Scorpion tales

 

From wikipedia.org / © Eva Rinaldi

 

Here’s a hypothetical question I’ve heard many times. If you had a time machine, would you travel back in time, find the young Adolf Hitler and kill him?  In Stephen King’s 1979 novel The Dead Zone, for instance, the hero puts this question to an old man who lost his son in World War II.  The old man replies that he’d stick a knife in Hitler’s heart “as far as she’d go… and then I’d twist her… But first, first I’d coat the blade with rat poison.”

 

Recently, whilst looking at the dire state of the world and feeling fearful about the future, I’ve wondered about a variation on the time machine / Hitler question.  In the future, after manmade climate change has decimated the environment and pig-ignorant ‘populism’ (i.e., fascism) has run society into the ground, who would the remnants of humanity choose to eliminate if they had a time machine and could send an assassin back to, say, the late 20th century?  Who would they remove from the timeline in the belief it’d change history for the better?  The young Donald Trump?  The young Vladimir Putin?

 

Neither.  I suspect those guys would be considered small beer compared to the guy the time-travelling assassin from the future would really go after… Rupert Murdoch.

 

Murdoch’s media operations have, over the last five decades, caused massive damage to human well-being.  He promoted the voracious, greed-is-good, market-über-alles destructiveness of neoliberalism with his support for Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan in the 1980s.  He’s done his best to ignore, distort and discredit the overwhelming scientific evidence for manmade climate change.  Via Fox News, he’s created in the USA a paranoid, xenophobic, extreme-right-wing ecosystem whose millions of inhabitants believe Donald Trump’s lies and will probably vote him again, or someone even worse, into power in 2024 and turn the world’s biggest superpower into an authoritarian state.  Yes, Murdoch has seemingly had a finger in everything shit that’s happened in modern history, in everything’s that propelled humanity further down the road to hell.  No wonder Murdoch’s son James resigned from the board of News Corp in 2020, sick of the oceans of toxicity created by his father.

 

It says little for Britain’s newspaper industry that Murdoch owns a swathe of its national titles: the Times, Sunday Times, Financial Times, Sun and Sun on Sunday.  These played a prominent role in influencing the 2016 vote on Britain’s membership of the European Union, which led to the economic, diplomatic and cultural shambles of Brexit.  No surprise there, either.  The ghoulish old Antipodean tycoon once famously remarked that he could intimidate one country’s leader, in No 10 Downing Street, into following his wishes, whereas he couldn’t intimidate the combined might of 28 countries’ leaders represented in Brussels.

 

From dailysabah.com / © Sun

 

But Murdoch constitutes just one head of the hydra that is Britain’s predominantly right-wing press.  Among the newspapers sold nationwide, only the Guardian, Daily and Sunday Mirrors and Sunday People could be described as having a political stance leaning any way towards the left.  Elsewhere, the Daily and Sunday Telegraphs, right-wing and totally honking mad, are owned by the billionaire Frederick Barclay.  Resident on the island of Brecqhou, which is administered by Sark in the Channel Islands, Frederick and his late twin brother David once tried to avoid Sark’s tax-inheritance laws by having Brecqhou declared independent of it.  That’s ironic considering the Telegraphs’ vehement opposition to Scottish independence.

 

Another billionaire, the non-domiciled Viscount Rothermere, owns the equally right-wing Daily Mail and Mail on Sunday.  About the Mail, I once wrote: “…you might just view the never-ending diet that the newspaper serves up of ignorance, prurience, grubbiness, self-righteousness, hypocrisy, small-mindedness, snobbery, racism, misogyny, Little Englander-ism, xenophobia, Islamophobia, immigrant-bashing, anti-intellectualism, tittle-tattle, curtain-twitching, pseudo-scientific quackery, petty-bourgeois fulmination and general all-round barking right-wing insanity and conclude there’s no hope left for the human race and try to book yourself a one-way passage on the next space probe to Mars.”

 

And let’s not forget the Daily and Sunday Express, near-clones of the Mail titles, though aimed at an even more demented readership who are additionally obsessed with Madeleine McCann, Princess Diana and the British weather.  These used to be owned by millionaire and one-time porno magnate Richard Desmond, but are now the property of Reach plc, which publishes the Mirror.  Presumably, Reach hasn’t tinkered with the Express formula because it’s decided to milk those barmy readers for money while they’re still alive.

 

Over the past few months, Britain’s right-wing newspapers have been fighting the corner of Boris Johnson, ever since they realised the fragility of his premiership.  As PM, Johnson hasn’t been so much skating on thin ice as clog-dancing on it.  It’s transpired that during the Covid-19 pandemic, when the UK had been put in lockdown, Johnson and his cronies turned No 10 Downing Street into an endlessly partying, boozing frat-house that paid zero heed to the strict non-socialising rules imposed on everyone else.  (Intriguingly, Murdoch’s Sun, usually the gobbiest of Britain’s tabloids, has kept relatively quiet about ‘Partygate’, as it’s been dubbed.  This may have something to do with James Slack, the Sun’s deputy editor, being Johnson’s Director of Communications at the time when No 10 was boogieing away the lockdown blues.)

 

The self-serving, scurrilous, mendacious Johnson is a creature of the self-serving, scurrilous, mendacious British press. He started off working at the Times, until he was sacked for fabricating a quote, then found employment as the Telegraph.  Max Hastings, then-Telegraph editor, has since said of Johnson: “…he is unfit for national office, because it seems he cares for no interest save his own fame and gratification.”  As the Telegraph’s Brussels correspondent, Johnson wrote wildly exaggerated pieces on how the evil EU was imposing spiteful and stupid regulations on plucky little Britain.  These helped fuel the Euro-scepticism that birthed the United Kingdom Independence Party (UKIP) and eventually won the 2016 referendum in favour of Brexit.  No wonder the right-wing press barons love Johnson – he’s one of their own.

 

From twitter.com/bbcnews / © Daily Mail

 

Unsurprisingly, their coverage of Partygate, in which they’ve tried to defend and big up the lawbreaking blond oaf, has been nauseating.  First, there was the insistence, made most forcibly by the Daily Mail, that Johnson’s breaking of his own Covid laws was unimportant because Russia had just invaded Ukraine and, well, DON’T THEY KNOW THERE’S A WAR ON?  More recently, they’ve dedicated their front-page headlines to ‘Beergate’, the hoo-ha over the Labour Party leader Keir Starmer – or, as he’s known in the right-wing press, ‘HYPOCRITE STARMER’ – having a beer and curry at a constituency office in Durham last year while lockdown rules remained in force.  Starmer claimed no rules were broken, but the local police have, under pressure from the media, launched an inquiry into the incident.  The assumption in the editorial offices of the Mail and the rest is that if Starmer is found to have broken lockdown rules too, their beloved Boris will get off the hook for his own, proven misdemeanours.  (He’s already had to pay one fine for a lockdown breach and more fines are likely on the way.)

 

Starmer has just declared that he’ll resign as Labour Party leader if the police do issue a fine to him over Beergate.  This was evidently intended to put some clear, blue, moral water between him and Johnson, already fined but not resigned.  However, if he thought this would earn him some credit from the newspapers, he was mistaken.  The Mail promptly responded with the headline: STARMER ACCUSED OF PILING PRESSURE ON POLICE.

 

The more I think about these rags, the more I think of the fable about the frog and the scorpion.  The scorpion stings the frog to death, even though this will condemn it to death too, because it’s in its ‘nature’.  It’s what it does.  It can’t not sting.

 

The poisonous right-wing nature of much of Britain’s press is a headache for the Labour Party.  How can they ever get a fair hearing when those newspapers are programmed to blindly support their Conservative opponents no matter how corrupt, venal and idiotic they become?  A quarter-century ago, Tony Blair’s policy on this was to cosy up to them.  He got so thick with Rupert Murdoch, the Scorpion King himself, that he became godfather to one of Murdoch’s kids.  In return, the headline THE SUN BACKS BLAIR appeared on the front page of Murdoch’s number-one British tabloid prior to the 1997 general election, which saw Blair win power.  But such sycophancy has its downside.  If you get too close to the likes of Murdoch, you end up either stung to death, like the frog in the fable, or with so much poison in your own system that you become toxic yourself.  The latter outcome happened to Blair.  I can’t imagine anyone in their right mind describing ‘El Tone’ as a paragon of virtue in 2022.

 

Still, I don’t have much sympathy either for the supporters of the last Labour Party leader, the atypically left-wing Jeremy Corbyn, who blamed negative British press coverage for all their hero’s woes.  Yes, aware that Corbyn represented a threat to the wealthy, powerful interests of their owners, those newspapers bombarded Corbyn with every slur going, that he was a terrorist sympathiser, an anti-Semite, a traitor, whatever.  But Corbyn, whom I’ve always regarded as a decent bloke, engineered much of his own bad luck.  He was a hopeless communicator.  He seemed to be living still in the 1970s, when he’d been a compadre of old school socialist Tony Benn, and never responded to the attacks made against him with the imagination and agility necessary in the changed media landscape of the early 21st century.

 

Actually, there’s proof close at hand that, to be successful, a political party doesn’t need to be backed by the majority of newspapers, and can triumph despite most newspapers stinging at it continuously with their scorpion-tails.  In Scotland, only one newspaper, the National, supports the Scottish National Party’s policy of Scottish independence.  The other Scottish newspapers – north-of-the-border editions of the right-wing ones I’ve just discussed, such as the Scottish Sun and Scottish Daily Mail, and locally published ones like the Scotsman, Herald and Daily Record – oppose the SNP and leap at any opportunity to excoriate it and its leader Nicola Sturgeon.  (It’s noticeable how, in the headlines of the utterly wretched Scottish Daily Express, the British PM is always referred to as ‘BORIS’ whereas the Scottish First Minister always gets a contemptuous, misogynistic ‘STURGEON’.)

 

From bbc.com/ © Daily Express

 

Yet the SNP have been in power in Edinburgh for the past 15 years and have topped the polls in eight Scottish elections in a row, most recently the council ones on May 3rd that saw them increase their number of councillors by 22.  A large part of this is surely down to Nicola Sturgeon herself.  Whatever you think of her politics, it’s hard to deny that – unlike Johnson – she speaks like a normal human being, communicates her meaning clearly and generally exhibits some semblance of empathy and integrity.  Obviously, this influences a sufficiently large number of Scottish voters, who choose to believe the evidence of their own eyes and ears over the crap they read in the newspapers.

 

Let’s hope that, when the time comes, British voters as a whole choose to do the same.

Student politics

 

© Profile Books

 

I’ve just read a review in the Guardian of Simon Kuper’s new book, Chums: How a Tiny Caste of Oxford Tories Took Over the UK. Chums tell the real-life story of student politics at Oxford University during the 1980s, a world whose inhabitants would often become well-known public figures in the 21st century.  On the Labour side there were ‘the Miliband Brothers, Dave and Ted, and Eddie Balls and Yvette Cooper’, who were busy ‘organising rent protests at their respective colleges’.  However, it was some Conservative student politicos at Oxford in the 1980s who’d become particular big-hitters and who’d handle – or mishandle – the levers of power in Britain during the 2010s and 2020s.

 

They included Michael Gove, whom Kuper says was bought, wearing a kilt, for 35 pounds at a charity-fundraising ‘slave auction’ at Oxford Union in 1987.  Even in 2022 and even after three-and-a-half decades of inflation, 35 pounds seems rather more than Michael Gove is worth, though maybe the kilt bumped up his value a bit.

 

They also included Britain’s current Prime Minister, the walking disaster area that is Boris Johnson.  Recently, the Mail on Sunday claimed that Johnson’s ‘Oxford Union debating skills’ were so formidable that, during debates in the House of Commons, Labour’s working-class, comprehensive-school-educated deputy leader Angela Rayner had to resort to crossing her legs like Sharon Stone in Basic Instinct (1992) to distract him.  According to Kuper, the young Johnson’s debating strategy was ‘to defeat opponents whose arguments were better simply by ignoring their arguments’ and rely instead on ‘carefully timed jokes, calculated lowerings of the voice, and ad hominem jibes’.

 

Also spicing up life in 1980s Tory Oxford University was David Cameron, though he was ‘rich enough and connected enough to feel himself above the “hackery” of student politics’; the BBC’s future political editor Nick Robinson; Daniel Hannan, NHS-basher, Enoch Powell fan, arch-Brexiteer and now in the House of Lords as Baron Hannan of Kingsclere, who, it’s been said, ‘may have contributed more to the ideas, arguments and tactics of Euroscepticism than any other individual’; and the future spin-doctoring Svengali behind Boris Johnson, Dominic Cummings.  Cummings, apparently, was a protégé of Dr Norman Stone, the historian, lecturer, author, advisor to Margaret Thatcher and student-groping pisshead from Glasgow.  One obituary published after Stone’s death in 2019 hilariously noted that he ‘hated Oxford, which he thought… was full of Marxists.’  Actually, I can’t imagine Stone and Cummings together without thinking of Saruman and Grima Wormtongue in The Lord of the Rings movies (2002-04).

 

© New Line Cinema / WingNut Films

 

Incidentally, Kuper acknowledges that Oxford University educated and employed not only J.R.R. Tolkien but also Lewis Carroll and C.S. Lewis.  He notes how ‘the timeless paradise of Oxford inspired its inhabitants to produce timeless fantasies like Alice in Wonderland, The Hobbit, Narnia and, incubating from the late 1980s, Brexit.’

 

Anyway, apart from making me mightily glad that I didn’t attend Oxford University during the 1980s, reading about Kuper’s book has got me thinking about the place where I was a student during the 1980s, Aberdeen University.  What about the student politicians I encountered there?  Did any of them ever get near – remotely near – those all-important ‘levers of power’?  There follows a heavily revised, fully up-to-date version of a piece about this subject I first posted in 2014.

 

To be honest, I wouldn’t have encountered any student politicians at all if I hadn’t got involved with Aberdeen University’s student newspaper and co-edited it for a term in 1986.  The newspaper office was located in the same building as the offices and meeting rooms where the members of the Students’ Representative Council did their business.  And obviously, those student politicians also figured in a lot of the stories we reported on.  So, I got to observe the species close up.

 

The one who probably did best for himself was Stephen Carter, who served as SRC President from 1985 to 1986.  I found Carter lacking in warmth, humour and character and at one point, in a fit of naughtiness, I published in the newspaper a spoof article depicting him as an aloof Roman Emperor in the manner of Robert Graves’ I, Claudius novels.  The article was entitled I, Carterus.  We didn’t get on very well, though not because I’d likened him to one of the Caesars.  Near the end of my editorship, I wrote a front-page article that made several criticisms of his reign as student president, which infuriated him.  To be fair, I later discovered that I’d made an error with a financial figure I’d quoted, so at least part of his anger was justified.  Being bawled out by the bland, automation-like Carter was a strange experience.   The abuse didn’t seem to emanate from a real human being.  It was like being scolded by an indignant speak-your-wait machine or a cranky elevator voice-recording.

 

From gov.uk

 

Decades later, in 2008, Carter served as Gordon Brown’s Downing Street Chief of staff.  Also, from 2008 to 2009, he was Brown’s Minister for Communications, Technology and Broadcasting.  As he wasn’t a member of either house at Westminster at the time, which would have barred him from taking on a ministerial position, he was quickly ennobled.  He was made Baron Carter of Barnes and entered the House of Lords.  I didn’t hear much about how that he got in on those roles, except for claims that his relationship with Brown’s notorious spin-doctor Damian McBride was ‘fractious’.  Actually, McBride was such a scumbag that it’s to Carter’s credit that the pair of them didn’t get along.

 

Coincidentally, days before Stephen Carter – sorry, Baron Carter of Barnes – ended his stint as Brown’s Chief of Staff, I found myself a full-time student again.  In October 2008 I started an MA course at the University of East Anglia.  The students there had mounted a protest against student debt, with hundreds of them sticking fake cheques to a campus wall.  On each cheque was written the sum of money that each student expected to owe by the time of his or her graduation.  To me (who’d graduated in 1987 with an overdraft of £1,500, which I paid off within two years), some of those sums were eye-watering: £40,000 or more.  What, I wondered, would we have thought at Aberdeen University in the mid-1980s if we’d known that our student president would one day be a key figure in a government presiding over levels of student debt we wouldn’t have imagined in our worst nightmares?

 

Another student politician from that era who’s done well is Katy Clark.  She was a leading light in Aberdeen University’s Labour Party and in 2005 became Labour Member of Parliament for North Ayrshire and Arran.  Her career as an MP ended in 2015 with the virtual wipe-out of Scotland’s Labour seats that happened under the kamikaze leadership of Scottish Labour leader Jim Murphy and spin-doctor John McTiernan.  However, she kept busy, working as a strategist for Jeremy Corbyn and authoring for him a review of the Labour Party’s democratic structures. Then, in 2021, she got elected to the Scottish Parliament as a Labour MSP for the West of Scotland region.

 

From wikipedia.org / © The Scottish Parliament

 

When I co-edited the student newspaper, Katy came to our attention when she led protests against Aberdeen University’s then-rector, the former Scottish National Party MP Hamish Watt.  At a debate during Freshers’ Week, Watt had made some supposedly-jovial comments in which he compared the young female students who’d just arrived on campus to ‘unbroken fillies’.  Now, while Watt undoubtedly deserved to be strung up by his sexist testicles, I didn’t enjoy having to speak to Katy about the incident.  I found her to be intense, one-note, lacking in personality and devoid of humour.  Actually, looking at what I’ve just written about Stephen Carter, a theme seems to be emerging in that regard.

 

Despite that, I felt some admiration for Katy because, unlike many other student politicians, she stuck by the left-wing principles she’d had as a university student and didn’t drift rightwards as she started to earn money.  During her career as an MP, she voted against the introduction of ID cards, against the renewal of the Trident missile system and against bombing campaigns in Iraq.  However, in 2020, that admiration was dampened by the fact that she accepted a peerage and entered the House of Lords as Baroness Clark of Kilwinning.

 

What were you thinking, Katy?  I don’t know how any socialists could debase themselves by becoming members of the archaic, undemocratic and embarrassing Lords.  It’s a place where you rub ermine-clad shoulders with the likes of Baroness Michelle Mone of Mayfair (who’s just had her home raided by police as part of a fraud investigation into her links with a dodgy PPE company); and Baroness Dido Harding of Winscombe (who got where she is today through cronyism and blew 22 billion pounds of taxpayers’ money on a failed Covid-19 track-and-trace system); and Baroness Claire Fox of Buckley (the former Revolutionary Communist Party member, Bosnian genocide denier and IRA supporter, now swivel-eyed Brexiteer and enthusiast for all things right-wing); and the afore-mentioned Baron Daniel Hannon of Kingsclere… and many more.

 

While she was there, I wonder if Katy ever bumped into her old Aberdeen University compadre Lord Carter of Barnes and they reminisced about their days on campus in the 1980s. (“What was the name of that hairy, beer-swilling prick with the Northern Irish accent who used to edit the student newspaper?”  “Can’t remember…”)

 

I should add that while running for the Scottish Parliament, Katy promised to ‘stand down’ from the House of Lords; and, according to her Wikipedia entry, on becoming an MSP she took ‘a leave of absence’ from the decrepit institution.  That, though, isn’t the same as ‘quitting’ it.  Also, I notice that on Wikipedia she’s still billed as ‘Baroness Clark of Kilwinning.’

 

From wikipedia.org / © The Scottish Parliament

 

To the rightward end of the spectrum, meanwhile, I have to mention someone else from my old alumni – Murdo Fraser, who’s in the Scottish Parliament as an MSP for the Mid-Scotland and Fife region and was once deputy leader of the Scottish Conservative Party.  That Murdo became a big name in Tory circles surprised me because he’d seemed an unprepossessing character in Aberdeen.  The detail I remember most about him was that he wore a Glasgow Rangers scarf 24/7, to the point where I wondered if it’d been stitched on.  A good friend who knew him a little, the late Finlay McLean, told me once that he had ‘the personality of a deep-frozen Cyberman’.  Then again, for an ambitious politician, not having a personality seems to be part of the course.

 

Murdo’s political ascendancy happened despite the fact that he was once associated with the notorious Federation of Conservative Students, an organisation that by the 1980s had become more right-wing than the Conservative Party of which it was the university branch.  At the time the Conservative Party was led by Margaret Thatcher, so being more right-wing than her was quite an achievement.  In 1986, after a string of well-publicised incidents – wherein FCS members had abused ethnic-minority staff at student bars, brayed their support for the Contras in El Salvador, sang the Special AKA song Free Nelson Mandela with the words changed to ‘Hang Nelson Mandela’, and so on – this extreme-minded group was disbanded by Tory Party Chairman Norman Tebbit.  And yes, being disbanded by Norman Tebbit for being too extreme was quite an achievement too.

 

The FCS at Aberdeen University were particularly obnoxious.  Among other things, they had a penchant for insulting gay people and taunting them about AIDS.  The start of my term as newspaper editor coincided with an incident wherein a bunch of FCS students invaded and disrupted a health-and-welfare talk being given to an audience of new students.  Their motive for disrupting the talk seemed to be because it covered safe sex for gay as well as straight students and was therefore, somehow, encouraging AIDS.

 

Later, after the newspaper had published an article about the society for gay students, Gay Soc, we received a letter from one deranged FCS member accusing us of furthering the interests of ‘the plague rats of the 20th century’.  We published his letter in the belief that by allowing the FCS to air their views publicly, we were letting people see what arseholes they were.  Give them enough rope and they’d hang themselves, we felt.  However, at least one gay friend of mine was deeply upset that the letter had appeared in our newspaper.  Today, 35 years on, I’d think twice about publishing it.

 

In Murdo Fraser’s defence, I’ll admit that he seemed aware of what a squad of bampots he was having to keep company with in the FCS.  He kept his mouth shut when the rest of them were being as offensively vocal as possible, and whenever I saw them strutting about the campus en masse he seemed to trail silently and reluctantly along at the back, rather like Eddie Bunker’s Mr Blue in Reservoir Dogs (1992).  Actually, being Mr Blue was appropriate given his footballing allegiances.

 

Having dissed the Labour and the Conservative Parties, I suppose in the interest of balance I should say something about Aberdeen University’s 1980s Liberal Party, the Liberal Democrats as they are now.  The Liberals’ most visible representative was one Dan Falchikov who, with his excitable and eccentric manner and his striking dress sense (a psychedelically-coloured sweater), possessed something that other people I’ve mentioned lacked: a personality.  And I think Dan was a genuinely well-meaning guy even if he wasn’t endowed with a great deal of common sense.  However, he was also an easy target for us unscrupulous hacks at the student newspaper and we spent a lot of time poking fun at him, calling him ‘Dan the Man’, ‘Desperate Dan’ and (when he was being particularly off-the-wall) ‘Dan F**k-me-off’.

 

From the Sutton & Croydon Guardian

 

Out of curiosity, I googled his name a while ago and discovered that, in 2010, while he was a Liberal Democrat activist in the London constituency of Kingston-upon-Thames, Dan got himself embroiled in controversy.  He was overheard boasting on a train that he’d managed to ‘plant’ a story, a false story, in the Evening Standard newspaper about the Labour Party having plans to close Kingston Hospital.  Unbeknownst to Dan while he blabbed about this into a mobile phone, a train-passenger sitting nearby was none other than the journalist Kevin Maguire, political editor of the Daily Mirror.  Maguire not only tweeted about what he was overhearing but also sneaked a camera-phone picture of Dan and posted it online.  Thus, it was a bit unsettling to find the eccentric, psychedelically-sweatered Dan the Man of Aberdeen University dabbling in the political dark arts and establishing himself as the bad boy of local politics in Kingston-upon-Thames.

 

I should add that since then Dan seems to have ditched the Liberal Democrats and joined the Green Party.  Considering that the Lib Dems were part of David Cameron’s discredited, austerity-obsessed coalition government from 2010 to 2015, and were disastrously led by Jo ‘nuke-’em’ Swinson in 2019, this suggests he has more sense than I’d credited him with.

 

I don’t think any of the student politicos I knew in the Scottish National Party went on to have political careers.  Probably having to deal with Hamish Watt, the university rector, ex-SNP MP and vocal admirer of young unbroken fillies, put them off politics for good.

 

I’ve tried to keep this account of student politics at Aberdeen University light-hearted, but there were some goings-on I found pretty unsavoury.  For example, before I graduated, some nasty rumours circulated in the SRC building about one student politician making another one pregnant.  There wasn’t actually a pregnancy but this didn’t prevent two SRC people, from two different political parties, both of whom had axes to grind with the guy involved, from approaching me and assuring me it was true.  One even swore that she’d seen the results of a pregnancy test.  Presumably, I was fed this false information in the hope that, as a student journalist, I’d spread the word to the detriment of the guy’s reputation.  Never mind what distress it’d cause him or the woman.  None of the people I’ve mentioned above, I should say, were involved in this saga.

 

Some student politicians I did genuinely like.  Indeed, if I ever bumped into the likes of Graeme Whiteside, Tim Morrison, Alan Strain or Stuart Black again on the High Street of Old Aberdeen, I’d invite them into the St Machar Bar and buy them a pint.  However, with regard to those people, there’s a sobering point to make.  None of those decent sorts, as far as I know, pursued their political careers any further than university.  None of them ended up becoming real politicians.

 

It reinforces Douglas Adams’ famous comment in The Restaurant at the End of the Universe (1980) that “it is a well-known and much lamented fact that those people who most want to rule people are, ipso facto, those least suited to do it.”

 

From wikipedia.org / © Nick Bramhall

It’s time Putin’s pals were put in the bin (Part 2)

 

© Cold War Steve

 

Continuing my rant about miscreants who support Putin and / or are generally making arses of themselves during the current crisis in Ukraine – this time miscreants in the United Kingdom.

 

Vladimir Putin – presently stuck in a big, bloody hole he’s dug for himself in Ukraine, but still determinedly digging, using thousands of Ukrainian and Russian lives as his shovel-blade – has never been short of pals in Britain.  Back in 2001, soon after Putin had won his first presidential election in Russia, and not long after the start of the second Chechen war, which saw the deaths of at least 25,000 civilians, a third of Chechnya deemed a ‘zone of ecological disaster’, and most Chechens left suffering ‘discernible symptoms of psychological distress’, then-British Prime Minister and Labour Party leader Tony Blair jetted out to Moscow and cosied up to Putin.  El Tone praised him for showing ‘real leadership’ and giving ‘strong support’ in the ‘fight against terrorism’.

 

Even today, Blair is hero-worshipped by certain centre-right politicians and commentators in Britain.  Ironically, while later Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn is commonly loathed and belittled as a traitorous, anti-Western, lefty scumbag, it’s worth recalling what Corbyn said about Blair’s visit to Moscow in 2001.  “When the Prime Minister… meets President Putin this evening, I hope that he will convey the condemnation of millions of people around the world of the activities of the Russian army in Chechnya and what it is doing to ordinary people there.  When images of what is happening are translated into other parts of the world, many people are horrified…”  Exchange ‘Ukraine’ for ‘Chechnya’ and you realise how Corbyn’s words resonate in 2022.

 

No doubt nowadays Blair keeps his mouth shut about Putin’s supposed statesmanship.  But another well-known British politician is less reluctant to express his admiration for the warmongering Russian ogre.  Right-winger, Europhobe and wannabe broadcaster Nigel Farage has said of him: “I wouldn’t trust him and I wouldn’t want to live in his country, but compared with the kids who run foreign policy in this country, I’ve more respect for him than our lot.”  Meanwhile, the donkey-faced, and full-of-donkey-shit, Farage has made copious appearances on Russia Today, coming out with such gems as the claim that Europe’s modern democracies have been run ‘by the worst people we have seen in Europe since 1945’.  Worse even than Putin?  Yes, I’m sure Nige thinks so.

 

By the way, let’s not forget Aaron Banks, Farage’s compadre in the Vote Leave campaign that managed in 2016 to tear the UK out of the European Union, possibly helped by a wee bit of Russian funding.  In 2017, Banks did his bit for the Putin cause by tweeting: “Ukraine is to Russia what the Isle of Wight is to the UK.  It’s Russian.”

 

Elsewhere, there’s multiple evidence suggesting that Boris Johnson’s Conservative government, if not totally in love with Putin’s habit of inflicting atrocities on neighbouring countries that annoy him, is certainly in love with the wealth of the Russian oligarchs who surround the man.  Recent claims about the amount of donations the Conservative party has received from such oligarchs have ranged from 1.93 million to 2.3 million pounds.

 

Johnson seems particularly enamoured with members of Russia’s mega-wealthy elite.  In 2018, while he was serving as Theresa May’s foreign secretary, he was seen stumbling about an Italian airport suffering from a hangover, and lacking his security detail, after attending a shindig thrown by Russian media magnate Evgeny Lebedev at his castle near Perugia.  Lebedev subsequently received a peerage and now, technically, is ‘Baron Lebedev, of Hampton in the London Borough of Richmond on Thames and of Siberia in the Russian Federation’.  Johnson has sheepishly denied allegations that he used his influence to secure the peerage for his buddy.

 

© Private Eye

 

Though late last week the British government announced it was freezing the assets of seven Russian billionaires (including Chelsea Football Club owner Roman Abramovich) with close ties to Putin, this only came after weeks of prevarication.  Originally, it looked like the UK wouldn’t be clamping down on dodgy Russian money until late in 2023, which would have given those likely to be affected a good year-and-a-half to sell their assets and move their money off British soil.  Even with this new change of heart, Abramovich and co. have already had a fortnight’s grace-period to shift some of their wealth.  Basically, Johnson’s regime is reluctant to do anything that might sully London’s reputation as a haven for dodgy money.

 

Summing up the absolute state of the Conservative Party on this issue is its wretched co-chairman Ben Elliot.  Simultaneously, Elliot’s been sourcing donations from super-rich Russians and been offering services to them in Britain through his ‘concierge’ company, Quintessentially.  “Quintessentially Russia has nearly 15 years’ experience providing luxury lifestyle management services to Russia’s elite and corporate members…”, ensuring that from “restaurant bookings to backstage concert access, a bespoke lifestyle is at our clients’ fingertips.”  So drooled the blurb on Quintessentially’s website until recently.  Then, suddenly and mysteriously, this obsequious drivel was deleted from it.

 

While we’re heaping abuse on the British government, we shouldn’t overlook the smirk-faced Priti Patel, who – until another apparent U-turn last week – seemed determined that the Ukrainian refugees Britain was allowing in should be vastly outnumbered by the Russian oligarchs it was welcoming with open arms.  At one point, while other European countries had taken in Ukrainian refugees in the tens of thousands, the UK had dished out a mere 50 additional visas to them.

 

Besides Patel, it’s worth castigating government minister Kevin Foster, who advised people fleeing Ukraine to apply to Britain’s ‘seasonal worker scheme’, which would allow them to spend their time in the country picking fruit.  Such humanity, Kev!  Also, some hatred should be directed towards whatever nasty piece of work in the Home Office complained to the Daily Telegraph that Ireland had allowed in too many Ukrainian refugees.  All those shifty Ukrainians, claimed the anonymous source, would “come through Dublin, into Belfast and across to the mainland to Liverpool”, thus creating “a drug cartel route.”

 

Needless to say, Britain’s resident community of publicity-seeking, rent-an-opinion gobshites have fastened onto the Ukrainian crisis like flies fastening onto a cow-plop.  George Galloway, that fedora-wearing gasbag whose rhetoric seems to weave between old-school socialism (when he’s in England) and hardline British nationalism (when he’s in Scotland), and who’s a fixture on the Russian-owned Sputnik radio channel, tweeted recently: “Me, Farage, Hitchens, Carlson and Rod Liddle are a pretty broad front of people who think NATO expansion to the borders of Russia was a pretty bad idea.  Maybe pause and think about that?”  When I paused and thought about it, my immediate thoughts were: “George Galloway, Nigel Farage, Peter Hitchens, Tucker Carlson, Rod Liddle…  Wow, what a team!  Couldn’t Marvel make a superhero movie about them?  Maybe call it Arseholes Assemble?”

 

Hilariously, Galloway’s Putin-sympathetic stance has ended all unity in the All for Unity party, the staunchly pro-UK outfit he set up in Scotland prior to the last Scottish parliamentary elections.  Jamie Blackett, the party’s former deputy leader, and also the Deputy Lieutenant for Dumfriesshire and a Daily Telegraph writer, recently disowned his old boss and announced the disbanding of the party.

 

Meanwhile, Neil Oliver, the alleged Scottish historian and talking head on right-wing outlet GB News, lately delivered a bewildering monologue, the gist of which was: “I’ll be honest.  I don’t know what’s happening in Ukraine.  I don’t understand it either.”  Oliver’s professed ignorance of the situation didn’t stop him talking about it for nine minutes, however.  It’s also strange that when it comes to Putin and Ukraine Oliver is so hesitant to climb off the fence, considering how quick he’d been in the past to condemn, say, the Scottish National Party (‘disastrously incompetent’, ‘small’, ‘not worth bothering about’), or the Black Lives Matter movement (‘anarchists and communists’ eating ‘into the built fabric of Britain’).  Very strange indeed.

 

One other thing bugging me about Putin’s current horror show is how certain people have pounced on it and tried to use it to promulgate the right-wing agendas they’ve been pushing for years already.  Take the ‘culture wars’, in which Putin’s ‘anti-woke’ position had until recently won accolades from Western pundits on the right of the spectrum.  Well, now that Putin is officially a Bad Lad, they can’t praise him directly anymore.  Instead, they’re pushing the narrative that woke stuff no longer matters during the crisis that good old Vlad, sorry, bad new Vlad has created.

 

Here’s the absurd Daily Telegraph columnist Allison Pearson, recently opining: “The outbreak of war has shone an unflattering light on our society… Watch issues like LGBT, net-zero, Partygate, Black Lives Matter and farcical ‘Stay Safe’ Covid restrictions all fade into well-deserved insignificance now that war is back.”  According to Pearson, in other words, now that Putin’s behaving like a c*nt, we should all stop fretting about being civil to our fellow human beings, about preventing them from dying of Covid, about preventing the planet from burning up, and about our leader Boris Johnson being a lying, unprincipled sack of shite.

 

And here’s the barmy Spectator pundit Lionel Shriver, writing: “Decolonisations, contextualisations, gender-neutralisations – it’s all a load of onanistic, diversionary crap, and the West having shoved its head up its backside is one reason that Putin feels free to do whatever he likes.”  Though I suspect Putin would still have attacked Ukraine if fewer people on Western social media had been using the pronouns ‘they’ / ‘them’ in their profiles.

 

One last thing for which Britain’s right-wingers must be thanking Putin is the attention he’s diverted from the looming issues of manmade climate change and the dire state of the environment.  Thanks to the headlines being dominated by Ukraine, not much attention has been given to, for instance, the apocalyptic floods that have stricken Queensland and New South Wales.  And, somewhat inevitably, the afore-mentioned Nigel Farage is currently trying to relaunch his political career by demanding a new national referendum – this time, not about the UK’s membership of the European Union, but about the British government’s supposed adoption of Net Zero policies to combat climate change.  Farage, of course, wants us to vote against them.

 

I wonder why he’s doing this.  Could he be thinking of a country that helped finance his previous, successful referendum campaign?  Or could he be thinking of an oil-exporting country that would stand to gain if Britain gave up on green energy and became wholly dependent on fossil fuels again?

 

I can’t possibly think of a country that falls into both categories.

 

© The Jewish Chronicle / twitter / @ VirendraSharma

It’s time Putin’s pals were put in the bin (Part 1)

 

From the New European

 

Yes, folks, it’s time for a rant…

 

There’s nothing I can say in response to Russia’s Vladimir Putin-orchestrated invasion of Ukraine – at the time of writing in its 16th day – that hasn’t been said already by decent-minded and properly-informed people the world over.  The invasion has been brutal and wholly unjustified and by masterminding it Putin has shown himself to be a vile, despotic thug.  Although the evidence for that summation of Putin’s character had been overwhelming already.

 

Yet, over the years, Putin has acquired in the West a faithful coterie of groupies, toadies and sycophants.  And now, post-invasion, no matter how hard they try to backtrack and dissociate themselves from him, they shouldn’t be allowed to escape their status as Putin fanboys and fangirls.  Instead, they should be treated with the contempt they deserve.  Though even if Putin hadn’t existed, I’m sure they would have developed into horrible people anyway.

 

Let’s take a look at some of them.

 

When it comes to Putin worshippers, where else can you begin but with that human slough of venality, mendacity, crassness and pig-ignorance Donald Trump, 45th president of the United States and, sadly, quite possibly its 47th one in 2024 too?  The romance between Trump and Putin was always one-sided.  Basically, Trump wanted to have Putin’s babies, whereas it was obvious to everyone (apart from Trump himself) that Putin regarded Trump as a contemptible but highly useful moron.

 

Donnie and Vlad first became an item in 2013 when Trump was lined up to host the Miss Universe competition in Moscow.  He tweeted: “Do you think Putin will be going to The Miss Universe Pageant in November in Moscow – if so, will he become my new best friend?”  Puke.  According to the dossier compiled by British intelligence officer Christopher Steele, while Trump was in Moscow Russian intelligence spied on and recorded him romping with local prostitutes.  If this actually happened, then Trump became Putin’s new best friend whether he wanted to or not.

 

After that, Trump’s sycophancy towards Putin was relentless.  In 2014, he enthusiastically backed Putin’s annexation of Crimea.  Putin, he claimed, was “absolutely having a great time.”  By 2015 he was nosing around for a deal to build a Trump Tower in Moscow.  As president, in 2017, he reacted to news that Putin was forcing a cut in personnel at the US Embassy in Moscow by commenting jocularly: “I want to thank him because we’re trying to cut down on payroll… I’m very thankful that he let go of a large number of people, because now we have a smaller payroll.”

 

Meanwhile, according to former White House Press Secretary Stephanie Grisham, Trump envied Putin’s ability to kill off his critics and opponents.  Thanks to checks and balances in the US constitution, Trump wasn’t allowed to do this himself, though of course if he gets a second crack at the American presidential whip in 2024, those checks and balances might not exist much longer.  Grisham has stated her belief that Trump “admired him greatly.  I think he wanted to be able to kill whoever spoke out against him.”

 

Trump’s starry-eyed attitude towards Putin and Russia contrasts with his attitude towards Ukraine.  When the Russians were widely accused of meddling in the 2016 presidential election that brought him to power, his former campaign manager Paul Manafort glibly turned the accusations on their head and blamed the Ukrainians for hacking into Democratic National Committee computers.  In 2019, Trump delayed sending Ukraine 400 million dollars’ worth of military aid, which had been approved by Congress, because he wished to exert pressure on Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky.  He wanted Zelensky to dig up dirt on Hunter Biden, son of his presidential-election foe Joe Biden.

 

And late last month, when Putin’s forces rolled across the Ukrainian border, Trump was initially awestruck in his response.  “I went in yesterday and there was a television screen, and I said, ‘This is genius.’  Putin declares a big portion of the Ukraine…  Putin declares it as independent.  Oh, that’s wonderful.”

 

What a bawbag.

 

© Stewart Bremner

 

Of course, Trump’s grovelling before Putin is representative of the American far right, who see Putin as a virile embodiment of values the West has sadly lost and should be aspiring to regain.  After all, the  super-manly Vlad hates gays and transexuals, believes a woman’s place is at the stove, goes to church regularly (but obviously pays no attention to that wimpy, hippy New Testament stuff about loving thy neighbour and the like), has black belts in judo and taekwondo, is pals with Steven Seagal, wrestles with bears, and poses for totally non-embarrassing photo shoots on horseback naked from the waist up.

 

No wonder that at a recent American white nationalist conference, which was also attended by Republican Party nutjob Marjorie Taylor Greene, white supremacist commentator Nick Fuentes implored the crowd: “Can we get a round of applause for Russia?”  Other far-right American brown-nosers of the Putin derriere have included Ku Klux Klan leader David Dukes (Russia is the “key to white survival”), Ann Coulter (“In 20 years, Russia will be the only country that is recognisably European”) and Steve Bannon (“Putin ain’t woke…”  Well, bully for him, Steve!)

 

One malignant thread that’s woven through the rancid tapestry of American right-wing thought is the QAnon conspiracy theory.  Predictably, QAnon’s adherents have swiftly incorporated Putin, Ukraine and the invasion into their warped belief systems.  Putin, they’ve claimed, is really on the side of the angels.  His forces in Ukraine are trying to take out biolabs that the US has placed there.  And in these biolabs, the US President’s Chief Medical Advisor Anthony Fauci, Dr Evil himself, is attempting to create a new, deadly virus that’ll replace Covid-19.  I don’t so much despise people who buy into the QAnon cult as feel sorry for them, though I feel sorrier for their unfortunate families.  But I feel sorriest of all for the mild-mannered Dr Fauci.  The poor guy’s had to put up with garbage like this for the past two years for the sin of simply trying to do his job.

 

Finally, there’s the ultra-right – which isn’t the same as ‘ultra-correct’ – American broadcaster Tucker Carlson, who’s been so enthusiastically pro-Putin that TV outlets like Russia 1 and Russia Today have aired his ravings to the Russian public as evidence that lots of Western folk actually approve of Putin’s aggression in Ukraine.  In one plea for Putin tolerance, Carlson lamented, “Did he manufacture a worldwide pandemic that wrecked my business and kept me indoors for two years?  Is he teaching my children to embrace racial discrimination?  Is he making fentanyl?  Is he trying to snuff out Christianity?”  Supposedly, the answer to these questions is ‘no’, which makes him fine in Carlson’s eyes.

 

Tucker Carlson, who appears on Rupert Murdoch’s Fox News network, is what in American television parlance is called an ‘anchor’.  He’s also something that rhymes with ‘anchor’.  Come to think of it, he’s something that rhymes with ‘Tucker’ too.

 

More ranting will be done in a future post, when I move onto the topic of Putin’s British pals.

 

From twitter.com/campbellclaret

Things get frosty for Tiger Tim

 

From durham.academia.edu

 

The other day I discovered that my old alma mater, Peebles High School in the Scottish Borders, had a Wikipedia entry.  Near the end of it was a ‘notable alumni’ section.  I reacted with a disgruntled “Oh God, him,” when I saw listed among those notable alumni ‘Tim Luckhurst, journalist and academic’.

 

Minutes later, I headed over to the Guardian’s website to check the news headlines.  It seemed a mighty coincidence when I started reading a story under the headline DURHAM HEAD STEPS BACK AFTER CALLING STUDENTS ‘PATHETIC’ AT ROD LIDDLE EVENT and discovered that the head in question, the principal of Durham University’s South College, was none other than Tim Luckhurst – that distinguished journalistic and academic graduate mentioned in Peebles High School’s Wikipedia entry.

 

During the mid-to-late 1970s, Tim was a few years ahead of me at school.  He was a well-kent figure, lanky, curly-haired, lugubrious-faced and sloping around the place in a combat jacket and a T-shirt saying LEGALISE CANNABIS – in those permissive times at Peebles High you weren’t obliged to wear a school uniform.  To my mates and I he was known contemptuously  as ‘Chairman Mao’.  I think he spoke to me just once, at a careers evening being held in the school.  I was about to go into a classroom where the affable Atholl Innes, then editor of local newspaper the Peeblesshire News, was dispensing advice to young people who were interested in becoming journalists.  Out of that classroom emerged Tim and, to me, he declared emphatically, “Well, I know what I want to be!”

 

Probably Tim had already resolved to become a journalist and Atholl Innes had been preaching to the already-converted.  But I sometimes wonder if he hadn’t made up his mind until entering that classroom and his meeting with Athol Innes had been a moment of revelation – “Yes, newspapers,” Tim had cried, “that’s the life for me!”  If the latter is the case, I can only say, “Atholl…  You created a monster.”

 

Incidentally, that Tim had to attend a lowly comprehensive school like Peebles High, up in the windy wilds of North Britain, full of horrible little oiks like myself, still rankles with the man.  Writing for the Guardian in 2010 he quoted Ellen Wilkinson, Secretary of State for Education in the post-war British Labour government, as saying of her childhood in non-selective schooling in Manchester: “The top few pupils were intelligent and could mop up facts like blotting paper, but we were made to wait for the rest of the huge classes…  We wanted to stretch our minds but were merely a nuisance.”  Tim noted sourly, “Thirty years later I experienced comparable misery at my Scottish comprehensive.”

 

From the Peeblesshire News

 

I should point out that although it denied Tim the chance to stretch his fabulous mind and soak up facts like a sheet of super-absorbent blotting paper, Peebles High School must have done something for his education.  In fact, it was good enough to get him into Cambridge University.  At Cambridge, incidentally, according to one Luckhurst-bio I’ve found online, “…he played bass guitar in Tony Tiger and the Frosties.”  I know it’s wrong to judge bands by their names alone, but Tony Tiger and the Frosties sound like the most horrible thing to have strutted onstage on the Oxbridge music scene since the early 1970s, when a student band called the Ugly Rumours featured one Tony Blair as their frontman.

 

I suspect the disdain Tim feels for his alma mater in Peebles is mutual.  I recall several years back chatting to one of my old teachers, now a sweet little pensioner, when Tim’s name somehow cropped up in the conversation.  The teacher underwent a startling metamorphosis, hands becoming clenched and claw-like, face dark and scowling, and blurted wrathfully, “Tim is just an ARSEHOLE!”

 

During the 1980s and 1990s, Tim served as press officer for the Labour Party’s then-sizeable cabal of Scottish MPs, including Shadow Secretary State for Scotland Donald Dewar; stood unsuccessfully as a Labour candidate in Roxburgh and Berwickshire in a general election; and worked for the BBC.  I’d forgotten that the guy existed until February 2000, when he was announced as the new editor of my Dad’s favourite newspaper, Edinburgh’s venerable and respected Scotsman.  Actually, by then, the Scotsman was a lot less respected.  It’d been acquired by the Barclay Brothers’ Press Holdings Group and for several years had suffered under the crass stewardship of Andrew Neil, the Group’s editor-in-chief.  Tim lasted as Scotsman editor only until May that same year, when he was replaced by Rebecca Hardy, whom I knew from a previous phase of my life too – but that’s a story for another day.

 

© BBC / From the Guardian

 

In 2013, Tim and his old boss at the Scotsman, Andrew Neil, had a rammy on twitter.  Tim contradicted Neil on something and Neil replied, “And I made you Editor of the The Scotsman.  Most stupid decision ever.  But at least I fired you six days later.”  When Tim countered with, “Would you care to retract that statement, Andrew?  It might be wise,” Neil retorted, “Bring it on.  And let me pay to straighten your teeth.”  For the record, I’ll print what the Evening Standard said about the row: “…Professor Luckhurst was not ‘sacked after six days’ from the Scotsman, as Neil claims, but resigned due to ill health after four months.”  And I assume that, following the debacle of his involvement with GB News, Andrew Neil now considers giving Tim the Scotsman’s editorship only his second most stupid decision ever.

 

Following the Scotsman, Tim spent seven years as political editor of the Scottish edition of the Daily Mail (which, with hindsight, was surely a good fit for him).  Then he entered academia with a job as Professor of Journalism at the University of Kent, and then joined Durham University in 2019.  Despite having been a one-time backroom operative with the Labour Party, his politics by this time had clearly shifted rightwards.  However, I’ll hazard a guess and say he views himself as a moderate, old-school Tory rather than a ranting, frothing, hard-right one.  From the occasional glances I’ve had at his twitter feed, he seems impressed neither by Brexit nor by the antics of Boris Johnson.

 

That said, his moderate Tory-ness stops at the English-Scottish border.  One step north of that border and his moderate Tory-ness changes to rabid Unionism.  He might once have worked for Donald Dewar, viewed as the ‘father’ of the Scottish devolution settlement and the devolved Scottish parliament, but by 2001 he was demanding in a Guardian opinion piece that Whitehall consider abolishing the parliament, Dewar’s baby: “Scotland needs Whitehall at least to threaten repeal.  To demand less in the present climate would be unpatriotic.”

 

That article was mild, though, compared with one he wrote for the New Statesman that same year.  Entitled SCOTLAND RETURNS TO THE DARK AGES, he used it to blame devolution for releasing a tsunami of evils like homophobia, sectarianism, misogyny, racism and, er, the banning of fox-hunting.  In the civilised days before devolution unleashed the Scots’ inner beastliness, he wrote, such things had been ‘diluted by the soothing balm of the British state’.  Strangely enough, that article is no longer available on the New Statesman’s website.

 

Meanwhile, his twitter feed has been punctuated by tone-deaf pronouncements on Scotland that surely only appeal to a minority of ultra-Unionist Scots for whom 1690 is as important a year as 1707.  I remember him expressing horror at the Scottish government punting a few million pounds towards the promotion of the Gaelic language; or retweeting a video of Ross Thomson – the demented hard-Brexiting, Boris-worshipping Tory ex-MP for Aberdeen South – professing his undying love for the United Kingdom amid a thicket of Union Jacks.  I wonder what will happen if Scotland becomes independent.  Poor Tim’s head will probably explode like the guy’s head did at the beginning of David Cronenberg’s Scanners (1981).

 

But onto 2021.  Tim landed himself in hot water when, as head of South College at Durham University, he invited his old mate and colleague Rod Liddle to give a speech at a ‘college formal’ event in early December.  He and Liddle have known each other since 1985 and worked together on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme.  Indeed, in 2010, Tim wrote a Guardian piece in support of Liddle’s candidacy to become editor of the Independent newspaper.  This was a prospect that alarmed many readers of the reasonably-liberal Independent because Liddle had earned himself a reputation for being misogynistic, homophobic and racist.  Pretty much all the things Tim once accused the Scottish parliament of being.

 

From twitter.com/sunapology

 

Liddle is a ‘columnist’ – i.e., gobshite-provocateur – with the Spectator, Sun and Sunday Times and even by the standards of the gobshite-provocateurs that infest the pages of Britain’s mostly right-wing press, forever seeking new ways to upset people, the charge-sheet against him is disproportionately long.  Here’s just a few of his low-points.  He was a pig towards Labour politician Harriet Harman.  (“So – Harriet Harman, then.  Would you?  I mean after a few beers obviously, not while you were sober.”  In his Guardian puff-piece about Liddle, Tim euphemistically described this remark as ‘not gallant’.)  He mocked another female Labour MP, Rosie Duffield, for speaking out about verbal abuse and humiliation she’d received from a former partner – “the sobbing and oppressed Rosie ‘MeToo’ Duffield”.  He’s complained about the Conservative party not being Islamophobic enough and suggested that elections be held on days when “Muslims are forbidden to do anything on pain of hell.”  He’s raved about “black savages”.  He’s dismissed Welsh language activists as “miserable, seaweed-munching, sheep-bothering pinch-faced hill-tribes”.  He’s explained: “…the one thing that stopped me from being a teacher was that I could not remotely conceive of not trying to shag the kids.”  And so on, and so forth.

 

When Liddle stood up at the event and launched into a speech filled with his predictably reactionary schtick – jokes about sex workers, comments about trans-women having ‘long, dangling penises’ and the charming hypothesis that British colonialism never did anyone any harm because its subjects weren’t intelligent anyway – members of the student audience started walking out.  Tim, tigerish about defending everyone’s right to freedom of expression, and everyone’s right to have Rod Liddle inflicted upon them, reportedly shouted at them that they were ‘pathetic’.  There’s also video footage in circulation on twitter showing Tim arguing with students after the event.  Meanwhile, his wife Dorothy Luckhurst, who might have been slightly over-refreshed at the time, can be seen shouting at those students things like, “I think you are an arse…  Arse, arse, arse, arse, arse…!  Arse, arse, arse, arse, arse…!”

 

From twitter.com/RDuskedd

 

Did Tim honestly believe that he could invite Liddle onto a university campus and there wouldn’t be trouble?  He must be a bit thick.  Or maybe he was deliberately trying to stir up a hornet’s nest – which, if that was the case, he succeeded in doing.

 

I’m actually not a fan of censorship by the left, in the form of ‘no-platforming’, ‘cancel culture’ or whatever you want to call it.  That’s because I’d always assumed censorship was an instrument used by the right and there was no excuse for the left to use it too.  But there’s a time and place for debates where extreme views, offensive to many, can be aired and argued with.  And the event at South College was clearly neither the time nor place.  For one thing, the attendees had paid ten pounds a head to be there and hadn’t been warned in advance that the entertainment included Rod ‘shag the kids’ Liddle.  If I’d been present, I’d have walked out too when Liddle started spewing his crap at me – just as I’d have done in the 1980s or 1990s if I’d bought a ticket for what I expected to be a mild-mannered comedy night and then Bernard Manning had lumbered on stage and started cracking jokes about ‘darkies’ and ‘poofs’ and ‘Paddies’.  And incidentally, isn’t walking out a legitimate form of expression in itself?  Especially when, as with Liddle’s audience, you don’t have access to a microphone.

 

It’s fascinating how Tim, and the whole media / political establishment that he’s a member of, claim to be champions of free speech when there’s a danger that people might stop listening to right-wing establishment opinions.  Yet it’s pretty difficult in Britain, if you interact with the media in anyway at all, not to be assailed relentlessly by right-wing opinions.  There’s the front-page headlines of reactionary rags like the Sun, Mail and Express screaming at you daily from the newsstands.  There’s the now completely cowed and broken-backed BBC parroting the right-wing agenda of the press when it does its morning newspaper round-ups.  There’s a seemingly endless parade of right-wing pundits from Nigel Farage downwards (and Farage is pretty far down already) getting platforms on TV news channels.  If Tim and co. are so desperate about promoting freedom of expression and making people experience views they wouldn’t otherwise hear, shouldn’t they be trying to expose hardcore readers of the Sun, Mail and Express to the opinions of Owen Jones, George Monbiot, Laurie Penny, John Pilger, Naomi Klein and Noam Chomsky?  Well, they should, but I’m not holding my breath.

 

Currently, following a storm of Liddle-related protests, Tim has been parked on the naughty step at Durham University while his employers decide what action, if any, should be taken against him.  But even if he’s shown the door, I’m sure that a lucrative future awaits him at one of Britain’s countless right-wing news and / or opinion outlets, which will take him to its bosom as a martyr to the cause of freedom of (right-wing) speech and as a blameless victim of horrible, lefty, woke, cancel culture.

 

Now that his old nemesis Andrew Neil has left the building, I could even see him ending up at GB News.  He could form a double act with Neil Oliver, where they both whinge and gurn about the ghastliness of modern-day Scotland under the leadership of Nicola Sturgeon and how the Scots need their uncivilised natures to be ‘diluted by the soothing balm of the British state’.  Meanwhile, Tim’s better half could get a gig there as well.  Perhaps Talking Pints with Nigel Farage?

Tears of an ermine gown

 

From the Daily Record

 

For reasons of preserving my sanity, I’ve avoided writing about politics lately.  That includes the politics of my old homeland, Scotland.  However, I feel compelled to type a few words on the topic thanks to the coverage given to a recent interview with Jack McConnell.  Oops, sorry, I’ve misnamed him.  It should be Baron Jack McConnell of Glenscorrodale.  The twitter handle he’s given himself is @LordMcConnell, so evidently these titles are important to him.  Baron McConnell was First Minister of Scotland from 2001 to 2007 and the last First Minister to belong to the Scottish Labour Party.

 

Last week, Baron McConnell was interviewed in the Scottish current affairs magazine Holyrood and had plenty to say about the current state of Scottish politics which, since he was nudged out of power by Alex Salmond’s Scottish National Party in 2007, have been dominated by the SNP.  The Baron is not happy at what he sees.  He laments that nothing has changed in Scotland since the 2014 referendum on independence (which, of course, his side won), laments that modern Scottish politics has ‘no public debate and no public accountability’, and pines for the good old days ‘of ministers doing their jobs well’.

 

Indeed, so strongly does he feel that at one point the interviewer notes, “McConnell’s voice starts to break and his eyes well up.”  “Sorry,” he says, “I’m feeling quite emotional about it right now…  I genuinely feel like we are stuck in treacle and I don’t know how we get out of it.”

 

Commentators in Scotland’s (heavily unionist) mainstream media have seized upon the article as both an articulation and confirmation of all that’s ghastly about modern-day Scotland, which has had the SNP in power for the past 14 years now and is currently under the First Ministership of Nicola Sturgeon.  In the Rupert Murdoch-owned Times, for instance, pundit Kenny Farquharson wrote, “I challenge anyone, of any political stripe, to read this interview with Jack McConnell and not find themselves agreeing with at least some of his analysis of where Scotland finds itself right now.”  And in the New Statesman, Chris Deerin opined about Jack – sorry, Baron! – McConnell’s outpouring, “Coming from a politician who is known for his optimism and problem-solving approach, and who rarely lacks a twinkle in his eye, the anguish is all the more powerful.  And it is very hard to disagree with anything.”

 

Incidentally, Deerin has form in lambasting Scotland’s prevailing political orthodoxy.  In 2015, in the right-wing online news outlet CapX, he wrote that the place “has become a soft and sappy nation, intellectually listless, coddled, a land of received wisdom and one-track minds, narrow parameters and mass groupthink…  It is certainly the viewpoint that dominates our polity and media – an unholy alliance of Nationalists, Greens and socialists. I’m sure many consider themselves to be all three.”  I find it mind-melting that the left-leaning New Statesman saw fit to make him its Scotland Editor.

 

Baron McConnell apparently bewails a lack of vision in modern Scottish politics, though I’m surprised that someone with his broad vision doesn’t acknowledge the fact that in the last decade, by way of being part of the United Kingdom, Scotland has had to deal with the austerity cuts imposed by David Cameron and George Osborne, and then the vote to leave the European Union (powered by anti-European votes in England – every part of Scotland voted to remain in the EU) and its ongoing, toxic legacy, and the Covid-19 epidemic.  Not to mention that the UK as a whole is currently governed by a set of Conservative politicians whose moral compass seems to be the same one that Al Capone referred to in the 1920s.  I doubt even a Scottish government with impeccable Unionist / Labour credentials headed by the noble Baron himself would appear particularly dynamic having all that to contend with.  So, it seems a bit myopic of him to overlook it.  Unless, of course, he’s just being disingenuous.

 

From angelfire.com

 

Also, when I think back to the supposed golden age of public debate, and public accountability, and ministers doing their jobs well, and not being stuck in treacle – i.e., Baron McConnell’s tenure as First Minister – I can’t remember much that was outstanding.  Well, apart from the ban on smoking in public places, the first such ban implemented in one of the constituent nations of the UK, which made life pleasanter and healthier for non-smokers like myself who liked to visit the pub sometimes.  But otherwise, I just remember him making an arse of himself by wearing a pinstriped kilt to a charity fashion show in New York in 2004.  (Even my old Dad, not normally one to get worked up about Scottish politics, exclaimed, “Christ, what an embarrassment!”).  Oh, and a stushie about him and his family holidaying in Majorca with Kirsty Wark, a senior journalist at the supposedly impartial BBC.  And his enthusiasm for promoting Public Finance Initiatives which, by 2016, were projected to cost Scottish taxpayers some 30 billion pounds during the decades to come.  And the fact that one year he returned 1.5 billion pounds of devolved money to the London treasury, when there were clearly things in Scotland he could have spent it on.

 

Still, Baron McConnell must have fond memories of those years.  A staunch Blairite, he had the satisfaction of knowing his smiley, warmongering hero was ensconced in Number Ten, Downing Street.  Also, the Labour Party was massively powerful in Scottish local politics, and it held the lion’s share of Scottish seats in the Westminster Parliament too.  Labour were the top dogs in Scotland.  This was their territory.  No wonder political commentators joked that Labour votes in Scotland were weighed rather than counted; and in Glasgow you could stick a red rosette on a monkey and it’d get voted into Westminster.

 

Actually, looking at the evidence, the red rosette / monkey scenario must have actually happened in a number of cases.  I’m thinking of such specimens as Lanark and Hamilton East’s one-time Labour MP Jimmy Hood, who once declared he’d oppose Scottish independence even if it made the Scottish people better off – the fact that as an MP he was busy claiming £1000-a-month second-home expenses in London no doubt had something to do with his keenness to keep Westminster running the show.  And Midlothian’s David Hamilton, who in 2015 did his bit for the battle against sexism by describing Nicola Sturgeon (and her hairstyle) as “the wee lassie with a tin helmet on”.  And Glasgow South West’s Ian Davidson, who charmingly predicted that after 2014’s referendum on Scottish independence the debate would carry on only “in the sense there is a large number of wounded still to be bayoneted”.  This shower became known as the ‘low-flying Jimmies’ because of their lack of ambition in anything other than being cannon-fodder for Labour at Westminster and enjoying all the perks that came with being MPs.  And with numpties like these populating the Westminster opposition benches during the 1980s and 1990s, it’s no surprise Mrs Thatcher’s Tories had a free run to do whatever they liked in Scotland.

 

Yes, I know, in 1999, early in Blair’s premiership, Labour did set up the devolved Scottish Parliament in Edinburgh.  But I’m sure it was seen as a means of keeping additional numbers of loyal Scottish Labour Party hacks in lucrative employment and was designed not to rock the boat in any way for London.  The Scottish parliament was organised so that no party (i.e., the SNP) could never win an outright majority in it and its ruling executive would always have to be a coalition.  And the biggest party in any coalition, Blair and co. assumed, would always be the Scottish Labour Party.

 

It was a shock for Labour when in 2007 the SNP won the biggest number of seats in the Scottish parliament, eschewed coalitions and ran Scotland for the next four years as a minority administration.  It was an even bigger shock for them when in 2011 the SNP achieved the impossible and managed to win an overall majority of seats there.  Hadn’t Labour’s finest minds arranged things so that this would never happen?  And things got even worse in 2015 when, with the Scottish party led by the hapless Jim Murphy, Labour lost 40 of its 41 MPs to the SNP in a Westminster election.  Yes, it must’ve been tough for poor old Labour to witness all that.  There’s nothing worse than having a sense of entitlement and then not getting what you believe you’re entitled to.

 

From unsplash.com / © Serena Repice Lentini

 

Baron McConnell is a good example of a particularly rotten aspect of the Scottish Labour experience.  Secure a seat in the London or Edinburgh parliaments, follow orders, doff your cap to your masters, and after a few decades of loyal service you’ll get the ultimate reward – a peerage.  Scotland was meant to be not only Labour’s stomping ground, its fiefdom, but also its station of departure for a gravy train running all the way to the House of Lords.  These days, in the Lords, the second largest legislative chamber in the world after the Chinese National People’s Congress – which is about as democratic – the good Baron of Glenscorrodale gets to rub ermine-clad shoulders with such other Scottish Labour luminaries as Baron George Foulkes of Cumnock, Baron George Robertson of Port Ellon and Baron Alastair Darling of Roulanish.

 

No doubt he also enjoys a chinwag with the Margaret Thatcher-worshipping former Secretary of State for Scotland Michael Forsyth, who was supposedly booted out of power in 1997 – I can’t remember his title, but I assume it’s something like Lord Freddy of Krueger – and another of Chris Deerin’s heroes, the former Scottish Conservative Party leader Ruth Davidson, whom I believe nowadays calls herself Baroness Colonel Davidson of Jar-Jar Binks.  Obviously, there are plenty of former Conservative Party treasurers to fraternise with as well.  Accountability, eh?

 

In the Holyrood interview Baron McConnell talks about how in the Labour party “there was an absolute commitment to the redistributive nature of the UK.”  But isn’t that the real reason for mediocrity and poverty of imagination in Scotland?  Isn’t it the message that Scots have to stay in the UK because their country is a basket case and their wealthy neighbour – well, part of it, London – has to continually redistribute money to them?  Wouldn’t it be wiser in the long run to remove the dependency set-up, through independence, and give Scots the powers to make their own decisions, implement their own courses of action, make their own mistakes and hopefully learn from them?  But that would necessitate dismantling the cosy British constitutional system that the Baron and his friends currently do so well out of.

 

Ironically, there is a part of the UK where the local Labour Party doesn’t feel obligated to kowtow to London and is prepared to do its own thing.  I refer to the Labour Party in Wales, whose leader Mark Drakeford bucked the dismal losing trend set by Labour in England and Scotland and won the biggest number of seats in the Welsh Senedd election earlier this year.  During the Covid-19 pandemic, Drakeford has won plaudits by refusing to work in lockstep with London – which I suspect Baron McConnell would have done, had he still been Scottish First Minister.  Instead, Drakeford has followed his own instincts and implemented health measures he thinks are appropriate for Wales.

 

From wikipedia.org / © Conference of Peripheral Maritime Regions

 

Just the other day, it was announced that Drakeford’s party has come to an agreement with Plaid Cymru, the Welsh pro-independence party, so that legislation can be passed smoothly in almost 50 policy areas.  Could you imagine a similar agreement being reached in Edinburgh?  No way.  Not with the idiotic ‘Bain Principle’ still holding sway, and Scottish Labour being so obsequious to their head office in London, who would frown on any moves by Labour in Scotland that might not play well with voters in England.   Plus, some Scottish Labour members would sooner chainsaw off their legs at the knees than have anything to do with the hated SNP, those frustraters of their sense of entitlement, those derailers of their gravy train.

No country for young men

 

From unsplash.com / © Piret Ilver

 

Reading last week’s news reports from the United Kingdom, I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry.  The media minister John Whittingdale reached levels of daftness I thought were beyond even Boris Johnson’s Conservative government when he declared at the Royal Television Society Convention that the BBC, ITV and Channel 4 should make television programmes that ‘showcase British culture’ and ‘reflect Britain and British values’.  However, subsequent plans set out by the spectacularly useless Brexit minister Lord Frost that would allow shops, supermarkets and market stalls to sell their wares using old imperial measurements went rocketing into even higher parts of the stratosphere of stupidity.

 

I’ll talk about the measurements first.  The Conservatives are well aware that the bulk of their support lies among people who are older, more set in their ways, more likely to have acquired property and savings and more susceptible to fearmongering baloney from the Daily Mail and Daily Express about socialists wanting to redistribute their wealth.  So, I suppose Conservative Party apparatchiks believe they’re appealing to this constituency and its sense of nostalgia by bringing back the good, old-fashioned ounces, pounds, quarts, pints, inches, feet, etc., that were the units of measurement in their youth.  But hold on.  I’m now closer to sixty than I am to fifty and even I can’t remember a time when I measured things and made calculations using the imperial system.

 

When I was a kid at primary school in the early 1970s, it was the metric system I learned about – millimetres and centimetres, metres and kilometres, millilitres and litres, grammes and kilogrammes.  And it was really easy.  Everything was organised in tens, hundreds and thousands.  Even if you had neutron-star levels of denseness when it came to maths, you knew that to multiply something by tens, hundreds or thousands you just added one, two or three noughts to the number in question.

 

My parents, I have to admit, struggled to get their heads round the metric system.  This astonished me.  Just a couple of years earlier, they’d happily been performing mental gymnastics every time they went into a shop and used the UK’s pre-decimalisation currency system that had – yikes – one pound consisting of 240 pennies.  Also, I remember watching an early episode of the saucy department-store sitcom Are You Being Served? (1972-85) wherein battle-axe sales assistant Mrs Slocombe was so confused by centimetres that she called them ‘centipedes’.  Wow, I thought.  Mrs Slocombe must be really thick.

 

From nowthatsnifty.blogspot.com / © BBC

 

And what do I know of the imperial system today?  Well, words like ‘miles’, ‘stones’ and of course ‘pints’ are ingrained on my vocabulary because they never disappeared from British road-signs, weighing scales or pub-menus.  But like most people my age and younger, I suspect, how these units fit together is a mystery to me.  I know there are twelves inches in a foot, because inches and feet were marked along the bottom side of my school ruler, which had 30 centimetres marked along the top side that I measured things and drew straight lines with.  And I know there are 14 pounds in a stone… or is it 16?

 

But the rest is just baffling.  The relationship between feet, yards, chains, furlongs and miles?  I haven’t a scooby.  (Okay, having just checked the Internet, I can report there are three feet in a yard, 22 yards in a chain, ten chains in a furlong and eight furlongs in a mile.)  Between stones, hundredweights and tons?  No bloody idea.  (Again, having checked: 14 pounds make a stone, 112 pounds make a hundredweight and 2240 pounds make a ton.)  Gills, pints, quarts and gallons?  I’m totally clueless.  (In fact: four gills make a pint, two pints a quart and four quarts a gallon.)

 

So, anyway.  The British government is about to give retail businesses the go-ahead to inflict upon their customers an archaic system of measurements that the majority of Britons under the age of 60 don’t understand and, even if they did, would find migraine-inducingly difficult to calculate in…  All part of the impeccable logic of 2021 Brexit Britain.

 

From unsplash.com / © Edson Rosas

 

I suppose John Whittingdale’s proposals about British TV programmes having to contain a quota of ‘Britishness’ make slightly more sense because fewer young people nowadays watch ‘linear’ TV – i.e., programmes that are broadcast on a particular channel according to a pre-determined schedule.  The traditional, old-fashioned sort of telly that the politicians are obviously thinking about here is watched by an older and more conservative demographic, so having programmes with a more patriotic slant would probably go down well with many of the viewers.  But that’s not to say that the concept isn’t idiotic.

 

The examples Whittingdale cited of TV shows that reflect ‘Britain and British values’ include The Great British Bake-Off (2010-present) – well, I suppose the clue is in the name; the Carry On films, which, oddly enough, aren’t actual TV shows at all, but films; Only Fools and Horses, a sitcom that started in 1981 and ended its run as a series in 1991, three decades ago; and, surprise, museum-piece drama Downton Abbey (2010-11), created by Julian Fellowes, now incidentally a Conservative peer in the House of Lords, and which the late A.A. Gill once memorably described in the Sunday Times as “everything I despise and despair of on British television: National Trust sentimentality, costumed comfort drama that flogs an embarrassing, demeaning, and bogus vision of the place I live in.”

 

The idea of promoting ‘Britishness’ and ‘British values’ in TV programmes shatters into tiny, ridiculous pieces the moment you think about it.  Being British is something that applies (whether they like it or not) to Diane Abbot, Monica Ali, Alan Bennett, Anjem Choudary, Jeremy Clarkson, Nick Cohen, Arlene Foster, Armando Iannucci, Ken Loach, Val McDermid, Sir Steve McQueen, Meera Syal, Peter Tatchell, Gok Wan and Leanne Wood.  It applies to the current darling of the British media, the British-Romanian-Chinese-Canadian tennis player Emma Raducanu and, God help us, to Jacob Rees Mogg.  Good luck with finding common values among that lot.  Not that these disparities matter to Whittingdale and his government colleagues, who seem to believe being British means either being a toff with oodles of money, servants and a cut-glass accent – as represented by Downton Abbey – or being a working-class Cockney who likes a bit of a ‘laff’ (see Only Fools and Horses) and a bit of good-natured smut (see Carry On Up the Double Entendre or whatever).

 

From Gold / © BBC

 

Still, something in Whittingdale’s reptile brain made him realise there were people in the UK who didn’t fall into these two categories.  Presumably, this was why he cited the Northern Irish comedy Derry Girls (2018-2019) as another example of Great British programming.  If it was an example of that, though, shouldn’t it be called Londonderry Girls?

 

I suppose the thinking is, with the idiotic and Tory-approved decision to leave the European Union subjecting Britain to food shortages, jacking up its energy prices and wrecking its farming, retailing and other industries, the government needs a distraction.  Especially, it needs to distract the elderly folk most likely to vote for them.  Thus, they promote garbage like this in the hope it’ll kindle a rosy, agreeable glow of nostalgia in such folk.  And, with a bit of luck, it’ll enflame them too, making them believe the government is waging a culture war on their behalf against horrible, woke Marxists and anarchists who want to destroy the British way of life by using centimetres and kilogrammes and dismissing Downton Abbey as a pile of cobwebbed shite.

 

Incidentally, in the same vein, here are the moves I expect Boris Johnson’s ministers to announce next:

 

  • Banning all computer games whilst bringing back the patriotic British World War II comics of the 1970s. Instead of rotting their brains playing Assassin’s Creed Valhalla or Batman: Arkham City, British kids will develop some proper red, white and blue grit by reading about the adventures of D-Day Dawson in Battle and Union Jack Jackson in Victor, once a week, on cheap crinkly paper whose ink comes off on their hands.

 

 

  • Bringing in new laws to enforce the wearing of patriotic, and groovy, British fashions like platform shoes, bell-bottoms, plaid jackets, wide-lapel shirts, turtlenecks, cravats and long, lank greasy hair, so that everyone looks like a character in a 1970s Pete Walker horror movie.

 

  • Abolishing health and safety rules so that children can once again experience the adventure and thrill of playing around railway cuttings, disused canals, electrical sub-stations, slurry pits and tracts of dark and lonely water, like (the survivors of) their grandparents’ generation used to do.

 

From nationarchives.gov.uk

 

  • Bringing back hanging. To be honest, I’m not joking now.  With Priti Patel as Home Secretary, I can see this happening.

Believing their own Ka-bul

 

© Nations Online Project

 

I’ve watched the copious, vivid and harrowing news footage of the chaos in Kabul while the USA and its allies attempt to end their occupation of Afghanistan and withdraw. I’ve also listened to the reactions of Western politicians and political pundits to that chaos.  Not for the first time, I find myself thinking of the lines from the poem To a Louse by Robert Burns: “O wad some pow’r the giftie gie us / To see oursels as ithers see us! / It wad frae mony a blunder free us / An’ foolish notion…”

 

In standard English: “Oh would some power the gift give us / To see ourselves as others see us / It would from many a blunder free us / And foolish notion…”  I suspect that if governments could see their policies as others see them and, indeed, if all human beings could see themselves as others see them, the world would be a far better place.

 

Before I continue, let me make a few things clear.  I don’t think the USA and its allies were sensible or indeed, had much right, to go into Afghanistan in the first place.  This was especially since the Taliban were willing to hand over Osamu Bin Laden, whose masterminding of 9 / 11 had sparked the war and invasion in late 2001.  And yes, I accept that the Taliban were and no doubt still are a bunch of bad bastards.  But if George W. Bush, Tony Blair and co. were really serious about usurping them, and replacing them with a functioning democracy, and transforming a country as notoriously hostile to outside influence as Afghanistan into a modern nation, they should have invested huge amounts of capital, manpower and infrastructure once they’d taken over.

 

But of course, any chance of that happening evaporated as soon as Bush, Blair, etc., drunk on their own military firepower, steamed into Iraq.  While the Iraqi debacle unfolded, diverting attention and devouring resources, Afghanistan was neglected and left to fester.  Anyway, as they say, that’s all academic now.

 

I also see the handling of the withdrawal as a fiasco. The fiasco includes the mind-melting ineptitude of the current incumbent in Blair’s old job, Boris Johnson, who thought the falling of the city of Kandahar into Taliban hands would be a good moment to pop off to Somerset for a holiday; and of his ultra-hapless Foreign Minister, Dominic Raab, who apparently felt consolidating his tan at a five-star beach hotel in Crete was more important than getting on the phone and attempting to help evacuate Afghan interpreters who’d been working with British forces.

 

And the predicament that many Afghans find themselves in, those who’ve worked or had dealings with the Western powers and their troops, institutions and agencies during the occupation since 2001, is a tragedy.  The West didn’t so much as build a nation in Afghanistan as erect a house of cards, and clearly little thought was given to the fate of the West’s local employees and clients should that house of cards collapse and control revert to a vengeful Taliban.

 

The fact that the situation was a house of cards must have been blindingly obvious to anyone bothering to take a smidgeon of an interest in Afghanistan over the last two decades.  I’ve known a few people who’ve worked there or had to visit it, and their descriptions – of having to undergo lengthy safety / security / survival courses before being allowed anywhere near the place, of being ensconced almost 24/7 in fortified bunkers cheek-by-jowl with battalions of Gurkha soldiers, of being cocooned inside the armour of military vehicles and helicopters when they did venture outside – made it sound like a surreal experience, part Fort Knox, part Siege of Ceuta, part Alice in Wonderland.  How could any society where outsiders felt so unsafe that they had to behave like this be considered sustainable, let alone normal?

 

Not only has there been little preparation made for evacuating the West’s Afghan colleagues and clients in the event of the unmentionable – inevitable? – happening and their suddenly becoming targets.  There’s been little willpower too, which is unsurprising given the reluctance of Western politicians, as exemplified by British Home Secretary Priti Patel, to countenance the entry of large numbers of refugees into their countries.

 

Incidentally, I wasn’t surprised at the excuse I heard for why certain groups of Afghans shouldn’t be helped to flee the country and escape to Britain. This was because, it transpired, they hadn’t actually been employed by the British Embassy, British NGOs, British companies, whatever. No, they’d only been employed by outsourced contractors that these British agencies had drawn upon.  They themselves weren’t really British employees.  (At least now, in the face of public revulsion, this abhorrent attitude seems to be changing.)

 

Subcontracting is the great ‘get-out-of-jail’ card employed by Western outfits working in the developing world.  On one hand they can loudly proclaim their Western, democratic values.  On the other hand, they use the subcontracting argument to avoid paying many local people working for them anything like a decent, livable wage, avoid giving them proper workers’ rights, and so on.

 

Many Western politicians and commentators have lamented about these people being thrown to the wolves, and rightly so.  But there’s also a massive hole in the narratives they’ve been spinning.  They make it sound like the withdrawal has been a betrayal of everyone in Afghanistan and now the entire Afghan population is wailing piteously as the Taliban prepare to take over again.

 

Really?  I have no doubt that the occupation benefited a small section of the population, in the cities.  However, it’s enlightening to read this article from 2020 on foreignpolicy.com that takes an all-too-credible look at rural Afghanistan, at the region of Nangahar to be precise, where Trump had the devastating MOAB bomb deployed in 2017.  The journalist interviews a young local man who’s just decided to throw his lot in with the Taliban.  “Omari’s family is part of the 90 percent of Afghanistan that lives below the national poverty line of $2 per day, according to the Afghan Ministry of Economy. Three-quarters of Afghans live in rural areas, where even basic services are in short supply; the Ministry of Education this month revealed that 7,000 schools across the country don’t actually have buildings…” Omari views the existing government as corrupt and expresses what seems to be a widespread belief that having the Taliban in charge at least can’t make things any worse than they are now.

 

One analyst quoted in the article describes Afghans’ reasons for enlisting in the Taliban thus: “In large part, recruitment seems to stem from family and tight community connections… Individual motivations are extremely diverse and range from revenge against the government or foreign occupiers for killed relatives or comrades to limited alternative opportunities in some regions to recruiting pressure from the organization.”

 

“…revenge… for killed relatives or comrades…”  Many Western politicians and pundits seem neurotic in their desire to avoid any possibility that their forces in Afghanistan were anything other than the ‘good guys’.  No doubt many servicemen and servicewomen from the US, UK and elsewhere believed they were in Afghanistan to make things better for the people living there.  Yet there’s plentiful evidence to suggest ordinary Afghans had reasons for not viewing their supposed Western liberators as angels.  There are specific reasons – see last year’s Brereton Report in Australia, which suggests some 39 Afghan civilians were murdered by Australian special forces. There are general ones too – for instance, a US study indicated that approximately 700 Afghan civilians were killed in airstrikes by the US and its allies in 2019 alone.

 

In addition, the West was determined (though it utterly failed) to wipe out Afghanistan’s opium / heroin trade, which in 2018 accounted for a third of the country’s GDP.  Opium poppies were the country’s biggest cash crop by far.  This can’t have endeared Western forces to Afghan farmers, especially as the countries sending those forces did little to rethink their own drug policies, which inadvertently fueled the demand for and drove the profits of the trade.

 

From unsplash.com / © Tim Cooper

 

“You can’t,” some Western strategists might say glibly, “make an omelette without breaking eggs.”  Or as the recently-departed, presumably now-roasting-in-hell Donald Rumsfeld once put it, “Stuff happens.”  But the carnage and the attendant shoulder-shrugging did nothing to win those all-important Afghan hearts and minds.

 

At the moment there’s an awful lot of breast-beating going on about the turn of events in Afghanistan. But I suspect those Western breast-beaters would be in for a shock if they saw themselves as many ordinary Afghans see them just now.

Scotland or Not-land?

 

From unsplash.com / © Stewart M

 

Most people in Scotland last week were disappointed, though probably not greatly surprised, to see their national team get a drubbing in the first round of the Euro 2021 tournament.  However, I suspect not everyone in Scotland was sad to see the team fail.

 

One person I’m sure was delighted was the Scottish, but very British-nationalist, blogger Effie Deans, who before the start of the tournament had tweeted a picture of a past Scotland-England football match and demanded angrily, “Why are there international matches between parts of the same country?” Similarly, I imagine certain fans of Glasgow Rangers, a football club whose culture revolves around such British symbols as the Queen and the Union Jack, weren’t sorry to see the Scottish national team flop.  Indeed, an article in the Daily Record newspaper on July 8th confirmed that some Rangers fans were unwilling to support Scotland during Euro 2021.

 

For Deans and a certain segment of the Rangers faithful, the belief seems to be that if you regard your country primarily as Britain, then you can’t support Scotland.  In fact, acknowledging Scotland on an international stage is damaging to your sense of Britishness and shouldn’t be encouraged.  Scotland?  No, it’s Not-land.

 

It’s not just in sport.  The idea that Scotland might have its own culture and languages is anathema to some people.  The right-wing Spectator magazine has printed pieces by embittered Scottish Daily Mail columnist Stephen Daisley and uptight Scottish composer James MacMillan complaining that (a) Scottish culture is infantile and embarrassing; but (b) if you’re stupid enough to be into Scottish culture, you’re somehow a Mussolini-type fascist too.  Amusingly, after MacMillan complained – falsely, because the man has actually won a number of Scottish awards – about Glaswegian novelist Andrew O’Hagan being cold-shouldered by the Scottish arts establishment for not being sufficiently supportive of Scottish independence, O’Hagan began, in the wake of the Brexit referendum, making favorable noises about Scotland becoming independent.

 

Particularly nasty has been the abuse aimed at the Scottish Gaelic and Scots languages.  Right-wing unionist twitter in Scotland is a constant whinge-fest about road-signs having names printed in Gaelic as well as in English.  Effie Deans again, complaining about travelling to Fort William last year: “The number of times I missed my turning made me wish the signs were in one language or the other, but not both…”  Well, dear, maybe try reading the parts of the signs that are written in the language you understand?

 

Meanwhile, dodgy, right-wing Unionist political carpetbagger George Galloway – at least, he’s right-wing when he’s in Scotland trying to hoover up Conservative votes; when he’s in England he campaigns as a left-wing man of the people – recently caused a pile-on on Scots-language poet Len Pennie after he made disparaging remarks on twitter about her and the medium in which she works.  And a few years back, Jackie Kay, Scotland’s Machar (poet laureate) received brickbats when one of her Scots-language poems was among the items given to new mothers as part of Scotland’s ‘baby box’ initiative.  “A woman from Bishopbriggs, writing doggerel,” sneered Ian Smart, prominent social media presence and self-styled ‘lefty lawyer’ and ‘Scottish Labour Party hack’.

 

Again, among many Scottish people who don’t see Scotland as a country but as a region, or as a big glorified county, of the mightier and more majestic entity that is the United Kingdom, there’s a conviction that Scottish culture can’t be real.  Accepting the existence of Scottish culture implies the place being different from the rest of the UK.  Therefore, culturally, there’s no such thing as Scotland either.  It’s Not-land.

 

From youtube.com

 

Predictably, the fact that there’s now a Scottish parliament in existence, separate from the parliament in London, is something that drives many British-loyal Scots to distraction, especially when the past 14 years have seen it run by a party, the Scottish National Party, dedicated to pulling Scotland out of their beloved UK.  Particularly guaranteed to make them gnash their teeth and froth at the mouth is any suggestion that the Scottish government, like the Scottish football team, might be recognized on an international level.  The moment First Minister Nicola Sturgeon pronounces on some international matter or dares to show her face at some international conference, Scottish twitter is raging with indignant people who have Union Jacks in their profiles (and usually the words ‘Rangers’ and the acronym ‘WATP’, which a Glasgow-Celtic-supporting friend assures me stands for ‘We adore the Pope’) slavering about her having ‘ideas above her station’ and being just the head of a ‘wee parish council’, and not knowing ‘her place’.  Can’t she see that she isn’t the First Minister of Scotland, but that of Not-land?

 

This desire to erase the concept of Scotland from everyone’s consciousness is, it has to be said, one that’s been exhibited lately by the British government too.  British diplomats have been ordered to stop talking about the ‘four nations’ of the UK and talk about it as a single country only, while supermarkets have seen a recent craze for plastering Union Jacks over foodstuffs made in Scotland.  Meanwhile, Prime Minister Boris Johnson, that symbol of everything decent, moral, honest and faithful about dear old Blighty, was heard bragging that at the upcoming COP26 climate summit in Glasgow he was going to slather the event in Union Jacks and wouldn’t allow Nicola Sturgeon anywhere near it.

 

Just last Friday, Johnson’s education minster urged schools across the UK to honour something called One Britain, One Nation Day, wherein schoolchildren were made to sing a song, specially composed for the occasion, that ended with the four-times-repeated refrain: “Strong Britain, great nation!”  Though considering what’d come to light by Friday, I suspect the savvier kids had changed the words to: “Matt Hancock, penetration!”  Unfortunately, hopes that this would convert all Scottish children to worshipping Winston Churchill, Spitfires and the Union Jack were dashed by the fact that in Scotland most schools had broken up for the summer holidays the day before.

 

This strikes me as ironic because I’m old enough to remember a time in Scotland when it was perfectly possible for many people, possibly even a majority of people, to wear their Scottish identity as proudly as they wore their British identity and segue effortlessly from one to the other even when it involved expressing contradictory sentiments.  This meant they enthusiastically supported Scottish sports teams, enthusiastically recited Scots-language poetry by Robert Burns and, generally, enthusiastically indulged in all things Scottish: golf, whisky, tartan, ceilidhs, Highland games, etc.  Simultaneously, though, they thought the Royal Family were wonderful, cheered on the British Olympics team and got misty-eyed with nostalgia about how ‘we’, meaning Britain, had fought off the Nazis during World War II.

 

They also voted for anti-Scottish-independence political parties, mainly the Labour Party, although there was support for the Conservative Party too.  Scotland’s Tory MPs, incidentally, were experts at broadcasting a dual Scottish / British identity.  See Albert McQuarrie, MP for Banff and Buchan, who loved whisky and called himself the ‘Buchan Bulldog’; or Nicholas Fairbairn, the tartan-swathed representative of Perth and Kinross.  Although McQuarrie worshipped the ground Margaret Thatcher walked on, I think he was at heart a decent bloke.  Fairbairn, however, was a vile specimen.

 

When I look at Scottish right-wing / pro-British twitter, I see a common sentiment expressed in many of the profiles: “Hate what the SNP have done to Scotland!”  Which suggests that in the old days, before the SNP achieved political dominance, Scotland was a kinder, less partisan place.  But I remember it being far worse when there was no parliament, the SNP had only a handful of MPs and independence was regarded as a crazy pipe-dream.  In the 1980s, I recall crowds of Scottish rugby fans in pubs in Edinburgh, after international rugby matches, coming out with vehemently anti-English abuse that would probably get them arrested today.  Indeed, English rugby skipper Will Carling has terrible memories of playing in Edinburgh in 1991, when the Scottish Rugby Union decided to air the anthem Flower of Scotland, with its references to sending the English ‘homeward, to think again,’ before the start of the match.  There was, he claimed, “more noise, more patriotism – more hatred – than I have ever experienced”.  Yet many of these Scottish rugby enthusiasts were well-to-do and would have voted Tory. The prospect of an independent Scotland would have horrified them.  Evidently, feeling British for a good part of the time was no barrier to you wanting to stick it to the English.

 

Incidentally, before the SNP took power in Scotland and even before the Scottish parliament was created, Scotland was still allowed near the international stage occasionally.  This was despite it being an era when Margaret Thatcher and then John Major ran Scotland from London with what at times seemed an imperious disdain you’d associate with a colonial governor.  For instance, in 1993, while I was living on the northern Japanese island of Hokkaido, I remember the Scottish Office sending a group of officials there for a special Hokkaido-Scotland link-up.  I blagged an invitation to the event through a Japanese colleague with political connections who’d later serve in the House of Representatives in the Japanese Diet.  Obviously, the Scottish group had the delicate job of talking up Scotland without commenting on the running of the place by their bosses, the British Conservative government, whom few Scottish people had voted for.  They remained impeccably straight-faced, non-committal and evasive when, during a panel discussion, my colleague raised the possibility of a devolved Scottish parliament being set up.  (Actually, I’d primed her to mention this.) Their masks only slipped, from blandness to dismay, at the reception afterwards.  Some hapless Hokkaido bigwig gave them a speech of welcome and told them how he loved “that great Scottish song, Danny Boy.

 

© James S. Kerr

 

I suspect the comfortable co-existence of Scottish and British loyalties was fostered largely by the military. The British Army’s Scottish regiments were canny in exploiting soldiers’ sense of Scottishness, decking them out in tartan and having them led by pipe bands, even while they defended and promoted Britain, the Crown and the Empire (an empire that, admittedly, the Scots did very well out of).  I found it fascinating in my youth to see how normally uppity and cantankerous Scotsmen would suddenly become deferential and forelock-tugging at the sound of a posh, officer-class, English accent.  However, cuts to the military budget have left the 21st century British Army a shadow of its former self and the old Scottish infantry regiments have been reduced to just one, the Royal Regiment of Scotland.  So that influence barely exists now.

 

Another thing that once made Scots feel proudly British, certainly working-class ones, was the existence of many nationalized industries that provided them with employment and had the name ‘British’ in their titles: British Coal, British Gas, British Rail, British Steel and so on.  These encouraged the idea that working-class Scots were toiling alongside their comrades in England and Wales for a common cause, for the good of a benign, fair, welfare-state-supporting UK.  Of course, that idea died a death when Thatcher, with her zeal for privatizing the British economy, arrived in power in the 1980s.

 

I’m not sure how this will end.  It may be that Scotland gets another shot at an independence referendum in the future and votes to go its own way.  Or it may be that the stringent British nationalism / unionism of the 21st century prevails and Scotland becomes merely a Union-Jack-swathed province at the rump-end of right-wing, post-Brexit Britain.  If the latter option happens, I expect Westminster to abolish the Scottish parliament at some point.  Not-land indeed.

 

But what’s isn’t an option now is the comfy middle-ground, the old fashioned, dual-loyalty, at-ease-with-both-worlds, Scottish / British identity.  As far as that’s concerned…  Well, to quote a well-kent Scottish anthem: “Those days are past now, and in the past, they must remain.”

 

From unsplash.com / © Kristina G.

The kraken’s un-woke

 

© BBC / From the Guardian

 

Are you one of those many British people who feels ‘underserved and unheard by their media’ because your politics are a wee bit to the right?  Are you hostile towards that trendy left-wing phenomenon called ‘wokeness’ and convinced that ‘the direction of news debate in Britain is increasingly woke and out of touch with the majority of its people’?

 

Yes, life must be horrible for you in 2021 Britain.  There’s absolutely nobody in the British media to defend your views because it’s all so hideously lefty and woke.  Well, except for the Daily Express.  And the Daily Mail, of course.  But aside from those two newspapers, there’s nobody…  Oh, and the Sun.  And the Daily Telegraph.  And the Spectator.  And a good chunk of the opinion pages of the Rupert Murdoch-owned Times.  But that’s it.

 

Meanwhile, with so many volleys of lefty, woke bullets whizzing around nowadays, there aren’t any right-wing commentators at all who’re bold enough to stick their heads above the parapet.  Apart from Toby Young, bless his baldy little socks.  And that feisty Julie Burchill.  And Jeremy Clarkson, James Delingpole, Darren Grimes, Daniel Hannon, Julia Hartley-Brewer, Katie Hopkins, Quentin Letts, Rod Liddle, Richard Littlejohn, Kelvin Mackenzie, Jan Moir, Tim Montgomerie, Charles Moore, Douglas Murray, Fraser Nelson, Brendan O’Neill, Alison Pearson, Melanie Phillips, Andrew Pierce and Sarah Vine.  And that plucky actor chappie, what’s his name?  Lawrence Fox?  Anyway, there’s only a tiny handful of brave right-wing holdouts against wokeness.  You can’t even include Piers Morgan among them.  Poor Piers used to be good on Good Morning Britain, but he’s been off the telly since his crusade against Meghan Markle, Woke Evil Personified, made him so angry that his head burst in a geyser of liquified gammon.

 

Thus, there’s hardly any media outlets or media people in Britain to defend your honest, decent, patriotic, right-wing sensibilities against the predations of the horrible, lefty, woke establishment.  That’s an establishment headed by Prime Minister Boris Johnson. That’s right, the shamelessly woke Boris ‘tank-topped bumboys’, ‘piccaninnies with watermelon smiles’, ‘Muslim-women-look-like-letterboxes’ Johnson.  An establishment run by a cadre of Marxist provocateurs like Priti Patel, Matt Hancock, Michael Gove and Dominic Raab, who’re forever up to no-good, lefty, woke activities such as imprisoning asylum seekers in pestilent hellholes, protecting statues of mass-murdering slave traders, wallpapering the rooms where they do Zoom calls with Union Jacks, and doing anything up to and including eating live cockroaches and hammering rusty nails into their eyeballs to prove their loyalty to Her Majesty the Queen.

 

Luckily, salvation is now at hand.  Today sees the launch of a new TV channel called GB News, which promises to push a right-wing agenda that all sensible, salt-of-the-earth Britons will agree with and promises to call out this woke nonsense that possesses our lefty British media and government.  Needless to say, just by existing, GB News has gone against the grain of the British establishment, and its creation is thanks to the efforts of several, heroic, anti-establishment figures.  These include financial backers like the anti-establishment American TV company Discovery; and the anti-establishment investment fund Legatum, which is based in that hotbed of punk rock, Dubai; and the anti-establishment hedge-fund boss Sir Paul Marshall, whose son Winston plays the banjo in Mumford & Sons, a band so hardcore anti-establishment it makes Rage Against the Machine look like wimps.

 

And the chair and main presenter of GB News is the most awesomely anti-establishment figure you can imagine: Andrew Neil.  Well, he’s anti-establishment if you look at his CV with one eye closed and the other eye half-open and manage somehow to miss his 11 years as editor of the Sunday Times; his involvement in the founding of Sky TV; his decade as editor-in-chief with the Barclay Brothers’ Press Holdings group, overseeing the Scotsman, the Business and the European; his 15 years as chairman of the publishing company ITP Media Group (also based in Dubai, home of the Sex Pistols and the Clash); and his 17 years with the BBC.  And that villa he owns in the South of France.

 

Anyway, setting the sarcasm aside for a moment… I was aware of Neil’s malign influence in the British media from an early age.  At school at the start of the 1980s, I did a Scottish Higher course in Modern Studies and I remember being advised by the teacher, Sandy Bowick, to read a ‘quality Sunday newspaper like the Observer or the Sunday Times’ every weekend to keep abreast of what was happening politically in the world.  Accordingly, I got into the habit of reading the Sunday Times, which was still under the stewardship of the much-respected Harold Evans.  But tragically, the gimlet-eyed Rupert Murdoch acquired the Sunday Times in 1981 and by 1983 had installed Andrew Neil as its editor.  Neil wasted no time in transforming this once laudable newspaper into the snide, shrill, right-wing shout-sheet that it remains to this day.

 

The Sunday Times wasn’t the only example of a newspaper being subjected to Andrew Neil’s reverse-Midas touch, i.e., instantly turning to shit in his hands.  Hired by the Barclay Brothers in the mid-1990s, newspapers he supervised like the European and the Business suffered declining sales and eventually folded.  Worst of all, he became editor-in-chief of Edinburgh’s one-time quality daily, the Scotsman.  It’s hard to believe today but the Scotsman was a newspaper that once was widely read, made its points intelligently and carried some influence – as much as any newspaper published 400 miles from London could.  Among other things, up until the 1990s, the Scotsman was a keen supporter, in its cautious and genteel way, of constitutional change in Scotland to allow the country more say in running its affairs.

 

In the late 1990s, after spending most of the decade in Japan, I found myself living in Edinburgh and I assumed I’d get into the habit of reading the Scotsman again.  I bought a few issues and gave up.  It’d suddenly acquired an unpleasantly right-wing editorial tone.  It was scathing about the idea that Scotland should get any degree of home-rule from London, even though the Scottish population had just voted for the creation of a devolved Scottish parliament in a referendum in 1997.  Hold on, I thought.  Hadn’t the Scotsman, the old Scotsman, been in favour of Scottish devolution?  Then one night I saw Neil’s visage on a Scottish current affairs programme, where he was introduced as ‘editor-in-chief at the Scotsman’.  Horribly, it all fell into place for me.  Oh no, he’s back, I despaired. Returned to wreck yet another, once perfectly-good newspaper.

 

I suspect Neil’s tenure at the Scotsman alienated the Scottish demographic that it needed to survive as a healthy business concern.  I knew plenty of folk in Edinburgh who were around my age and, like me, were centre or left politically and interested in current affairs.  They weren’t young enough to be into new-fangled digital media and would have happily bought a traditional, physical newspaper if they thought it was worth reading. But whenever its name came up in conversation, such people would shrug and say dismissively, “The Scotsman?  Never read it now.”

 

Although Neil had nothing to do with the Scotsman after it was acquired by the London-based Johnston Press in 2005, the newspaper remained on the right, where he’d dragged it, and never recovered from the dose of journalistic syphilis it’d contracted from him during his regime.  By 2018, it was in the hands of JPIMedia and had a daily circulation figure – the one currently quoted on its Wikipedia page – of under 16,400 copies.  It’d had to lay off staff-members, reduce its numbers of pages and supplements, and flit from its old headquarters on Holyrood Road to a new one on Queensferry Road that was less than half the size and a third of the rent.  The last time I looked at it, much of what it printed was either shallow and vacuous, or hysterical, kneejerk, Daily Mail / Daily Express-style crap.

 

You’d think that with his antipathy to all things mild-mannered, lily-livered, pussyfooting and, well, woke, Andrew Neil would have given the BBC a body-swerve.  And yet during the past two decades he’s done very nicely out of the venerable corporation.  Most prominently, he hosted the BBC’s This Week programme (2003-2019), in which Michael Portillo, Diane Abbott and him would sit in a studio and discuss the week’s current affairs whilst indulging in a gruesome three-way mutual-admiration / flirtation fest.  Indeed, at the time, I thought it was the most fascinatingly dreadful thing on British television.  Not only did Neil and co. believe they were offering cutting insights into the nation’s politics, but they also seemed to think they were cool.  Funny, even.  And nothing is worse than people who think they’re funny, but aren’t funny, trying to be funny.

 

For example, I can think of few things more ludicrous than the sight of Neil and Portillo prancing around in the style of the video for Peter Kay’s chart-topping Is This the Way to Amarillo, as they did during the title sequence of one episode in 2005.  At least in 2018, when they got Bobby Gillespie from the impeccable post-punk, alternative-rock band Primal Scream onto This Week to talk about Brexit – yes, this is a strange sentence I find myself writing – Gillespie summed up the viewers’ feelings at the episode’s end.  By this point, Neil, Michael Portillo and Caroline Flint (drafted in as a replacement for Diane Abbott) had jumped up and starting cavorting around the studio in the manner of the briefly popular, crap Internet dance craze the Skibidi Challenge.  Not only did Gillespie refuse to take part in this cringe-inducing farrago, but he sported the stony countenance of a man who’d just discovered a giant dog turd on the end of his shoes.  (Mind you, having Michael Portillo dad-dancing beyond the ends of your shoes wouldn’t be much better.)

 

 ©BBC / From clashmusic.com

 

I’ve written scornfully about Andrew Neil and GB News and the guff they’ve tried to peddle about being some courageous, anti-establishment bulwark against a supposed tidal wave of wokeness.  It’s complete disingenuous garbage.  However, I have no doubt that they’ll find an audience.  One thing about right-wingers is their unswayable belief that they’re the victims, even when a mountain-range of evidence proves they’re actually the victors.  Britain has been in thrall to right-wing doctrines since the 1980s, when Margaret Thatcher proclaimed there was ‘no such thing as society’, till today, when those in power claim to belong to the Conservative Party but are basically Nigel Farage’s reactionary, xenophobic United Kingdom Independence Party (UKIP) in all but name.  For a few years in the middle, Tony Blair might have constituted a blip, but he was hardly a left-wing blip.  Yet in the paranoid minds of right-wing Britons in 2021, the nonsensical belief that everything they hold dear is threatened by Marxists and social justice warriors is probably more intense than ever.

 

He might be an utter chancer, but there’ll always be plenty of deluded souls willing to lap up Andrew Neil’s brand of bullshit.