Tuesday, 20 December 2016

Moving beyond mere survival in 2017

In a year of utter lunacy, where six months have been spent in an ever-more febrile combination of disbelief and shock, the temptation to retreat, to disengage and to watch the unravelling of decency from a self-defined redoubt becomes increasingly tempting.  The inner emigration was how the less-vulnerable opponents of 20th century totalitarians maintained a level of equilibrium and self-respect, and it has a place in a world where there is a closing-down of the values that have underpinned respect.  In 2017 this is understandable, but the final admission of defeat.

Defining everything in terms of the Brexit vote is a concession to the demagogues and cynical manipulators.  It remains the immediate crisis in the British Isles, but it is the tip of an iceberg of darkness.  The real challenge remains how to respond to it and to escape the narratives of hatred, contempt and fascism that the hard right are attempting to blame anyone who dissents from their control and their interpretation of events.

There are two principles that we need to bear in mind.  The first is that traditional political boundaries and definitions, while important to those who are engaged, do not either reflect the reality of the challenge nor the means of providing credibility to the vaguely-progressive cause.  Tribalism and personal vendettas do not serve anyone other than the hard right, as it creates the impression of division and squabbling.  Anything beyond coming together to face down the forces of reaction and control is the kind of self-defeating delusion that results in a skewed political system and leaving the field open to those with whom we have nothing in common, while denying the communal interest.  This is not just an issue for leadership groups but for the politically-engaged.

Apart from anything else the second principle is that the politically active assume that everyone is as interested as we are.  This is true on both "sides" of the current crisis.  There is every reason to go on calling out the fascists and the idiots who are the majority of the echo-chambers for the sinister backroom purveyors of the hard right message, but they do not form the basis of those who voted to leave the EU.  It is the majority of that side who need to be persuaded of the folly of the current course, and we need to be clear that there were reasons explicable and honourable for many of their votes, as well as the tissue of lies and vile idiocy that fed the campaign.  The aim has to be to continue engaging with them, and to channel their anger when they realise that they have been played for interests even further removed from their own than those of the demonised "elites".

2017 will not be easy, but at least the terms of dissent and engagement are clear.  Whatever evil goes on, we cannot lose values and momentum that reflect an approach to the world that is not based around either control or displacing hatred.

Sunday, 18 December 2016

Playing the Nazi card - the Tories and British values

Surprisingly, Sajid Javid has not gone the whole hog and proposed that his loyalty oath is couched under the banner of a Law for the Restoration of a Professional Civil Service.  The entire sensation-driven trope smacks of a regime aware of its own illegitimacy and its constant backside-sniffing towards its paymasters.  The suggestion that civil servants and holders of public office should, in effect, be purged unless they are prepared to declare fealty to a set of "British Values" defined by the ruling caste is a parallel to the Nazi seizure of power.

In both cases, a swivel-eyed set of lunatics was elected through at least a veneer of legitimacy, in the belief that they could be held in check by those who believed that keeping their enemies in plain sight and within the confines of law would be sufficient.  It took the Nazis less than six months to consolidate power, through the Enabling Act of March 1933 and measures such as the Civil Service law.  May is either colossally ignorant of history or preparing a deliberate coup - the disdain for Parliamentary process and the established constitutional contempt which she demonstrates towards other nations than the English seem to point to the latter.

One of the disadvantages to a study of history is that even if the ideology has limited parallels, the methods of the pursuit of power are often frighteningly similar.  I am not suggesting that the vast majority of the Tory party are pursuing an overtly-authoritarian agenda, but that there are those in the wings for whom this is a desirable outcome.  Cameron may have thought that he might have isolated most of the bacillus (apart from Jamiroquai-lookalike Peter Bone) into the saloon-bar Klan of the Kippers, but they have never gone away.  This time, instead of the intense monomania of Keith Joseph, the far right dribble through buffoonery.  For every Rees-Mogg, there is a Breitbart clone beavering away, feeding vileness that is apparently spoon-fed.

The only "British values" worth subscribing to are those that are universal hallmarks of civilisation - not defined by the pseudo-patriotic card.  The Universal Declaration of Human Rights is a benchmark, not some sort of cobbled-together Empire Loyalism that Javid will be pursuing as a saccharine frontman.  Indeed, if holders of office and paid employment cannot subscribe to the rule of law and the rights of others, then they should be drummed out - without some kind of spurious loyalty test.  It sets the state on a collision course with reality, and the fall-out can be ugly.  It is worth extending the mid-20th century parallels, the shifting of German loyalties to the Fuhrer rather the state, as the embodiment of the "will of the people", sends shivers down the spine.

The Tories are not Nazis, but their logic of having secured power through a dubious process and without the deep roots in either the machinery of government or popular support that would legitimise an open state is worryingly similar.  Rudderless, without principles and without the constant challenge from opposition, they should be an easy target.  Instead apathy and impotence, coupled with targeted attacks on the more articulate advocates of an alternative vision, will be their preferred medium of social control, dressed up in the language of values.

How long this lasts for is more moot.  The run up to Christmas is marked by an upswing in strikes and disgruntlement, fuelled even more by the clear signs that the economy is teetering on the brink of a Depression that will make the 2008 crash look like a picnic, and inflation rising.  The response of the outright fascists in the media, for example the tax-aboding Telegraph and the pornography-bankrolled Express, is to call for the barriers to any form of collective action to be raised to the level of the unattainable, forgetting in their vile contempt for the rights of workers that they are, without irony, denying one side of the labour market any right to express grievances individually or collectively.  Doubtless they will want the return of the forelock and due deference to form part of Javid's "British" values.

Piling irony on top of dictatorship, the hoops through which unions and their members have to jump through before taking action are much greater than Parliamentary election or idiotic plebiscite would require.  We have an ideologically-charged cretin as Transport Secretary in Great Britain, who when not apparently committing hit-and-run offences in his ministerial car (whatever happened to using public transport, as he would insist for his civil servants?), is speaking with forked tongue from one of his many faces.  It is so transparent, but the Tories feel that they can get away with peddling lies and delusion.

Where the 1930s parallel breaks down - I'm sure that Grayling would be quite happy, though, to merge and castrate the trade unions into a British Labour front - is that the catastrophic crisis into which May and her cronies are leading us is not one which ends well with short-term fixes.  The Autumn Statement demonstrated the hole in which the government has found itself - and, rather than throwing its toys out of the pram, it has not merely abandoned the spade and the tools by which it could escape but it has made a public declaration that it will eschew all sanity in pursuit of a snarling hatred of its European lifeline.  The Just About Managing rhetoric is a windy hypocrisy that distracts from cronyism and venality at the centre of government.

People will wake up to the fact that they have been played.  Hilariously, as predicted, some of the monobrowed right are now blaming those of us who warned of the risks and consequences of a toddler tantrum, egged on by the scum like Arron Banks who will be unaffected at worst, profiting most likely from the manipulation of the angry and gullible.  It is not our fault that the rational analysis that was decried as "Project Fear" is emerging.

Where the Tories have their trump card is that they have a gerrymandered, usurped polity with no coherence in opposing them.  This is not necessarily sustainable, but it will need both a clear ability to identify their failings and to ensure that blame does not land where it does not belong.  Turning on the "cosmopolitan" and the "metropolitan" elites is the current preferred tactic of the right-wing propagandists who know that their position is not as secure as they make it out to be.  This is dangerous, as the "enemy within" rhetoric is already spilling out into abuse both verbal and physical, but it needs leadership and a recognition that the crisis engulfing the British Isles is as great an existential threat as Nazi aggression was in the 1930s, but that this degeneracy is now embedded in our own politics to a greater extent than it was then.

Burke's axiom that for evil to prevail, it is only necessary for good people to do nothing remains valid today.  This is a long-haul, and it will be both a process of defining the ridiculousness of the parallel idiocies of upholding democracy while attacking the right to dissent, while keeping a weather eye on the larger forces of evil that the Tories are still, just about, damming up.  The state relies on its legitimacy through consent, rather than coercion.  May and her inadequates will try to establish that the motivation for crushing dissent is to uphold their values - but this is not a mark of strength but the fundamental weakness of a seditious government.

As they destroy all they claim to support - the Union, the economy, the rule of law - a gimmick dreamed up by the public relations spivs to promote "Britishness" could be another ratchet in the spiral towards an upheaval that upends the certainties of their paymasters.  That would be ironic, but dangerous.  Drifting into authoritarian territory does not delegitimise opposition - but it needs to be articulated with care, sympathy and with a recognition that one's fellow subversives are in need of support and engagement across the current political boundaries.

Friday, 16 December 2016

Lies, contradictions and the Tory implosion

For those whose considered opinion was that the vote to leave the European Union would usher in a perpetual state of paralysed crisis, there is no satisfaction in recording the symptoms.  From a government elected on dubious premises in a corrupt and undemocratic system, which used its position to destroy the nation in the spurious pursuit of party unity, this is unsurprising.  The speed with which May has demonstrated both arrogance, incompetence and the forked tongue of the far right is even faster than could have been imagined six months ago.

May's cluelessness is fascinating to watch.  She clearly considers that the role of Prime Minister defines her, without the need to recognise either the dubious mandate upon which she operates or the requirement not merely to repeat moronic mantras about Brexit's definition but to set out some form of strategic direction.  With a front bench full of chancers, charlatans and the borderline criminal, the rot has set in from the top.

It is instructive to consider the differences between a modern legislature and what passes for debate in Westminster.  Whatever one's default opinion, discussions around taxation and spending take place in public in Scotland, and conclusions differ.  Such is the reality of devolution and the drift to self-determination, which is doubtless why the Scottish Tories are sounding like May's echo-chamber and have surrendered the capacity for independent thought and action - a futile tactic as the most recent examples of Tory success have come from distancing themselves from the amoral spivs who dominate the British party.

As a typical example of the current drift into anarchy, May's resort to the bread and circuses school of events management is instructive.  Rather than engage and provide an honest response that recognised the complexity and sheer unpreparedness of the state machinery to respond to the referendum result, and managing the expectations of her slavering followers, there has been denial and accusation.  The enemy within is now those who dare to challenge her narrative, especially with the experience and the long view that both predicted and wished to avoid the current fiasco.

Vainglorious, she goes on peddling the myth that there is some magic bullet that fixes the economy and society - where there is a nirvana of low taxes, high quality public services for those who "deserve" it, and where whichever group is marked out for obloquy is hunted down, abused, and, eventually, killed off.  The illogic of the concept is never exposed - the viability of a shrinking economy, low taxes and the expectations of the citizenry ever to coalesce is a question which, if raised, borders on the treasonable.

2016 has seen the two worst Prime Ministers of my lifetime in office, but not in power.  May is now facing a reckoning where the weakness of the UK government internally and externally will be exposed and ridiculed.  For every foolish posture adopted by the risible trio of mendacious opportunists charged by May with leading the suicide, there will be a reaction of monstrous asymmetry, and the humiliation of the UK will be persistent and endemic.  In that situation all she will be able to offer is shooting the messenger and rhetoric void of content and morality.  To think that a once-great power is dying with this particular whimper is a depressing note to end on, but it is hard to contemplate an up-side.

Thursday, 8 December 2016

Corbyn sells out as the Union crumbles

Representative democracy is endangered.  There is exquisite and painful irony in the way in which, even as the Supreme Court deliberates on the extent to which an unelected dictator can arrogate powers under the cover of the Royal Prerogative, the official Opposition leader and many of his party have cravenly surrendered their right to oppose, the right to challenge and their political tactics.  Each time his apologists plead for the bestowal of the benefit of the doubt, it becomes clear that Labour's alleged leaders are now the willing stooges of a government without legitimacy and without a programme.

Given May's treachery and unfitness for office (last week's New European contained an enlightening and harrowing account of her contempt for constituents who might disagree with her), this is the act of a rat.  Assimilation of opposition parties into a hegemonic dictatorship was a feature of post-war Eastern Europe, most notably in the shotgun marriage between the KPD and the SPD in the Soviet occupation zone, and May has clearly learned much of her behaviour and almost all of her values from Stalin.

Corbyn was elected as an alternative to the managerialist politicians and the new right who captured the Labour Party between 1994 and 2008.  He has never lived up to this hype, and there will be a lot of discontented fair-weather followers as his true nature becomes clear.  As for those in his party with an understanding that politicians are there to shape and influence public opinion, rather than be bellwethers in the context of the fascist definition of "democracy" that May and her mountebanks perpetrate, I suspect that now is the time for them to examine their conscience.

Not merely is his approach ideologically bankrupt, it is also inane and insulting.  Given the attention being paid to the Supreme Court this week, it was suicidal to table an amendment that in effect gave May and her Goebbels-lite apparatchiks an opportunity to crow that the Commons had endorsed Article 50 being triggered on her terms.  An amendment with strength, for example requiring not merely a plan but an assessment of options, with costs, advantages, disadvantages and risks set out to inform Parliament, would have been clever, as it would have shown up the complete inanity and ineptitude of the "rainbow Brexit", where the destination is either somewhere beyond it, or managed by the denizens of a 1970s children's programme.  Labour walked straight into the trap, and condemned themselves as a consequence.

This has been allied to an upping of the rhetoric around the Liberal Democrats, doubtless as part of the fear that support in England will recover as Labour's mendacity is revealed.  The half-sentient Shadow Attorney General, the meaningless Richard Burgon, is a case study in the arrogance that has cost them dear - claiming that the Liberal Democrats are untrustworthy because they formed a Coalition with the Tories is risible and pathetic when he and his party have rolled over and had their collective tummies tickled by a seditious government.  Whatever the rights and wrongs (mostly the latter) of the Coalition period, at least it flowed from a specific agreement rather than a fatal combination of Stockholm Syndrome, arrogance and tactical ineptitude.

Meanwhile, it is clear that the unravelling of the legal and democratic framework in the UK is a primary objective of this government.  Watching the figure of Lord Keen, the Tories' Advocate-General for Scotland, implicitly denying the legitimacy of the 1999 Scotland Act and the rights of Scotland to even the current levels of self-determination was gruesome.  Quite apart from being the kind of disgusting caricature Tory who presided over the demise of the Scottish party, his breathtaking denial of any of the promises bestowed to win the 2014 referendum should form all those of concern for the future of Scotland to draw conclusions about the Tories that will not rebound well on their shrill banshee leader, whose constant pursuit of publicity is based on neither skills nor integrity.

If this is the case for Scotland, the consequences for Northern Ireland do not bear thinking about.  The Tories fudge behind the Sewel Convention, which they claim only applies to domestic law.  Quite apart from the impossibility of distinguishing between EU, British and devolved competencies, this stores up a major constitutional crisis, as at the moment of the triggering of May's pathetic Great Repeal Act, all the issues suddenly become domestic and Sewel applies.  Whatever harlequinade May and her law officers cook up there is a disaster waiting to happen that will prolong and deepen this unnecessary constitutional crisis.

Yet where has Labour been?  There are many honourable exceptions in Parliament and in the party, so it is not a simple matter of condemning them.  Nor is it simply a matter of opposing the process, but it is now time to articulate that there is an existential crisis between law, the balance of power and the rights of citizens, and a fascist clique who are determined to usurp and subvert the state for their own ends.  It is beginning to look like a parallel to the grievances of the American colonists of the 1760s and 1770s, and the consequences thereof.  Now it is about defending the enlightenment and the ability to shape power.  This should have been a reflex from Corbyn.

The febrile nature of politics makes prediction difficult.  The parties and individuals who defied both May and Corbyn have made a start - the crisis is across traditional allegiances and nations.  A popular insurgency against the forces of darkness, based around a recognition of the common foes and perils, is now the last hope both for those who do not want the nations to slide into disputatious anarchy, and for those of us who still retain any vestigial optimism about the human condition.

Monday, 5 December 2016

The road to dictatorship - British style

Theresa May is descending into dictatorship.  Her euphonious adoption of totalitarian tropes such as "will of the people" and "Team UK" betrays her inability to recognise either the flawed representative democracy or the dangers of the right-wing linguistic mire she connived with to secure her elevation to office.  Those, including the alleged leader of the soi-disant official opposition, who connive with her are emulating the nationalists and conservatives who delivered Hitler his Enabling Act in March 1933.  They awoke to the reality before they were exiled or shot.

May's disgusting progress needs to be seen in the context of the venal authoritarians of the last few decades.  Crony capitalism, against a populist rhetoric is the stuff of Peronism, and the cynical manipulation of media and the apostrophising of the free market is similar to the evils that underpinned Pinochet's Chile.  She uses the same phraseology that Hitler, Mussolini and Stalin adopted - none of them, like May, legitimate representatives of a democratic system.  The natural response of the autocrat is to either assimilate or to persecute.

At present, the Tories are running scared of the Supreme Court upholding the rule of law.  Despite the hysteria from May and others that the legal challenge is against the referendum result, those capable of rational thought and inductive reasoning (which does not include the fascists and Nazis of the right-wing, offshore-owned press) can determine that it is focused on the arbitrary abuse of executive power and the unravelling of citizens' rights enshrined in the erratic modernisation of the UK constitution.  Hardly surprising that there has been a cacophony of dunces denouncing the Supreme Court judges as an elite and undermining the integrity of the overall legal system, dribbling without even awareness of the irony that "taking back control" does not imply its immediate destruction.

May then abuses the opposition.  After the rejection of her crony and her policies at the Richmond by-election she uses her deluded messianism to suggest that any party to oppose her in Parliament is frustrating the "will of the people" that only she can embody.  This is narcissistic treason, and nothing less.  The racists and fascists who cheer her on want to shut down debate, knowing that they would lose to rationalism.  May fans the flames.  She is a clear and present danger.

There has been no condemnation of the abuse by the right or the increase in hate crimes.  There has been silence from Liz Truss, supposedly the Lord Chancellor and supposedly responsible for upholding the independence and status of the judiciary, to the extent that the Supreme Court this morning had to condemn the climate of intimidation and threats that the lapdog press and boneheaded pseudo-politicians has unleashed.  The route to the breakdown of legitimate authority is sick and clear.

May has no mandate, no real majority and is relying on paralysis to confirm that the dictatorship of net-curtain twitching Poujadism is enshrined.  It is ironic that her personal style appears to be based on a bizarre mixture of Imelda Marcos and Elena Ceaucescu, while her politics increasingly resemble an unattractive hybrid of their unlamented husbands'.  She should, however, consider, that in neither case did this end well.

Sunday, 4 December 2016

The avoidable death of the BBC

There is a rotten stench about the BBC at the moment.  In a febrile world, when previous national calamities and divisions have been at the forefront of people's concerns, the national broadcaster has maintained a scrupulous impartiality.  Nowadays it is populated by a timorous brigade of nonentities whose agenda is both informed by the tabloids and the desire to become lickspittles to an illegitimate and seditious government.

Thatcher always regarded the broadcast media as representing the enemy within.  They still do, but they are now enemies of informing and empowering citizens.  I suspect that the proliferation of channels and the constant desire to set the agenda rather than report it lies at the base of the BBC's decline.  24-hour rolling news, and the wish for journalists and alleged personalities to have their name plastered over competitors' websites, makes a mockery of explanation and analysis.

Added to this is the Westminster-centric reporting of the entire world.  You would get the impression that the emasculated "Newsnight" is now a playground for chinless wonders waiting for the call for a B-list Tory seat, from the attention or the depth of informative analysis that it provides.  From the general tone of reporting the risible Ruth Davidson is not the unpopular leader of the Scottish Tory opposition, but a Governor-General appointed by the right's tribunes to frustrate the will of the Scottish electorate.  News is not investigated, it is recycled press releases and the victim of spin culture.  There is not more of it around, but it takes a great deal longer to provide feeble excuses of interpretation.

Given the credulity with which the BBC's presenters are treated, it is unsurprising that the right-wing pre-senile dribble of David Dimbleby and Andrew Neil goes unchecked.  Yet they constantly give airtime, unchallenged, to the neo-Nazis of UKIP - and the "balance" of their programmes is suspect.  The BBC cannot adapt to either a devolved, federalising nation, or to the plurality of opinion and the validity of voices who do not assent to the trivialising and the sloganeering agenda.

The BBC is now treating news as entertainment, not as part of the commitment to lead and shape the intellectual and political information of the nation.  Personalities, from Andrew Marr to Eddie Mair, do not have any intrinsic authority or right to express their views - and the constant parade of minor figures such as the fascists Farage and Nuttall does not endear their coverage.  In the meantime, sanity is best preserved from finding out about the moral turpitude at second hand rather than endure the drivel and propaganda.

Friday, 2 December 2016

Learning lessons from Richmond

Sarah Olney's election was worth staying up for and validating.  After the European referendum and the apparent election of Trump, there may have been an element of superstition in not believing the unfolding evidence that a vile scion of a vile family was about to be given a lesson in the powers of representative elections.  Goldsmith's ejection from Parliament is a welcome flickering of a feeble flame amidst the gloom we now inhabit.

Richmond was a fertile seat for the Liberal Democrats - recently held and in part of the areas where the Cameron strategy had destroyed the Parliamentary redoubts built up under Ashdown and Kennedy.  Highly-educated, highly-alienated from the monstrous regiment of treasonable liars marshalled by Theresa May and Paul Nuttall, spiritual bedfellows of the most odious construction, it was nevertheless a challenge worthy of the heady days of the Liberal attempts to break through in a broken system two decades ago.

To read exclusively partisan advantage from the by-election would be wrong and dangerous.  There will be a parade of analysis to demonstrate how far the triumph was driven by tactical voting by natural Tories, but the fundamental issue is how the opposition to national catastrophe can address its tribal particularism and work to ensure that there is both challenge in the current Parliament and a concerted effort not to allow the Westminster system to be gamed against the interests of the electorate when the next General Election comes around.

The Tories and Kippers used their muscle for Goldsmith.  Not to oppose one of their own who was opposing government policy tells you all you need to know - the Conservative Party is now, as Nick Clegg observed, in thrall to the demagogic populists and Nazi apologists that Nutcase and Farridge parade as an authentic insurgency, all the time bankrolled by the corrupt and amoral roubles that Arron Banks and other enemies of the people pass over to fund an illusion of rebellion.  Immorality and scum go together like blue and purple rosettes, so no surprise, but not something to be forgotten or passed over in the next stage of the fight.

It was Labour who should have held the key to an unequivocally-positive outcome from this by-election.  Despite the evidence that Labour's supporters (a dwindling band at present) support a close relationship with Europe, the Labour leadership did not engage in an atypical election to push a message that a far-right "Independent" should be challenged on his home patch by a much more progressive, centrist force.  For the Greens, the Women's Equality Party and those Labour members and supporters more sensible than their alleged leaders, this was both a matter of experiment, pride-swallowing and a recognition that in order to shift the political landscape a two-horse system will need to be created that does not handicap the diversity of opposition to the present band of criminals and wreckers.

A strategy for the future needs to recognise that, as the consequences of the vandalism orchestrated by Cameron and catalysed by May's imbecility, allegiances will shift and the anger will need to be directed towards the forces of conservativism.  May and Corbyn are now locked in a courtship ritual with fascists, racists and others for whom Goebbels is a role model - such as the right-wing press.  Articulating anger and directing it to its true centre is the strategy needed, and this means that those who value liberal values across all parties and none need to coalesce - civic national parties as well as those who worked together so well in Richmond.

Olney's victory is a triumph of an informed electorate.  If the parties cannot work together, then they will fail as the movement against the right gathers pace.  A coup has been executed - there is a genuine need for revolt now.  Farron and Olney struck the right note in their recognition that it was not Liberal Democrats who won on their own, but a wide range of groups prepared to recognise that the post-coalition landscape is now replaced by an existential threat to civilisation.  From Scotland, I shall continue to support the SNP for Westminster, and would expect across the rest of the country there to be a range from the sane wing of the Conservative Party leftwards who can be encouraged to work against the disaster unfolding.  The plates shifted horribly on the 23rd June.  Hopefully Richmond, and the legal challenge to May's dictatorship, may be the advent of at least the potential for salvaging something from the wreckage.