Everybody won – and lost

 

© Daily Record

 

My head hurts.  Since Friday morning I’ve been trying to figure out the results of the British general election and I still don’t feel much wiser.  Here’s how it appears to me.

 

Theresa May’s Conservative Party got the most seats in Parliament, 317 out of 650.  So they won the election.  Right?  Wrong.  Their total was 13 down on what it’d been before, which left Theresa May looking the world’s biggest dolt for calling the election in the first place because she’d assumed, from the polls, that her party would be returned with a thumping majority.  In fact, the biggest thump heard as the results came in was that of Tory jaws striking the floor in shock and disbelief at their majority failing to materialise.  Now they’re nine seats short of the magic 326 number required for a working majority and it looks like they’ll have to do a deal with Northern Ireland’s Democratic Unionist Party.  More on whom in a minute.

 

Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour Party has been hailed as the election’s big winners because they performed much better than expected.  There’s rarely been an election campaign where the odds against the main opposition party doing well seemed so great.  In particular, Corbyn and his followers had opprobrium heaped on them by the British press – two days before the vote, for instance, the Daily Mail seemed to devote an entire edition to telling us that Corbyn was an evil, crazed, corrupt, terrorist-loving, Satan-worshipping, child-murdering, baby-eating ghoul.  However, despite the unexpected bounce in their fortunes, Labour still managed a total of only 262 seats.  Even if they joined forces with the all the other non-right-wing parties in Westminster, they’d barely come within touching distance of that 326 working-majority number.

 

Tim Farron’s Liberal Democrats increased their share of seats by a third.  That’s a win, right?  Well academically.  They now have 12 seats instead of nine and remain utterly insignificant in the grand scheme of things.  Next!

 

Nicola Sturgeon’s Scottish National Party got its second-biggest share ever of seats in Scotland, 35 out of 59 and comfortably more than all the seats won by the other Scottish parties put together.  That surely qualifies as a win, right?  But no.  The party lost 21 of the seats it’d won in the previous election of 2015, which had been its all-time high-water-mark, with the result that their performance this time has been interpreted as a loss.  That’s certainly how the anti-SNP mainstream media in Scotland has been spinning it furiously since Friday.

 

The Scottish results are rich in irony.  The Scottish Labour Party managed to increase its number of seats from one to seven, helped no doubt by the popularity of Jeremy Corbyn’s left-wing credentials north of the border.  Yet for the past few years the Scottish Labour Party has been notable for its loathing of Corbyn.  ‘SLAB’ leader Keiza Dugdale claimed that Corbyn would leave the Labour Party ‘carping from the side-lines’ and Ian Murray, previously Labour’s only Scottish MP, once resigned from Corbyn’s shadow cabinet in an effort to undermine him.

 

Meanwhile, the way the media has fawned over Scottish Conservative leader Ruth Davidson since the election has left many with the impression that Scotland has now entirely turned Tory and Davidson has somehow become the new Queen of Scots.  I’ve seen comments on Twitter by hurt English Labour voters, berating the Scots for changing the habits of a lifetime, voting Tory en masse and letting the Conservatives finish ahead of Corbyn.  For the record, Davidson’s Tories won 13 seats in Scotland, 22% of the total – a lot by their usual standards in Scotland but nowhere near a majority.  Though in the topsy-turvy world of Britain’s 2017 general election, a showing of 22% is construed as a victory.  (Yet another irony is that the pro-Brexit Scottish Tories won their seats in regions like the Borders and the North-East, heavily dependent on agriculture, which will likely get hammered when Brexit goes ahead and EU farming subsidies stop being paid.)

 

One group who lost utterly was the right-wing United Kingdom Independence Party, which went from a vote-share of 12.7% in 2015 to a share of 1.8% in 2017, won no seats at all and saw its leader, the wretched Paul Nuttall, come close to losing his deposit when he stood in the constituency of Boston and Skegness.  Thus, UKIP are dead, buried and hopefully already in an advanced state of decomposition.  Good riddance to them.

 

© Daily Mirror

 

And probably the party who are feeling most chuffed post-election are the afore-mentioned DUP in Northern Ireland, who won 10 seats; and who since Friday morning have had Theresa May, desperate to form a Conservative-DUP coalition, wooing and serenading them like Romeo under Juliet’s balcony in Act 2, Scene 2 of Romeo and Juliet.  Yes, because the DUP have become the new kingmakers at Westminster, they could be identified as the real winners of this election.  Mind you, if you examine their beliefs and political record, you soon appreciate what a shower of losers they are.

 

Where to begin with Theresa May’s new best friends, the DUP?  Well, there’s the fact that as a bunch of Bible-thumping, science-hating nincompoops they include in their ranks such specimens as Thomas Buchanan, who campaigns for creationism to be taught in schools, condemns evolution as a “peddled lie” and proudly asserts that “the world was spoken into existence in six days by His power”; and Trevor Clarke, who until very recently believed that HIV was something that affected only gay people; and Sammy Wilson, who mind-bogglingly served as Northern Irish Environment Minister whilst denying the existence of climate change and dismissing the Paris agreement with Trumpian scorn as “window dressing for climate chancers”.

 

They have a medieval attitude towards women’s issues and gay rights, ensuring that that Northern Ireland is the only part of the United Kingdom where abortion is illegal, and vetoing any move towards the legislation existing in the rest of the UK that allows same-sex people to get married.  Former DUP politician Iris Robinson – whose hubby Peter served as Northern Irish First Minister for several years – once described homosexuality as an ‘abomination’ and prescribed psychiatric treatment as a cure for it.  “Just as a murderer can be redeemed by the blood of Christ,” she reasoned, heart-warmingly, “so can a homosexual…”  I hope some journalist tackles out-and-proud lesbian Ruth Davidson about what she thinks of her boss in London climbing into bed with Robinson’s party.

 

I’m from Northern Ireland originally so I know it’s futile hoping for religion and politics to be kept apart in the province.  But even if you forget their religiosity and focus purely on their performance as politicians, the DUP are useless.  Their disdain for environmental issues didn’t stop them running the disastrous Renewable Heat Incentive or ‘cash-for-ash’ scheme, encouraging folk to switch from fossil fuel to biomass heating systems; which not very smartly meant that claimants could get £1.60 back for every £1 they spent.  Hence, crafty local farmers were soon rushing to install biomass heating in empty sheds.  This happened while current DUP First Minister Arlene Foster was running Northern Ireland’s Department of Enterprise, Trade and Investment and is believed to have cost the taxpayer £400 million.

 

And then there’s the tale of the DUP receiving a £425,000 donation from dodgy sources, of which £282,000 was subsequently spent on funding a ‘vote leave’ advertisement in the Metro newspaper during the run-up to the 2016 Brexit referendum.  The Metro isn’t even published in Northern Ireland.  Soon after the vote, and despite her own party backing Brexit, DUP Agriculture Minister Michelle McIlveen went scuttling off to Brussels to plead for continued EU support for Northern Irish farmers – a shameless act of grovelling hypocrisy.

 

But the most entertaining instance of DUP duplicity and corruption is, of course, the 2009 scandal involving Iris Robinson and a man nearly 40 years her junior.  Robinson not only had an extramarital affair with him but also illegally procured some £50,000 to help him out with a business project.  Needless to say, this turned the supposedly God-fearing and holier-than-thou Robinson into a figure of ridicule.  And with a name like ‘Mrs Robinson’, she was really asking for trouble.

 

© Irish News

 

Right, that’s enough politics for now.  I’m seriously depressed.  The UK has become the equivalent of a clown-car, trundling towards Brexit, with the beleaguered Theresa May and those idiots in the DUP at the steering wheel.  The only way this scenario might change is if May gets usurped by her party, which isn’t known for showing mercy towards failed leaders.  But if that happens, her replacement is likely to be Boris Johnson – and substituting Boris for May is like treating an open wound by pouring sulfuric acid into it.

 

So there’ll be no more politics in Blood and Porridge for a while.  Unless they decide to clear up the shambles caused by this election by holding another bloody one next week.

 

Expect open season on Jeremy Corbyn

 

© The Independent

 

In my previous blog-post I said going to a music concert was a way of enjoying culture “in one of its most egalitarian, communal and spontaneous forms.”  This makes Monday night’s bomb attack by an evil psychopath on a concert in Manchester seem especially heinous.  Mind you, it was made even worse by the fact that the bomber had targeted an event that would clearly be attended by many youngsters.

 

Afterwards, social media was dominated by reactions to the bombing, some of which rekindled your faith in human goodness – the way the city of Manchester came together, for example, to help those left injured or stranded by the attack – and some of which had the opposite effect.  Witness hatred-vomiters like Katie Hopkins, who tweeted a demand for a ‘final solution’; or Daily Telegraph hack Allison Pearson, who raved that thousands should be put in ‘internment camps’.  (If we’re going to intern potential trouble-makers, why not start by interning people who call for politicians to be decapitated, as Pearson’s headline-writers did for a Telegraph piece she wrote about Nicola Sturgeon not so long ago.)

 

Talking of newspapers, I have a queasy feeling that once campaigning for next month’s general election resumes – it’s currently suspended as a mark of respect for the Manchester bombing’s victims – there will be an awful lot of shit flung at Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn by the country’s many right-wing newspapers: the Telegraph, Sun, Daily Mail, Daily Express and so on.  Against all expectations, Corbyn has enjoyed a decent election campaign so far.  Okay, he hasn’t been that more effective than his usual somnolent self, but his party has proposed some policies that seem to chime with the public mood and at least he’s been visible on the campaign trail, which is more than can be said for his opposite number, Conservative Party leader and Prime Minister Theresa May.  So far, she’s been woeful.  Her strategy this election seems to be to hide from the public, hide from journalists and hide from any questions that might involve even a modicum of spontaneous thought.  She’s hopelessly unable to think on her feet and on the rare occasions that a journalist who isn’t afraid to ask awkward questions gets near her – as Andrew Neil did in a BBC interview a few evenings ago – the results are cringeworthy.

 

In fact, throughout the campaign, the lead May has enjoyed over Corbyn, once vast and seemingly impregnable, has gradually shrunk.  The way things were going, I’d still have expected her to win; but Corbyn looked capable of polling more votes than Ed Miliband did in 2015 and May was no longer guaranteed the massive majority in the House of Commons that she assumed she’d get when she called the election in the first place.

 

What I expect will happen now, though, is that the majority of Britain’s newspapers, which are owned by various right-wing millionaire and billionaire moguls like Rupert Murdoch, Richard Desmond, Lord Rothermere and the Barclay Brothers and which have been rattled by the fact that their heroine Theresa hasn’t been performing as well as they’d expected, will exploit the Manchester bombing and hammer home the message that JEREMY… CORBYN… IS… SOFT… ON… TERRORISM!  They’ll go beyond that, in fact.  They’ll relentlessly smear him as a terrorist sympathiser and imply that anyone who votes for him is betraying the memory of those killed in Manchester.

 

Corbyn’s supposed weakness for terrorism comes from the fact, as a left-wing backbench MP in the 1980s, he supported the principle of a united Ireland and had dealings with the IRA.  Now a couple of decades ago, when the Northern Irish Troubles were at their worst, I was deeply irritated by the fact that for many left-wingers it was trendy to express solidarity with the IRA.  I say that as a Northern Irish Protestant who, among other things, briefly attended school with the boy who was killed when the IRA blew up Lord Mountbatten in 1978.  But Corbyn wasn’t the only British politician hobnobbing with the IRA back then.  The governments of Conservative Prime Ministers Ted Heath, Margaret Thatcher and John Major spoke to them too, albeit surreptitiously.  So did the 1970s Labour government of Harold Wilson.

 

And even the most hard-line Northern Irish Protestant politician of the era, who spent decades bellowing, “NO SURRENDER TO THE IRA!”, ended up talking to, working with and from all accounts getting along rather well with one member of the organisation, at least.

 

© BBC

 

Meanwhile, post-Manchester, Theresa May will no doubt be portrayed by the press as an unflinching, Churchillian bulwark against the evils and dangers of terrorism.  But actually, back in March, she threatened our European allies that intelligence on terrorism could be withheld if Britain didn’t get its way in the forthcoming talks about Brexit.  (Murdoch’s Sun reported this with the jeering front-page headline YOUR MONEY OR YOUR LIVES.)  Yes, that was Teresa May making a veiled threat that Britain might put other Europeans at risk from terrorism if Brexit didn’t go swimmingly.  However, because of the way the newspapers are in contemporary Britain, I bet you won’t hear many journalists mention that between now and election day.

 

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.

 

Ken does (Klaus) Barbie

 

(c) Independent

 

Ken Livingstone, former London Mayor, former Labour MP and now presumably former key ally of Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn, has dug holes for himself before.  But, somehow, he’s always managed to escape from them.  However, it’s difficult to see how Ken – or more precisely, Ken’s political career – can escape from the hole he dug for himself three days ago.  This time, Ken didn’t just dig a hole.  He dug a very deep hole; and then he used the shovel to commit ritual hara-kiri and dropped to the bottom of that hole; and then in his dying convulsions he dislodged the loose dirt above so much that it all fell in on top of him.

 

Ergo: politically, Ken is dead and buried.

 

If you’re in Britain – and unless this past week you’ve been living as far underground as Ken’s career is now – you’ll know what the furore is about.  Ken claimed that Adolf Hitler was “supporting Zionism before he went mad and ended up killing 6,000,000 Jews”, a comment which got him suspended him from the Labour Party.  It also prompted the Jewish comedian David Baddiel to muse on twitter: “Is it just me, or is there a possibility Hitler was actually a tiny bit mental even in 1933?”

 

Ken has past form in this area.  In 2005, he told Evening Standard journalist Oliver Finegold, whom he knew to be Jewish, that he was behaving “like a concentration camp guard.  You’re just doing it because you’re paid to, aren’t you?”  He’s also once told the Iraqi-Jewish property developers the Reuben Brothers to “go back to Iran and see if they can do better under the ayatollahs”; and claimed that London’s Jewish community had started supporting Margaret Thatcher as it “got richer”.  That last comment was made in 2014 and must have brought joy to the heart of Labour’s then-leader Ed Miliband, the son of Polish Jews.

 

Ken spouted his Hitler / Zionism guff in defence of the Labour MP for Bradford West, Naz Shah.  Two days earlier, she’d been accused of antisemitism when it transpired that in 2014 she’d reposted a Facebook meme calling for Israelis to be re-located to the United States.  At the time she’d joked that this “might save them some pocket money.”

 

Needless to say, the British media is now filled with stories not just about Ken, Naz and antisemitism in the pro-Corbyn left wing of the Labour Party; but also about the furious reaction to this by figures on the party’s more Israel-friendly right wing, which has inspired headlines about civil war in the party and possible leadership coups.  None of this has helped Labour’s cause a week before parliamentary elections in Scotland and Wales, council ones in England and mayoral ones in London.

 

(c) Swindon Advertiser

 

I’ve always been fairly left-wing in my outlook.  It’s always seemed the right (as opposed to right-wing) way to be.  You seek fairness for those whom society treats less well: women, the poor, ethnic minorities, etc.  And, as a logical extension of that, you believe everyone deserves equal respect.  However, during my youth I gradually realised that in some left-wing circles there were groups it was okay not to like – groups of people you could hiss and boo and actively malign.

 

These included Israelis, though here the antipathy was usually prefaced by: “I’m not anti-Jewish, I’m just anti-Israel”.  Also, white South Africans, who were supposed to be apartheid-loving gits, the lot of them, living lives of luxury whilst around them their black countrymen suffered; and those beastly boorish Protestants who spent their time oppressing Roman Catholics over in Northern Ireland.  This last assumption made things a wee bit problematic for me because I’d been born in Northern Ireland, a Protestant; and had lived there for 11 years before my family moved to Scotland.

 

The more I think about it now, the more uncomfortable it feels in retrospect.  For instance, shortly after starting college, I met some students who shared my politics and got into what seemed, for a few heartening minutes, like the first intelligent, adult political discussion I’d had in my life.  At last, I thought, I was among articulate kindred spirits.  But then the topic shifted to Northern Ireland and suddenly I felt less confident.  A few anti-Protestant things were said.  Then I piped up.  “Well,” I began apologetically, “I’m afraid I’m a Northern Irish Protestant…”  I felt furious with myself afterwards.  Why had I felt the need to use that regretful “I’m afraid”?  Why apologise to them for being what I was?  I should have said, “Piss off, we’re not all like that.”  It wasn’t as if I was the Reverend Ian Paisley – I’d never stood on a pulpit or a stage and damned Catholics to hell.  My politics were the antithesis of he and his ilk represented.  Yet I’d sensed the mood of group disapproval and I’d kowtowed to it.

 

Too often, that’s the way it works on the left.  Its more zealous believers have a crass tendency to group communities into good guy and bad guys – ignoring the truth that inside every community you’ll find good guys, and bad guys, and guys of countless shades of goodness and badness in between.  Northern Ireland’s Protestant community contained bigoted blowhards like the Reverend Ian Paisley; but it also contained liberal souls like Ivan Cooper, one-time politician and civil rights activist (who had the traumatic experience of organising the 1972 protest march that ended with 14 civilians being shot dead by troops on Bloody Sunday).

 

The left’s criticisms of Israel often come clothed in terms that show a similarly-offensive tendency to generalise.  The Israeli government of Benjamin Netanyahu treats Palestinians horribly; therefore all Israelis approve of the Palestinians being treated horribly.  But that’s garbage.  Plenty of Israelis detest Netanyahu for what he’s doing.  I know – in my time I’ve met a few of them.

 

Netanyahu may be a malevolent old tosser, but to blame everyone who has the misfortune of being governed by him for what he’s doing?  That makes as much sense as blaming Ken Livingstone, Naz Shah, Jeremy Corbyn and every Labour supporter in Britain for what David Cameron’s Conservative government is doing at Westminster – attempting to cut disability benefits, refusing to give sanctuary to 3000 abandoned Syrian children, etc.  Politics is thankfully more sophisticated in Scotland nowadays, but on more than one occasion during the 1980s I heard people say that everyone in England was a wanker because “they all voted for Maggie Thatcher.”

 

Meanwhile, there’s a left-wing school of thought arguing that Israel’s creation in 1948 was a terrible mistake that brought untold suffering; and the mistake ought to be corrected by dismantling Israel.  But the creation of nation states has caused suffering throughout history.  Take Australia, for instance.  I haven’t heard anyone suggest that Australia, despite the near-extermination of the Aboriginal peoples who were originally there, should now have its non-indigenous inhabitants relocated to Europe or North America – which Naz Shah’s Facebook meme proposed for Israel.  Blaming millions of people just for being in a country, because their forefathers moved there, propelled by the machinations of history, is a cruel and futile policy.  It’s surely more sensible now to put efforts into promoting good government in such countries, government that treats all citizens with respect and decency.

 

Anyway, returning to Ken – I’m actually slightly sad to see him end up like this.  I wouldn’t trust him as far as I could throw him, but I thought Ken (whom I heard speak once, thoughtfully and eloquently, at the 2011 Green Fair in London’s Regent’s Park) was, in his prime, a bold, quick-witted and entertaining politician.  I’ve known a few Conservative-minded Londoners who expressed respect for him as Mayor because, at the end of the day, whatever the hue of his politics, he genuinely wanted the best for the city.  And only a total, bigoted thicko would object to his moving response to the London bombings in 2005.

 

Admittedly, as a Northern Irish Protestant, I did blanche when, in 1983, he invited Sinn Fein leader and Provisional IRA mouthpiece Gerry Adams to London as an honoured guest of the Greater London Council (which he was then leader of).  Still, a quarter-century later, in 2007, Ian ‘No surrender to the IRA’ Paisley did a deal with Sinn Fein that allowed him to become First Minister of Northern Ireland while ex-IRA man Martin McGuinness served as his deputy.  So at least Ken’s courting of Sinn Fein and the IRA was less hypocritical than ‘Big Ian’s’.

 

And generally he did a better job as Mayor of London than his successor, that old-Etonian, Latin-spouting, tousle-haired idiot man-child Boris Johnson.  Boris has form himself in saying offensive things about groups of people.  He once, for example, described Africans as “tribal warriors” who “break out in watermelon smiles to see the big white chief touch down in his big white British taxpayer-funded bird.”  But Boris-comments like those haven’t attracted the opprobrium in the British press that the Ken-comments have.  No doubt because most of Britain’s newspapers are right-wing and, while they’re happy to call Ken a racist arse, they think that Boris is the bees’ knees.

 

(c) The Guardian