Sunday, 26 January 2014

Floods, Farage and the fools

We ought to be cheering the progress of UKIP.  Despite its narrative of repugnant, racist rightism, xenophobia and the promotion of ignorance, bigotry and fear, its existence is provoking the idiots within the Tory party to reveal their true involved state, while at the same time undermining their electoral prospects.  Farage's strategy appears to be to appeal to those who are even more gullible than Boris Johnson's acolytes - and to pretend to be the voice of bluff common sense beloved of the brain-dead tabloids.  It may well work, at least in the shore-term.

Yet when you poke UKIP you discover a party that, without principles or policies beyond Little Englandism, is a receptacle for people deemed too deranged even by the Tories.  Godfrey Bloom has been kicked out for not keeping his views on the domestic habits of women out of the press - and last weekend we had the pleasure of watching a UKIP Councillor from Boris's former enclave of Henley-on-Thames blame the recent spate of extreme weather on David Cameron's proposals to permit gay marriage.  From the hysterical tone of the bigots you would have been forgiven for believing that he had intended to make it not merely legal but compulsory.

David Silvester has been suspended from UKIP, not for his views but for expressing them.  If Labour and the Liberal Democrats have any sense in their campaigning going forward, they should embrace this - demonstrating that Farage would be quite happy to have any form of lunatic within his umbrella provided that they shut up.  Farage is a demagogue who appears to be deriving much of his support from the same model that permitted Jean-Marie Le Pen to build up the Front National in France, building on paranoia, non-specific grievances and a fear of the other.

Deservedly, UKIP will be subject to more scrutiny over the months to come.  Farage is trying to play the statesman, making ill-informed and economically-illiterate pronouncements.  A recent statement on HS2 suggested that he believes that the funding of an infrastructure project is all up-front, rather than being less than the money being poured onto an annual basis into London's Crossrail project, from which it will neatly follow.  He should support something that lets people get away from the evil Continent more quickly, although the welcome he has received in the North and Scotland may preclude this.  The entire populist, victim-narrative he peddles is built on sand and playing to the sense of entitlement that his ghetto of the credulous laps up.

Between now and the General Election, the Tories will cosy up to UKIP's perceived support base, with a view to minimising their impact.  This will come naturally to the hypocritical and the base who characterise the current leadership, who have had to disguise their views and behave in a mature way forced by the imperatives of coalition government.  For all those who have tried to position the Tories as a party of general support, there are many more who will happily retreat into an ageing and middle-class redoubt, which given the state of the electoral map will result in 2010 being seen as a high-water point in Tory support.

Farage and the Tory right are deluding themselves into a belief that mobilising their own base will secure their futures.  It may provide temporary reinforcement, but the trouble being stoked up through the property bubble, student debt, pensions robbery and the continued licensed rapacity of the financial sector is unlikely to provide the basis for either a march to power or the basis of a new consensus.  Farage is the last twitch of the Thatcherite corpse, and one hopes that UKIP's tombstone will be at the correct angle to denote the lunacy that lies beneath.

Thursday, 23 January 2014

Rennard foxed

The Liberal Democrats can't even manage a decent sex scandal.  L'affaire Rennard is hardly comparable to the President of France's indiscretions, nor with the sleazy unwinding of Dave's patron saint John Major's administration.  Yet it raises some fundamental issues around the nature of justice, and the tendency of the baying hordes to convict and condemn without even pausing for breath.

Whatever Rennard has done, or not done, is not really a central issue.  It's predictable to watch the massively-hypocritical Daily Mail approach - tarring the entire Liberal Democrat machine with calumny because they perceive the response of the party machinery to have been weak.  It provides the simplistic, sex-peddling prurient with an opportunity to engage in cant and bile, unsullied by basic irony.  It turns both those who raised the allegations and Rennard himself into a freak show that does nothing to advance the cause of anyone - and it is hardly the case that members of other parties will be particularly keen to poke this particular issue.

The spirit of the age is not entirely without merit.  After decades, if not centuries, of those with power exploiting their positions, there is at least some possibility of redress for this abuse.  The iceberg of prep school pederasty and sadism is now hoving into view - and the accusations of celebrity abuse are being given due process.  Provided such investigations and processes are carried out with due recognition to the law, the presumption of innocence and the need to prove beyond reasonable doubt these are restorative acts that the country should encourage for the benefit of the proven victims and their peace of mind.

Rennard has possibly harmed his cause by the casuistic appearance of his defenders - providing the impression that the Liberal Democrats' internal enquiry's conclusions are of no merit; yet both the party and the police investigation came to the conclusion that the standard of proof had not been reached with respect to explicit actions, even if there was genuine evidence of distress caused.  Had some expression of regret been framed that did not provide an admission of civil or criminal liability, with a retreat into private life, then the affair might have been concluded to the least bad ends.

However, we must guard against merely assuming that every allegation needs to be upheld.  Investigated and, where proven, dealt with.  Merely making a claim does not of itself imply that the complainant is either correct or unimpeachable, and that justice requires the issue to be dealt with even-handedly and sensitively.  Anything else panders to rule by mob, and the destruction of the social structure that permits people to believe in at least partial justice.

At least, to date, no dogs have been shot.

Sunday, 5 January 2014

Patriotism - Gove, Glover and the desperate right

2014 has already got off to a great start for observers of the right.  The new in-word is "patriotism", and anyone who does not swallow the party line is guilty of at least being "unpatriotic" or, by implication, a traitor to the narrative that a particular set of idiotic carpet-munchers wishes to perpetuate.  Clearly this is a Tory strategy to marginalise UKIP by wrapping up their meretriciousness within a Union Jack, while at the same time encouraging the Scottish independence campaign through its sheer hubris.

The first stirrings came from outside the more usual inner coterie of stupidity.  Stephen Glover, many years ago, did the country a service by being one of the founders of the Independent.  Since then, he has drifted off into the hinterland where he joins such luminaries of tolerance as Melanie Phillips in propping up the contemporary equivalent of Horatio Bottomley, Paul Dacre, at the Daily Mail, promoting "why oh why?" rhetoric and bashing the BBC whenever the opportunity presents itself to his narrow mind.  The BBC produced a perfect opportunity this week.

There has been a tradition of the Today programme using "guest editors" to create an agenda between Christmas and the New Year - filling otherwise dead air with items that do not have an immediate connection to the news headlines.  Glover, bless him, must have either been sleeping or hungover not to notice the pro-banker propaganda of the Chairman of Barclays, or the establishment gush from Dame Eliza Manningham-Buller earlier in the week.  Instead he vented his fury on the musician PJ Harvey, whose programme included critical pieces on the City, as well as exposure for John Pilger and Julian Assange.

However questionable some of the choices (Assange is an unsavoury self-publicist whose claim to be a victim rather than a fugitive form justice would be well-tested should be submit to Swedish jurisdiction) this was well within editorial limits.  One does not have to agree with everything that is said on the programme - it would in any case be impossible without engaging in the kind of logical impossibility that the right appears to be believe to be compatible.  Orwell's doublethink is clearly alive and well here.  Instead Glover described the programme with a number of damning epithets including "unpatriotic".

This was the same accusation levelled at the Guardian over the NSA revelations - equally risibly.  The right-wing commentariat, to a greater or lesser extent infected with Murdochitis and the influence of the neo-cons, cannot conceive that patriotism can co-exist with criticism and challenge - indeed that it can only be sustained when there is some form of acceptance of alternative narratives and viewpoints.  The blurring between their definition of patriotism and authoritarian nationalism should be a cause of concern to all of us.

So the next fool, poking his hamster-cheeks above the parapet of the cesspit, is the risible Michael Gove.  It will rightly be difficult to escape the centenary of the First World War this year.  Gove's beef is that "left-wing" historians have tended to point out not just the scale of death and destruction wrought in the war, but the futility and long-term impacts of both the war and the peace settlement.  Apparently Blackadder and the 50-year old Oh! What A Lovely War! are the kind of sedition that should be countered with military triumphs (Gallipoli, for all fans of Winston Churchill, springs to mind) - and the evil nature of the German regime and the Kaiser - a cousin of the reigning British monarch and thus connected with the feudal relics across European empire.

With the predictability of a cuckoo-clock Gove then brings in the "unpatriotic" tag to spread obloquy across the range of historians who have pointed out the holes in the right-approved historical timeline.  So in politicising the centenary, and attempting to wrap his sorry form within a narrative rejected by most sane people, he is stooping even further into the gutter than normal.  Reducing history to a series of simplistic, nationalistic slogans is a disservice not merely to those of all countries who perished but to current and future study.

Accusing anyone of being unpatriotic is both offensive and odious - and reflects badly on those who bandy it around.  This is the intellectual and moral equivalent of the toad Nick Griffin's financial bankruptcy and stems from a similar sense of historical determinism and entitlement to the good things of the world.  One suspects that they would be deeply offended to be reminded as to which of their many role models coined the term "Great Patriotic War" in 1941.