bloke again!

 

I was disappointed to find the Scottish-Borders-based author and columnist Allan Massie, whom I’d considered to be an affable, reasonable and sensible Unionist, putting his name on March 8th to an article in the Mail on Sunday with a holocaustic headline: …IF SCOTLAND RULES ENGLAND, I CAN SEE THE THAMES FOAMING WITH MUCH BLOOD.  Massie, who’d evidently taken a few too many sherries at the time, warned that “the Scots do very well out of the English taxpayer and give nothing in exchange.”  To have the SNP calling the shots at Westminster, then, would spark such consternation in England that there could be trouble.  Big trouble.  Anarchy.  Slaughter.  The Thames awash with blood!

 

From wingsoverscotland.com 

 

Well, in the article itself, Massie doesn’t quite predict the apocalyptic scenario described in the headline.  “…I don’t say the rivers Thames and Mersey will literally foam with blood – but they might well do so metaphorically.  For the English regard a government dependent on the SNP as undemocratic and an insult to democracy itself.”  Actually, I don’t see how Massie’s image of rivers foaming with blood can only be a metaphor.  It’s so extreme that it suggests bad things really will happen – things like mass violence and loss of life.  Also, I’m sceptical that, in the event of the SNP ushering in a left-wing Labour government at Westminster, the River Mersey would foam with blood.  I’ve met a few Liverpool folk in my time and from their political opinions I reckon the Mersey is much more likely to run red if the Conservatives win another five years in office.

 

Finally, in case you ever wondered what’d happened to Gerald Warner, who for many years was right-wing-ranter-in-chief at Scotsman Publications, I can announce that…  He’s back!  He resurfaced on 15th April at www.capx.co with a feature entitled SOCIALIST SCOTLAND IS SLEEPWALKING TO BANKRUPTCY.  Even by the right-wing-loony standards of right-wing loonies, Warner is in a right-wing-loony class of his own.  He seems to hanker for the good old days before Clement Atlee ushered in the beastly Welfare State, when everybody knew their place – when the wealthy lived in big houses, went to church on Sunday and spent the rest of their time grouse-shooting, and the working class stayed in their slums, with their tuberculosis and rickets, and were grateful for it.

 

In his most recent missive, Warner gives us a handy summary of 20th century Scottish history.  “From the advent of the Labour government of 1945, Scotland became marinated in socialist dependency.  The land of Adam Smith and Andrew Carnegie, a nation of thrifty, proud, self-sufficient wealth creators, rejected capitalism and embraced socialism…  When Margaret Thatcher came into office, Scotland had the largest percentage of population living in municipal housing of any nation in Europe, except the then East Germany…  The Berlin Wall came down – but not in Scotland.  While other countries embraced the free market, often enduring much initial pain in the process, Scots defiantly carried the Red Flag into the 21st century…  By 2009, Scotland enjoyed the dubious distinction of being the third-most state-dependent country in the world, after Communist Cuba and war-torn Iraq.  Welcome to Alba-bania.”

 

Be aware, though, that this is history Gerald Warner-style.  So it might be slightly biased.

 

There are other articles I could mention – Andrew Gilligan recently wrote a piece for the Daily Telegraph that stopped just short of claiming SNP supporters in Glasgow East were murdering their political opponents and eating their entrails – but I’ll stop here.  At the start of this entry, I likened reading this stuff to standing at a sewer’s edge and inhaling its toxic fumes.  But having written about it in detail, I now feel like I’ve been swimming in that sewer.

 

A few final observations.  For many British people, the past five years of David Cameron and Conservative Party government have not been edifying.  They’ll remember 2010-2015 as an era of zero-hour contracts, welfare cuts, food-banks, the Bedroom tax, a crumbling NHS, exorbitant student fees, unpaid internships, tax avoidance, bankers’ bonuses, corrupt politicians, rumours of paedophile rings in Westminster, the rich getting richer and the poor getting evermore helpless.  That a coterie of journalists, like those I’ve mentioned above, can’t only get their heads around the fact that many people don’t want to be a part of modern British society as the Conservatives have fashioned it, but also go out of their way to mock such people as being “soft and sappy” and “baying at the moon”, suggests how far removed from reality much of Britain’s journalistic establishment is.  It’s locked inside its own bubble of privilege.  In fact, it’s as out of touch as most of Britain’s political establishment is these days.

 

Secondly, in the opinion polls Cameron’s Conservative Party is struggling to win the support of more than a third of the UK population.  Even if you factor in support for UKIP, still less than half of British people want to see a right-wing government in Westminster.  The Scots only account for 8% of the UK population, so why pick on them?  Why single them out for maligning as left-wing nutcases and fantasists?  Surely there are plenty of folk in England and Wales guilty of the same sin — if you’re blinkered enough to consider wanting to see the back of the Conservatives a sin?

 

And finally, this guff is self-defeating.  The more that commentators in the Sun, Express, Telegraph, Mail and so on fulminate about all things Scottish and chuck insults around about Jockistan and Alba-bania, the more likely Scottish people are to say in response: “F**k them.”  And then go off and vote for the SNP.

 

(c) The Scotsman