Tag Archives: britain

On #Brexit, #Trump, #Slavery and Moral Courage

Just how mean can Britain’s Brexiteer Tory ruling elite get?  

It’s a moot point, but the meanness of the British government’s approach towards US President Donald Trump has been clear for all to see recently.

Vampirish Prime Minister Theresa May, who descended on Washington in an attempt to catch crumbs falling from Trump’s table, defended her actions as pragmatic; it’s economically and politically sensible to maintain good relations with Trump, she reasoned.

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This is, from a certain perspective, a fair point. For, in a sense, all history is the history of struggle over resources. And you tend to align with whoever shares your economic interests. And if your electorate decide to catapult you towards severing ties with your natural, cultural trading allies in your own continent, you might have to look elsewhere.

In the British Library last week I picked up a book by journalist Paul Marshall called Prisoners of Geography, which is the latest example of works which explain geopolitics by reference to geography and climate and resources. This approach to history risks being reductionist, but helps explain things like the inevitable imperialism of Japan in the 20th c (given its lack of natural resources); the lack of war between India and China (thanks to the Himalayas); and the likely 21st century conflicts in the Arctic (oil reserves).

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May’s ‘pragmatism’ vis-à-vis Trump is in the same vein and there’s a logic to it, of course. May’ stance has been triumphantly trumpeted by other members of her cabinet since the visit, most notably the government’s red-faced-reactionary-in-chief Sir Michael Fallon, secretary of state for Defence.

And yet. And yet.

Diplomacy doesn’t have to be craven. Politics may be the art of the possible, but that is not synonymous with mercenary meanness.

Let’s consider approaches to Trump.

To be clear, Trump is odious and should be challenged by the British government. May has failed to do this in any meaningful way.

His ‘travel ban’ – to take the most egregious example of his chaotic presidency – is not just racist and immoral, it’s also ill-informed and counterproductive. And the denial of climate change is simply horrendous.

Having said this, I’m fed up with some of the pathetic anti-Trumpism. From the sneering celeb to the trendy protester, it’s a badge of cloyingly liberal East Coast honour to be anti-Trump purely from a narrowly (neo)liberal perspective, and I’ve seen this at first hand in the States.

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This ignores the fact that – whatever about the popular vote – he is the legitimate US President. It also ignores his radical potential to shake things up. Clinton was a dreadful presidential candidate, a hawk hand-in-glove with finance capital hiding behind celebrity endorsed wafer-thin liberalism and the very fact that she was a woman; she was an establishment figure who would play the gender card only when it suited (there’s a great parallel with Theresa May here).

Whatever you may think of Trump – and many rightly oppose this thin-skinned narcissistic bully – he is doing a very rare thing for a politician and attempting to carry out his campaign promises in a full-blooded manner.

This is precisely why so many people voted for him – he’s not a professional politician. He’s not just there for career advancement, to become a contented member of the establishment. Many who oppose Trump, and other ‘outsider’ figures like Jeremy Corbyn, will never understand this.

But challenging Trump, for all that, is very important.

Standing up to Trump is not something that Britain’s political leadership have the courage to do, not only because of the risible notion of the ‘special relationship’, but because they are professional politicians who don’t let little things like principles get in the way of self-seeking.

In this regard, the Tory government is very different from the fundamentalist Brexiteer, deluded but at least principled.

British foreign secretary Boris Johnson may be a suck-up and a charlatan, as grasping and venal as his one-time cabinet colleague Michael Gove. But at least his careerism (Johnson only plumped for Brexit because he saw personal political gain from it) is a guard against the sheer delusion of the fundamentalist Brexit wing.

The fundamentalist Brexiteer is now a lesser spotted breed thanks to the fact that the mercenaries, the smooth political operators, the careerists have taken over the project. I’m referring of course to Prime Minister May et al, who actually opposed Brexit in the first place but now own it as a patriotic project.

By contrast, the fundamentalist Brexiteer can now be mainly spotted on the sidelines, usually outside the High Court protesting against the legitimate prosecution of British soldiers convicted of war crimes.

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Nonetheless, an example of the establishment pro-Brexit loon was witnessed earlier this week on the BBC’s awful but strangely compelling town hall debate show Question Time. Anne Widdecombe – Privy Councillor, former Tory MP and outspoken social conservative – was wheeled out and duly went about displaying some very bad history …

The abolition of slavery, said Widdecombe, took forty years or so but it was delivered. In the same way, she vowed, Brexit will be delivered whatever the legal and political prevarications

Now, Widdecombe is the sort of awkward country boutique conservative out of step with the PR-savvy May and her cabal, the sort of swivel-eyed believer in the holy grail of Brexit.

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There’s a certain charm to these fusty, fart-smelling old Tories when compared to their suave party leadership.

But comparing the Britain’s ‘independence’ from Europe to emancipation? Good grief!

But Widecombe’s bad history did remind me of an occasion when British attitudes towards America were motivated by moral principles as well as mercenary economic interest and where slavery was a big factor.

During the US Civil War of the early 1860s, the secessionist southern states gambled that withholding Cotton exports to Britain would have such a disruptive effect on trade that Britain could not afford to stand idly by and would be forced to intervene in support of the pro-slavery South.

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It was the sort of political calculation based on the immoral but reasonable logic of economic self-interest. With millions of British workers dependent on the Atlantic cotton trade, surely Britain’s hand would be forced.

But it wasn’t. Instead, the outcome of the American civil war was in no small part determined by the failure of the South’s ‘cotton diplomacy’ and the triumph of Abraham Lincoln’s naval blockade.

So, with the sort of ‘pragmatic’ economic logic championed today by May and Fallon and others, why did Britain not intervene to support the south and its lucrative trade in cotton? Why did the British political elite of the day not embrace Jefferson Davis instead of Abraham Lincoln?

The reasons are many. The moneymen of the City of London weighed their options carefully, on the one hand anxious about the losses from Cotton embargo, but on the other eyeing greedily the wheat coming across the Atlantic from northern Union territories. Meanwhile cities dependent on cotton, like Liverpool, considered a Pro-Confederate city, pressed for support of the South – not due to ideological commitment, but because of the economic interest of reopening the Cotton trade.

But economic self-interest was not the be-all and end-all.

Other cities dependent on cotton, in and around Manchester, for example, supported Lincoln even though it was against their economic self-interest.

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This is quite remarkable because the collapse of the cotton trade led to a ‘Cotton Famine’ in Lancashire, with mass unemployment and hardship the consequence. Nonetheless, cotton workers out of work backed the anti-slavery stance of Lincoln for moral reasons.

Lincoln would later laud the ‘sublime Christian heroism’ of unemployed Manchester cotton workers who wrote to him urging him to continue the good fight despite it resulting in them losing their livelihoods.

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Many workers had learned of the horrors of slavery through talks and pamphlets by escaped or emancipated slaves like the famous Frederick Douglass.

There is a leftist tendency to romanticise the workers as always on the ‘right’ side of history.

Nonetheless angry and bitter and disenfranchised working men didn’t just revert to reactionary politics because it suited them and there were very few riots by angry mobs.  Workers really struggled, and would have had every reason to agitate for the South. But they didn’t.

Gladstone later mentioned the ‘stoicism’ of these Lancashire cotton workers as an argument for the extension of the suffrage.

So, to return to Anne Widdecombe’s comments about Brexit being like the fight to abolish slavery, I suppose you can see her bad history as informed by the idea that politics does not have to be based on economic self-interest alone.

In the same vein, people didn’t vote for Brexit for purely economic reasons. Quite the opposite, in fact – the dire warnings from the Bank of England about the sky falling on everyone’s head were not heeded by 52% of people.

The problem is that now Brexit is being pursued by those whose only rationale is economic self-interest. May et al, the mercenary political operators steering Brexit towards a ruthlessly reductionist economic and political ‘pragmatism’, almost show the true believers like Widdecombe in a good light.

What’s perhaps most interesting about the very bad analogy between Brexit and the end of slavery is the stance of the captains of industry back during the Cotton Famine. Remarkably, owners of cotton mills – who had everything to lose from Britain not backing the slave-owning South – were in fact mostly radical nonconformist mill owners who took a moral stance against slavery. Like their workers, they took the ever-so ‘unpragmatic’ option of economic suicide because it was the right thing to do morally and politically.

It may sound a bit wet, but they thought about others first and put their own immediate material interests second.

Little evidence of that today. Where are the upstanding white knights of commerce?

For some, wearied and depressed by Brexit, a white knight arrived in the form of Gina Miller, a hedge fund manager who took the legal case against Brexit to the high court, and won.

And who was the noble captain of industry financing this crusade by an ‘ordinary woman’ against the government? Why none other than self-made man and chief executive of the plumbing giant Pimlico Plumbers, a cockney named Charlie Mullins.

Image result for charlie mullins pimlico plumbers

Except Mullins is no radical nonconformist mill owner. In fact, he’s just lost a court case himself. For Mullins was trying, unsuccessfully, to deny his workers their rights, claiming they are all ‘self-employed’.

Some white knight.

What all of the above shows is how morally bankrupt and ill-informed much of British politics is today.

The deluded but principled Brexiteers have lost control of the whole mad project. Instead it’s being controlled by the ‘pragmatists’.

But pragmatism, it seems, dictates grovelling to disgusting and immoral men like Trump (or the Saudi regime, for that matter).

Having Theresa May in charge may be preferable to having the country run by the Anne Widdicombes and Charlie Mullinses of this world.

But I can’t help feel that she is entirely lacking in moral courage.

A narrowly British ‘economic pragmatism’, let’s remember, could also encompass celebrating the melting of the polar ice caps because it’ll open up shipping trade routes, or celebrating China’s horrendous smog crisis just because it opens up opportunities for wideboy businessmen to sell the Chinese bottles of fresh air from the Yorkshire dales.

And then, ultimately, we’re all fucked.

 

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On ‘Postcapitalism’ and Recent Events – #Nice, #Turkey

I’ve just finished reading the book Postcapitalism by Paul Mason, and some
recent global events have got me thinking about the book’s arguments.
As America becomes more polarised, We’ve also just had two pretty seismic events unfold: the slaughter in Nice and the coup attempt in Turkey.

Paul Mason commentates regularly on the knock-on economic impacts of such happenings as the economics editor for Britain’s Channel 4 News. His journalistic written style perhaps explains why a book which discusses sometimes arcane economic theory is such a compelling read. 

THIS CHANGES EVERYTHING

His basic argument is that the pace of infotech development over recent years has changed everything. Knowledge is increasingly free, and readily available at our fingertips. For example, the first I heard of the terror attack in Nice was while pootering about on Twitter: the news of the attack was not originally verifiable, but as it shot to the top trending topic it was clear that something very big and very bloody was unfolding in that city. 

Mason sees the free diffusion of knowledge (not just via social media but in the free exchange of ideas and science more broadly) as such a challenge to the privatise-at-all-costs mantra of neoliberalism that it could topple capitalism as we know it. He goes back to Marx’s Grundrisse and the great German philosopher’s meditation on how, if there were ever a machine invented that would never wear out, capitalism would crumble. He then points to the revolutionary potential of zero cost products in an economy based on information.

Mason did not have to convince me of the apocalyptic possibilities of capitalism if it continues as it does presently. Irreversible climate change, environmental destruction, the mass unavailability of lifesaving drugs, a new chasm between the ultra wealthy 1% and the rest of us: capitalism has to be altered, otherwise we, and the succeeding generations, are all heading to hell in a handcart.

But it does not necessarily follow that the revolution in infotech will deliver Postcapitalism, or even a better capitalism. The Apple corporation, for example, constructs a walled garden around free music, literature, ideas and art by forcing people to buy a variety of its products in order to harness them at all. Mason, to give him his due, notes this; more importantly, though, he notes the prospect of governments clamping down on this unprivatised brave new world.

STATE CLAMPDOWNS

Here lies the danger. The spot on the Promenade des Anglais on which the Nice killer fell is now littered with detritus and people assemble to spit on it. The killer’s actions, in the popular mindset, are not now human but monstrous. With the perpetrators of terrorist events commonly dehumanised and dubbed monstrous, the possibility of state crackdown is surely more alive than ever. 

When senior politicians like French President Francois Hollande are booed at commemorations, as happened in Nice last week, the tempting solution for the political establishment is to clamp down harder. Ever harder. Harder on the terrorists, yes, but also harder on the freedoms Mason lauds, and all in the name of security. Think of the Chinese government’s regular, outrageous censorship of the Internet. Think of Turkey’s President Erdogan and his tendency to do the same, only enhanced by the coup attempt in his country at the weekend. Think, too, of British prime minister Theresa May’s support for the UK’s proposed ‘snooper’s charter’. Ironically, Erdogan denounced the coup via FaceTime, the sort of free info / person-to-person platform Mason lauds and the Turkish president loathes.

INTERVENTION
Coming back to Mason, he has been dismissed by some as an unreconstructed Trot, but he does attack many of the old leftist shibboleths. The early twentieth century socialists – Trotsky, Luxembourg, Lenin – were wrong to perceive the imminent collapse of capitalism, he claims. He also doubts the ability of centralised state planning to effect the desired-for transition to Postcapitalism. The people, individuals, and not the omnicompetent state, will deliver Postcapitalism, says Mason. He wants a ‘Wikistate’, run like Wikipedia with just a couple of hundred administrators overseeing a wealth of freedom. 
However, and more broadly, we are actually witnessing the rise of politicians promising more state intervention, not less – Donald Trump is a good example, a cowboy pinup of the aggressive business world like Reagan, but hardly a neoliberal in the classic sense. With Brexit, with the resurgence of the European right, anxiety over uncontrolled immigration etc it seems people are demanding more intervention, not less. The price of greater security, then, may well be the jettisoning of the free anticapitalist ethos that Mason celebrates.
BRAVE NEW WORLD

There are other flaws, to my mind, with Mason’s thesis. But his cry for a different world borne of different thinking – one in which individuals all receive a flat wage and so do not have to perform ‘bullshit work’, in which banks are held to account and responsible and sustainable business practice rewarded – is one which should be embraced and not dismissed haughtily.

And yet. And yet. At times this book, for all its historical sweep, seems trapped in an intellectual cul de sac. Mason’s Postcapitalism, when he gets around to defining it, seems to be a mixture of the free market, the interventionist state, and – lording it above all equals – the techno geek. It all feels a bit faddish, a feeling I first got with Mason last year when reading a Guardian piece by him on how the hipster brewing company ‘Brewdog’ is an example ofPostcapitalism in making its recipes freely available and offering easily accessible share options. Oh please.

As the events in Turkey show, in this fast paced ever changing world, change is often effected in quite traditional ways: helicopters, television pronouncements, angry mobs. Great change in the world is certainly greatly desirable, but it may just arrive via more established means.

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Post-Brexit, where’s our head of state to provide leadership amongst the chaos and anxiety???

When historians come to write the history of Britain’s historic EU exit they will struggle to convey the mood of despondency that has taken over the country.

I felt this the minute I stepped off a plane from New York in Manchester on Monday morning. It is tangible. There is a mood of anxiety, disquiet, and anger but most of all there is a feeling of dejection.

Brexit has thrown the UK into constitutional turmoil. Tension is rising and there are fears of further violent confrontations on the streets. Racism and xenophobia are undoubtedly on the rise. Little England has won but with Nigel Farage in Brussels and the leadership of the Tory party uncertain even the Little Englanders seem to lack a figurehead and are instead turning on immigrant communities.

While there is tension, though, there’s this overwhelming listlessness.

This stems from the fact that politically we are left with a real mess. David Cameron, who has foolishly thrown away his prime ministership by calling this utterly unnecessary referendum, is redundant. His party are tearing themselves apart. As I write this, the Labour opposition is in disarray too with Jeremy Corbyn losing a no-confidence motion by 172 to 40 votes. Meanwhile the economy is at risk and people are seeking answers about what happens next.

In time of uncertainty leadership is needed

Whatever the rights and wrongs of Brexit, it’s happened now. But it’s the mood of dejection and the sense of rudderlessness which is now the big problem. Nicola Sturgeon, First Minister of Scotland, has rightly condemned the leadership vacuum in Westminster. In this mood of dejection, political leadership is badly needed.

And this ties into the bigger constitutional questions now being raised by the Brexit vote.

The overwhelming point, constitutionally, is that we have no effective head of state who can provide a voice of leadership at times of crisis. We need a leader elected by the people, of the people, who can provide stability and reassurance in this time of confusion and anxiety.

Where is our President to guide us through this?

Instead of a President, elected by popular vote, who can appear across the media to appeal for calm and to reassure the populace, have Elizabeth Windsor.

The Queen is supposed to be ‘above politics’. Since the Scottish referendum, as she hits 90, she has increasingly let the mask slip on the nonsensical notion of her being above politics, with reports of her remarks on sensitive issues leaked by the press. And when it comes down to it, of course she’s not above politics – the very idea that the Queen, in her weekly meeting with the PM, discusses the racing form or the weather is a joke.

But the problem is this: she must be seen to be above it all, effectively gagged from intervening.

This is just one of the paradoxes about a hereditary head of state – because she is unelected and because of the history books displaying what can happen to an overly political monarch, the Queen must keep her mouth shut on political issues.

But at the same time, she is supposed to be a unifying force. The head of state should be the first to step forward at a time of crisis like this – to smooth the unease, to provide political leadership that is not partisan but in the interests of the people. To be a force for stability and reassurance in testing times.

No Constitutional Clarity

We have none of this.

The British people currently have no clear leadership and no clarity about how the constitution should now work.  We need a written constitution that is clear and we need a head of state who can provide national leadership during times of great uncertainty like this.

The far-reaching consequences of Brexit may deliver changes I would welcome – an independent Scotland, a united Ireland. But in the interim we need a head of state with leadership, political nous and clarity providing calm.

This speaks to the fact that in the constitutional shake-up provided by Brexit we now need real change that puts real power in the hands of the people and which provides the means to weather political storms.

The Queen and the Windsor family are both unable and unwilling to offer leadership during a time of unprecedented turmoil.  Instead of a monarch motivated to protect her own position we need an accountable head of state who can speak to the nation and help guide us through the turmoil.

If Brexit delivers one positive thing in the long-term, let’s hope it might be this.

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The infantilisation of the Brexit debate

This morning I was listening to a radio debate around British membership of the European Union when one of the participants dropped a bombshell. We’d all heard the big news that, during the week, British Prime Minister David Cameron’s negotiations with his fellow European leaders had dragged on so long that breakfast was postponed, then lunch, then dinner. But now came the revelation that in the absence of formal dining what had ‘fuelled’ Cameron and his team during the tortuous process  was Haribo Fangtastics.

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For the uninitiated, Fangtastics are a chewy jelly snack manufactured by a German (yes, German) confectionery giant. A playground favourite, they take your tongue on a sensory journey from extreme sweetness to extreme sourness. And they pack a fizz, too. Perfect sugar hit to get you through Double Maths or, if you’re Mr Cameron, high powered political negotiations.

Fangtastics-gate illustrates the fact that, thus far, the debate around whether the United Kingdom will leave the European Union has been characterised by infantilised rhetoric.

By now, we’re used to this when it comes to politics. ‘It’s just too boring’ fret television and radio producers. As a solution you get programmes like BBC’s Daily Politics, all cheap graphics and smiles to break up the serious stuff. The Daily Politics duly delivered today: Cameron’s cabinet were crudely depicted as rival sets of football fans, with bobble hats and scarfs bearing either the words ‘IN’ or ‘OUT’ depending on their stance. Chortle.

Meanwhile, Nigel Farage – leading figure in the ‘out’ campaign – has in the last couple of weeks delivered rejoinders to Cameron of which a school bully would be proud. He first called him ‘a chicken’ over his trifling reforms to Britain’s conditions of EU membership. He then went further in deploying schoolboy taunts: Mr Cameron, Farage informed us, had secured but ‘tinsy winsy’ reforms.

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Over on Sky News, anchor Dermot Murnaghan was busy reducing the debate to a matter of personalities. Boris Johnson versus David Cameron, Murnaghan told viewers, would be like ‘a superhero movie’, ‘like King Kong fighting Godzilla’. Sounds light? Well, this was actually taking the debate up a notch. The previous segment of the show had featured ‘in’ campaigner June Sarpong (she formerly noted for presenting shows about pop music on Channel 4 which brought with it tough interviews with the likes of Britney Spiers over what she eats for breakfast). June’s argument for staying in the EU seemed to be largely based on an image of ‘out’ campaigners Nigel Farage and George Galloway linking arms. She goaded the Tory ‘out’ campaigner sitting beside her in the Sky Newsroom with that classic argument that goes something like this: ‘Euuhhhhh! Look at the state of your friends’. Or, to directly quote Sarpong, ‘look at who you hang out with!’

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What does all this suggest about the state of political rhetoric?

It speaks to the fact that the British negotiations over questions such as migrant benefits, sovereignty, movement of labour, law-making etc actualy turned out – unsurprisingly – to be slow and boring. Very boring.

Now, The News doesn’t like this. So even the most high-brow news magazine shows stooped to the tabloid. Thus on Thursday BBC Radio 4’s flagship morning politics show ‘Today’ wheeled out an excitable American commentator to spice things up. Suddenly a boring set of negotiations sounded like Superbowl showdown. ‘Cameron’s going in there on the offense’ he enthused ‘and how is Denmark going to respond?’ Pass the popcorn!

More worryingly, it shows that some of the profound consequences that will follow the British people’s decision on European have been reduced to the sound-bite and dumbed down to an alarming degree.

I would argue that this is part of a broader infantilisation at work in society. Young-ish people are penalised and neutered by house prices, age-geared benefit restrictions, the early debt burden of study, and austerity politics. They become infantilised, some living with mum and dad well into their thirties and forties (and beyond?) because there is little other option for them. They’re also spoon-fed a diet of computer games and superhero movies so that infantilisation has become masked beneath the new respectability of the 40 year old nerd.

Does the infantilisation of the debate around Brexit, with cartoonish and pop-friendly rhetoric, reflect this? I would discuss this further, but the X Factor has just come on the telly. Sorry. Have to go.

 

 

 

 

 

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Modern Irish History: two audios #1916

As the centenary of the Irish Easter Rising approaches, it seems to be reigniting historical debate in Ireland and, hopefully, these isles.

The ‘four nations’ approach to modern British and Irish history is gaining traction and in this spirit I’ve been reading a fascinating book on Scotland and the Easter Rising (eds. Kirsty Lusk and Willy Maley) sent to me by my old chum Frank McShane.

There’s much in it on James Connolly, as you’d expect, but also a reminder of the British origins of four of the seven signatories of the Proclamation of the Irish Republic (1916), all of whom were subsequently executed. Alongside Connolly’s Edinburgh background there’s Tom Clarke’s infancy on the Isle of Wight, Patrick Pearse’s English father, and Thomas McDonagh’s English mother.

For those interested in the 1916 Rising, I’ve recorded a short lecture on the experience of the rebellion through the eyes of future Irish Taoiseach Seán Lemass: accessible here

I also delivered a lecture this week on the consequences of 1916 with the formation of the Irish Free State / Eire, which chiefly concerns the experience of growing up male in Ireland in the 1930s and 40s, but which touches on Patrick Pearse’s concept of revolution as a generational duty. This is accessible here 

 

 

 

 

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Anthemgate and all that

corbyn

“It’s a disgrace for Jeremy Corbyn not to sing the national anthem”

“Corbyn was a disgrace! Not just for not singing but for turning up so shabbily dressed”

“Shame on you Corbyn for not honouring our Queen. Disgrace.”

DISGRACE  (no, not the book by J.M. Coetzee)

Yes, that professional disgrace Jeremy Corbyn has done it again! The Labour leader’s decision not to sing God Save the Queen at a remembrance service has elicited ire from some quarters. The selection of tweets above, reacting to Corbyn’s decision to remain true to his republican principles, illustrate how standing in respectful silence can really get up some people’s noses.

ABSOLUTE DISGRACEY DISGRACEFULNESS

For those offended, the argument goes a little like this: “How dare Jeremy Corbyn refuse to sing a song about a deity he doesn’t believe in bestowing favours on an unelected head of state he wants to get rid of?”

But who are these people for whom a MASSIVE issue like this justifiably overshadows other less worthy crumbs of news such as the biggest refugee crisis since the Second World War?

Well, believe it or not, the majority of Corbyn’s detractors over ‘Anthemgate’ are not Tory politicians or right wing press figures. Neither are the majority of his detractors disgruntled members of his own party. And neither are they white van men, members of the armed forces, football hooligans, gong-chasing celebs, or even high profile members of what might loosely be termed ‘the establishment’.

No, a cursory trawl through social media will demonstrate that those who Corbyn really offended were people whose hobbies are likely to include cross-stitch and flower arranging. Think Hyacinth Bouquet from the old sitcom ‘Keeping Up Appearances’. That’s it, you’ve got it, suburban snobs or – as I’ll call them from hereon in – church fete fascists.

THE EVOLUTION OF THE SPECIES

The Church Fete Fascist (CFF) is a curious breed of nimby. Part of several other subfamilies, the CFF has been around a long time in these isles and is widely distributed. Its feeding habits ensure that the CFF will exploit a variety of sources of discontent likely to make the front page of right-wing daily newspapers.

A domesticated creature, a CFF will largely confine itself to its natural habitat but (reminiscent of the legend that King Arthur will resurrect and come to England’s rescue in her hour of need) they are also predatory and ready and waiting to emerge to help if a national scandal of the gravity of Anthemgate arises.

The Church Fete Fascist is so named so because of its intolerance for non-conformism. Not singing a song which contains verses lauding an unelected leader and bashing Scots is one such example which is HIGHLY DISTRESSING to the CFF and can cause erratic behaviour to develop.

RECENT DEVELOPMENTS

The interesting thing about Anthemgate is that it has revealed how Church Fete Fascism really is in undergoing a resurgence at the moment. This is all to do with the attendant emergence of Brand Britain.

Brand Britain is about cakes and ale, roast beef and cricket on the green. It is all about waving the butcher’s apron around gaily and taking ‘pride’ in the country. Nothing wrong with this in and of itself, of course, but the phenomenon has intensified a lot in recent years.

The electoral defeat of Labour party in 2011 and a succession of national events soon meant that various celebrities soon flocked to Brand Britain, bending the knee and doffing the cap at each and every opportunity: the Jubilee for example. The London Olympics of 2012 intensified the phenomenon. ‘Pride in Britishness’ underwent something of an explosion as the Olympics came to these shores and the country’s athletes performed well.

National coming-together helped dampen those nagging anxieties about the Celtic fringes. Squalid little interruptions to this forward march may have sporadically occurred in the form of independence referendums but these distractions were swiftly papered over by footage of Kate Middleton opening a child’s play area.

A state broadcaster wearied and wounded by threats to abolish the licence fee and competition from online platforms and other channels soon joined in enthusiastically, shedding its tradition left-of-centrism for a craven attitude to royalty. Because Brand Britain, naturally, also conflates the two things. Because, as any schoolkid studying the revised history curriculum or immigrant taking the ‘Britishness’ test knows, Britain and the Windsor family are exactly the same thing. Always have been an always will be. Long to reign over us. Happy and Glorious.

NOT THEIR FAULT

In short, it’s all about the rise of a disturbingly conformist culture attached to national identity.

However, to be fair, it is not the Church Fete Fascists’ fault. There was a time when DEMANDING conformity on things like singing the anthem would have been dismissed by a greater section of British opinion as intolerant and illiberal. A time when the CFF might have looked, well, a little silly.

There was a time, now dimly-remembered, when more people would have pointed out that freedom of expression was what the sacrifice of the Second World War – the occasion which Corbyn, amongst others, was assembling to remember – was supposedly all about.

But that was a time before the media’s obsession with Brand Britain enabled the inexorable ascent of the Church Fete Fascist.

A time before television presenter Kirsty Allsop hit our screens alongside wall-to-wall shows about bunting and baking…

A time before Jeremy Clarkson …

A time before newsreader Fiona Bruce’s face would contort with schoolgirl glee before breaking the good news about the Queen cutting the ribbon at a new garden centre in Rutland …

A time when a studio guest on BBC’s flagship current affairs show Newsnight would have been laughed out of Television Centre for suggesting that Corbyn’s disgrace would have been mitigated had he hummed along and moved his lips occasionally …

But that was before Jeremy Corbyn came along and got himself elected leader of the Labour party. In doing so, he has done his bit to rescue Brand Britain which, despite the media’s efforts, was beginning to look a little frayed around the edges. For those anxieties about the deficit, housing, devolution etc etc can now be funnelled into anti-Corbynism.

As the furore of Anthemgate shows, to quote Dwight D Eisenhower, “the search for a scapegoat is the easiest of all hunting expeditions”.

The CFFs bagged their quarry alright – an anxious Labour Party hastily announced that Corbyn will now sing God Save the Queen in future.

Natural order of things restored.

Phew. Thank Goodness for that.

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This Sunday England play Ireland in Dublin and it’s twenty years after THIS happened …

In February 1995, just over twenty years ago now, England travelled to Dublin to play Ireland in a football friendly.   

But the match was abandoned after nasty right wing hooligan troupe ‘Combat 18’ started smashing the place up.

Working alongside Irish soccer hero Alan McLoughlin on his memoir of a life in the game, here’s how we captured the fateful moment it all kicked off at Lansdowne Road:

  
February, 1995. Ireland versus England at Lansdowne Road. An international friendly in the wake of our World Cup campaign and in the middle of our battle to qualify for Euro ’96 – the forthcoming European Championship to be held in England. It was a crisp, cold Dublin evening; the stars were lighting up the clear dark sky, and I was looking forward to the match. This would be the fourth time that I’d faced England while turning out for the Republic. This fixture always seemed to have a little more bite, a bit more fizz and tension than other international friendlies. For me, of course, it was extra-special. All the players knew one another from playing in England. And although England were supposedly technically superior, at that time we seemed to have the stranglehold over them. It was us who had graced the world stage the previous summer, while England had failed to qualify, and that gave us some extra confidence. Moreover, we’d already eased to victory in our first three European qualifying games, beating Latvia, Liechtenstein and Northern Ireland.

The atmosphere in the tunnel that evening was one of competitive rivalry, not hostility. Ireland were doing well in the European qualifiers and England, as the next host country of the tournament, didn’t need to worry about qualifying. But as we walked out that night, one thing struck me as strange right away. I looked over my right shoulder and up to the stand behind the dugouts. There were the green ranks of Irish fans. Then I looked up to the highest tier. There, to my surprise, were the Union flags and Saint George’s crosses … the England fans. This immediately struck me as bizarre. Why had the English fans been plonked up there? They seemed almost to be teetering on a precipice, arms aloft, piling forward as excited crowds do, squeezed against a single safety rail and within spitting distance of the Irish fans below. The booing and whistling during the anthems, which followed, was nosurprise. ‘God Save the Queen’ was drowned out by jeers. ‘The Soldier’s Song’ was met with anti-IRA chants. That was normal, though, and was nothing compared to that night in Windsor Park, 1993, when I’d sent Ireland to the World Cup finals with my goal.
We took the lead after half an hour. David Kelly scored a great goal from the left hand sideafter a lovely passing move starting deep from Steve Staunton. ‘You’ll never beat the Irish!’ rang around Lansdowne. And then it started. I was warming up, stretching on the touchline, when a ‘missile’ – an apple, in fact – stung the tip of my nose as it hurtled towards my head, before coming to rest in the turf at the edge of the pitch. For a second I looked at that apple, nestling in the soft turf, and thought how much it looked like a golf ball settled in the sand of a bunker. For a moment, strangely, in my mind I was back the golf links, thinking about how I would play the shot out of the sand. Then, reality kicked in. I looked up to where it had come from and saw fists flying, the unmistakable surge and jostle of crowd disturbance, and – everywhere now – big bits of plastic and wood raining down on the Irish fans. Some of those poor fans were now trying to clamber over the advertising hoardings, desperate to get away from the volleys coming from the English supporters above.
  
The referee blew his whistle and led the players back to the changing rooms via the centre of the pitch, thus avoiding the touchline where it was kicking off. The Irish players were actually in quite a buoyant mood. We were one-nil up and it was all to play for. We assumed that all the nonsense would die down in five minutes or so and we’d be back out there. But five minutes became ten. Then ten became fifteen. By that stage it was obvious that the match would be abandoned. Jack Charlton, meanwhile, was outside trying to calm things down. As a World Cup winner with England he thought that he would hold some sway over events. But in appealing to the English supporters he was just met with chants of ‘Judas’. He looked forlorn, cap drawn low over his face, as he re-entered the changing room.  

 When I saw the pictures on television afterwards I was outraged, like everyone else. It was reported that the English fans had been infiltrated by the neo-Nazi group ‘Combat 18’. On the night, though, I didn’t notice the Nazi salutes being thrust about and the ‘Sieg Heils’ being yelled: it was all part of the background noise behind me. One image really saddened me. The news clips kept featuring a wide eyed young boy, in his Ireland jersey, the picture of innocence and disbelief, seemingly turning to his daddy to ask him what was going on, as if the fun and beauty of football had been forever robbed from him in that instant. I shared that feeling of having been mugged. We were one nil up and had effectively had the game stolen from us by a small group of fascist thugs. The whole episode left me incredulous as to the decision to house those English fans in the top of the stand since the Gardaí were well aware of the far right element travelling to Dublin for the match

  
Some time after Combat 18 had announced themselves at Lansdowne Road that evening, they were mannerly enough to take the trouble of writing to me personally. Two envelopes arrived at Fratton Park one morning, one addressed to me and the other to Pompey’s Jamaican international Paul Hall. I thought mine was fan mail at first but, unfurling the letter inside, it was soon clear that it was anything but. Both Paul and I were English-born but playing for foreign countries, the letter proclaimed. Signed simply ‘Combat 18’, it warned me to expect trouble on account of my ‘treachery’. The club reported the letters to the police, who took the threat seriously. Soon, two special branch men were at my house, instructing me carefully on how to check my vehicle for a car bomb: a solemn ritual I performed diligently for a few months before deciding that I couldn’t live my life in fear of Combat 18 and their bigoted threats. Were they even aware of my parents’ nationality? Whatever the case, I couldn’t allow their reductive logic of national identity to scare me.  

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