CUTTIN, THRUSTIN, STABBIN, VOTIN

TexasSo, another back is stabbed, the latest in a frenzy of dagger-wielding to put Norman Bates to shame. Dave stabs Gove; Gove stabs Dave; Boris stabs Dave; Gove stabs Boris. While Jeremy Corbyn seems as bafflingly bewildered by the exodus of his Shadow Cabinet as his wide-eyed disciples, his bemusement with the viciousness of his fellow MPs underlines how his decades on the backbenches didn’t prepare him for the cruel cut-and-thrust of the frontbenches. Oh, politics is a dirty little business; and anybody unaware of this should either not get involved in it or (better still) know their bloody history.

The taste of power must be intoxicating, judging by the way in which it brings out the worst in everyone who comes within a whisker of it. Political history is littered with the corpses of those who blocked the route to power, so numerous that it would take a thousand posts on here to list the fallen. Deals are discarded, promises are broken, friendships are curtailed, alliances are severed – when power’s irresistible scent infects the nostrils, those under its spell will step over anybody to get their grubby paws on the prize

In the current brutal struggle for the future of the Tory Party, one could cite David Cameron’s justified demotion of Michael Gove following his disastrous spell as Education Secretary as the first blow struck. It incensed Mrs Gove – AKA Mail columnist Sarah Vine (she of the ‘It’s all about me’ Private Eye parody) – who has now been portrayed as the Lady Macbeth figure in this melodrama. Losing a household income of £36,000 overnight was evidently regarded by her as an unforgivable action on the part of the PM, and when hubby publicly opposed Dave’s stance by coming out as a Brexiteer Mrs Gove then apparently provoked the ire of Sam Cam following a series of sly tweets on the subject. Siding with Boris, Gove denied he wanted to be PM. A week on from the Referendum result, and a day on from an ‘accidentally leaked’ email by The Wife to the press, the Lord Chancellor has abruptly performed a U-turn, throwing his hat in the ring for the keys to No.10 and bringing about Boris’ shock withdrawal from the contest.

Corbyn’s refusal to budge as the Labour membership continues to venerate him as the second coming of Ghandi has been reinforced both by the decision of Angela Eagle not to stand against him in a leadership contest and the utter dearth of strong contenders to usurp the invisible man. What this challenge to Jezza has exposed is the threadbare talent Labour can boast in Parliament, something that will drag out the crisis and diminish the party’s standing even further. By contrast, while the Opposition commits hara-kiri, the Tories are simply getting on with it as the unsentimental Tories always do.

There’s the anonymous Stephen Crabb, replacement for IDS as Work and Pensions Secretary, a man who once said homosexuality was a disease that can be cured, and a man who evidently hasn’t quite worked out how to properly grow a beard; he’s making a meal of his non-toff background by referencing his one-parent family council house upbringing – just as David Davis did when he ran for the Tory leadership a decade ago; there’s Andrea Leadsom, another virtual unknown who only became a moderately familiar face when she shared some of the platforms during the Referendum TV debates; and, of course, there’s the token old man/making-up-the-numbers Ken Clarke-type candidate in the shape of ex-Defence Secretary Liam Fox.

There’s no denying, however, that the two front-runners will be the Snooper’s Charter Master Theresa May and the dour little goblin himself. May has played the whole Referendum saga cleverly, keeping out of the limelight and allowing others to exhaust the public’s attention; and the exit of Boris from the stage has adhered to the Tory tradition of the favourite falling at the first hurdle, enabling her to emerge from the traps at the eleventh hour. When announcing her intention to run, May declared there won’t be the anticipated autumn or spring election, giving herself plenty of breathing space as an unelected Prime Minister for almost four years – something that seems fittingly ironic when the country has just voted against being ruled by an elite that the electorate never voted for.

So, the choice for the nation’s next PM will be May – with her humourless headmistress ambience and whiny Mavis from ‘Coronation Street’ vocal inflections – or Gove, with his sixty-year-old man trapped in a twelve-year-old boy’s body/Brains from ‘Thunderbirds’ demeanour. A choice between a matron in kitten heels and another Murdoch crony with a missus spreading the word via the Daily Dacre; and unless you’re a card-carrying member of the Conservative Party, it’s a choice you have no say in at all. Yes, it’s good to be back in the bosom of democracy now we’re free from Brussels bureaucrats, isn’t it?


GORDON MURRAY (1921-2016)

MurrayThe death at the age of 95 of Gordon Murray, creator of the ‘Trumptonshire Trilogy’ of ‘Camberwick Green’, ‘Trumpton’ and ‘Chigley’, was announced today. The first of the trio was initially broadcast in the monochrome days of 1966, though he had the foresight to produce it in colour, which gave the series and its two sequels a longevity that carried it from the late 1960s all the way into the early 1990s as a perennial pre-school treat on lunchtime BBC1. The gentle portrayal of idyllic English village life probably seemed anachronistic even in 1966, yet the charm it effortlessly exuded and the sense of easing the viewer back into a womb-like state of blissful childhood comfort never waned and no doubt accounts for its lengthy shelf-life as a TV fixture.

Although interconnected and often confused with one another, each instalment in the Trumptonshire saga had its own distinctive qualities. ‘Trumpton’ opened every episode with the town hall clock and the two figures striking the bell, whereas ‘Camberwick Green’ opened every episode with the musical box from which that week’s profiled character would emerge. The musical accompaniment – each lead personality in Trumptonshire had their own theme song – featured the vocal talents of ‘Play School’ legend Brian Cant, and everyone for whom these songs constituted the aural backdrop to infancy can remember them.

From the Trumpton Fire Brigade to the troops of Pippin Fort, from Windy Miller to Lord Belborough, and from the drone-like workers at the biscuit factory to PC McGarry, it’s a wonder Gordon Murray’s Little England wasn’t evoked at some point during the recent EU Referendum, so exquisitely does it paint a picture of a nation that never was for a nation that always wanted it. The man who gifted more than one generation of children the kind of children’s programme that, as with the finest works of Oliver Postgate, defied the contemporary view that kids need to be slapped around the head with loud and fast images to prevent their allegedly short attention spans from wandering has left us a legacy that is as rich as any that the written word gave us in the centuries before the medium of television entered the arena. It may have been a product of an era that has now sadly receded into history, but it’s preserved forever – not just on digital disc, but in our heads. God bless, Gordon.

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NAME THAT (AUTO) TUNE

ArchiesThere’s a certain irony to the fact that the BBC decided to name their Xerox X Factor ‘The Voice’; the voice is the one aspect of contemporary popular music that has been effectively eradicated from the airwaves – that is, the distinctive voice that once acted as instant identification when heard emanating from the radio or turntable. Pop in the second half of the twentieth century was peppered with a plethora of distinctive voices that remain unmistakable – Roy Orbison, Frank Sinatra, Frankie Valli, John Lennon, Bob Dylan, Bob Marley, James Brown, Joni Mitchell, Marvin Gaye, Karen Carpenter, Rod Stewart, David Bowie, Bryan Ferry, Johnny Rotten, Kate Bush, Boy George, Morrissey – the list goes on and on. None could ever be confused with another, for strength of personality radiated from such voices; these were personalities who could be both fascinating and intimidating, but you couldn’t ignore them.

Some of the most distinctive voices of the pop era were unconventional and untrained; one thinks of, say, Russell Mael from Sparks or Billy MacKenzie from The Associates – those voices didn’t emerge from voice coaches in stage-schools, adhering to manuals that followed tried and tested guidelines; they came from somewhere without rules or regulations, natural and original to the unique individuals who produced them. Think of the way in which Dylan’s raw, rasping vocals cut through every convention of the time or the way in which Marc Almond’s early recordings with Soft Cell often veer perilously out-of-tune as he injects his theatrical electronic epics with wonderfully camp melodrama. There’s as much genuine soul in ‘Say Hello, Wave Goodbye’ as there is in anything by Aretha Franklin.

Various factors brought about the marginalisation of the distinctive voice. The increasing influence of the TV talent show was one, with every participant encouraged to model their vocals on the safest and least challenging mainstream style; but the so-called Fame Academy graduates were no better. They may be able to play instruments and write their own material, but they’ve essentially been taught how to sing in a musical equivalent of a creative writing course, submitting to a system that churns out students whose work is indistinguishable from each other, as bland and unoriginal as any of their talent show contemporaries. But the one element above all others that has changed the game is the invention of the insidious Auto-Tune effect.

The record-buying public’s first exposure to the audio processor that can fix every bum note and ensure every vocal to which it is applied is pitch-perfect to an unnatural degree was Cher’s 1998 chart-topper ‘Believe’. Since then it has become the default mechanism of every pop, R&B and Hip Hop act to have attained success in the twenty-first century, ironing out the last semblance of individual personality in the process. Whereas there had occasionally been big hit records in the past that comprised anonymous session singers and musicians operating under a group name and usually promoted on TV by a fake band that had nothing to do with the recording, Auto-Tune has taken this to a frightening new level. Its widespread, almost compulsory use today has rendered every pop act the modern-day equivalent of The Archies.

I was buying some tuna for the cat in a cut-price supermarket earlier today and found my ears exposed to the local commercial radio station; I entered the shop midway through one record and exited it midway through another; but there was nothing to distinguish either. Granted, at my age there’s no reason why I should recognise who the ‘artist’ was, but I’d hazard a guess most twenty or twenty-five years my junior would probably struggle as well. The watered-down, lowest-common-denominator 90s Dance derivative musical backing was identical, which tends to have a ‘white noise’ effect on me to begin with; but the vocals were Auto-Tuned into castrated android perfection. The voice was as pre-programmed as the music. Hack songwriters and producers have effectively found a way to reduce the human ingredient to the same synthetic cul-de-sac as the sampled instrumentation, making the voice a veritable click-track of soulless uniformity.

There has been an evident reinvention of the old Tin Pan Alley school over the past decade-and-a-half, whereby the majority of the big hit songs come from the same stable and are consequently impossible to tell apart. A small coterie of songwriters and producers have assembled a production line that makes Stock, Aitken and Waterman resemble Crosby, Stills and Nash – dispensable and disposable, cold, clinical fast-food music designed to be consumed and regurgitated like an iPod Big Mac. Any regular reader will know I’m no fan of Adele, but one reason why the flame-haired foghorn has achieved such mammoth success in the past four or five years could possibly be due to the fact that she does have at least one factor in her favour: her voice is undeniably distinctive. And it’s hard to think of many who could lay claim to that discarded distinction in this execrable era of identikit audio processed cheese.

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JEUX SANS FRONTIERES

Jam - CopyEngland experienced its second euro exit in a week last night, and Roy Hodgson falling on his sword left the field clear for Bo-Jo to play the nation’s saviour once again. Why not? Don’t rule anything out at the moment. The anger within some Tory circles at Boris’ blatant leadership machinations and convenient ride on the Brexit bandwagon is gathering pace now, so perhaps opting for management of the diabolical England football team might be the less fraught choice for the blond bombshell. Most paying attention could see through Boris’ obvious reasons for throwing his considerable weight behind the Leave team, and it’s not such a great surprise that many of the wild claims made during the campaign were downplayed and denied in the 24 hours after the shock result of the Referendum was announced. But, as has already been made clear, the EU was just one aspect of the public’s response to being given a rare opportunity for democratic assassination.

The big movers and shakers of the European Union appear more eager for Britain’s withdrawal from Brussels than Britain itself. Mindful of delay and dithering creating a vacuum that could be filled by dissenting voices emanating from their respective backyards, the major member states want us to honour our decision by getting a move on. But for a group of individuals whose Promised Land was supposed to be so simple and straightforward to achieve – a simple cross in the right box on the ballot paper, after all – the leading Brexiteers seem rather reluctant to start the ball rolling. Of course, the Tories need to sort out who will lead them back into Austerity Land now that Dave is packing his bags; and then there’s a probable General Election to prepare for too. The fact that the country’s credit rating has been downgraded and the pound is languishing at a thirty-year low suggests urgent action would be handy; but the compulsion to set the wheels in motion by those who desperately wanted the authority to do so appears to have deserted them.

The recklessness on the part of certain cheerleaders for the gamble of quitting the EU, and the way in which they disregarded the inevitable ramifications with such cavalier nonchalance, was absent from the subdued manner with which they greeted the outcome. Nigel Farage was virtually the only key player to treat the result with the kind of euphoria seen amongst the public who wanted it. The difficulties that lay ahead and indeed are already confronting the country as a consequence would appear to have sunk in, and the old adage of being careful what you wish for has hit home.

What so many of those who yearned to break free from European bureaucracy voted for was understandably exploited by the politicians who wielded the tin-opener without contemplating the sheer number of worms poised to burst out of the can; but the sudden trust placed in these politicians was perhaps a result of the fact that the shedding of collective responsibility and the uncharacteristic candour that accompanied this implied they were actually speaking the truth for once. Since when has that ever been the case, though?

Ironically, it is the losers in this affair that are sticking to the stories they peddled before any votes were cast. Gideon emerged from hibernation yesterday; he may have relented a little on his final apocalyptic prediction of a couple of weeks ago, but many of the financial implications he warned the electorate of are now piling-up in his in-tray. He must be hoping Dave’s successor is quickly installed so he can wash his hands of the whole business and pass on the mess to the next luckless Chancellor.

The absence of tactical ability and utter cluelessness as to what constitutes a winning formula that the now ex-England manager Roy Hodgson demonstrated with such unique ineptitude during the national side’s embarrassing European excursion of the last fortnight seems to mirror the lack of foresight employed by the Brexit brigade. England entered Euro 16, as they do with each tournament, riding the crest of a patriotic wave rooted in past glories and a historical reputation, just as romantic legends of Britain standing alone against the Continent were played upon by the leading lights of the Leave crowd. It’s an effective weapon to utilise (and a canny button for cynical fingers to push) when the present pales by comparison. What Englishman and woman with a love for their country wouldn’t want to regard it as the best in the world and fall back on former achievements as justification for that love? We can point to Henry V or Nelson or Wellington or Churchill or even Alf Ramsey and prove we can do it.

It is possible that few Brexiteers genuinely believed a victory was likely and therefore the prospect was fixed in their heads as a unrealisable dream, one they could wistfully imagine without having to deal with the actual aftermath of; but taking such a risk with the future of an entire nation in reality required a solid series of plans in place and not a blank page that nobody seems willing to aim a pen at. Did they really think Merkel or Hollande or Juncker would casually receive the rejection and allow Britain to extricate itself from the EU at its leisure, or allow us to stay in the single market without accompanying freedom of movement? I don’t believe they thought about it at all.

I’ve no doubt this current crisis is the latest in a long line of end-of-the-world scenarios that have periodically pummelled the country ever since Denis Healey had to go cap-in-hand to the IMF forty years ago, one more humbling body blow to the national character, like losing 2-1 to a team of part-time amateurs from a nation with the population of Leicester. But we get knocked down and we get back up again. That, at least, is one talent we have in abundance; and it will come to our rescue now as it always has done before. The solution is not to keep holding EU Referendums until Remain get the result they want, nor is it to tackle the unelected European mandarins with an unelected Prime Minister. There’s a rocky road ahead, yes; but the lark is always ascending.

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RED SAILS IN THE SUNSET

OstrichYesterday, David Lammy issued a statement that suggested Parliament should overturn the Referendum result; in case you weren’t aware, David Lammy is a Labour MP who became a minor household name via an appearance on ‘Celebrity Mastermind’ in which his grasp of general knowledge revealed his belief that Henry VIII’s successor as King was Henry VII. As buttons go, it’s fair to say he’s not the brightest on offer. Then again, he’s hardly unique where representatives of ‘the people’s party’ are concerned, by imagining that a mandate delivered by the electorate can be reversed because it doesn’t fit with his own cosseted view of the country. Some metropolitan parliamentarians clearly haven’t learnt a bloody thing from what happened at the end of last week.

Jeremy Corbyn is not part of the metropolitan parliamentary elite, of course; nobody could accuse him of that, at least. If, as some have claimed, Nigel Farage wants Britain to return to the 50s, Corbyn wants us back in the 80s; his cult popularity rests with survivors of that decade’s vicious ideological battles as well as their Millennial offspring who are by nature ‘lefty’ while ever they are still registered as students. It’s the comfort zone of many veteran Labour backbenchers for whom the worst event in their political careers was the deposing of Margaret Thatcher. Corbyn’s unlikely appearance on a podium alongside Blairite Labour hopefuls during last summer’s leadership campaign was so incongruous that his outsider status swung it. A break with the recent past via a return to the distant past – one so distant that it has nostalgic connotations for those who were there, and novelty value for those who weren’t.

The problem with yearning for the class wars of old is that the class Labour once spoke for has moved on; and Corbyn hasn’t. His selling point is that he isn’t like Cameron or Gideon or Boris – and he isn’t; but that doesn’t necessarily mean he means anymore to an unemployed 30-year-old in Doncaster than Cameron or Gideon or Boris. If anything, an unemployed 30-year-old in Doncaster is more likely to know Boris than he is to know Corbyn, whose invisibility during perhaps the most important post-war political campaign this country has ever seen helped bury the message of the party he presumes to lead.

Sunday morning opened with the news that Hilary Benn – one of the few leftovers from the last Labour Government still occupying the opposition front bench – had been fired from the Shadow Cabinet. This had been on the cards ever since his grandstand speech in support of military intervention in Syria last year; but it apparently came about due to Benn’s criticisms of his leader’s lacklustre and fairly unconvincing efforts at getting Labour’s Remain position across to the people the party allegedly represents. Eleven other members of Team Corbyn left of their own accord on the same day as Benn’s dismissal, and this means the country’s top two political parties are in simultaneous disarray.

As messy as things currently are for the Tories, however, their difficulties are considerably eased by the fact that the party whose role it is to hold them to account and exploit their perilous position is in an even more abysmal state than them. The election of Jezza as leader was portrayed as a people’s coup by the membership, a grassroots groundswell facilitated by the disastrous, naive new rules that saw thousands able to join the party online and manipulate the voting process; and then Corbyn’s shock triumph was declared as a victory for erasing the dark days of Blair from the map. A man who won the party three consecutive General Elections clearly tore up the sacred rulebook stating that Labour’s proper place is as Her Majesty’s Opposition, and – whatever else he has to answer for (and, let’s be honest, it’s quite a long list) – as far as Labour internal politics are concerned, Blair’s success with the electorate way beyond the party’s traditional fan-base was unforgivable. So, the party is now comfortably defined by what it stands against rather than what it actually stands for.

The anti-Semitic issue was only belatedly addressed when it went public, though recent revelations of the way in which female Muslim Labour council contenders have been bullied, blacklisted and mistreated by their male Muslim peers in some of the party’s stronghold Asian neighbourhoods haven’t been addressed at all; and this utter inability to deal with a serious problem within the party is as pathetic a response as Labour’s utter cluelessness as to why the party has been rejected by a white working-class who provided Labour with its founding raison d’être. When the BBC’s political editor Laura Kuenssberg had the nerve to criticise Corbyn on air, the Messiah’s online brown-shirt bullyboys targeted her in the same petulant manner as Twitter trolls, upholding Corbyn’s blinkered belief that every media outlet is out to get him because he’s not a member of ‘the elite’. Dare to criticise him and you may as well hold up your ‘elite’ membership card. No wonder The Kids love Jezza; he shares the same infantile mentality.

Unlike the Tories, Labour has no outstanding candidate to lead a coup that will depose the party’s lame duck leader; and the longer the anti-Corbynites dither, the quicker Boris or Gove or May will take control of the Conservatives, call an Election and condemn the country to five more years of austerity policies. The crash at the polls that Labour experienced in 2010 was something the party has yet to come to terms with and if Corbyn remains at the helm should Cameron’s successor go the country in the autumn or next spring, I foresee what happened to the Lib Dems last year being repeated in Labour circles, the kind of electoral apocalypse that will make 2010 feel more like 1997. And that leaves Britain – or England – as a one-party state. At this extremely uncertain moment in time, that is not good; and unless the party gets its act together soon, Labour as a political force is doomed; mind you, if fatty Paedofinder General Watson fancies his chances, the party really is over.

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HOME IS WHERE THE HEART WAS

77I’m probably not the first person to point out the irony in Wales taking on Northern Ireland in football’s European Championships yesterday, just 48 hours after the EU Referendum in which the former voted Brexit and the latter voted Remain. When England took on Wales in the group stages, it was the first time two of the four home nations had played each other in a major tournament since England played Scotland in Euro 96, but for anyone over a certain age it inadvertently revived memories of the days when such a fixture took place every season, when it formed part of the oldest international football competition, an annual contest that predated the World Cup by 47 years and spanned a century.

Following on from the first ever international football fixture between England and Scotland in 1872, the two founding nations of Association Football only had each other to play until the Welsh national side was formed and played its inaugural fixture against the Scots in 1876, taking on England for the first time three years later. The Irish national side completed the quartet with its 1882 debut, and though the formation of the English Football League was still a good five years away – with the FA Cup being the sole measure of domestic success – the four national sides decided to instigate a league-based competition. What became known as the British or Home Championship began in January 1884, the world’s first competitive league tournament for a sport that had sprung from the playing fields of the public schools and was now the passion of the working man; the first winners were Scotland, ending the campaign with a 4-1 win over Wales in Glasgow.

As Britain’s soccer missionaries spread the game in Europe and South America, the Home Championship was widely regarded as the world’s pre-eminent international football competition, and the increasing popularity of the sport saw the fixtures attract huge crowds in the decades leading up to the First World War. In less safety-conscious days, this often ran the risk of tragedy. In April 1902, Scotland were playing England at Glasgow Rangers’ Ibrox ground when a newly built wooden stand with a steel girder frame collapsed, sending hundreds of fans falling forty feet to the ground, injuring over 500 and killing 25.

When the competition began again in 1919, the tradition of the final fixture being between England and Scotland had already become established, and this tended to be the highest-attended and most eagerly awaited game of the whole contest. In fact, at one time the England Vs Scotland game was one of only three football matches allowed to be screened live on TV every season – the other two being the FA Cup Final and the European Cup Final. Imagine that. No wonder it continued to attract such fervent attention well into the 1970s.

The Home Nations always had a troubled relationship with FIFA, the world governing body formed in 1904. Although England joined the new organisation in 1905, swiftly followed by the other three British national sides, all left and then rejoined FIFA in the early 20s before leaving again in 1928; not returning to the FIFA fold until after the Second World War meant the four founding nations of international football didn’t participate in the first three World Cup tournaments. When qualifying for the 1950 World Cup in Brazil was inaugurated, FIFA decided the Home Championship would serve as a convenient qualifying group, a role it also performed for the 1954 World Cup.

In the immediate post-war era, the competition retained its reputation in an era of limited exposure to international football and scarce availability of television; by the time the World Cup was held in England in 1966, however, the Home Championship had been usurped by the upstart FIFA contest and embarked upon a long slow slide towards eventual abolition. The end-of-season England Vs Scotland game, alternating every year between English and Scottish soil, overshadowed other fixtures in the contest, though the infamous pitch invasion at Wembley by Scots supporters in 1977 gave the impression that the tournament was more trouble than it was worth. When the 1980-81 Home Championship was abandoned halfway through due to the Northern Ireland Troubles – taking place as it did at the height of the IRA Hunger Strikes – it was effectively the beginning of the end.

For generations of British footballers, club loyalties were put to one side whenever domestic team-mates took on each other in national colours and the fixtures were regarded almost as a rites-of-passage event, shaping national identity within the British Isles in the process. But by the early 1980s, international rivalries (such as England and West Germany) had superseded the old British rivalries, and the World Cup and European Championships were taking precedence. Coupled with falling attendances, hooliganism, and the expanding European club fixtures of English and Scottish league teams, the Home Championship seemed to have become an anachronistic encumbrance and the decision was made to end a hundred years of history in 1984, with Northern Ireland claiming the last title.

Only when the Home Nations have occasionally been drawn against each other in either World Cup or European Championship qualifying groups have memories of the Home Championship been subsequently revived; and the undoubted excitement these games have provoked have led to periodical calls for the contest to be restarted, possibly as a summer competition staged every couple of years. Alas, such calls have been met with a lukewarm response by the FA and the other British football governing bodies; and now that the UK seems poised on the precipice of extinction courtesy of political machinations, the likelihood of what for many fans and players was a highlight of each season being revived seems about as odds-on as the UK applying to rejoin the EU. The past was not just another country; it was four.

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THIS WRECKAGE

CameronWell, the fallout is proving to be somewhat chaotic, if predictable. The overindulged generation to whom nobody (least of all their helicopter parents) has ever said ‘no’ have already started up another of their tedious petitions to demand a second Referendum because they find it impossible to accept the majority disagreed with them; Nicola Sturgeon has confirmed she’s preparing the ground for a second Independence campaign; Jeremy Corbyn has declared he will fight any challenge from within his own party, seemingly oblivious to the impending catastrophe awaiting Labour should the autumn see a General Election with him in charge; the metropolitan politicians who have received a resounding kick in the goolies still can’t understand why their groins are smarting as they continue to sneer at the voters who abandoned them; the Brexit frontrunners are keen to keep the celebratory festivities going because it serves as a convenient distraction from the fact that they have no idea what they’re supposed to do next; promises of billions raining down on the NHS have quietly been removed from the winning speeches; and furious Remain Conservatives are planning to spike the Tory leadership race by casting Boris Johnson in the Michael Heseltine role, wielding the dagger without a cast-iron guarantee of the crown.

David Cameron’s swift announcement of his resignation ironically mirrored that of Gordon Brown’s in 2010, staged exactly the same way – from the same podium in the same location to the simpering countenance of the missus by his side. It was deliberately timed to catch Boris off-guard, and Dave’s intention to see out the summer at No.10 in the manner of an impotent US President at the end of his second term gives him the opportunity to plot against his expected successor before the 1922 Committee kick-starts proceedings. With the SNP intending to exploit the chaos just as we all knew they would, Cameron could well go down in history as the PM who lost both Europe and Scotland, ranked alongside Lord North (the predecessor who presided over the loss of America in 1783) in an unenviable pantheon of failure. If he can salvage anything from the wreckage, it is to sabotage the succession of the man who has dogged his political career.

One notable absentee from the spotlight since Thursday is the man who could also take some blame for Dave’s downfall, his campaign co-ordinator and ill-advised adviser on tactics, George Osborne. If Cameron is toast, then Gideon is charcoal. The Chancellor’s rightly-derided threat of an austerity budget as punishment for a Leave vote was the last desperate bullet of a man whose barrel is now well and truly empty. If he had any semblance of a conscience, he would go immediately; but, of course, he doesn’t and he won’t. He knows now that the slim hopes of him moving in next-door are completely trashed, so he seems determined to hang on as a caretaker Chancellor in an act of petulant revenge on the party – and country – that rejected his vision.

In normal circumstances, a Prime Minister resigning barely a year into winning a General Election would be the lead story on everybody’s lips; but so dramatic have the last 48 hours been that even this ordinarily top-of-the-bill development seems to have been relegated to B-picture status in the overall scheme of things. I guessed this would happen if the vote went against Cameron, but it still seems surreal that it actually is happening, perhaps because I didn’t really believe we would take the Brexit route. Even on social media, news of Cameron’s imminent departure has been received with a surprising lack of euphoria, particularly by those who have spent the past six years demanding it. Indeed, it must be difficult for the left-leaning anti-Cameron networkers to know how to react, finally getting what they wanted but getting it as a side-effect of everything they didn’t want.

Giles Coren, a man who got where he is not through his own endeavours but through the name and standing of his late father Alan, takes an astonishingly vicious swipe at ‘old people’ in his Times column today, one that smacks of a sullen adolescent blaming his parents for his own failings. ‘The wrinkly bastards stitched us young ‘uns up good and proper on Thursday,’ he writes. ‘From their stairlifts and their zimmer frames, their electric recliner beds and their walk-in baths, they reached out with their wizened old writing hands to make their wobbly crosses and screwed their children’s and their children’s children for a thousand generations.’ The sour grapes whining of a wealthy London-centric celebrity whose presence in Fleet Street is due entirely to nepotism via one of those ‘wrinkly bastards’ is indicative of the Remain cheerleaders’ narcissistic inability to fathom why their fame didn’t swing it.

There are a lot of angry people in Britain right now, not just in Scotland and Northern Ireland, but England too. The yoof are especially incensed because their experience of the democratic process is limited. The fact that voting in any form won’t necessarily ensure the outcome one voted for is something that doesn’t appear to have registered with them and they’re looking for someone to blame. If that means blaming all ‘old people’ or labelling everyone who opted for the contrary position to them as racists, we shouldn’t really be surprised. What makes this remarkable moment in the country’s history equally compelling and frightening is the absence of precedence and the lack of a roadmap laying down the destination of the nation; but the Millennials like everything neatly pre-prepared and packaged, like an app that will tell them what to do. All is up in the air and all is uncertain; and nobody knows what comes next.

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THE END OF THE AFFAIR

vlcsnap-2016-06-24-12h39m46s147So, where to start? Well, we’re out. I didn’t really see this coming, I have to admit. I thought it would be close, but I didn’t anticipate the result we’ve ended up with. David Cameron, barely twelve months into the first mandate a Conservative Prime Minister had received from the electorate in twenty-three years, has announced he’ll be gone by the time of the Tory Party Conference in October, leaving the path clear for Boris. A motion of no confidence in Jeremy Corbyn has already been issued by Labour MPs. Nicola Sturgeon has more or less declared she’s preparing for another Scottish Independence Referendum. Martin McGuinness has called for a plebiscite on a united Ireland. I’ve a feeling we’ve only just begun.

There’s been a lot of fatuous waffle so far today about ‘standing together’, about ‘uniting the country’ now that the decision has been made; I don’t envy anyone entrusted with that particular task. The fact is that the result of this Referendum has exposed the bleedin’ obvious, that Britain in 2016 is more divided than it has been at any time since the ideological wars of the 1980s – not just economically or socially, but regionally and nationally. It somehow seems apt that the pound has plummeted to its lowest level in thirty years. Nigel Farage, understandably euphoric this morning, has achieved his lifetime’s ambition and one wonders if he’ll now turn into a pumpkin at midnight. He referred to the result as ‘Britain’s Independence Day’; he was partly right. This isn’t Britain’s Independence Day, though: it’s England’s Independence Day – independence from Scotland, from Northern Ireland, and (eventually) from Wales. What could turn out to be England’s very own Declaration of Isolation has possibly set the ball rolling for the dissolution of the United Kingdom.

How did we get here? A cynical conspiracy theorist could surmise the whole EU issue was a mere smokescreen for a Tory Party plot to oust Cameron and for the SNP to restage 2014’s Independence Referendum; if so, both have succeeded. Dave’s dangerous gamble, perhaps the key selling point of the Tories’ 2015 Election manifesto, is probably the most personally disastrous move by any serving PM since Ted Heath took on the miners in February 1974; he was really left with no option but to walk. The liberal wing of his party represents a small section of Conservative England and it’s reflective of Cameron’s utter ignorance of the world beyond his privileged little circle that he didn’t foresee he had presented the old-school True Blue corners of the country with a golden opportunity to give him a kicking.

But this hasn’t just been a rejection of David Cameron’s brand of Toryism; it’s also been a rejection of all so-called metropolitan politicians of either colour who have ignored and neglected their traditional core support for decades. As divisive as she was, Margaret Thatcher was the last Prime Minister to take the concerns of the ordinary working man and woman into consideration. Cameron has indeed been the heir to Blair, treating anyone that didn’t fall into his preferred demographic with contempt, thus leaving huge swathes of the nation without a voice or party in Parliament. UKIP’s success in both long-time Tory and Labour heartlands – and the phenomenal rise of the SNP – has made this all-too evident. Donald Trump’s emergence across the pond has happened for similar reasons.

The Remain campaign was dominated by celebrities masquerading as those who (like Huggy Bear) are in synch with ‘the word on the street’. Well, they clearly weren’t listening to that word, because the word was ‘Leave’. Maybe if Eddie Izzard had tried to engage in debate with Farage on ‘Question Time’ instead of shouting at him like a hysterical Anne Robinson, those accustomed to dominating a stage rather than sharing it might have come across as less remote to the people they profess to care about than the Westminster Mafia does.

The immense size of the turn-out for the EU Referendum has exceeded any turn-out since the 1992 General Election, and this is a crucial point. Persistent grumbles that there’s no difference between the two major parties have arisen from a belief that whichever party one votes for, nothing changes. The Referendum was different, however. Europe was pretty much a red herring in some respects, for this was a chance to vote against an entire political class, Tory and Labour, that a good deal of the electorate felt abandoned by; and the outcome speaks volumes. Many of those who made their way to the polling booths yesterday don’t bother making that journey during an Election, and this was something Dave didn’t take into account. He’s now paid the price for his aloofness, and no amount of unconvincing tributes to his premiership from the opportunistic old rival now ready to jump into his grave will excise his ultimate failure as a leader from the history books.

And the fact that Labour failed to take a lead in the campaign again underlines the cult factor of Jezza, an appeal that doesn’t stretch beyond the hardcore faithful. The Corbynistas, sentimental old socialists and their gauche social networking children, are the only people in the country who look at the Labour leader and don’t see a professional backbencher out of his depth; the Messiah couldn’t even motivate the Labour vote in his favour when his party isn’t as publicly split over Europe as the Tories. He performed dismally in his first opportunity to prove his mettle, so even if whoever succeeds Cameron goes to the country in the autumn, anyone not deluded by romantic nostalgia for the good old days of the left must be able to see Labour is doomed with him at the helm. What consolation for the Conservatives that must be.

I don’t believe any of those who most vigorously campaigned for a Brexit have the slightest clue about what happens when they take down the Union Jack bunting. The aim was always to get out, not to sit down and navigate a path through the aftermath. I find it hard to feel celebratory with the prospect of a future in the hands of Boris, Gove and Grayling. As I peer through the barbed wire on the White Cliffs and cast my gaze over the silver sea, all I can see is Le Pen and Trump and every other ‘outsider’ capitalising on two decades of neglecting the people by the ruling class. As a human being, I find these extremely scary times to be living in; as a writer, however, I reckon I struck gold…

© The Editor

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THE EUROPEAN ENGLISHMAN

EuropaWriting on the subject of his homeland in a 1941 essay titled ‘England, Your England’, George Orwell observed ‘we call our islands by no less than six different names – England, Britain, Great Britain, the British Isles, the United Kingdom, and, in very exalted moments, Albion.’ He went on to discuss regional and national differences between the numerous branches of Brits and then tellingly remarked ‘But somehow these differences fade away the moment that any two Britons are confronted by a European.’

This sense of separation from the Continent has been theoretically in place ever since the land border that joined us to mainland Europe was flooded around 6,500-6,200 BC; and despite the fact that successive waves of immigrants from modern-day Germany, Italy, Scandinavia and France laid the foundations for virtually everything we now regard as quintessentially British, it is the Sceptered Isle image that lingers, the precious stone set in the silver sea; John of Gaunt’s words in ‘Richard II’ are evoked whenever we feel the need to stress our physical isolation from the land beyond the Channel and express both political and emotional detachment from it. But it’s worth remembering Britain – or England (incorporating large chunks of Ireland and Wales) – once regarded the Continent as its backyard when it had its very own European Empire.

What has been retrospectively labelled ‘The Angevin Empire’ stretched from the border with Scotland all the way down to the Pyrenees. The marriage of England’s King Henry II to Eleanor of Aquitaine, former Queen of France, in 1152 was a union that took place in the shadow of a family feud known to history as ‘The Anarchy’. The death of Henry I (fourth son of William the Conqueror) without a direct heir in 1135 had instigated a crisis over the royal succession that morphed into a bloody civil war in England and Normandy – one provoked by rival claimants to the English throne, brother and sister, Stephen and Matilda. Stephen won that battle, but it was Matilda’s son Henry, already Duke of Normandy and Count of Anjou, who succeeded King Stephen upon his death; and Henry’s ambitions for expanding English influence across Europe could only be achieved via the capture of territories, something he was so successful at that his descendents struggled to hold onto them.

Like many of the English kings descended from the Normans, Henry II spent more time on the Continent than he did in England, something that could be viewed as either an early example of an English Europhile or simply an English monarch who regarded his ancestral homeland (and indeed, the land of his birth and eventual death) as more relevant to his identity than the country whose throne he had inherited. His youngest son King John quickly realised the immensity of trying to keep his father’s hard-fought lands together when the Angevin Empire began to disintegrate as soon as Henry II died in 1189. Following the end of the twelve-year Anglo-French War in 1214, all that remained in English hands was the Duchy of Gascony.

The battle for control of former English lands in France didn’t end there, however. It reached its violent apex with the Hundred Years’ War between England and France from the mid-fourteenth to the mid-fifteenth century, and though England was the ultimate loser in a series of conflicts that saw power – and land – change hands regularly, including Henry V’s triumph at Agincourt in 1415 (leading to the greatest recapture of former English territories since the collapse of the Angevin Empire), the legacy of what England had won and lost on the Continent lingered. Indeed, English sovereigns retained their claim to the French throne until as late as the beginning of the nineteenth century.

By then, of course, England had been reborn through unions with its nearest neighbours as the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland, and maritime trade way beyond the borders of Europe had put down roots in the wider world that gradually grew into the largest Empire the world has ever seen, utterly overshadowing the English’s medieval ownership of European soil. Despite ruling over a quarter of the world’s population at the peak of the British Empire, however, the international British still played a part in Europe’s future fortunes, none more so than in its defeat of Napoleonic France at Waterloo and participation in the Crimean War a generation later.

The two World Wars that followed in the twentieth century again underlined that ancient British ties to Europe were still intact, regardless of the fact that our Empire-cum-Commonwealth had a greater claim on our national identity up until the middle of that century. And we are a country, lest we forget, still headed by a monarch whose roots are European – roots that are, of course, German, descended as Elizabeth II is from the House of Hanover.

The oft-quoted 1962 comment by President Truman’s Secretary of State Dean Acheson – ‘Great Britain has lost an empire and has not yet found a role’ – was uttered when the nation felt itself trapped in an irreversible decline, though renewing marital vows with our Continental cousins was entered into as means of arresting that decline. The success or failure of this intervention depends entirely on one’s opinion of its necessity; but the idea that we’ve only been European since January 1 1973 is a fallacy.

Today you have the rare opportunity to play your own little part in our long and extremely complicated relationship with the land mass we were once physically attached to. By the time you read this, you may have already played it. If not, make sure you do so before the polls close; and may the best man, woman and non-binary individual win.

© The Editor

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CELLULOID ZEROES

BatmanAdvertisers are past masters at maximising every available space to get their message across, and moving vehicles have long been fair game for them, particularly buses. I remember Dinky toys of London Routemasters as a child that always, for some reason, seemed to be promoting Vernon’s Pools. It’d be quite refreshing to see something so quaint on the side of a bus these days. Whenever I’m stuck behind one in a traffic jam, I’m confronted by those hilarious ‘before and after’ dieting pictures that apparently demonstrate how losing weight not only means a slimmer figure, but a new hairstyle, contact lenses over specs, and a vastly improved wardrobe. I wonder at what point of a diet these magical ingredients appear?

I’d much rather have a laugh at that kind of advertising than the sort that dominates the gap on the side of a bus between the lower deck and the top deck. That space is now permanently owned by Hollywood as a kind of mobile billboard for the overblown, unmitigated pap it churns out on a weekly basis. Has anyone ever caught sight of one of these ads on the side of a bus and suddenly been struck by an insatiable desire to see the movie in question? Most make me never want to set foot in a cinema ever again.

Jennifer Aniston’s post-‘Friends’, straight-to-DVD career seems to have been lived out on the sides of buses. How many sappy, soppy, schmaltzy rom-coms can one actress put her name to before she spontaneously dissolves into a sugar-coated, saccharine slick of snot and tears? At one time, Doris Day used to be saddled with a similar ‘America’s sweetheart-next door’ reputation, but at least she possessed an exuberant charm and could sing as well – and her better cinematic outings still stand up as enjoyable period pieces. Every time I see Aniston’s name on the side of a bus my heart sinks at the sheer waste of money involved in a movie that will never recoup the extortionate cost of making it, money that could have been used to hire a decent scriptwriter, producer, director and cast for possibly three or four other movies that would vindicate the continuation of the art form.

One bus ad I spotted a couple of weeks back was for ‘Independence Day 2’. Firstly, the tag ‘2’ is basically Hollywood code for a remake; with the odd exception – ‘The Godfather’, perhaps – few sequels are anything other than the first film revisited. Secondly, ‘Independence Day’ remains the worst movie I have ever seen and the notion that it required a sequel is truly mindboggling. For me, it was the real beginning of the specially-tailored multiplex movie and represented everything vapid and vacuous that those malls masquerading as cinemas were designed for. The screenplay was derivative of every sci-fi invasion film produced since the 1950s, the dialogue was pure B-movie cliché from the same era, the acting was barely on a comparable level with ‘Neighbours’ or ‘Home and Away’, and the myriad cracks in the whole witless package were papered over by the element that most of the finances were evidently poured into – the CGI special effects.

I began to find it hard to distinguish between computer game and motion picture when I saw trailers for the first Spiderman and Incredible Hulk movies in the early 2000s, realising then that CGI had reached the point whereby it felt more like I was watching a cartoon version of the lead actor indulging in death-defying leaps than a stuntman clad in his costume – and I essentially was. I yearned for Lou Ferrigno in his false nose and green wig or Adam West and Burt Ward supposedly climbing up a building when the extent of the special effect was simply placing the camera on its side. They at least were fun, the one aspect sorely lacking from the pompous and pretentious, CGI-laden superhero movies that have come to dominate Hollywood as westerns and sword-and-sandal epics did in the past.

What looks fantastic on the comic-book page basically looks laughable in real life – square-jawed musclemen in tights and shorts are wholly comical when they step out of the graphic novel and onto the big screen. What was so wonderful about the Batman TV series of the 1960s was the knowing sense of the ridiculous both in the scripts and in the acting. Adam West, permanently breathing-in to keep his Shatner-esque pot belly in check, played it totally straight and that’s what made his performance so funny and memorable – and why the series remains recalled with affection. In comparison, the utter absence of humour in the recent Batman ‘reboot’, populated by Method Actors toned within an inch of their gym-friendly physiques and, in tandem with the deluded director, delivering each addition to the franchise with a serious gravitas Shakespeare would have baulked at, is symptomatic of the way in which the comic-book creations of inventive and innovative writers and artists are served so badly by Hollywood when box-office receipts are the sole motivation for making a movie. No wonder Alan Moore refuses to have his name on any cinematic adaptation of his works.

The bigger the explosions, the dumber the film – that seems to be Hollywood logic in the twenty-first century; bar the odd surviving auteur to have emerged from the last great breakthrough of Art-house cinema into the mainstream that took place in the mid-to-late 90s, Tinsel Town is singularly failing to maintain the equilibrium between artistic excellence and entertainment that it managed to achieve for the first hundred years of its existence. In a world of reboots, remakes, sequels and prequels aimed at an adolescent audience whose cinematic etiquette encompasses talking, texting and transferring the big screen to their Smartphone, the defection of the most creative people to television is benefitting one medium and threatening the future of another.

TV almost killed Hollywood in the 50s, but the older outlet was eventually reborn thanks to an influx of new talent at the end of the 60s. At the moment, however, it’s hard to envisage anyone with half-an-ounce of creativity wanting to be absorbed into an industry that has been reduced to polishing turds of such magnitude that the stench is unbearable.

© The Editor

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NUL POINTS

EUWhen recalling his first meeting with Yoko Ono, John Lennon often remarked that the avant-garde artist’s exhibition he received a sneak preview of contained a tiny message at the top of a stepladder that could only be viewed with a magnifying glass. The message read simply ‘Yes’, something that sold Yoko to Lennon because he claimed it was the first positive statement he’d seen at an art show in years. Had that message read ‘No’, pop cultural history could possibly have been quite different. In a very roundabout way, this seems to me one of the problems the Leave campaigners have had in the Referendum wars that have resumed following a moment’s pause for Jo Cox.

No, Out or Leave as Brexit buzzwords can’t help but come across as negatives, the linguistic equivalents of the pub bore bemoaning everything new or innovative, forever giving the thumbs down and dragging the drinkers down with him. True, one could also attach positive attributes to No, Out or Leave; they could represent the teenager preparing to fly the family nest, stand on his own two feet and take control of his own destiny despite a smothering mother wanting him to stay; but the overall feeling I’m getting from the message of Brexit is not one that inspires positivity.

A great deal of the pro-Leave propaganda, certainly online, appears to emanate from very angry people, some of whom are old enough to have voted No in 1975, and who have had a bee in their bonnet about Europe ever since the vote went against them 41 years ago. By comparison, the most passionate advocates of Remain within social media outlets would appear to be mostly those who weren’t even a twinkle in the milkman’s son’s eye at the time of the EEC Referendum, and they don’t exhibit quite the same frothing-at-the-mouth fanaticism emanating from the most vociferous of the Brexit brigade.

I once heard it said that Britain was more or less offered governance of the embryonic Common Market in the 1950s, but spurned the opportunity to sit at the head of the European table because it was still too attached to the remnants of the Empire and was more concerned with gracefully bowing out of its colonial commitments than focusing its attention closer to home. That may or may not be true – and I would imagine French historians would probably dispute it; but it does perhaps reflect the half-hearted nature of our relationship with our Continental cousins. Not belonging to the Eurozone and not adopting the Euro is something that underlines a consistency running throughout our 44-year European adventure. We have always had one foot in and one foot out. But it’s possible this has been to our overall advantage since 1972.

Nigel Farage’s determination in constantly reducing the debate to the solitary subject of immigration, and proudly standing beside that dubious poster, has only reinforced his one-trick pony reputation and seems to have put the brakes on the progress of the Brexit horse that was racing ahead of Remain this time last week. With big business and big names on the Remain side lining-up to sing the praises of EU membership, Leave has been painted as the true voice of ‘the little people’, the choice of the brave and the bold outsider; but if Leave is presented as the ‘radical’ option, this could well prove to be its undoing, as the British are by nature a conservative people who are more likely to stick with the status quo than venture into the unknown.

Yes, we have a proud record of radicals and rebels throughout our history, but these tend to be isolated individuals rather than representative of the masses. A maverick such as Farage is in many respects a liability to the Leave campaign; but so skilled is he at generating headlines that it’s been hard for the less incendiary members of the Brexit persuasion to overshadow his rapacious capacity for publicity. Farage is the first pupil in the class that the new teacher gets to know the name of because he’s incapable of shutting up.

Initially, it was the Remain camp that appeared to be alienating public opinion with their pathetic insistence on horror stories, something that had relented a little until Gideon’s own-goal last week; but whether or not the tasteless threat of an emergency austerity budget will do for them what Farage’s billboard could do for the opposition remains to be seen – for the next couple of days, anyway. Farage’s accusation that Remain have exploited the death of Jo Cox for political gain may have a grain of truth to it, but evoking her name so soon after re-boarding a campaign express momentarily derailed by her shocking murder might prove to be another mistimed comment in a campaign that has had its fair share of them on both sides.

Tonight we have the grand finale of what has been a largely ineffective series of TV debates, and one that promises to be the most ludicrously showbizzy of the lot, staged at Wembley Arena. I envisage a cross between a rock concert and a Billy Graham rally and I doubt a single viewer still undecided will probably be persuaded either way. As things stand, just 48 hours from polling day, I’ve a distinct feeling the public are slowly edging away from Brexit. But don’t quote me on that. I’m not a betting man.

© The Editor

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