Things I’ve learned from British politics in the last fortnight

 

© For Dummies

 

Once upon a time, I believed this blog would be able to keep up with all the crazy stuff happening in the world.  Whenever something crazy happened somewhere, I thought, I would publish timely, perceptive and erudite comment on it.

 

However, in the past year, I’ve come to realize this policy is untenable.  Thanks to the antics of Trump, Putin, Rajoy, Erdogan, Duterte, Kim Jong Un, etc., there’s an entire planet-load of craziness – bad craziness – going on 24/7.  And it isn’t humanly possible to keep abreast of it all.

 

Still, I thought I’d make a few comments about the craziness happening in British politics just now.  Here are a few things I’ve learnt from it over the past fortnight.

 

Harvey Weinstein is a butterfly

According to Wikipedia, Chaos Theory propounds the idea of “the sensitive dependence on initial conditions in which a small change in one state of a deterministic nonlinear system can result in large differences in a later state”.  Or to use a popular metaphor, a butterfly flapping its wings in Argentina may lead, a few weeks later, to a tornado occurring in Texas.

 

In British politics, however, an earthquake has been caused not by a butterfly, but by the blubbery, walrus-like form of Hollywood movie-mogul Harvey Weinstein flapping around in an ever-constricting net of allegations about him being a rapist, sex-pest, harasser, stalker and general monster towards the women who’ve had to endure his professional company over the decades.  This has encouraged women (and sometimes men) in other vocations and other places to speak out about how about they’ve been sexually exploited and mistreated too.  Including, eventually, in politics in Britain.

 

From North Yorks Enquirer

 

How distant and unimportant the Weinstein scandal must’ve seemed to certain male British parliamentarians a few weeks ago.  Most of them probably hadn’t even heard of Weinstein before.  Some of them probably hadn’t watched a Hollywood movie since, oh, Deep Throat with Linda Lovelace in 1972.  No, they must have thought, while they flicked through the pornographic images on their Westminster computer screens or groped the lower limbs of lady journalists trying to interview them or composed and fired off lewd text messages to whatever femme du jour had taken their fancy or shouted at their female assistants, “Oi, Sugar Tits, nip down to the sex shop and buy me a new vibrator, will you?”  Absolutely nothing to do with me.

 

Well, now, things are slightly different.  Inside Britain’s political doghouse these days, it’s standing room only. Among those implicated or accused: Michael Fallon, Stephen Crabbe, Mark Garnier, Damien Green, Christopher Pincher, Dan Poulter, Charlie Elphicke and Daniel Kawczynski, all Tories; Kelvin Hopkins, Jared O’Mara and Ivan Lewis, all Labour; and up in the Scottish Parliament, the SNP’s Mark McDonald.

 

Somehow, it doesn’t surprise me that various male politicos saw themselves as irresistible, hot-and-funky sex-hunks, even if that view wasn’t shared by the unfortunate people who were the target of their amorous advances.  What does surprise me is the amount of victim-blaming that’s gone on in the Daily Mail since the scandal broke – it’s published a string of articles belittling the women who’ve made allegations, such as Kate Maltby and Andrea Leadsom.  Yes, I know, it’s the Daily Mail, which exists to be despicable.  But it’s the only national British newspaper where women form the majority of its readership.

 

It makes you wonder a bit, a teeny wee bit, if they’re worried that this exposure of sexual misconduct in the film and political worlds might be followed by more of the same in the journalistic one.

 

Priti Patel’s holiday sounds like a bundle of laughs

Meanwhile, there’s the saga of Priti Patel, who until yesterday was Minister for International Development.

 

It transpires that in August Priti went on holiday to Israel.  Evidently, she was keen to find a way of making her holiday less ghastly than holidays normally are, what with delayed flights, crowded terminals, rip-off taxi drivers, scam artists, pickpockets, crap hotels, jam-packed tourist attractions, overpriced tourist tat, screaming children, moaning teenagers, biting insects, sunburn, food poisoning, hangovers and fights with German holidaymakers over who got to the sun-loungers first.

 

So what did she do?  She decided to intersperse her holiday activities with clandestine meetings with Binyamin Netanyahu and other Israeli bigwigs, where the discussions included the possibility of channeling some of Britain’s foreign-aid money towards funding Israeli Army activities in the occupied Golan Heights.  Wow.  Binyamin Netanyahu.  That sounds like a brilliant way to spice up your holiday.

 

Unfortunately for Priti, the BBC decided to share some of her holiday snapshots with the nation on November 3rd.  And – surprise! – that was the first her boss Theresa May had heard about it.

 

From @ yairlapid

From paxonbothhouses.blogspot.com

 

If Boris Johnson rides to your rescue – hide!

On November 1st, British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson – I feel a chill run through me every time I type those five words – spoke up in defence of the British-Iranian woman Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, who’s been imprisoned in Tehran since 2016 on charges of plotting to overthrow the Iranian government.

 

She claims she’d only gone to Iran for a holiday and to visit relatives.  Yet the bold Boris announced to a parliamentary committee that she’d been there “teaching people journalism”.  Stirring stuff – until the Iranian authorities seized on his words as justification for keeping her in prison.  In fact, there’s now a real possibility that they might extend her sentence.

 

People have demanded that Johnson be sacked for his stupidity, but I’d go further and have him arrested – is being the world’s biggest gobshite a criminal offence?  Then Britain could approach Iran and ask if they’d like to swap prisoners.

 

David Davis can make things stop existing by the power of his will

Once, there were supposed to be 58 sectoral analyses looking at how the 58 most important parts of the British economy would fare after Brexit.  These ran from A to (almost) Z, from Advertising and Marketing to Wholesale Markets and Investment Banking.  According to a written ministerial statement, each one was “a wide mix of qualitative and quantitative analysis, contained in a range of documents developed at different times since the referendum.  It examines the nature of activity in the sectors, how trade is conducted with the EU currently in these sectors and, in many cases, considers the alternatives following the UK’s exit from the EU as well as considering existing precedents.”

 

Well, that sounds thorough, doesn’t it?  That sounds like someone had been doing their homework – conducting serious research about the challenges facing the UK economy once Brexit has been enacted.  Right?

 

Except that Brexit Secretary David Davis has just declared that no such things exist.  There “is not, nor there has ever been, a series of discreet impact assessments examining the quantitative impact of Brexit on those sectors,” he told MPs on November 7th, contradicting everything that’d been said before.

 

How odd that suddenly they don’t exist.  You might almost think they constituted such grim reading that they were made not to exist.

 

© RTE / BBC

 

Mrs Brown should be our queen

The leaked Paradise Papers have contained many revelations about where the rich and powerful have been stashing their cash – beyond the reaches of their countries’ taxmen, obviously.  Among those named are Britain’s Royal Family.  For example, we now know that millions of pounds from the Queen’s private estate have ended up in a fund in the Cayman Islands.

 

You’d expect the British media to make hay about this.  Yet they’ve appeared more interested in another Paradise Papers revelation, i.e. that three stars of the bawdy Irishman-in-drag TV sitcom Mrs Brown’s Boys – Patrick Houlihan, Martin Delany and Fiona Delany – have avoided paying tax on two million pounds by sneakily transferring the money to Mauritius and back.

 

This means either that Mrs Brown and her offspring are now more important to the British public than the Queen is; or that Britain’s brown-nosing journalists prefer to focus on some minor comedy actors to take the heat off the monarchy.  I believe the first reason to be true, obviously.

 

Mind you, say what you like about the Queen, but she usually has more gravitas than to accidentally skewer someone up the bum with a rectal thermometer or use a dildo to whisk cream while the priest’s visiting.

 

Theresa May is now a waxwork

Well, no surprise there.

 

© The Guardian

 

The world seemed a very different place seven months ago

Didn’t it just?

 

© The Guardian

 

Reasons to hate the Daily Mail: number 17,662

 

(c) www.thepoke.co.uk

 

As you’ll no doubt be aware, there are many, many, many reasons to hate the Daily Mail. 

 

Your reasons for loathing it might be historical ones, most notoriously its being a shout-sheet for Oswald Mosley and the British Union of Fascists in the mid-1930s and its subsequent demonization of Jewish refugees fleeing Hitler.  Or you might despise it because of its attitude towards science, which is about as enlightened as that of the Roman Inquisition in the latter half of the 16th century.  Or you might hold it in utter contempt for its homophobia, examples of which have included its infamous 1993 headline ABORTION HOPE AFTER ‘GAY GENES’ FINDING and columnist Jan Moir’s evidence-free insinuation that singer Stephen Gately’s homosexuality contributed to his premature death in 2009, something that earned her the Bigot of the Year Award from the gay rights organisation Stonewall.  Or you might want to go and firebomb its offices because of its website’s fondness for showing photographs of celebrities’ and aristocrats’ pubescent daughters, making it a legitimate place for paedophiles to stop and jerk off at.  (Describing Heidi Klum’s eight-year-old daughter as a ‘leggy beauty’ in 2013 was a particular low.)

 

http://www.themediablog.co.uk/the-media-blog/2013/01/daily-mail-turns-the-creepiness-up-a-notch.html

 

Or you might just view the never-ending diet that the newspaper serves up of ignorance, prurience, grubbiness, self-righteousness, hypocrisy, small-mindedness, snobbery, racism, misogyny, Little Englander-ism, xenophobia, Islamophobia, immigrant-bashing, anti-intellectualism, tittle-tattle, curtain-twitching, pseudo-scientific quackery, petty-bourgeois fulmination and general all-round barking right-wing insanity and conclude there’s no hope left for the human race and try to book yourself a one-way passage on the next space probe to Mars.

 

My policy towards the Daily Mail has been to regard it as something unpleasant but also to accept the unfortunate fact of its existence and try my best to ignore it.  As you would, say, with diarrhoea.  Or gonorrhoea.  Or North Korea.

 

Last Thursday, though, it did something so obnoxious that I feel obliged to break my just-ignore-the-f***ing-thing rule and comment on it.

 

Page three of that day’s Mail contained an article by some hack called Sarah Rainey.  It showed the face of the actress Gillian Anderson, who’s been in the news for her return to the role that first made her famous in 1993 – that of FBI agent Dana Scully in the popular sci-fi / horror TV series The X-Files, which has lately been revived for a new series.  The 47-year-old Ms Anderson’s face was porcupined with arrows, attached to little panels wherein Rainey speculated about different bits of ‘work’ that might have been done to maintain the youthfulness of her features.  And ‘speculate’ was the operative word.  “Hints that she has had a dermal filler…”  “…’the classic look of well-administered Botox’, says one expert…”  “Suggestion of a cosmetic procedure…”  “Possible surgery on her lower eyelids…”  Etc., etc.  (The italics are mine.)

 

Incidentally, I should say that unlike many people I’m not a fan of The X-Files.  In fact, I regarded the show’s main plotline, which had Scully and her FBI partner, Fox Mulder (David Duchovny), discovering a super-conspiracy involving UFOs, alien abductions and government cover-ups as being torturously convoluted.  It was also as illogical and silly as the claims about UFOs, abductions and cover-ups made in real life by people like Whitley Strieber.

 

But, having said that (and mindful of the fact that my better half, Mrs Blood and Porridge, is a big X-Files fan and is liable to punch me in the face if I slag off the show completely), I should add that I quite liked some of the show’s stand-alone episodes.  These followed a ‘monster-of-the-week’ format and usually saw Mulder and Scully investigating cases where mutant humanoid cockroach-men, their mandibles dripping with toxic venom, lurked disgustingly in the sewers under the city.

 

And I admire Gillian Anderson for a lot of her other film and TV work – for instance, her semi-regular turn in the 2013-2015 TV show Hannibal as Dr Du Maurier, the psychotherapist who has the unenviable job of providing her fellow psychotherapist, the carnivorous Hannibal Lecter, with psychotherapy himself.  I also thought she was excellent in Kevin Macdonald’s 2006 movie The Last King of Scotland.  It says it all in that film that the James McAvoy character, confronted with a choice between spending his time down in the Ugandan jungle with the sultry Ms Anderson and hanging out with Idi Amin in the Kampala Holiday Inn wearing the world’s loudest Hawaiian shirts, chooses the latter option.  What a plonker.

 

Anyway, the Mail’s treatment of Gillian Anderson – who responded to the article on Twitter by unsubtly but accurately describing it as ‘bollocks’ – shows how you can’t win with the Daily Mail if you’re a woman, and especially not if you’re a woman in her thirties or older.  Dare to be youthful in appearance and the rag is immediately accusing you of indulging in nip-and-tucks and Botox injections.  But dare to show a line, sag or wrinkle and it sneers at you for letting yourself go.  Roy Greenslade, the Guardian’s media correspondent, recently condemned a Mail article that mocked the Duchess of Cambridge for looking a bit rumpled and tired during a shopping trip.  My admiration for the Royal Family is about as great as my admiration for haemorrhoids, but even I found the article spectacularly mean-spirited.

 

http://www.theguardian.com/media/greenslade/2015/dec/14/daily-mail-is-cruel-and-childish-about-the-duchess-of-cambridge

 

What’s really depressing about the Daily Mail is that it’s the only national daily newspaper in Britain read by more women than men.   According to a 2014 article at www.themediabriefing.com, 52.5% of its readership is female.

 

http://www.themediabriefing.com/article/youth-audiences-newspaper-old-demographics-advertising

 

Furthermore, many of the paper’s most abusive columnists in recent years have been women: Jan Moir, Sarah Vine, Amanda Platell, Melanie Phillips and, in the Mail Online, ὔber-gobshite Katie Hopkins.  Though such is the amount of spite, scorn and vitriol emanating from this shower that I sometimes find it difficult to think of them as women, or even as human beings.  I visualise them more as mutant humanoid cockroach-ladies, their mandibles dripping with toxic venom, lurking disgustingly in the sewers under Fleet Street.

 

Which, actually, makes them sound like a case for Mulder and Scully.

 

(c) 20th Century Fox Television

 

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

 

We go over there, we don’t speak their language, we don’t take their jobs

 

(c) The Economist

 

LANGUAGE CRISIS IN SCHOOLS AS MIGRANTS FLOOD IN!  So barked the front page of yesterday’s Daily Mail.

 

On January 1st, 2014, journalists were encamped at Heathrow Airport, awaiting the arrival of zillions of Romanian and Bulgarian benefit cheats and petty-criminals.  These, the Daily Mail and the other usual suspects in the Britain’s right-wing tabloid press had assured us, were about to invade British soil like a giant swarm of sprinting, slavering, mad-eyed zombies from Danny Boyle’s 28 Days Later, now that EU restrictions on the movement of Romanian and Bulgarian nationals had been lifted.  But despite the dire predictions, nothing much happened.

 

However, a day later, while even right-wing newspapers like the Daily Telegraph were printing bemused articles with headlines along the lines of ROMANIAN-BULGARIAN INVASION? WHAT? WHERE?, the Daily Mail refused to be diverted.  It was still on a mission to convince us that we’re being swamped by evil foreigners and we’re all going to die.

 

(I should be more specific and say that the LANGUAGE CRISIS IN SCHOOLS headline was on the front of the Scottish Daily Mail and may not have appeared in the English one – I know that the Daily Mails north and south of the border sometimes vary in their sensationalist, everything’s-going-to-hell-and-those-leftie / European / Muslim / gay / etc-bastards-are-to-blame headlines.  The other day, for instance, the English Daily Mail’s front page ranted about immigration, again, with claims that ENGLAND was now a CROWDED ISLE, the most crowded one in Europe.  I assume this particular headline didn’t appear on newspaper racks up here for fear of offending Scottish sensibilities.  Actually, a more appropriate headline might have been DAILY MAIL HACKS TOO THICK TO UNDERSTAND BASIC BRITISH GEOGRAPHY.)

 

Anyway, this particular thrust against immigrants that the Daily Mail and others of its ilk have made many times – the idea that British schools are being overloaded with foreign children who don’t speak English to an adequate degree – has always puzzled me.  I would have thought that having a sizeable number of children in the British education system who are fluent in a foreign language, their first language, was a cause for celebration.  The trick then would be to make sure that their English was up to scratch by the time they left education, so that when they entered the job market they were bilingual.  I can’t imagine any other way that British schools could produce pupils who are bilingual – certainly not now, when the powers-that-be seem to have all but given up on encouraging indigenous British pupils to learn foreign languages to a usable level.

 

There seems to be an assumption among British educators, parents and pupils that there’s no need to learn foreign languages today because English has become universal.  It’s now, everywhere, the lingua franca of tourism, business, diplomacy and science.  No doubt that’s why, during my travels in various countries, I have generally found Britons, and Americans, and other native English-speakers, to be embarrassingly bad at learning the local lingos and at being able to communicate without coming across to the local people as impatient, blustering and gesticulating morons.

 

(I’m terrible at languages too, by the way, and I include myself in that sorry category.  Although after spending three years living in a rundown apartment building in downtown Tunis, my French did become proficient in certain topic-areas – in complaining to my landlord about blocked toilets, about leaking ceilings, about exploding light-bulbs, about malfunctioning water heaters and so.  In fact, when it came to discussing household maintenance and repair, I’d turned into quite a francophone.)

 

This complacency among native English-speakers about the supremacy of their language in a globalised world is unwise considering the rapidly growing number of people who speak English excellently as a second language – in addition to being fluent in their own language.  To quote the British linguist David Graddol, who in 2006 published a booklet of research into the future of the English language and English-language-learning entitled English Next: “We are now nearing the end of the period where native speakers can bask in their privileged knowledge of the global lingua franca.”

 

Indeed, in the international jobs market, among multinationals, NGOs, cross-border charities and other international agencies, there’s no doubt that a person with a good command of English and fluency in another language is more desirable as an employee than a person – some Briton or American – who speaks English and nothing else.

 

In the same booklet, David Graddol has this to say about immigrant families: “About 1 in 10 children in the UK already speak a language other than English at home.  Too often this is seen as an educational and social problem rather than a cultural and economic resource.”  It’s about time that Britain’s powerful Little Englander lobby, as exemplified by the Daily Mail, stopped yapping about the negatives of having immigrant children in the country and starting exploring the positives of it.  In a generation or two, those immigrant kids might be the only section of the British population who have a half-decent chance of finding work in the global jobs market.

 

You can, incidentally, download English Next here: http://www.britishcouncil.org/learning-research-english-next.pdf.

 

Hating Britain

 

(c) Daily Telegraph

 

I’m not a big fan of Labour Party leader Ed Milliband.  Until now I’ve viewed him as being bland, timid and vacuous.  However, at the Labour Party conference the other week, he seemed to suddenly develop a backbone by promising that a future Labour government would freeze household energy bills until 2017.

 

I’m sceptical that Milliband will ever become Prime Minister, and if he does I’m sceptical that this promise will ever become policy, but at least for once he managed to wrong-foot his political opponents and generate debate and headlines.  No doubt it was for this reason – Ed Milliband setting the agenda – that the world’s most horrible wee right-wing tabloid newspaper the Daily Mail decided last Saturday to go gunning for him.

 

Or rather, the Mail went gunning for Ed Milliband’s father, the late Marxist academic Ralph Milliband who, it claimed in a two-page expose, was a ‘man who hated Britain’.  To back this accusation, it quoted something the teenaged Ralph had written in his diary shortly after he’d arrived in the UK as a Jewish refugee, about the English being rabid nationalists.  Nearly thirty years later, Milliband Senior also wrote about his contempt for the British establishment, which he saw as including Eton and Harrow, Oxford and Cambridge, the army, the Church of England, the Times newspaper, the House of Lords and the monarchy.  Like father, like son, seemed to be the Mail’s subtext – don’t vote for Ed because he’s been tainted by the evil unpatriotic Marxism of his dad.

 

This past Tuesday, the Mail allowed Ed Milliband page-space to write a reply to these claims.  His father, he retorted, did not hate Britain – for one thing, during World War II, Milliband Senior had served in the British Navy against the Nazis.  (This, incidentally, was just a few years after the Mail had been espousing Oswald Mosley’s British Union of Fascists and printing headlines like Hurrah for the Blackshirts.)  However, the newspaper also published an unrepentant defence of its original allegations.  Ralph’s political views, it said, ‘underpinned incalculable human misery’ and the influence he may have had over young Ed was ‘a fundamental question of ideology and enormous public interest.’

 

By the latter part of this week the Jewish Chronicle writer Jonathan Freedland had also waded into the row, criticising the Mail for what he saw as an anti-Semitic tone in its Ralph Milliband coverage.  And a reporter from the Daily Mail’s sister paper, the Mail on Sunday, had been ejected from a memorial service held at London’s Guy’s Hospital for Ed Milliband’s uncle, Professor Harry Keen – she’d sneaked in, trying to get comments from Keen’s friends, relatives and colleagues about the controversy.

 

The first thing that struck me about this episode is the fact – obviously not graspable by the Daily Mail – that it’s entirely possible to be critical of a country, and of some or most of its institutions, without ‘hating’ it.  You can hold a place in great affection whilst also lambasting it for its failings.  George Orwell was, in his own, anti-patriotic way, a patriotic Englishman; and he is now revered by many for projecting a quintessentially honest, decent type of Englishness.  But Orwell, of course, was scathing of the political and social institutions in the England of his day.

 

The second thing to strike me was the irony of who was attacking who, and about what.  When it comes to hating Britain, Ralph Milliband is small potatoes compared to the Daily Mail, a newspaper that regularly pours bile over Britain’s education system, Britain’s welfare system, Britain’s national broadcaster, Britain’s trade union movement, Britain’s environmental movement, Britain’s immigrant community, Britain’s gay community, and most aspects of Britain’s 21st century culture.  In fact, the Daily Mail seems to hate everything in Britain that isn’t white, Christian, middle-or-upper-class, based in the English Home Counties and supportive of the Conservative Party or UKIP.  Which constitutes a hell of a lot more of Britain than what Ralph Milliband ever fulminated against.