The leaning tower of Theresa

 

© BBC

 

I haven’t written anything about politics on this blog recently.  This is because writing about politics involves thinking about politics, and these days thinking about politics involves fighting off the urge to go away and shoot myself.  However, in the United Kingdom, a lot has been happening lately – the council elections in England, Scotland and Wales held two days ago and the unexpected announcement of a general election to be held on June 8th.  Thus, I guess I’d better say something.  Here goes.

 

Wow.  That was some speech by our Prime Minister Theresa May the other day, once she’d been to Buckingham Palace to inform the Queen about parliament being dissolved in preparation for the general election on June 8th.  May claimed that the European Union was out to get her, and her government, and by extension dear old Blighty itself: “Threats against Britain have been issued by European politicians and officials.  All of these acts have been deliberately timed to affect the result of the general election which will take place on June 8th.”

 

For someone who’s been making a big hoo-ha about the strength and stability of her leadership recently, these allegations about nasty Johnny Foreigner sounded particularly unhinged – not so much the utterances of a Prime Minister but the utterances of the crazy old lady who gets onto the bus and sits beside you and spends the ensuing journey wittering about how purple lizards are eating her feet.

 

And is it just me, or is the gurning May looking more and more like Bette Davis as the grotesque Jane Hudson in Robert Aldrich’s 1962 gothic classic Whatever Happened to Baby Jane?

 

© Daily Mirror

© Warner Bros. / Seven Arts Productions

 

However, as Polonius remarks in Hamlet, “Though this be madness, yet there is madness in’t.”  Her diatribe against the Europeans might have made any sane listener think she was a basket-case; but many people, not necessarily sane, who in recent elections had been voting for the xenophobic right-wing United Kingdom Independence Party, aka UKIP, decided they liked the cut of May’s jib and voted instead for her Conservative Party at Thursday’s local-government elections.  As a result, the Conservatives surged in those elections, whereas UKIP’s representation on councils across Britain dropped from 146 to… one.

 

It’s good to see UKIP, the toxic tarantula of British politics, get stomped to death.  Unfortunately, that tarantula has been stomped on by a rabid gorilla, the Conservative Party, and it’s going to stomp on you next.

 

If these results are repeated in the June general election – and with Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour Party looking so spectacularly useless, there’s no reason why they won’t – then the Conservatives will get a whopping majority in parliament and May will be queen of all she surveys, in Britain anyway.  Unfortunately, she’ll then have to try and negotiate Brexit, i.e. Britain’s withdrawal from the EU.  Which means sitting down with and spending the next few years in long, complicated and arduous talks with the very people she’s severely pissed off – the EU itself and its 27 member governments.

 

Already, May’s government has approached these negotiations with the finesse of Godzilla taking a stroll through downtown Tokyo.  Her initiation of Brexit on March 29th came with a warning that, in the event of no deal being agreed, the UK might be reluctant to share intelligence about terrorism with its former EU partners – a charmless threat that prompted the Sun newspaper to run the front-page headline: YOUR MONEY OR YOUR LIVES (“Trade with us and we’ll fight terror.”)  Although May says she disapproves of foreigners interfering in UK politics, she’s never spoken out against the constant, decades-long interference by one foreigner, the Sun’s proprietor Rupert Murdoch, who’s Australian-American.

 

Soon after came an insinuation by former Conservative Party leader Michael Howard that Britain could go to war with EU-member Spain over the sovereignty of Gibraltar.  (Cue the Sun again: UP YOURS, SENORS!)  I’m perfectly aware that Howard is an old idiot and not to be taken seriously, but it’s depressing that neither May nor anyone in her cabinet saw fit to condemn his comments.

 

Then, the other week, there was the now-infamous dinner attended by May and Jean Claude Juncker, President of the European Commission, at which Juncker was astonished by how ill-informed and simplistic May was about the complexity and length of the negotiations ahead.  No wonder afterwards he got on the phone to Angela Merkel and warned her that the British PM “lived in another galaxy.”  Details of the dinner were leaked to a German newspaper, the Frankfurter Allgemeine, which seems to have inspired May’s rantings about EU interference in the forthcoming election.  Not that I imagine many of the British electorate reading the Frankfurter Allgemeine, or being able to read German for that matter.  I wonder if some of the people likely to vote for May can even read English.

 

Following the May-Juncker dinner debacle, just to make the Conservatives’ charm offensive of Europe complete, Ruth Davidson – May’s loyal lieutenant, ventriloquist dummy and mini-me in Scotland – suggested that Juncker’s comments weren’t to be taken seriously because he’d probably been drunk during the meal.  Yes, accusing your opposite numbers of being pissheads.  That’s the way to lay the groundwork for really successful negotiations.

 

It seems to me that Theresa May, once she has the general election in the bag, is in for a very long and very hard reality-check when the Brexit talks begin in earnest.  She may have reached the top of the pile in British politics by Euro-bashing but her words will return to haunt her.  After the abuse that’s been flung at it across the English Channel, is the EU going to show Britain a shred of sympathy or allow it a modicum of wriggle-room?  I doubt it.  Brexit looks set to be a disaster, ending with the UK tumbling out of the EU with no deal at all, something that sane economists agree would be a very bad thing indeed.

 

No doubt, though, many Conservative hardliners are rubbing their hands in glee at this prospect.  It’d wreck the British economy, yes.  But then they’d be free to build that economy up again from the wreckage, fashioning it into a low-tax, no-minimum-wage, regulation-free, zero-hour-contracts-galore monstrosity that fits their scary alt-right vision of Britain as Air Strip One / Tax Haven Two / Sweatshop Three.

 

In the short term, Theresa May has scaled the heights thanks to anti-European opportunism and calculation.  But I predict it’ll end badly once the Brexit process kicks in.  The Tower of Theresa has been built on rotten foundations and it’s going to topple.  Let’s hope Britain as we know it isn’t flattened beneath the rubble.

 

From madhatters.me.uk

 

And incidentally, if you need any more reasons not to vote Conservative in the forthcoming general election, here’s 30 of them. 

 

The multiple personalities of Ruth Davidson

 

From caltonjock.com

From zimbio.com

(c) BBC

 

I’m looking forward to the new movie Split, written and directed by M. Night Shyamalan.  Ever since Shyamalan made his name in 1999 with the spooky classic The Sixth Sense, he seems to have frittered away his talent with a string of increasingly disappointing films like Lady in the Water (2006), The Happening (2008), The Last Airbender (2010) and After Earth (2013), but early reviews of Split have been largely positive and suggest Shyamalan has retrieved his mojo.  What has particularly impressed the critics is the film’s central performance by Scottish actor James McAvoy, who plays a man with multiple-personality disorder.  In fact, McAvoy’s condition is so extreme that he’s inhabited by no fewer than 23 different, competing and sometimes conflicting personalities.

 

But James McAvoy isn’t the only Scot who’s displayed symptoms of multiple-personality disorder recently.  If you examine the pronouncements of Ruth Davidson, leader of the Scottish Conservative Party, it’s clear that poor Ruth isn’t a single psychological entity either.  Rather, she’s a walking battleground where various, often diametrically-opposed personalities fight for supremacy.

 

For example, there’s one personality within Ruth that’s staunchly pro-European Union.  This personality was in control, temporarily, when she took part in a debate before last June’s vote on whether or not Britain should leave the EU.  Railing against the Brexiting likes of Boris Johnson, Gisela Stuart and Andrea Leadsom, she declared, “The other side have said throughout this debate that they don’t like experts but when it comes to keeping this country safe and secure I want to listen to the experts.  So when the head of GCHQ says we are safer in the EU I listen.  When five former NATO chiefs say we are safer in the EU I listen.  When the head of Interpol, who is a Brit, says we are safer in the EU I listen.  When the head of MI5 and MI6 says we are safer in the EU I listen.”  Even the left-wing, anti-Tory New Statesman magazine was sufficiently impressed to call her a ‘stand-out performer’ afterwards.

 

http://www.newstatesman.com/politics/uk/2016/06/eu-referendum-debate-sadiq-khan-and-ruth-davidson-give-remain-punch-it-needs

 

From politicshome.com

 

Presumably it was the same pro-EU version of Ruth who, before the referendum, posed with other Scottish political party leaders of in support a ‘remain’ vote.  And the same version again who, two years earlier, had urged the Scots to vote ‘no’ to independence (and ‘yes’ to remaining part of the UK) for the reason that this would guarantee Scotland’s place in the European Union: “No means we stay in, we are members of the European Union.”

 

Oops, that didn’t work out well, did it?

 

But fast-forward to today.  The British public narrowly voted to leave the EU and suddenly a new personality has wrested control of Ruth Davidson, one that’s in favour of Britain quitting the EU too; one that sees juicy economic opportunities for post-EU Britain; and one that opposes everything the Scottish National Party, which runs the devolved Scottish government in Edinburgh, is trying to do to preserve Scotland’s place in the EU.  Britain – though admittedly not Scotland, which voted by 62% to 38% to stay – chose to leave the EU, barks this new Ruth.  So get over the result and get on with Brexiting!

 

Admittedly, Ruth’s new pro-Brexit personality has at least expressed support for the UK, and by extension Scotland, remaining in the EU’s single market.  It’s something she believes Scotland should have “the largest amount of access to.”   Though Theresa May, British Prime Minister, Tory supremo and Ruth’s big boss in London, ruled this out in a speech a week ago when she declared that Britain “cannot possibly” remain in the single market because it would mean “not leaving the EU at all.”

 

Oops again.  That didn’t work out well, did it?

 

http://www.bbc.com/news/uk-scotland-38555683

http://www.bbc.com/news/uk-politics-38641208

 

I suspect a third personality might surface in Ruth Davidson soon.  One that’s totally hard-line in its support of Brexit and rejects the single market as much as it rejects every other aspect of the EU – you know, sort of like what Theresa May’s been saying.  I don’t know why I think this.  Call it a hunch.

 

There’s yet another personality lurking inside Ruth that manifests itself occasionally – one that loathes the USA’s new president, Donald Trump.  This personality was clearly in control of Ruth last year when she borrowed a quote from Shakespeare’s Henry IV, Part 1 and trolled the ginger-skinned tycoon on Twitter: “Trump’s a clay-brained guts, knotty-pated fool, whoreson obscene greasy tallow-catch, right?”

 

Yet two days ago, her boss Theresa May arrived in the USA to meet President Trump and suddenly another personality took hold of poor Ruth – one that seemed a lot more sanguine about the clay-brained, knotty-pated, whoreson, obscene, greasy, etc. businessman-cum-world-leader.  This new version of Ruth believed May – who described Trump’s presidency as dawn breaking “on a new era of American renewal” – just had to open her mouth and talk a wee bit of sense into him and everything would be okay.  May’s first speech in the USA, tweeted this new Ruth, “promotes liberal internationalism, warns on Putin, defends Muslims and makes case for democratic leadership in the world.  Bravo.”

 

Actually, Ruth’s words about May defending Muslims were perhaps a bit premature seeing as soon afterwards Trump slapped a ban on refugees entering the USA from Syria, Iraq, Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan and Yemen.  On Holocaust Memorial Day of all days, too.

 

Oops, that didn’t work out well, did it?

 

Some people would argue that Ruth Davidson doesn’t have a multiple-personality disorder at all – that her situation as a Conservative with reasonably liberal instincts and something of a social conscience who runs the Scottish branch of her party but who has to take orders from a considerably more right-wing regime in London means that during her pronouncements she needs to do more twisting and turning than a whirling dervish.  But I don’t believe Ruth could be as supine and pathetic as that.  I think there’s something genuinely, seriously wrong with her.  She ought to see a psychiatrist immediately.

 

But who’s going to have a word with her?  Who’s going to take her aside and give her this well-meaning but unpleasant advice?  Probably not her many sycophantic fans in the mainstream Scottish press, who kiss her arse as enthusiastically as Theresa May’s been kissing Trump’s arse recently.

 

© Blinding Edge Pictures / Blumhouse Productions

 

Mid-January news round-up

 

Here at Blood and Porridge I like to think I have my finger on the pulse, offering opinions on the big news stories the moment they happen.  Alas, I’ve been up to my eyes in work this last fortnight and haven’t been able to post much.  And meanwhile, during the same fortnight, the big news stories have come thick and fast.

 

To make amends, here’s a quick round-up of those recent news items as Blood and Porridge sees them.

 

Knobhead of 2017 found already

Only two-and-a-half weeks ago I named Nigel Farage as the biggest knobhead of 2016.  The reason why Farage won that title despite stiff opposition from US president-elect Donald Trump was because: “Trump is the equivalent of the loud malevolent playground bully who blighted your childhood.  But there was always one kid who was more detestably obnoxious than that – the slimy little sneak who grovelled before and sucked up to the bully, hoping to attain a smidgeon of his aura of cruel power.  And since it became clear that Trump was going to be the most powerful man on the planet, Farage has been doing a good impersonation of the slimy little sneak, scurrying across the Atlantic to do some major sucking up to the gruesome orange-skinned tycoon.”

 

Well, if that’s the criteria for making yourself the most loathsome and pustulent human being of the year, it looks like we already have a winner for 2017.

 

© The Daily Mirror

 

Michael Gove recently scuttled over to Trump Tower in New York to sychophantically interview Trump on behalf of the Times newspaper.  The resulting article was shocking even before Gove started the interview.  Describing the ascent in the Trump Tower’s infamous gold-plated lift, he wrote, “It was as though the Great Glass Elevator from Charlie and the Chocolate Factory had been restyled by Donatella Versace, then staffed by the casting director for Gone with the Wind.”  Gove felt moved to insert that Gone with the Wind reference because the lift had an “African-American attendant kitted out in frock coat and white cotton gloves.”  I wonder if the Trump organisation had forced him to pick the cotton that his gloves were made of.

 

Is Trump a Russian plant?

Speaking of Donald Trump, there’s been a kerfuffle lately about an intelligence dossier accusing Trump of being a puppet of Russian president Vladimir Putin.  The dossier alleges that those pesky Russkies spent more than five years cultivating Trump as a US presidential candidate with the intention of getting him into the White House and letting him wreak havoc on the Western world.  It also warns that they have “potentially compromising personal and financial information about him”, including saucy stuff involving prostitutes and what’s euphemistically known as ‘golden showers’.  Cue a million jokes on Twitter about Trump being the next Pee-OTUS and about him talking pish.  Oh, and ‘urine for a shock’ when he becomes president.

 

From talkingpointsmemo.com

 

Just before Trump’s lawyers get in touch with Blood and Porridge, I should say the dossier’s claims are so far unverified and their accuracy has been questioned in many quarters, not just by Trump’s supporters.  And the Orange One himself has strenuously denounced them as ‘fake news’ and ‘phony stuff’.

 

Still, this malarkey calls to mind certain works of fiction and celluloid – for example, Richard Conlon’s conspiracy thriller The Manchurian Candidate (1959), filmed in 1962 and 2004, about the Chinese and Russians using a brainwashed Korean War veteran to carry out a political assassination in the USA; and Robert Harris’s The Ghost (2007), filmed three years later by Roman Polanski, in which a very Tony Blair-esque former British prime minister turns out to have been a CIA plant.

 

My favourite entry in this sub-genre, though, is the Don Siegel-directed movie Telefon (1977), based on a 1975 novel by William Wager, in which mad Russian scientist Donald Pleasance tries to start World War III by activating a network of brainwashed sleeper-agents across the USA.  These agents develop a glazed look and lumber off and attack American military installations as soon as Pleasance gives them a ‘trigger’, which is the recital of certain lines of verse by Robert Frost: “The woods are lovely, dark and deep / But I have promises to keep / And miles to go before I sleep…

 

© MGM

 

Not that I think Trump would become glazed-eyed and trudge off zombie-like to attack a military installation if you recited Robert Frost at him.  Somehow, I doubt if poetry has much effect on him.  In fact, he probably he thinks Robert Frost was the guy who interviewed Nixon.

 

May rejects Europe, except for Bulgaria

January 17th saw British prime minister Theresa May give a historic speech about the nature of Britain’s ‘Brexit’ from the European Union at Lancaster House.  Guess what?  It’s going to be hard!

 

If there was one thing ghastlier than Ms May’s pronouncements – she even warned that if the EU didn’t accommodate Britain’s demands, she would “change the basis of Britain’s economic model”, i.e. slash taxes to lure businesses away from the EU even though this would leave next-to-no-money to pay for Britain’s public services – it was the head-to-toe blue tartan outfit she wore that day.

 

© The Daily Telegraph

 

It makes me wonder if someone somewhere is making a movie of the old British TV children’s series The Wombles and May fancies her chances of landing the role of the Wombles’ venerable patriarch, Great Uncle Bulgaria.

 

From Wombles Wiki

 

Trump’s inauguration still short of talent

Back to Donald Trump.  His presidential inauguration ceremony in Washington DC on January 20th has been beset by problems.  At least 50 Democrat lawmakers have announced they’ll be staying away.  The demand for hotel rooms has been low compared to previous inaugurations, with some Washington DC hotels reporting they’re only half-full.  And scalpers are struggling to offload tickets for the event.

 

On top of all that, there’s been a noticeable reluctance among the musical community to perform at the thing.  Everyone from Elton John to Celine Dion, Kiss and even Vince Neil of Motley Crüe have turned down invitations to sing / play and the names booked for the inauguration concerts aren’t exactly household ones, at least not in the Blood and Porridge household: Jackie Evancho, Three Doors Down, The Piano Guys, Toby Keith, Lee Greenwood, DJ Ravidrums and the Frontmen of Country.

 

Apparently, a group called the B Street Band, who do covers of songs by Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band, were on the line-up but recently cancelled.  They cited as their reason the ‘respect and gratitude we have for Bruce,’ who coincidentally hates Trump’s guts.  Maybe there’s another Springsteen tribute band that could be recruited?  The C Street Band?  The D Street Band?

 

But if Trump’s people are still hunting for a performer to enliven those inauguration day concerts, I could direct them to one famous artiste whom I’m sure would be only too happy to step in at the last minute.

 

He’s someone whose stomping, glitzy anthems capture both the brassy boldness that Donald Trump no doubt believes is one of his winning qualities and the shiny opulence of the Trump empire, gold-plated lifts and all.  Someone who was a legend in his time, but who’s been off the radar for a little while and would surely welcome the new exposure that playing the inauguration would bring.

 

Yes, I give you…

 

From blog.thecurrent.org

 

Greene ups the auntie

 

© Audible Studios

 

I certainly felt ready to read Graham Greene’s Travels with my Aunt a few months ago. I started this novel just after Britain’s ruling Conservative party had held its annual conference, which itself came after the British electorate’s vote to leave the European Union. Most Conservatives being anti-EU, their party conference this year was shrill and gloating, loud with jingoistic rhetoric about the greatness and specialness of Britain and with xenophobic rhetoric about pulling up the drawbridge against immigrants, Europeans and foreigners generally.

 

And I began Travels with my Aunt with the words of Prime Minister Theresa May ringing in my ears. In her keynote conference speech, May made it plain that in her view the decent thing to do is to stay at home and not sully yourself with such dangerous concepts as living and working overseas (and presumably associating with foreigners). “If you believe you’re a citizen of the world,” she intoned, “you’re a citizen of nowhere. You don’t understand what the word ‘citizenship’ means.”

 

Having lived and / or worked at different times in Switzerland, Japan, Ethiopia, India, the Republic of Ireland, North Korea, Libya, Tunisia, Egypt, Algeria, the United Arab Emirates, Myanmar, Mauritius and – my current place of abode – Sri Lanka, I thought: “Wow, that’s me told. Sorry, Theresa!”

 

Actually, that’s not true. I didn’t think that at all. What I really thought was: “Bog off, you ignorant, parochial, narrow-minded, curtain-twitching cretin, you.”

 

After that, I was eager to get into Travels with my Aunt, written by Graham Greene in 1969. Its story, the back-cover blurb assured me, was a humorous one about an unadventurous Englishman having his mind broadened and horizons widened by foreign travel. And the process whereby he becomes a citizen of the world, rather than remaining a citizen of the stultifying Little England beloved by Theresa May, has an unlikely facilitator – his elderly but still sprightly and impetuous Aunt Augusta.

 

And for most of its length, that’s how the narrative of Travels with my Aunt unfolds. Henry Pulling is a fifty-something retired and never-married bank manager, living in a sedate part of London with a garden of carefully cultivated dahlias (“the Polar Beauties and the Golden Leaders and the Requiems”) and an ex-army major next door. His main plan for the future is to produce some home-made jam since “a man in retirement has to have some hobbies if he is not to age too fast”. Had he lived 47 years later, the timid Henry probably wouldn’t have voted to leave the EU – he would’ve been a reluctant Remainer. But I’m sure that, generally, he would’ve admired the cut of Theresa May’s jib.

 

One day Henry attends his mother’s funeral, which passes with an efficiency and lack of fuss that he approves of: “The flowers were removed economically from the coffin, which at the touch of a button slid away from us out of sight. Afterwards in the troubled sunlight I shook hands with a number of nephews and nieces and cousins whom I hadn’t seen for years and could not identify. It was understood that I had to wait for the ashes and wait I did, while the chimney of the crematorium gently smoked overhead.” At this point he meets Aunt Augusta, his mother’s younger sister, whom he hasn’t seen for more than half-a-century.   Henry soon decides it was a good thing his family saw nothing of her for so long: “She had a temperament my mother would not have liked.” But almost immediately, he finds himself entangled in a web of eccentric acquaintances, far-flung locales and not-entirely-legal activities that somehow surrounds the old lady.

 

By page 12, Henry is visiting his aunt’s apartment above a London pub, which she shares, seemingly intimately, with a burly middle-aged Sierra Leonean called Wordsworth. By page 26, Henry is having visitors of his own – the police, eager to examine the contents of his mother’s ashes-urn, which he unwisely took with him to his aunt and Wordsworth’s flat and which they believe now contains something besides human remains. And twenty pages further, the same police are informing him that there’s “more cannabis than ashes” in the urn.

 

Meanwhile, Henry also gets roped into accompanying his newly-discovered aunt on her travels. By page 30 she’s made him escort her to Brighton, where she tracks down an old friend called Hattie, who’s now a fortune teller. Giving Henry a tea-leaves reading, Hattie predicts: “…you’re going to travel. Across the ocean. With a lady friend… I see a lot of confusion too and running about.” Henry retorts, “That’s most unlikely… I lead a very regular life. A game of bridge once a week at the Conservative Club. And my garden of course. The dahlias.”

 

Needless to say, Hattie’s predictions are on the money. By page 60, Henry finds himself heading for Paris in the company of Augusta and a dodgy-looking red suitcase that proves to be “stacked with ten-pound notes”. By page 91 he’s with her on board the Orient Express, bound for Istanbul where she has a rendezvous with a mysterious General Abdul. He makes the acquaintance of an American hippy-chick called Tooley, who offers him a cigarette: “It had an odd herbal flavour, not disagreeable. ‘I’ve never smoked an American cigarette before,’ I said.” And by page 183 Henry is journeying across the South American interior to Paraguay, summoned by Augusta after she’s installed herself there with a former lover called Mr Visconti. There’s no surprise when it transpires that both of them are up to their necks in a smuggling operation.

 

During their travels Augusta regales Henry with stories – tales of past adventures and lovers that are rambling, fanciful, at times ridiculous and no doubt economical with the truth. But they indicate that the old lady has led a life – in contrast to Henry, who’s managed to spend most of his life in the same bank-branch, first as a clerk, then a cashier, then a manager. The funniest of Augusta’s stories involves a chancer called Curran, with whom she once set up a fake church in Brighton. Called the Doggie Church, it catered for the spiritual needs of canines and, obviously, was designed to fleece the congregation’s owners. “It was Curran who set me reading theology,” she tells her nephew. “He wanted references to dogs. It wasn’t easy to find any – even in St Frances de Sales. I found lots about fleas and butterflies and stags and elephants and spiders and crocodiles in St Frances but a strange neglect of dogs.”

 

The exchanges between the feisty Augusta and the fusty Henry – who, despite himself, develops a wanderlust and taste for adventure as the book progresses – are a constant delight. Modern readers will have problems, though, with how Greene depicts the character of Wordsworth. Specifically, they’ll be uncomfortable with how he milks Wordsworth’s Sierra Leonean patois for easy and nowadays politically-incorrect laughs: “The telephone talk all the bloody time while you not here… Oh, poor Wordsworth not understand one bloody word. Ar say to them you no talk English. They go away double quick.” Yes, I know, Greene wrote the book in an era when awareness of racial stereotyping, among British authors anyway, was practically non-existent and it seemed acceptable to use coloured characters for comic relief. But still. I found myself cringing every time Greene had Wordsworth open his mouth.

 

That said, Wordsworth is allowed some development and by the book’s finale he’s become its most virtuous character – certainly its most loyal, probably its most principled. Gratifyingly, Henry’s attitude towards him changes. After viewing him at the start with shock, suspicion and probably lightly-disguised horror, he reacts to Wordsworth’s reappearances in later chapters with the joy of someone reunited with a dear old friend.

 

Travels with my Aunt is a funny book but there’s a point, near the end, when it suddenly stops being funny. Greene suddenly switches mode from entertainer to moralist. Henry and Augusta have had a lot of fun on their travels, but much of that fun has involved illegality and now there’s a price to be paid. Thus, the story finishes on a sour note. A sympathetic character gets killed, the nephew and aunt find themselves in cahoots with another character who’s utterly unsavoury, and in the final paragraph Henry makes a couple of admissions that show his escape from his mundane existence as a retired English bank manager and transformation into a well-travelled man of the world have cost him his decency.

 

I still think Theresa May is talking objectionable drivel with her citizen of the world / citizen of nowhere claims. However, if I were debating the matter with her, Travels with my Aunt probably isn’t the book I’d use to back my argument. She might read the ending and jeer: “See? I told you so!”

 

© Daily Telegraph    

 

Make-your-mind-up time

 

From leftfootforward.org

 

“What is the basis for removing our EU citizenship?  Voting yes.”  So warned a tweet on September 2nd, 2014, a fortnight before the Scottish electorate voted on whether or not their country should become independent of the United Kingdom, sent by the anti-independence, pro-UK campaign group Better Together.

 

Better Together wasn’t the only entity to try to frighten Scots who might be thinking of voting for independence with the prospect of a newly-independent Scotland getting kicked out of the European Union.  Plenty of pro-British newspapers were happy to splash big scary headlines across their front pages every time a senior EU official – such as then European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso – hinted darkly about the Scots losing their EU membership if they opted to shed their UK one.

 

Well, the Scots duly did what the British establishment urged them to do.  They voted to stay in the UK by a majority of 55% to 45%.  Which also preserved their status as citizens of the European Union.  Right?  Wrong of course.  Less than two years later, by a narrow majority, the British electorate followed the advice of Nigel Farage, Boris Johnson, Michael Gove and sundry other right-wing nincompoops and voted for Brexit, i.e. leaving the EU.

 

Actually, nearly two-thirds of the turn-out in Scotland was in favour of remaining.  But the Scots are heavily outnumbered by the more Brexit-enthused English and so they’ve ended up being dragged out of the EU against their will.  What they were told two years earlier about staying in the UK in order to stay in the EU too has proved to be so much flannel.

 

Predictably, the same right-wing newspapers who played up the threat of an independent Scotland getting booted out of the EU were among the noisiest campaigners for a ‘leave’ vote in the run-up to this June’s EU referendum.  And they’ve been in seventh heaven since their side pipped it, enraptured by a vision of a future Britain free of EU labour, environmental and financial regulations (and free of ghastly, smelly foreigners): a vision of Britain as Airstrip One, Sweatshop Two and Tax Haven Three.

 

For a telling insight into the mind of the British right-wing press regarding Brexit, you should look at a video released by the Daily Telegraph on September 30th called 100 Reasons Why Brexit was a Good Thing.  To the strains of William Blake and Sir Hubert Parry’s Jerusalem, that paean to England’s (not Scotland, Wales or Northern Ireland’s) ‘green and pleasant land’, it reels off such heart-warming reasons for leaving Europe as NO CLINICAL TRIALS RED TAPE, END WORKING TIME DIRECTIVE and NO EU HUMAN RIGHTS LAW.  Yes, Britons should give thanks that they’ve been freed from such horrible injustices as new drugs getting stringent safety checks, employers being restrained from working their employees into the ground and – shudder! – human rights.

 

Meanwhile, if the environment-related reasons for which the Telegraph is applauding Brexit come to pass – NO MORE WIND FARMS, NO EU LANDFILL RULES, PROPER WEEDKILLER, FEWER CHEMICALS RESTRICTIONS, OLD FASHIONED LIGHT BULBS and DROP GREEN TARGETS – it’s debatable for how much longer England’s, and indeed Britain’s, green and pleasant land will actually be green and pleasant.

 

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/2016/09/30/100-reasons-to-embrace-brexit/

 

This past weekend, at the beginning of the 2016 Conservative Party conference, those newspapers had a collective right-wing orgasm when Prime Minister Theresa May vowed to trigger Article 50, the clause necessary for starting the Brexit process, by the end of March 2017.  A typical reaction was that of Margaret Thatcher’s old hatchet-man Norman Tebbit (now looking more than ever like Mr Barlow, the chief vampire in the 1979 TV adaptation of Stephen King’s Salem’s Lot), who gushed about it in a Sunday Telegraph article headed REJOICE, FOR THERESA MAY HAS STARTED THE AVALANCHE WHICH WILL SET BRITAIN FREE.

 

From thesteepletimes.com

 

One of the first things May did on becoming prime minister after Brexit and the resignation of her predecessor, the pig-penetrating David Cameron, was to visit Scotland, meet with First Minister Nicola Sturgeon and assure her that she wanted “the Scottish government to be fully engaged in our discussions and our considerations” and would “listen to any options that they bring forward.”  Her comments about the Scottish government at the Tory Party conference have been slightly different in tone: “There is no opt-out from Brexit and I will never allow divisive nationalists to undermine the precious union of the four nations of our United Kingdom.”  Which is rich coming from someone heading a party of divisive British nationalists who’ve undermined the union of the 28 nations of the EU.

 

The past months have been uncomfortable for those Scots who voted ‘no’ to independence in 2014 but voted ‘remain’ in this year’s EU referendum.  “But,” they protest, “we want to be Scottish, and British, and European!”  For example, Scottish Labour Party leader Keiza Dugdale told the Guardian on July 11th: “We just don’t know whether Scotland can remain part of Europe and part of the United Kingdom.  I, like the vast majority of Scots, want to be part of both.  That’s what I want to fight for.”  To Dugdale, 55% apparently counts as a ‘vast majority’.

 

Then there’s the columnist, broadcaster and author Muriel Gray, who tweeted on June 29th: “So Scots who don’t want tribalism.  Want to remain part of everything: UK, EU, libertarian world, humanity in general.  Who’s their champion?”  Her fellow author Irvine Welsh nailed it when he tweeted back, “Santa Claus.”

 

Well, I sympathise with anyone wishing to be Scottish, British and European.  Even though I supported Scottish independence in 2014, I still feel British myself, at least in the way people in a politically independent Sweden or Norway can still have a cultural and geographical affinity with the larger entity of ‘Scandinavia’.  And I can understand their dismay at what happened on June 24th, even though they’d allowed themselves to be sold a pup about the EU two years earlier.

 

But now they can’t have it both ways.  With a second referendum on Scottish independence looking likely, they’ll soon have to decide between the ‘British’ bit and the ‘European’ bit.  This is especially so given the sympathetic noises Europe has made towards Scotland since the EU vote.  For instance, former Belgian Prime Minister Guy Verhofstadt, appointed as the European Parliament’s lead negotiator in the forthcoming Brexit talks, has said: “If Scotland decides to leave the UK, to be an independent state, and they decide to be part of the EU, I think there is no big obstacle to that.”  Incidentally, the odious and hysterical wee right-wing tabloid the Daily Express has dubbed Verhofstadt ‘the most dangerous man in the EU.’  Its odious and hysterical wee right-wing Siamese twin the Daily Mail had previously dubbed Nicola Sturgeon ‘the most dangerous woman in Britain’, so it all has a nice symmetry.

 

Like it or not, Keiza Dugdale, Muriel Gray and co. will soon have to decide between sticking with an increasingly insular, increasingly stunted Britain where, with Jeremy Corbyn’s British Labour Party tearing itself to pieces, the Conservatives look likely to reign in perpetuity and the political and cultural agenda will be set by the likes of the Daily Telegraph, Express and Mail; and taking a deep breath, going for the Scottish independence option and being part of something new and hopefully better.

 

Yes, folks, it’s make-your-mind-up time.

 

(c) BBC

 

The Addams Cabinet

 

© BBC 

 

Theresa May has just been crowned Britain’s new Conservative Prime Minister and already she’s carried out the first of her prime ministerial duties, which is to organise a new cabinet.  Mind you, looking at some of the people she’s appointed to senior positions of state, I find it difficult to visualise a sharp-suited team of the UK’s brightest and best, exuding managerial calm and steadying the tiller after the trauma of the referendum vote to leave the European Union and the resignation of David Cameron.

 

Instead, I find myself picturing the characters in an American TV show from the 1960s: the much-loved, if ghoulish and morbid, Addams Family.

 

© Filmways / MGM Television

 

With Ms May at its head, this is a matriarchal cabinet.  And fittingly, the Addams Family were a matriarchal unit too.  So the new Prime Minister makes me think of the black-swathed Morticia Addams (and not, as some have suggested, Cruella De Ville from the 1961 Walt Disney cartoon 101 Dalmatians).

 

As for the tall, grey Philip Hammond, May’s new Chancellor of the Exchequer, I can’t help but think of the Addams household’s hulking and cadaverous butler Lurch.  Actually, I suspect Hammond would like to be compared to something cadaverous; for according to one of his old schoolmates – the TV presenter Richard Madeley – Hammond was “a Goth back then…  Used to arrive in class in a leather trench-coat with the Guardian under his arm.”  No doubt it’s the Guardian bit that Hammond feels embarrassed about now.

 

© Filmways / MGM Television

 

Also in the Addams Cabinet is Andrea Leadsom, who was Theresa May’s main rival in the contest to replace Cameron as Prime Minister and is now Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs.  She’s surely the equivalent of Wednesday Addams, Morticia’s pale-faced and twin-braided little daughter.  I say this because The Addams Family’s creator Charles Addams (who’d started drawing cartoons about them in the New Yorker magazine in the late 1930s) named Wednesday after a line in a nursery rhyme, “Wednesday’s child is full of woe”; and in the 1991 movie spin-off she was shown strapping her brother Pugsley into an electric chair in preparation for playing a game called ‘Is there a God?’  That sounds like Andrea Leadsom to me.

 

Meanwhile, Liam Fox, the new Secretary of State for International Trade, seems to be the Uncle Fester of the team.  Maybe that’s because, thanks to Fox’s past improprieties, the names ‘Liam Fox’ and ‘Fester’ seem to go together nicely.

 

And then there’s Boris Johnson, who is – ahem! – Britain’s new Foreign Secretary.  Who else could he be but Cousin Itt?

 

© Filmways / MGM Television

 

But seriously, this is a nightmarish batch of appointments that, with awful appropriateness, rounds off what’s been a nightmarish few weeks for the country.  It’s as if May got drunk on vino the night before her announcement of the new cabinet, tried to decide whether she should piss everyone off by making it as right-wing as possible or as incompetent as possible, and in the end opted to do both.

 

Thus, we get Philip Hammond.  In 2015, when Michael Gove, then Justice Secretary, abandoned a controversial prisons project for the Saudi Arabian government on the grounds that the UK shouldn’t be helping a regime that uses ‘beheadings, stonings, crucifixions and lashings’ as punishments, Hammond berated him for his ‘naivety’.  It takes some doing to make Michael Gove seem humane and reasonable, but Hammond is clearly capable of it.

 

Then again, Hammond seems like a bleeding-heart liberal compared with Andrea Leadsom, who’s now responsible for all things rural and environmental in Britain.  One of Brexit’s more vociferous supporters, she wrote in a 2007 blog post that EU subsidies to farmers should be abolished; while more recently she suggested that the UK’s hill farms be given over to breeding ‘butterflies’.  Well, she must be delighted with the way the EU referendum vote turned out.  Losing those EU subsidies will be tough on small-scale British hill farmers – my Dad was one and, towards the end of his working life, I know how much he valued that cash from Brussels – but hey, if they go out of business, with a few of them committing suicide over the loss of farms their families had owned for generations, that’s just good old capitalism for you.

 

© The Daily Telegraph 

 

But even if under Ms Leadsom’s watch large tracts of the countryside get converted into butterfly-breeding areas or, more likely, into luxury housing developments or acreage for giant factory farms, I’m sure the traditional fox-hunting grounds will be kept green and leafy.  For yes, Ms Leadsom also wants to repeal the ban on fox-hunting on the dubious premise that this will improve ‘animal welfare’.

 

Indeed, there isn’t much about the new Secretary of State for the Environment that seems terribly environmental.  In 2011 she supported government plans (later abandoned) to sell off Britain’s forests; and in 2012 and 2016 she voted against setting targets for the limiting of Britain’s carbon emissions.  And as late as 2015, she was asking ministers at the Department of Energy and Climate Change if climate change actually ‘existed’.  (By the way, this Cameron-era ‘Department of Energy and Climate Change’ has now been replaced by the ‘Department of Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy’.  Which is a clue to the priority that the new regime gives to combatting climate change: none, probably.)

 

© The Daily Telegraph 

 

Then there’s Liam Fox.  Back in 2011, Fox had to resign from his job as David Cameron’s Defence Secretary when it became apparent that a businessman and lobbyist called Adam Werrity was accompanying him to Ministry of Defence meetings and on overseas trips.  Werrity had neither security clearance nor any ministerial responsibility.  But he was Fox’s friend; and Fox saw no reason why his old chum shouldn’t be allowed to exploit his position to network with politicians, diplomats, contractors and financiers.  One wonders how many spivs and chancers will be accompanying the newly-rehabilitated Fox on his travels as Secretary of State for International Trade.

 

Regarding Boris Johnson’s elevation to the role of Foreign Secretary…  Well, I feel I have already written far more on this blog about Boris Johnson than the brain-addled baboon actually warrants.  But really?  What was Theresa May thinking?  Did she believe that by making Johnson the voice of Britain on the international stage, foreign governments would find his bumbling, posh-idiot shtick amusing and forgive Britain for all the disruption it’s caused recently?

 

Well, here’s news for her.  Foreigners don’t find Johnson funny.  At best they think he’s a clown and at worst they hate his guts.  Two decades of slurs and gaffes about Africans being ‘piccaninnies with watermelon smiles’, Hilary Clinton resembling a ‘sadistic nurse in a mental hospital’, Barack Obama being a ‘part-Kenyan’ with an ‘ancestral dislike’ of Britain, not to mention the lies he’s peddled about the European Union since the 1990s when he was the Daily Telegraph’s Brussels correspondent, have seen to that.  Someone’s even compiled a map of the countries that Johnson has, over the years, managed to offend.  Here it is.  I think you’ll agree that the nations with good reason to despise Britain’s new Foreign Secretary cover an alarmingly large proportion of the world’s land mass.

 

From indy100.independent.co.uk 

 

Let’s return to being silly – I think I’ll need to be silly when I contemplate Britain over the next few years, because the alternative is to feel suicidally depressed about it.  When I was a kid, I remember clicking my fingers and singing along to The Addams Family theme song whenever the show came on TV.  How would the Theresa May version of The Addams Family song go?  Probably something like this:

 

Duh-duh-duh-duh…  Duh-duh!

Duh-duh-duh-duh…  Duh-duh!

They’re creepy and they’re spooky,

They can’t get any nooky,

They make me really pukey –

The Tory gov-ern-ment!