Killer Jo




It’s fair to say I’m not enjoying the current British general election campaign, especially not with Boris Johnson’s Conservatives showing a consistent and sizeable lead in the opinion polls – a whopping 19% lead over the Labour Party according to the latest Opinium poll commissioned by the Observer newspaper.  I mean, for God’s sake.  It’s Boris Johnson.  A man with a proven record of being a liar, a racist and an idiot.  Donald Trump’s comedy English butler.  And yet a majority of the Great British public are willing to entrust him again with the keys to Number 10.  Is the country being swept by a virus that turns people’s brains to mince?


Still, the campaign has had one silver lining.  It’s shown Jo Swinson, who’s been Member of Parliament for Dunbartonshire East for 12 of the last 14 years and who became leader of the Liberal Democrats amid much fanfare in July this year, to be a busted flush.


Swinson belongs to the political tradition of former Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg – and by extension that of Tony Blair, David Cameron and George Osborne.  It’s the tradition of the privileged and entitled, the oily and smooth, the professional politicians and suited technocrats whose unspoken maxims are “We know best” and “Leave everything to us.”  Osborne referred to practitioners of this particular style of politics as ‘The Guild’ and it was nicely described by commentator Chris Deerin in a piece in the Sunday Post last weekend: “These guys were masters of the soundbite, of the polished promise that was in reality no such thing…  They operated to a kind of professional political code: pledge A, which voters liked, when you really intended to deliver B, which they were less keen on; spin the media; control and beguile the national debate. Calculation, misdirection, cynicism.”


Swinson, who graduated from the London School of Economics in 2000, who was running for parliament as early as 2001, and whose real-life (i.e. non-political) working experience was restricted to a couple of years in marketing and public relations, obviously believed her destiny wasn’t to remain among the ranks of the great unwashed but to rule over them with the same glib condescension as Blair, Cameron and co.  Predictably, there have been massive disconnections between the platitudes that have come out of her mouth and the things she’s actually done in her political career.  Yet we, the oiks, are supposed to be too dazzled by her rhetoric, too awed by her wonderfulness or just too thick to notice.


In the run-up to this election she’s positioned the Liberal Democrats as the great anti-Brexit party.  Indeed, she’s declared that they would cancel Article 50 and do away with Brexit altogether.  How ironic, then, that she served as Under-Secretary of State for Employment Relations and Postal Affairs in the coalition government that her then-leader Nick Clegg formed with David Cameron in 2010.  Clegg, Swinson and their Liberal Democrat comrades enabled Cameron to become Prime Minister and his premiership resulted in the Brexit referendum six years later.  They also played a role in implementing Cameron’s policies of austerity that, by 2016, had left a large part of the population so disgruntled that they voted for Brexit as a way of raising a middle finger to the establishment.


Incidentally, back in 2008, Swinson declared in Parliament that her party “would like to have a referendum on the major issue of whether we are in or out of Europe,” which also makes a nonsense of her stance on the issue now.


Her record during the Cameron-Clegg coalition makes damning reading – especially for someone who spoke to the Guardian at the start of this year about how “we need to radically change things and have much more equality.”  She refused to ban zero-hour contracts and was reluctant about increasing the minimum wage.  She supported the massive increase in university tuition fees even though, famously, her party had previously vowed not to increase them.  Welfare cuts, the bedroom tax, reducing corporation tax – she backed them all.  And the enthusiasm she expressed in the Mail on Sunday last year about erecting a statue of Margaret Thatcher in Parliament Square doesn’t suggest someone with much respect for ‘equality’, either.


She’s yakked on about introducing green taxes and promoting energy conservation.  Yet as her Wikipedia entry notes, her environmental credentials are tarnished by the fact that between 2017 and 2018 she “received political funding from Mark Petterson, the director of Warwick Energy Ltd, which has fracking licences across England” and she “has also voted against plans to ban fracking in the UK.”


Mind you, I don’t think the earth’s environment can be that important to Swinson, given her recent professed keenness for launching nuclear missiles, vaporising tens of thousands of people and damning hundreds of thousands of others to lingering deaths from radiation sickness – and presumably triggering a nuclear winter that’d hardly help the planet’s wellbeing.  “Would you ever be prepared to use a nuclear weapon?” an interviewer asked her.  “Yes,” she replied without an iota of hesitation.  Swinson, of course, is eager to tilt her party towards the right in the hope she can hoover up a few votes among Brexit-opposing Conservatives.  Hence her nuclear machismo, her presenting of herself as ‘Killer Jo’.


Actually, should Boris Johnson and his party find themselves short of an overall majority in the next parliament, it wouldn’t surprise me if Swinson follows the example of her old master Nick Clegg and plugs the Liberal Democrats into another coalition with the Tories.  We don’t get a Bojo government then, but a Bo / Jo one.


A fair number of jibes have been fired at Swinson about things such as her manner (which is like that of the officious, full-of-herself prefect or head girl who used to get on your wick at school) and her accent (which is sometimes weirdly anonymous and at other times sounds like Miss Jean Brodie gargling phlegm).  This has prompted some of her supporters to complain that people only make nasty remarks about her because she’s a woman.  Well, for me, it isn’t a matter of sexism.  I dislike her almost as much as I dislike Johnson not because she’s a woman but because she’s a patronising shyster with the disreputable track record that I’ve described in the paragraphs above.  Incidentally, female politicians like Diane Abbot and Nicola Sturgeon have received industrial amounts of abuse on social media over the years but I can’t remember any of Swinson’s defenders expressing indignation about that.


Anyway, even though it became airborne only four months ago, the Swinson bubble seems to be bursting already.  Her party have sunk in the opinion polls and she was dreadful on the BBC’s party-leaders’ edition of Question Time last Thursday, which is ironic considering that she’d threatened legal action against ITV when they’d excluded her from their debate, and limited it to Johnson and Jeremy Corbyn, a few days earlier.


As one wit commented on Twitter following the Swinson meltdown, “Lib-Dems now considering legal action against the BBC for allowing Jo Swinson to take part in tonight’s debate.”


The Great British horror show


(c) International Business Times


I’m a big fan of horror movies but I can’t say I’ve been enjoying this new horror movie that stars the entire population of Britain and that’s been playing endlessly since last Thursday morning.  What’s it called again?  I Know What EU Did Last SummerThe BrexorcistHalloween 4: The Return of Michael Gove?


Actually, these past days of epic-scale tragedy and farce, which have followed Britain’s decision in the referendum-vote of June 23rd to leave the European Union, put me in mind of several horror films.  These are the films I’m reminded of and why.


(c) Daily Telegraph

(c) British Lion Films


When I see Nigel Farage and his supporters in those rural provinces of the UK that voted to quit the EU despite them being heavily dependent on EU subsidies, I think of The Wicker Man (1973).  In this, a posh aristocrat convinces his simple-minded countryside followers that the bountifulness of their harvests and the richness of their coffers depends, not very logically, on them occasionally sacrificing a virgin.  In Farage’s case, he persuaded them to sacrifice their EU membership.  The film ends with the latest sacrifice, played by Edward Woodward, predicting that the next time the harvests fail and the coffers are empty, the countryside folk will be sticking the aristocrat himself into a wicker man and setting it alight.  So if this analogy holds, things may end unhappily for Nigel (but happily for the rest of us).


(c) Warner Brothers / Transatlantic Pictures


When I see Boris Johnson and Michael Gove, I think of Alfred’s Hitchcock’s dark psychological thriller Rope (1948).  This begins with two vain aesthetes, Brandon and Phillip, committing a murder to show their intellectual superiority.  Then they spend the rest of the film unravelling through guilt at what they’ve done and fear of being found out.  Since the referendum result, our very own Brandon and Philip have been looking increasingly sweaty and twitchy while, no doubt, the thought “Oh my God, what the f**k have we done?” grows ever shriller in their heads,


When I don’t see George Osbourne – he seems to have disappeared off the face of the earth since the vote, despite the fact that he’s Chancellor of the Exchequer and despite the fact that the pound and markets generally have gone into freefall – I obviously think of The Invisible Man (1933).


(c) Universal Pictures


When I see the Labour Party currently tearing itself apart over the issue of the leadership, or non-leadership, of Jeremy Corbyn during the referendum campaign – the last time I’d checked, there’d been eleven resignations from Corbyn’s shadow cabinet – I think of the virus in Danny Boyle’s 28 Days Later (2002) that instantly transforms its victims into red-eyed, slavering, vomiting, hyperactive and very bitey zombies.  Though if the somnolent Corbyn himself got infected he’d probably just dribble a little bit onto his cardigan.


When I see Nicola Sturgeon, Scotland’s First Minister and the only leader in the past few days to actually display qualities of leadership, I think of Sigourney Weaver in Aliens (1986).  From her base in Edinburgh, peering south towards the madness that’s engulfed Westminster, Sturgeon must feel like Weaver in her spaceship while it circles the space-colony planet where hideous and slimy things have happened.  (Though ‘nuking them from orbit’ isn’t an option here.)


When I see close-ups of Michael Gove’s face, I think of the baby in David Lynch’s Eraserhead (1977).


(c) Daily Telegraph

(c) Libra Films International


Whereas when I see Boris Johnson, I think of the midget blonde monsters spawned by Samantha Eggar in David Cronenberg’s The Brood (1980).


(c) Evening Standard

(c) New World Pictures


Mind you, that’s when I’m not thinking of the creepy kids in Village of the Damned (1960).


(c) MGM


And when I see the whole sorry mess, with the triumphant leaders of the Brexit campaign now admitting that – duh! – they didn’t actually have a plan about what to do in the event of them winning, I think of the Final Destination series.  In those movies, it’s never quite clear what the final destination is.  But you have a pretty good idea that everyone involved is going to die horribly.


What happened to the love?


(c) BBC



A week, it’s commonly said, is a long time in politics.  This has felt especially true with recent events in the build-up to the referendum on Scottish independence, which is being held this September.  Last week, Conservative Prime Minister David Cameron gave a speech in London and did his best to impersonate Hugh Grant, who played the cuddly fictional prime minister in the Richard Curtis movie Love, Actually.  Cameron assured Scots that everybody in England, and Wales, and Northern Ireland loved them and begged them not to vote for independence and break up the big happy family that is the UK.  Please don’t go, he practically sang, we love you so.  He even told people in England, Wales and Northern Ireland to text or email relatives and friends in Scotland, to urge them not to betray the great British love-in by voting ‘yes’.  (By the way, everyone I know who lives in England, Wales and Northern Ireland – I’m still waiting to hear from you.)


But this week – ironically one day before St Valentine’s Day – Cameron’s chancellor George Osborne gave a speech in Edinburgh and suddenly love was no longer in the air.  Instead, stark, blunt threats were the order of the day.  Osborne warned that if Scots voted for independence, there’d be no prospect of the remainder of the UK agreeing to a currency union with Scotland.  Having a currency union, whereby an independent Scotland would continue to use the British pound even if it meant the new country ceded a degree of fiscal control to London, was the Scottish National Party’s preferred policy.  It was also the policy recommended for an independent Scotland by Alistair Darling, who was chancellor in the last Labour government and is coincidentally the head of the anti-independence Better Together campaign.  Although having separate currencies on the island of Britain would damage the remaining UK as much as it would an independent Scotland – the cost to the UK balance of payments could be billions of pounds – Osborne made it plain that he was willing to cut off his nose to spite his face (or cut off his Union Jack-painted face to spite his wayward tartan nose) in order to stall an independent Scotland’s economy.


So within a couple of days the attitude of the Conservative government at Westminster towards its Scottish subjects has veered from being lovey-dovey to being shrill, wide-eyed and threatening.  Such extreme mood-swings are not characteristic of Hugh Grant in Love, Actually at all.  They’re more like the behaviour of Glenn Close in Fatal Attraction.  No wonder some people in Scotland want to vote for independence.  Who’d want to stay in a union with a government of bunny-boilers?


(c) The Spectator



The currency issue has dominated the mainstream Scottish media this week.  That was predictable since none of the owners of the daily Scottish newspapers are actually based in Scotland and any sympathy for the SNP or for the cause of independence that appears in their pages is fleeting, to say the least.  So Osborne’s refusal to entertain the idea of a currency union became A GREAT BIG SCARY STORY INDEED.  None of the newspapers forecast that people in an independent Scotland would be reduced to using pebbles, seashells and coloured beads as currency, though I’m sure a couple of them (the Scottish Daily Mail, the Scottish Daily Express) came close.


I’ve worked and travelled in many countries and, from my experiences, the currency issue is not the be-all-and-end-all as Osborne and his admirers in the Scottish press would have us believe.  Currency is a tool that enables people to keep the wheels of commerce turning and get on with their lives and it’s amazing how adaptable they can be.  I spent two years, for example, living in a country a very long way from Europe where the euro was everyday currency.  Also, folk in the Republic of Ireland used their Irish version of the pound, the punt, for decades – and during my childhood in 1970s Northern Ireland, I remember southern Irish money being used north of the border alongside our official ‘British’ pounds and pence.  Frankly, an independent Scotland could use whatever currency it wanted and plenty of studies, conducted by bodies on both the right and the left of the political spectrum, have concluded that there’s no reason why the place shouldn’t thrive anyway.  But with Osborne expressing his willingness to stick up currency barriers between an independent Scotland and the rest of the UK, he’s made administrative hassle in the movement of business, wealth, goods and people around these islands a real possibility.


What annoys me most about Osborne’s speech, though, is how Ed Balls, Labour’s shadow chancellor, immediately gave it his full backing.  If Labour were in power in Westminster, he said, they’d refuse a currency union with an independent Scotland too.  George Osborne, who is a millionaire thanks to his inherited wealth, is a prominent member of a regime that has necessitated the return of food-banks to Britain as a measure to save families from going hungry, and allowed utility companies to turn their customers into virtual serfs, and threatened half the public libraries in Newcastle-upon-Tyne with closure, and  introduced the Bedroom Tax – a tax that even the ultra-cautious wee middle-class Edinburgh rag The Scotsman has described as ‘Dickensian’.  And so on, and so forth.  Yet Ed Balls is more than happy to hold Osborne’s posh Tory coat for him while he bludgeons the Scots with threats about what might happen if they dare to exercise their democratic rights and vote for more autonomy.


(The Liberal Democrats have also given Osborne’s speech their backing, though what they think is irrelevant.  They cut their own throats by entering a coalition government with the Tories back in 2010 and will probably be extinct after the next general election.)


For the record, I doubt that the Scots will vote for independence later this year.  (That’s despite recent opinion polls showing an increase in support for the ‘yes’ option – something that no doubt prompted Osborne to issue his threat this week.)  To make a rash generalisation, the Scots are a careful, slightly pessimistic and not terribly confident lot and the anti-independence campaign, via the newspapers, has exploited these insecurities by banging on relentlessly about all the terrible things that might happen if they were stupid enough to vote for political autonomy – companies would relocate to England, prices would soar, pension plans would collapse, they’d be kicked out the European Union, they’d be threatened by terrorists, television in an independent Scotland would be rubbish because Scottish creativity is rubbish.  (That last argument was articulated both by the former Labour MP Brian Wilson and by the former Liberal Party leader David Steel, who nowadays calls himself Lord Steel of Aikwood.)  The currency scare has been the latest in a long line of scare stories designed to convince people that, unless they want their children to grow up in a Caledonian equivalent of Albania, circa 1970, they should vote ‘no’.  Sadly, it’s an approach that I think will work this time.


I say ‘this time’ because my opinion is that in the long run Scotland will become independent, perhaps one or two generations from now.  I think it will parallel what happened with the creation of a devolved Scottish parliament in the 20th century – a referendum on Scottish devolution in 1979 was a failure (although a narrow majority of Scots did vote for devolution, they didn’t get it thanks to the insertion of a sneaky last-minute qualification in the voting rules), but the Scots voted for it emphatically and overwhelmingly in 1997.  Scottish independence will eventually come, I suspect, because a couple of decades from now the United Kingdom will be an even less attractive place to be than it is now.  It wouldn’t surprise me if 2030 or 2040 sees the UK outside the European Union and outside the EU’s rules about minimum pay, working conditions and human rights, operating as a sort of giant, deregulated, offshore sweatshop-cum-McDonald’s branch that Rupert Murdoch, Nigel Farrage and the Daily Mail would have wet dreams about.  Also, thanks to the rise of the Internet and the decline of traditional newspapers, the flow of information will be less controlled than it is at the moment.  There will certainly be fewer old-style newspapers in Scotland to put a Unionist spin on things.  (The Scotsman, for instance, is on its last legs at the moment.)


What worries me, though, is that following the 2014 referendum Scotland will be a demoralised and dissatisfied place for a long time.  People who voted ‘yes’ will be angry at how the debate was distorted by the political, business and media establishments – indeed, I suspect that this week’s events, with the Tories, Labour and Liberal Democrats aligning themselves to deny any prospect of a currency union happening, will become as notorious as the backroom politicking that cheated the Scots out of getting devolution in 1979 even though they’d voted for it.  Meanwhile, those people who voted ‘no’, and who consider themselves to be both ‘British’ and ‘Scottish’ simultaneously, are unlikely to feel brilliant, either.  By then the ‘Scottish’ part of their identity will have been subjected to two years of drip-drip-drip claims by unionist politicians and newspapers about how rubbish they are.  Even if you don’t particularly want to be independent, it can’t do much for your self-esteem to be continually told you’re incapable of being independent.


Furthermore, if – as I expect – a majority of Scots vote ‘no’ and the threat of Scottish independence recedes, Scotland will disappear off Westminster’s radar again, with unhappy consequences.  After all, following the devolution fiasco of 1979, Margaret Thatcher assumed that the Scots didn’t have the bottle to stand up to London and her incoming Tory government could do whatever they wanted with the place.  And we all know what happened to Scotland then.