REVOLUTION INC.

It’s testament to the impact the events of October 1917 had on the wider world that the idealistic concept of a society founded on the blueprint laid out by Marx in the nineteenth century survived the abuses of that blueprint by his ideological heirs. Stalin’s purges of the 1930s were overlooked by the left in the west with the same convenient nonchalance that enabled Che Guevara to become a pop cultural icon in the 60s and kept Trotsky a cult hero; even Mao could be held up as a symbol of revolution in 1968, regardless of the millions of innocent lives being lost in China at that very moment. Perhaps it’s a pointer to the dispossessed and dissatisfied that capitalism leaves in its wake that the search for an alternative inevitably led to the only proven alternative available for decades. At least there was an alternative available then.

Karl Marx was a noted admirer of Dickens in his day, praising the great fictional chronicler of the underclass at a time when the feudal societies of Europe and their belief in preordained Providence still held sway, despite the upsets of 1848; indeed, there’s a great deal in the Communist Manifesto that’s hard to disagree with, even now. The general gist of Marx’s radical rewrite of a society’s structure was seized upon as a viable solution to the failings of the decrepit autocracy that had governed the huge landmass of Russia for centuries in 1917, and it’s no surprise that this naturally excited outside observers, just as similar overseas events had in 1776 and 1789 respectively.

Ironically, it was the First World War – still a year away from the Armistice in 1917 – that dealt the killer blow to the old order rather than the efforts of Lenin. Of the four great Empires that entered into conflict in the summer of 1914 – Britain, Russia, Austro-Hungary and the Ottomans – only the British model survived intact after guns fell silent on the Western Front. Besides, there had been warning signs for years that the hereditary rule of the Tsars was something that couldn’t be sustained indefinitely; when the last Romanov ruler appealed to his cousin King George V for sanctuary following the sudden loss of his Absolutist privileges, it was telling that the constitutional British sovereign refused to help.

Just as the Declaration of Independence in 1776 didn’t abruptly curtail British rule of the 13 Colonies and the battle for them staggered on for another seven years, the October Revolution of 1917 didn’t transform Russia into a socialist state overnight. It took a further five years and a bloody civil war before the formation of the Soviet Union; the period of the so-called Red Terror that echoed the Terror following the French Revolution saw tactics of brutality for dispensing with enemies of the Bolsheviks that exceeded the far-from humane punishment practices of the Tsar, and it needs to be noted that this was undertaken on Lenin’s watch. However, when Vladimir Ilyich Ulyanov died at the relatively young age of 53 in 1924, his deathbed reservations over his successor Stalin reflect concerns that Marx’s philosophies were poised to be further discarded in favour of a repressive, authoritarian regime that took the old order to a new level of state control over the individual.

The novelty of – on paper, at least – a Communist State that challenged both the democratic western models of the UK and (particularly) the US remained an alluring alternative to idealistic dreamers during the post-war era; this could encompass everyone from the Cambridge Spies to the counter-cultural figureheads of the 60s and 70s. It’s possible that many of these university-educated radicals were merely revelling in annoying their middle-class conservative parents; after all, the electorate as a whole in this country has always rejected the most extreme forms of Marxism, favouring a moderate compromise whenever it has lurched to the left, as in 1964 and 1974.

It’s also worth noting how the current crop of adolescent Corbynistas fail to see the ironies inherent in their anti-capitalist agenda when queuing up for a McDonald’s whilst scanning their Smartphones fresh from the latest march through Central London; perhaps it’s as symbolic of the times we live in as the fact that The Ramones have been reduced to a T-shirt brand worn by those who’ve never so much as whistled ‘Blitzkrieg Bop’. In the twenty-first century, everything that once meant anything has been marketed as a fashion statement for those members of the masses who seek to make an all-surface/no-substance point whilst imagining they’re somehow smashing the system. In a way, it’s no different from how a long-dead Hollywood star such as James Dean was sold as an eternal icon of cool for the generation that came of age in the 80s. As Jim Lea of Slade said in ‘Flame’, 1974’s seminal cinematic document of the rise and fall of Rock as an art-form distinguishable from the crassness of the advertising industry, ‘I’m no bloody fish-finger!’ In 2017, all heroes are fish-fingers.

A hundred years on from the October Revolution, we now have the knowledge of how those initial admirable ideals were corrupted by the seduction of absolute power, and we have the depressing evidence of how capitalism triumphs all, regardless of the efforts of Cuba, China and Venezuela. It’s a sobering realisation that what could, and should, have been a welcome respite from the often appalling process of how capitalism crushes the individual has simply shown that avaricious human nature dictates the outcome of each ideological advance so that it always reverts to type. We desperately need an alternative, but it seems our species is incapable of coming up with one.

© The Editor

https://www.epubli.de//shop/buch/Looking-for-Alison-Johnny-Monroe-9783745059861/63240

Advertisements

SPANISH SIGHS

A day after around 350,000 anti-independence Catalans (or non-Catalans bussed in from out of town) swamped the streets of Barcelona to declare their unity with Spain, France has declared it will not recognise an independent Catalonia and that it should be expelled from the EU. Would that be expulsion free from the divorce fees demanded of Brexit? If so, go for it! Rumours of big businesses discussing relocating from the Catalan heartland in the event of the autonomous regional government proclaiming separation from Spain will be familiar to anyone in this country; powerful corporations imagining issuing threats will somehow force the people round to their way of thinking is a futile exercise that will only strengthen pro-independence sentiments in the same way Madrid’s response to last week’s referendum did.

At the height of the Civil Rights movement in the mid-60s, white residents of America’s Deep South were prone to remarking the rest of the US didn’t understand their corner of the country; it’s true that the old Confederate States retained their archaic identity well into the twentieth century, in defiance of the self-image the USA had created as an international export, and the same could be said of both Catalonia and the Basque region in relation to modern-day Spain. Enforcing the authority of the National Government by dispatching the militaristic wing of the Spanish police force and battering anyone in sight is not the best way to send out a message to either Catalans or the watching world that the rest of Spain is Catalonia’s friend.

The remarkable sight of local fire-fighters protecting the public from outside policemen supposed to be on the same side was one of many startling images to emerge from the chaos of referendum day. From the pictures most of us saw, it seemed those wishing to exercise their democratic (or illegal) vote were largely non-violent, whereas the police regiments were the ones throwing their weight around; the Catalan constabulary, standing alongside the fire-fighters to shield the crowd, looked stunned by the level of force their Madrid counterparts were employing to prevent the referendum from going ahead. The region’s chief of police has even been charged with ‘sedition’ for failing to protect the invaders from protestors. But the EU responded by declaring ‘reasonable force’ was perfectly fine as a means of the National Government keeping the country together. Bring on that expulsion from Brussels now.

There are right ways and there are wrong ways of dealing with a troublesome neighbourhood of a nation that was pieced together from constituent parts over a century before. As a response to three years of the Northern Ireland Troubles, Ted Heath’s Government granted a plebiscite to the people of Ulster in 1972, offering them the opportunity to vote on whether or not they wanted to remain in the United Kingdom; when the vote took place the following year, the result was a landslide for ‘remain’, though this was probably aided considerably by the fact that the majority of Nationalists boycotted the referendum. In 2014, when the Scots were finally given their chance to decide once and for all if they wanted their independence, they also voted to stay with the rest of us; as we all know, the losers continue to whinge about the result, but Westminster didn’t dispatch riot police to Edinburgh. If it had, chances are Alex Salmond would not now be out of a job.

During the Miners’ Strike of 1984/85, many local constabularies maintained cordial relations with strikers in the early stages of the dispute; it was only when Mrs Thatcher sent in the Met, foreign troops looking upon the inhabitants of the communities they invaded as sub-human pond-life, that the picket-line violence escalated and the likes of Orgreave occurred. The Guardia Civil appear to exhibit the same contempt towards Catalans as the Met exhibited towards the miners in 1984, and in the process have probably boosted separatist support when previous polls had suggested, though close, most Catalans didn’t favour independence after all.

The latest statistics from the disputed referendum suggest 90% of Catalans voted for independence, though the turn-out was 43% and it’s believed the majority of ‘No’ voters didn’t visit the polling station; perhaps they were exposed to the same level of intimidation as Scots wishing to remain in the UK allegedly experienced in 2014 and opted out as a consequence. Some of the pro-Spain protestors that made their voices heard at the weekend may well have been sponsored by Madrid, but it’s equally possible many of them were genuine Catalans who don’t buy into the separatist agenda. If we again cast our minds back to events north of the border three years ago, the independence crowd certainly shouted the loudest, giving the impression they were speaking on behalf of the majority if one recalls the amount of airtime they received. It’s not beyond the realm of possibility that the same applies in Catalonia.

The Catalan President Carles Puigdemont will be addressing the region’s parliament tomorrow, and though there are no signs of any diplomatic compromise with Madrid yet being reached, the anticipated declaration of independence hasn’t appeared either. Lest we forget, however, the economic stability of the region in comparison to many areas of Spain post-2008 is a valuable bargaining chip for the Catalans, something that makes the National Government’s approach to dealing with the separatists a baffling blunder. If Madrid wants to keep the country intact, it’ll have to devise a different method of doing so.

© The Editor

https://www.epubli.de//shop/buch/Looking-for-Alison-Johnny-Monroe-9783745059861/63240

MAY TO OCTOBER

Let’s face it – this hasn’t been the best of weeks for Tory leaders past or present. A day after the incumbent coughed and spluttered her way through what was supposed to be the moment at this year’s Conservative Party Conference when she reasserted her authority, a predecessor not even alive to combat his critics has seen his name dragged through the mud once again by a provincial police force desperately seeking straws to clutch that it hopes will justify the vast expense squandered on its futile investigation into him. Heath cannot change history; that duty is in the hands of the revisionists. But Theresa May has had ample opportunities to change the present and she seems utterly incapable of doing so; like Gordon Brown before her, poor old Mrs May stumbles into one farcical cock-up after another with the disaster-prone finesse of a classic sitcom character – the sitcom in question being, of course, ‘The Thick of It’.

‘Building a country that works or everyone’ isn’t the most coherent message for the Government to employ as reassurance that the country is in safe hands, but that was the slogan behind the PM when she staged her painful performance in front of the faithful. Party Conference slogans are usually meaningless combinations of words probably concocted by highly-paid strategists during ‘brainstorming’ sessions, but the loss of an F on the one used yesterday actually worked if one interprets it as a fitting symbol for the clueless shower running the show at the moment. Even if one overlooks the dubious attractions of a week-long event with a speech by Theresa May as its intended highlight, the Conservative Party Conference 2017 has been bad by any party standards.

What with Boris Johnson not even bothering to conceal his credentials as a successor and a ‘comedy terrorist’ interrupting the PM by handing her a P45, the whole shambles has been a fitting funeral ceremony for the May administration. Whilst there might have been a degree of sympathy in the hall for the Prime Minister as someone way out of their depth struggled yet again to convince anyone beyond the most sycophantic toadies that she’s the right woman for the job, Tories are not renowned for sentiment when it comes to their leaders. At times, the PM’s speech was reminiscent of an especially bad ‘Dragon’s Den’ pitch, and backstage rumblings of a coup are gathering pace once more as the house of Conservative cards is perilously close to collapsing.

In some respects, many Tories must be relieved the ghost of one of Mrs May’s predecessors has resurfaced, mired in murky hearsay that makes her misdemeanours appear all the more comical. It probably helps too that Edward Heath remains the Conservative Prime Minister whose unpopularity in the party remains as mysteriously potent as it was when he lost two successive General Elections in 1974; the passage of time has not diminished the antipathy he inspired. Indeed, what is a remarkably awful keynote speech when sharing column inches with a headline such as the one I came across on Yahoo News today: Former PM ‘raped 11 year-old boy’? The inverted commas were in place, but that was simple libel-preventing common sense where an unproven accusation is concerned; not that many seeing such a headline will pay much attention to inverted commas.

Operation Conifer, the retarded country cousin of Operation Midland which has spent the last couple of years Hoovering up most of the dead wood from that discredited witch-hunt via the congenital liar ‘Nick’, has come to the conclusion that Ted Heath would have been interviewed during the £1.5 million inquiry had he still been alive; and that kind of curious, nonsensical logic could be applied to practically any situation that didn’t actually happen.

Had Hitler not committed suicide in his bunker, he would have stood trial for war crimes at Nuremburg; had Gordon Smith not fluffed it in front of goal during the dying seconds of the 1983 FA Cup Final, Brighton and Hove Albion would have beaten Manchester United and won the trophy; had I been born twenty-five years earlier in Liverpool, I could have been the fifth Beatle. But, lest we forget, the Wiltshire Constabulary carried out their fishing party not to address the issue of Heath’s guilt or innocence, but to see whether there was a substantial amount of evidence to have interviewed the former Prime Minister, even though he inconveniently died a decade before they began it. Why didn’t they just reunite the ‘Time Team’ crowd and let them dig-up Heath’s back garden?

Are the tax-payers of Wiltshire so financially secure that they can afford the luxury of an existential police force? The county’s boys in blue have devoted the past couple of years to pondering on what they view as a perplexing conundrum – would Ted Heath have been interviewed under caution over allegations he raped an 11-year-old boy in 1961 if he were still alive? Hmmm, that’s a tricky one; let’s spend over a million quid coming up with the answer. Two years down the line, they’ve decided seven of the accusations would have warranted an interview under caution. Well done, lads. A pity the Woodentop who stood in front of Heath’s home and encouraged ‘victims to come forward’ isn’t around to crack open the bubbly, what with him being signed-off on long-term sick leave, but you can’t have everything.

The 100-page ‘summary closure report’ into Operation Conifer claims ‘no inference of guilt’ should arise from the fact Heath would have been interviewed under caution where seven of the 42 accusations are concerned; moreover, Dr Rachel Hoskins examined the so-called evidence last November and came to the conclusion that it ‘exposed a catalogue of fabrication’; she also dismissed the widely-publicised ‘Satanic’ angle so beloved of Icke disciples, advising the police to abandon the investigation. The police ignored her advice, and Operation Conifer has neither proven nor dispelled any of the rumours surrounding Heath whilst costing a small fortune in the process. All we know from its findings is that Ted kept his hands to himself throughout his tenure at No.10, as none of the allegations date from that period, funnily enough. He wasn’t daft, was he?

So, whatever Theresa May puts her foot in next, she can at least be content with the fact that it can’t top Satanic ritual abuse of minors. However, let’s see where we stand forty years hence. They’re a funny lot, those Tories, so you never know…

© The Editor

https://www.epubli.de//shop/buch/Looking-for-Alison-Johnny-Monroe-9783745059861/63240

STATE AND THE UNION

It’s official. I am a dysfunctional human being and I am a problem for society. These are facts I’ve long suspected, but I required confirmation from an expert – preferably a happily-married rich man who lives on land owned by his even richer father-in-law. According to this expert, I frequently have inherently unstable relationships because I’ve never tied the knot; as a consequence of this, I commit crimes, I drink too much, I take drugs and I have fathered multiple children. Considering yesterday’s post dealt with the legacy of IDS in his stint at the DWP, it’s nice that the old egghead has provided me with something to talk about today as well as giving these often disparate posts a semblance of continuity. You can’t keep a good man down, even when his CV is illuminated by a stint as leader of his party so ineffective that he was axed before he had the chance to fight a General Election.

The notion that the root cause of society’s ills is down to ‘cohabitating couples’ deciding not to have their union certified by an archaic, style-over-substance ceremony in a House of God or a registry office is one I should imagine cartoon characters like Jacob Rees Mogg fully endorse – as long as the couples in question are of the opposite sex, of course; but it would seem the IDS theory conveniently excludes poverty, piss-poor job opportunities, low wages, long working hours, lack of affordable housing and a world in which putting the hours in has little or no rewards. The have-not drones are expected to be content with their lot when the haves parade their tax-free gains across the media, rubbing the nose of the plebs in it as they do so. Unless they get married, naturally; all their problems would be solved in an instant then.

The stock of IDS has now sadly sunk so low that he is reduced to speaking at a fringe event at the Conservative Party Conference rather than the official corporate shindig itself; but at least it gives him free rein to expound upon his increasingly detached-from-reality theories allegedly formed via his spell as Work and Pensions Tsar under David Cameron. He eventually walked out on this post, claiming Dave and Gideon couldn’t care less about anyone who didn’t attend even a minor public school in his resignation letter; stating the bleedin’ obvious, maybe, but a pre-emptive strike that nicely facilitated the IDS role as a prominent Leave cheerleader during the EU Referendum. The Brexit sitcom may be an ongoing Whitehall farce, though Mr Duncan Smith has no part to play at Government level, so is forced into falling back onto his former favourite subject as a means of garnering self-publicity.

IDS claimed men unbound by the burden of wedlock were ‘released to do all the things they wouldn’t normally do’; this implies married men are impeccable models of respectable probity, the kind of gentlemen who wouldn’t dream of cheating on their spouses, so bound are they by the contract they enter into as though it had the God-fearing authority of a Medieval oath. ‘They are out,’ he said, ‘no longer having to bring something in for their family…so levels of addiction, levels of high criminal activity, issues around dysfunctional behaviour, multiple parenting – all these things are as a result of the un-anchoring of the young man to a responsibility that keeps them stable and eventually makes them more happy.’

It’s rather quaint that IDS firmly believes the kind of irresponsible men he speaks of somehow didn’t exist when any cohabitating couples siring offspring required a ring on the third fingers of their respective left hands. The idea that this acted as a preventative aid to men who don’t have it in them to play the husband/father role from wandering and philandering is a tad amusing; in actual fact, it merely kept the wife in a state of permanent misery, unable to hook up with a far more suitable candidate because she was tied to a waste of space courtesy of the social contract that marriage represented in less enlightened days.

The mistake made time and time again by the likes of IDS or Peter Hitchens at his reactionary worst is that a union sanctified preferably by the Church of England is one that will be honoured by both parties; a pleasant, Ladybird book ideal that doesn’t necessarily equate with reality, the belief that a partnership sanctioned by the state has a stamp of legitimacy that negates the kind of activities IDS blames on ‘common law marriage’ is one that may well play to traditional Tory principles, but has no basis in fact. Being married to the ‘fragrant’ Mary didn’t serve as an obstacle to Jeffrey Archer playing away with a prostitute, after all.

Twenty years ago next February (on Friday 13th – an ominous omen if ever there was one), I came within a whisker of officially certifying a union that was destined to collapse into chaos courtesy of the other half; had she not changed her mind at the eleventh hour, I doubt it would have lasted much longer than Cher’s union with Duane Allman, one that resulted in the former filing for divorce within nine days of the wedding in 1975. This was long before the Posh & Becks/Jordan & Peter Andre showbiz blueprint of the wedding ceremony that has descended into a tacky festival of bad taste via Reality TV and its PR publications, proving to be a pernicious influence on the mindset of the young and responsible for vast fortunes squandered on ceremonies hosted by country hotels and stately homes that often have little bearing on the actual relationship.

As it happens, Mr Duncan Smith, I’ve never been married and I’ve never indulged in parenting of any kind (multiple or no); my addictions and criminal activity have been limited to a level that wouldn’t have troubled the tabloids, let alone the boys in blue; and tarring everyone from a low-income demographic with lazy clichés that suit your self-image as a patrician lecturer based upon a reforming nineteenth century model simply isn’t good enough in the twenty-first century. IDS says one in five dependent children have no father figure at home, adding ‘A child in Britain is more likely to experience family breakdown than anywhere else in the world’; that may well be true, but a sanctified C-of-E union isn’t the solution, and believing it is simply shows a genuine lack of understanding of (as someone once said) crime and the causes of crime.

© The Editor

https://www.epubli.de//shop/buch/Looking-for-Alison-Johnny-Monroe-9783745059861/63240

CARROTS FOR ALL

Theresa May doesn’t want to be surrounded by Yes Men, and it seems she’s got what she wants. Not that she appears to listen to members of her Cabinet, anyway, whether or not they tell her what she wants to hear. Holding court in a Cabinet Office that must have had its walls removed and replaced with a giant sieve, the PM is presiding over a team that is behaving as though the collective responsibility her predecessor dispensed with during the EU Referendum still applies. Boris has been laying out his own personal manifesto via newspaper columns in recent weeks, yet Mrs May is keeping her Foreign Secretary on a very slack leash indeed. It’s a curious approach to take into the Party Conference Season, though policy promises have been raining down on the electorate during the Tory outing to Manchester, as though we’re on the eve of a General Election rather than living in the aftermath of one.

It goes without saying that what we’re getting is the usual series of suggestions designed to either attract or pacify a particular demographic that has so far been impervious to the charms of the PM’s shower. The youth vote, so crucial to the rise of Jezza, is one the Government are desperate to entice, yet even if many of Corbyn’s pledges might prove harder to implement when in office than in opposition, Mrs May is trying her best to lure The Kids into the blue corner. Don’t get me wrong – I wince whenever I hear the ‘Oh, Jeremy Corbyn’ chant and curse the fact that the melody stolen from The White Stripes’ ‘Seven Nation Army’ is ruining what I think of as one of the best rock songs of the last 20 years; but the Tories trying to come on all hip ‘n’ groovy is still akin to a ‘Grime Night’ being held at a Home Counties golf-club.

Mental health is another issue the Government are keen to be seen doing something about; but, as was so memorably stated in ‘This is Spinal Tap’, money talks and bullshit walks. Throwing vast amounts of cash at public services being badly-run, whether the NHS or the social care system, isn’t good enough when the majority of the money is simply used to enhance the pension schemes and pay the mortgages of the careerist freeloaders clogging up the impenetrable layers of management that require a bloody great scythe taking to them instead of being reinforced like the rotten foundations of a stately home. But, of course, we’re in the quick fix territory of short-term solutions to long-term problems; the Government is showing the same amount of imagination as someone who gives you money for your birthday because they can’t think of a fitting present.

Another side to the PM’s character that is being highlighted during the current chaotic condition of her administration is her stubbornness on an unwelcome legacy from her predecessor’s regime – Universal Credit. The catch-all cock-up conceived by Iain Duncan Smith is supposed to group together six existing benefits – including Jobseeker’s Allowance, Housing Benefit, Income Support, and Employment & Support Allowance – under one all-encompassing umbrella benefit, but the scheme has had its critics from day one and the suspicion is that Mrs May and her DWP Tsar David Gauke are reluctant to put the project on ice and are pressing ahead whilst ignoring warnings because they’re fearful of being accused of yet another U-turn.

Many of those entitled to Universal Credit residing in parts of the country where the benefit has already been ‘rolled out’ have had to wait upwards of six weeks to receive any payments and have been pushed into rent arrears as a consequence. Dame Louise Casey, a social policy adviser to governments of both colours for 18 years, has urged the PM to take a closer look at what impact Universal Credit stands to have on individuals and families who are already perched on the precipice of poverty before the damage is done. Government estimates predict seven million households will be in receipt of Universal Credit within the next five years, but despite the Citizens Advice Bureau and several Tory backbenchers sharing the same concerns as Dame Louise, it would appear the plans are going ahead regardless of her belief that some families ‘will end up in dire circumstances, more dire than I think we have seen in this country for years’.

If, as history tells us, it was once perfectly legitimate for landlords to place the notorious ‘No Irish, No Dogs, No Blacks’ sign in the windows of their properties, it was also once okay for them to say ‘No DHSS’, and far more recently at that; I came across it myself several times when looking for somewhere to live around fifteen years ago. I learnt to keep quiet and worked out that paying my rent in person without the DHSS paying it direct to the landlord was one way to get around the discrimination; and while I’m not sure where the law stands in terms of who landlords can and cannot refuse tenancies to today, it would appear they routinely turn away anyone whose income falls under the ‘Universal Credit’ banner. For some, it’s a vicious circle; they can’t get work without a fixed abode and they can’t get a fixed abode because they’re claiming Universal Credit…on account of not being able to get work.

One of the Conservative MPs calling for a rethink on Universal Credit, Stephen McPartland, says ‘with every pound (claimants) earn, the Government’s taking 63p back off them; to me, that is an effective tax rate of 63%…so the lowest paid are effectively having to pay some of the highest taxes’. The CAB concluded Universal Credit claimants on average have less than £4 a month to pay creditors after covering the cost of living; the organisation’s chief executive Gillian Guy said ‘if the Government continues to take this stubborn approach to the expansion of Universal Credit, it risks pushing thousands of families into a spiral of debt, and placing an even greater strain on public services’.

But Mrs May is too busy pruning the remaining leaves from the magic money tree in the Downing Street garden to listen; if she can toss its off-cuts in the direction of those she assumes will translate them into a solution to their problems, she’s done her job. To be fair, there doesn’t seem much point in her looking at the long-term, anyway.

© The Editor

https://www.epubli.de//shop/buch/Looking-for-Alison-Johnny-Monroe-9783745059861/63240

RED DAWN?

Anyone tuning into the Labour Party Conference on TV this week may have been forgiven for coming to the conclusion they were watching a party of government celebrating a recent General Election victory; the same euphoric images of a triumphant Jeremy Corbyn could be seen on the telly in the days following the actual General Election in June. There were sour, sober faces from the likes of Theresa May and Nicola Sturgeon, despite the two women in question still being in charge of their respective countries, while the reaction of Labour MPs and supporters suggested a win against all odds. In a sense, the remarkable performance of Labour on June 8 was against all odds, but it still didn’t end with the party in government. Not that this heroic failure has dissuaded believers in Brighton, convinced government is within their grasp. Far from it.

We shall we wait to see how the Conservative Party Conference shapes up next, but as far as the Labour shindig on the South Coast is concerned, the Tories are perched on the precipice of collapse, courtesy of a lame duck leader and an ineffective Brexit strategy. The Labour faithful might be right; the Government certainly has look of an administration in its death throes, with backstage jostling for a challenge momentarily on ice whilst David Davis fannies about in Brussels, and the sense of counting down the days before the knives are really out for Mrs May unavoidable. But the fact is that the opposition bench remains red and could well do so for another year or two.

Mind you, there’s nothing wrong with being prepared. The Labour Party certainly didn’t seem so when the Prime Minister caught most by surprise when she called the snap Election; Jezza’s undisciplined army were trailing embarrassingly far behind in the polls, with endless questions still hanging over the leadership, and predictions of electoral annihilation threatening to surpass the Annus mirabilis of 1983; of course, this was one of the reasons why May took her calamitous gamble. Since that memorable evening in June, however, Labour has been on permanent Election alert. Were it not for the PM buying time by buying the favours of the DUP, not to mention a certain ‘European issue’, the likelihood of another outing on the hustings before the end of the year would have been an odds-on cert, and Labour has consciously armed itself for a campaign it will be ready to fight whenever whichever Tory then occupies No.10 gives the green light.

Jeremy Corbyn strode onto the stage for his big end-of-conference speech with the familiar ringing endorsement from his fan club echoing in his ears. They’ve greeted him as a conquering hero from the minute he was elected leader two years ago, but this time round they had his surprising performance in June as an added impetus to their fanatical devotion. When last year’s Labour Party Conference took place, Jezza had just survived a challenge from…er…oh, yes, Owen Smith (wasn’t it?), yet to anyone outside the Corbyn bubble, even brushing aside a challenger only a year into his tenure as leader didn’t appear a sign of strength, merely an indication of Labour’s lacklustre talent pool. Twelve months on, however, Jezza has never looked more secure in his position.

His speech was delivered by a man oozing enough confidence to try to reach out beyond his hardcore audience to the wider electorate. He managed this to a degree during the Election itself, and the Labour manifesto when looked at closely contained a good deal that many non-Corbynites found themselves in agreement with. Yesterday’s speech followed the same path, and I have to admit I was quite impressed. Corbyn now knows there are people out there who may well vote Labour who wouldn’t have done so this time last year, and he knows he needs their votes to win – particularly the elusive inhabitants of the New Towns. Confounding the pollsters has been achieved; now he has to build on that by taking it to the next level. The speech seemed a determined effort to begin that battle.

Corbyn’s sermon veered off-topic a little when venturing into international affairs, and the party’s Brexit plans must have caused the odd drop of froth to gather on the lips of many a Brexiteer; but when sticking to a domestic agenda there was a fair bit in there that was hard to disagree with. The absence of any reference to the ongoing controversy of anti-Semitic elements within the party was a notable omission, and Tory-bashing was a given; but June’s events have imbued Jezza and Labour as a whole with the conviction they really can do it. The atmosphere in Brighton seemed to reflect this, though it would be wise not to become too confident too soon; there’s still a lot of work to be done and still a lot of people that need persuading. But Labour believes it can successfully launch itself into the next Election on the back of the unexpected gains in the last one; the Conservatives at the moment don’t exude that self-belief.

There have been accusations of further behind-the-scenes machinations to keep the left ruling the roost in Labour, and there remains a very narrow representation of party views in the Shadow Cabinet. When compared to the variety (and extremities) of opinion around the table of Harold Wilson’s 1974-6 administration, Corbyn’s chosen few seem very much in the Corbyn mould; by contrast, Wilson picked the best men (and women) for the job, whether or not they were in absolute agreement with him. It’s testament to Harold’s superlative man-management skills that he was able to keep the chalk-and-cheese likes of Roy Jenkins and Tony Benn on the same side for so long, yet it’s almost impossible to imagine Jezza doing the same because he won’t select anyone who isn’t ideologically aligned with him; and if somebody in his team dares to express an opinion that goes against the Corbyn line, they walk the plank. Just ask Sarah Champion.

There are many members of Corbyn’s crowd I shudder to think of holding a Ministerial post, yet when I gaze at the Government equivalent, I see Chris Grayling and wonder how someone so stupid can even put one foot in front of the other, let alone run a department. But it’s a truism that parties in government for longer than five years tend to acquire bags around their eyes, and it’s undeniable that the public gradually get fed up of just seeing their tired old faces. That’s when they turn to a new model, and no amount of further chopping and changing at the top of the Tory Party can alter the fact that any man or woman who grabs power will be doused in the same jaded odour of knackered familiarity that currently clings to Theresa May like the sorry scent of stale farts on a Sunday morning.

© The Editor

https://www.epubli.de//shop/buch/Looking-for-Alison-Johnny-Monroe-9783745059861/63240

MADMEN

Well, it takes one to know one. Kim Jong-un referring to Donald Trump as ‘mentally deranged’ following the US President’s characteristically blustering speech at the United Nations this week was at least a diagnosis delivered by someone who recognised the signs. The war of words between Washington and Pyongyang has accelerated again, although on the same day that Iran’s response to Trump’s criticism of them was manifested as defiantly launching a ballistic missile, the American Air Force decided to fly bombers across the fringes of North Korea’s east coast – upping the testosterone ante somewhat. There’s a lot of muscle-flexing and macho posturing going on at the moment, and though the sanity of the guilty parties is regularly questioned, I think sanity is probably one of the first casualties of power, anyway.

The actions of leaders on the world stage are often engineered to provoke the biggest impact back home, and there are suspicions that one of the ways in which the organised crime dynasty ruling North Korea is retaining its grip on the country is by overstating its global significance. The people of North Korea – or at least those not breaking rocks for the thought crimes of their ancestors – are force-fed propaganda on a daily basis that tells them how important their country is; to the North Korean people, footage of Kim Jong-un viewing missile launches and surveying the troops convey the image of a great statesman leading a great nation; if he has the nerve to repeatedly stick two fingers up at America, Kim Jong-un must be the man the media proclaims him to be.

Twice in the last month, North Korea has flown missiles over Japan, but in the wake of Kim Jong-un’s reaction to Trump’s UN speech, his foreign minister said that one option open to the great dictator was ‘the strongest hydrogen bomb test in the Pacific’. Last time an atmospheric nuclear detonation took place on the planet was in 1980, carried out by China; China’s nuclear programme from the 60s onwards had been underestimated by the west just as North Korea’s has been, and Kim Jong-un could regard such a potentially devastating test as a means of proving he means business if Trump’s confrontational rhetoric is to be taken seriously. Needless to say, the damage to not only marine life, but to the environment as a whole in the Pacific should this happen is scary. Even scarier is the thought of an accident en route. A missile carrying a H-bomb accidentally plummeting down and landing on Japanese soil could have unthinkable ramifications.

A few weeks ago I bumped into an acquaintance of mine who told me she was going away for six months – to Japan. Her son lives there, having married a Japanese woman, and while I wished her well, I couldn’t help but think there might be some safer locations in the world to spend the next half-a-year. Going by current standards, though, not many. Mind you, the lady in question has been around long enough to have lived through the Cuban Missile Crisis, so I should imagine she’s used up her quota of sleepless nights. The fact she’ll be residing in the same geographical neck of the woods as the world’s incumbent Public Enemy Number One also probably won’t unduly bother her; the alternative was returning home to visit her elderly mother, but as she’s American, that prospect doesn’t sound too appetising either.

For all the endless foot-stamping, placard-waving protest of Trump’s most vocal critics, the fact they live in a country where they can criticise their President without looking forward to ending their days in a labour camp is worth remembering. The ridicule Dubya received during his tenure in the White House looks like gentle leg-pulling in comparison to the treatment meted out to the Donald, though those meting it out are still allowed to do so free from fear of being carted off and never seen again. Faced with persistent provocation from North Korea, Trump is naturally going to respond; but Trump being Trump means this response will inevitably be in the style of an NFL coach bigging up his team on the eve of the Superbowl. Trump gave his adoring supporters exactly what they asked for when he spoke at the UN, whereas those on the other side were understandably appalled by his ‘come and have a go if you think you’re hard enough’ approach. Obama would have done things differently, but Obama hardly left the world a safer place than how he found it by doing things differently.

One positive move amidst the rather tense atmosphere has come from China – still the one country in a real position to cut North Korea down to size without resorting to nuclear options; in response to the latest UN sanctions, China has reduced the amount of oil it supplies to its troublesome trading partner and has also stopped buying North Korean textiles. The latter might not sound much, but many of the clothes that have a ‘Made in China’ label sown into them emanate from North Korea, and the ban could cost the country upwards of £350m a year. As for the oil, North Korea purchased almost 2.2 million barrels from China last year, so that will hurt it too.

Kim Jong-un has no qualms over murdering members of his own family to ensure he remains in power, so flouting international laws and the authority of the UN probably doesn’t cause him any existential angst. And, ironically, there are enough of Trump’s own countrymen who regard their President as a dangerous idiot to find themselves in agreement with the Asian Ro-land’s opinion of the Donald. As Ray Davies once said, it’s a mixed-up, muddled-up, shook-up world.

© The Editor

https://www.epubli.de//shop/buch/Looking-for-Alison-Johnny-Monroe-9783745059861/63240

ANOTHER HOMAGE TO CATALONIA

Bombs couldn’t do it in Basque Country, and now it seems the ballot box can’t do it in Catalonia. So, where do Catalans go from here? Mind you, it’s not as if they haven’t been here before. The regular redrawing of the European map over the past millennium – reflecting wars, rising and falling empires, revolutions, repressive dictatorships, and territories swapping hands – have all played their part in the grievances of Catalonia. The unification of Spain in 1492 took place much earlier than the similar joining of independent dots that created Germany and Italy several centuries later, thus giving the Spanish a crucial head start in conquering the globe; Catalonia’s position as a principality was rarely a comfortable one.

The Iberian Peninsula changed hands from Visigoths to Moors to Franks before the counties that became recognised as Catalonia were united under the Crown of Aragon in 1137; during the Franco-Spanish War of 1635-59, Catalonia declared itself a republic, though in reality remained a principality, only this time under French protection. The end of the conflict saw the Catalonian counties of Roussillon, Conflent and Vallespir ceded to the French by King Philip IV of Spain; but it took until the end of another European bloodbath – the War of the Spanish Succession – before Catalonia was reduced to a Spanish province in 1716, belatedly abolishing the Crown of Aragon.

Whenever countries are created by strong regional states (Prussia in Germany, Castile in Spain) assembling often reluctant junior partners under one unifying federal umbrella, the lingering legacy of former independence survives as an inherited collective memory. All nations born this way have their ‘problem people’ (Yorkshiremen, for example), but Spain has had to deal with the explosive Basques as well as the Catalans. Franco had his own ways of dealing with perceived sedition, which is why the rather physical response of the Spanish Government to the planned Catalonian independence referendum this week has provoked such anger.

Catalonia had been granted status as an autonomous state within Spain in 1932, but within a couple of years autonomy had become insurrection and was crushed. Although the region had a resurrected autonomous status during the Spanish Civil War, Franco’s victory saw him impose increasingly repressive measures upon the Catalans, banning the native language and abolishing their independent institutions. The post-war growth of Barcelona as an economic powerhouse as well as a major tourist attraction fuelled further separatist ambitions, and the 1975 restoration of democracy in Spain at least granted the region a degree of independence; for some Catalans, however, this has never been enough.

An unofficial and non-binding self-determination referendum took place in 2014, which was branded illegal by the Spanish Government; it’s estimated 80% of Catalans who took part favoured independence, though the Government of Catalonia claimed it was merely testing the waters. This warm-up for a ‘proper’ referendum gave confidence to the most stridently separatist members of the Catalonian Government and a date has been pencilled-in for 1 October for the real deal – even though a recent poll stated 49% of Catalans were opposed to independence, with 41% in favour.

Spain’s well-publicised economic woes since 2008 haven’t affected Catalonia as badly as some regions of the country; it remains relatively wealthy in comparison to those more badly hit, though Catalans say they pay far more into the national budget than what they get back from Madrid. Limits were also set on Catalonia’s independent ambitions by Spain’s Constitutional Court on 2010, which further angered separatists. The referendum plans have pressed ahead, but with less than a month to go, the Spanish Government has delivered the strongest warning yet of how it will react to the result, something the Catalonian Government has undoubtedly provoked by announcing it will declare a state of independence within 48 hours of a Yes vote.

Yesterday, local government offices, ministries and private companies organising the 1 October referendum were swooped on by Spanish police, with 14 Catalan officials arrested and detained during the raid. They confiscated documents, computers and upwards of 10 million ballot papers. The determination to hold the referendum is viewed as a direct challenge to Madrid’s authority and Madrid has seen fit to enforce that authority; indeed, Spanish police enforced it rather brutally to break-up a protest outside the Catalan economic ministry in Barcelona, their tactics reviving those of Franco’s storm-troopers for those old enough to remember. The division of the Spanish police force dispatched to Barcelona were the militarised Guardia Civil, which made the authorities’ intentions pretty evident from the off; they anticipated trouble, and they got it.

The prospect of virtual direct rule from Madrid and the curtailing of Catalonia’s autonomous institutions is one threat that the National Government can impose if Catalans insist on proceeding with their plans for 1 October; however, when even one of Catalonia’s most revered exports, Barcelona FC, throws its weight behind self-determination, a Government faced with little option but to react to constant demands that contradict a constitution at the core of its existence may have to rely on force. This story has a long way to go yet. Adiós.

© The Editor

https://www.epubli.de//shop/buch/Looking-for-Alison-Johnny-Monroe-9783745059861/63240

A JACOBEAN COMEDY

Hard to believe now, but ITV’s late afternoon schedule once consisted of programmes aimed at an audience of schoolchildren, programmes regularly of the same high standard that appealed to the same viewers over on BBC1. Amidst the drama serials, comedies, cartoons and pop shows were documentaries, one of which in the early 1980s featured a precocious posh boy whose prematurely adult demeanour and stated ambition to be Prime Minister had my brother and me in stitches as we watched him being chauffeur driven to school whilst he perused the Financial Times. Not only did he seem to be a middle-aged Tory MP occupying the body of a young boy (probably not the first time that’s ever happened), but he was that most unenviable pubescent pariah – the Swot.

Other than ‘Poof’, Swot was perhaps the biggest insult that could be hurled in the direction of a pupil at the school of hard knocks that was my educational establishment. To actually derive pleasure from learning was definitely a no-no in the popularity stakes. Popularity was earned via three routes: being good at football, being good at fighting, and being a class comedian. I opted for the latter because of my lack of ability in the other two. It goes without saying that an appetite for knowledge being frowned upon is now something I realise denied me a great deal later in life, yet school for me and many of my contemporaries was more a case of survival than education. I knew the young chap starring on the aforementioned ITV documentary wouldn’t have lasted a day at my school, yet look where he is now.

It took a good thirty years or more before a reunion with a snippet of this documentary made me belatedly aware its star was Jacob Rees-Mogg. I was more aware of his father in the years immediately following its broadcast, largely as a result of William Rees-Mogg’s famous contribution to British pop culture when editor of the Times via his key intervention in the infamous attempt to imprison Mick Jagger on flimsy drug possession charges in 1967. His son was already well on the way to the path he’d outlined in the early 80s documentary, famously canvassing for a constituency in 1997 with the assistance of his nanny. He eventually entered Parliament at the 2010 General Election when he won the secure Tory heartland of North-East Somerset.

Post-New Labour, the careerist, conveyor-belt politician whose blatant and shameless thirst for power requires he or she to chime with public opinion in the most cynical fashion has become something of a catch-all criticism of MPs in general where the electorate are concerned. The popularity of the few genuine characters in today’s politics, the rare breed that eschew the formula and are defiantly independent of the perceived consensus – whether Boris Johnson or Nigel Farage – should come as no great surprise when their contemporaries are so interchangeably bland; the unexpected election of Jeremy Corbyn as Labour leader appeared to be the ultimate triumph over the politician bereft of any ideological beliefs, yet it is the right that has produced the majority of these mavericks, of which Jacob Rees-Mogg is the latest PG Wodehouse creation to ensnare the popular imagination.

Like the much-missed art critic Brian Sewell before him, a large proportion of the attention Rees-Mogg has been able to command is based on the quaint way he speaks. Ever since Harry Enfield parodied the old-school RP accent once obligatory for BBC announcers and RADA graduates, the Queen’s English has been a source of humour and ridicule. Prior to the revolutionary impact of both ‘Coronation Street’ and The Beatles in the early 60s, anybody who emerged from what used to be called ‘humble origins’ would consciously modify and hide their regional accent if seeking a career in public office or the public eye. That changed forever fifty years ago, and even Old Etonians whose prevalence across politics and the media has reasserted itself in recent years avoid the speech patterns of their predecessors today; Cameron and Gideon both swung towards hideous ‘Estuary English’ when seeking the vote of the common man, and the current crop of public school Luvvies that dominate stage and screen could never be mistaken for Noel Coward.

When Jacob Rees-Mogg was running for Parliament in 2010, he was described by Camilla Long in the Sunday Times as ‘David Cameron’s worst nightmare’, representing every privileged Conservative cliché Dave was desperate to sweep under the carpet in his bid to re-establish One Nation Toryism; but the public could see through Cameron’s dishonest efforts at playing the bloke card; he couldn’t even remember which team he supported, after all. Nobody could ever imagine Jacob Rees-Mogg even being aware either Aston Villa or West Ham are football clubs because with Rees-Mogg there’s no pretence. He is a posh boy and isn’t ashamed of the fact he’s out of step with contemporary mores; his nickname of Minister for the Eighteenth Century probably isn’t one he objects to.

A Conservative Party understandably dissatisfied with the woeful leadership of Theresa May has recently been indulging in one of its perennial fantasy beauty contests as to who should replace the current lame duck at the helm; Rees-Mogg was a surprise front-runner, undoubtedly because he’s a ‘character’ and so odd that he stands out from the grey crowd. However, when quizzed on the weak spot of his religion, Rees-Mogg has stood his ground, preferring to stick rigidly to Catholic doctrine on the likes of abortion and homosexuality despite its potential damage to his fanciful Prime Ministerial ambitions. As I wrote when ex-Lib Dem leader Tim Farron came under similar fire, however, why not be fair and apply this interrogation to prominent Muslim politicians such as Sadiq Khan? Christianity is hardly unique amongst prehistoric faiths where certain issues are concerned.

Granted, if Rees-Mogg is so devout, why hasn’t he applied the approach of Jesus towards the poor and underprivileged when it comes to Tory cuts in those areas? As with many who proudly confess their devotion to religious scriptures, he often comes across as a cherry-picker of the bits that complement his own personal beliefs and conveniently overlooks those that don’t. One could argue he’s the token joke candidate in a leadership contest that isn’t even on the agenda at the moment, but that’s exactly what Corbyn was regarded as by many, so there’s no call for complacency. That said, the backbench is always far more conducive to the maverick mischief-maker; and Jacob Rees-Mogg has his natural home there, where he can sing the praises of the Corn Laws and filibuster his way into the wee small hours while the sun never sets on the Empire.

© The Editor

https://www.epubli.de//shop/buch/Looking-for-Alison-Johnny-Monroe-9783745059861/63240

BEHIND CLOSED DOORS

Shortwave radio may be the most underused of all the AM wavebands, though its ability to travel far greater distances than either long or medium-wave has enabled it to cross continents, open extended lines of communication between amateur radio hams and provide intelligence services with an invaluable means of both eavesdropping on the enemy and passing instructions on to agents in the field. The clandestine cult of the Numbers Stations (which I have covered in previous posts) has highlighted the indisputable existence of the latter shortwave use, even if governments remain in public denial. The repetitive reading of numbers by an electronically-generated voice, reciting a code indecipherable to the layman, was a vital weapon in the Cold War because shortwave broadcasts can often be untraceable.

The golden age of the Numbers Stations was when the majority of them emanated from behind the Iron Curtain, though they have continued to appear on shortwave long after the so-called Russian Woodpecker over-the-horizon Soviet radar system served as a useful jamming device. Many these days come from the likes of Cuba and China. Shortwave radio is an almost infallible method of secret communication, far more than the easily-hacked and traceable signal from the internet. The notion that a medium dating from the early years of the twentieth century is a safer bet than contemporary technology flies in the face of everything we’re led to believe in this techno-savvy age, when the lifespan of mediums means they seem to have a use-by date stamped on them the minute they exit the conveyor belt; but it’s true.

It goes without saying that I’ve no evidence whether or not shortwave is utilised to penetrate the closed world of North Korea, but if it isn’t it should be. The global reach of the worldwide web experiences something of an obstacle when confronted by Kim Jong-un’s citadel; very few of the great dictator’s subjects have internet access, so snooping on the traffic travelling in and out of Pyongyang is a considerably more challenging task than watching westerners wanking over webcam wonders doing rude things in a Belarus bedroom.

That many of the North Korean nuclear testing sites are situated underground has also limited the ability of American satellites to observe the country’s rapidly developing nuclear programme. Modern spying techniques that work so well when observing the innocent have proven to be all-but useless whenever the west has attempted to keep an eye on the Far East’s most worrisome nation.

North Korea’s old sponsor China hasn’t seen fit to share what its own intelligence has been able to divulge re recent events, though North Korea’s understandably jittery neighbour in the South has claimed more missile launches are being prepared; these would be hot on the heels of the one that flew over Japan last week before splashing down in the Pacific. North Korea has also bragged that it now has the capabilities for attaching a hydrogen bomb onto a long-range missile, after testing out said explosive device at the weekend, one that apparently made the H-bombs that devastated Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945 resemble little more than a fart in a curry-house.

The detonation of North Korea’s weekend H-bomb could be clearly detected in tremors that were felt in the Chinese city of Yanji, though few who flooded social media with their videos of the aftershocks were initially aware this had been a manmade earthquake. The fact that North Korea chose to test their H-bomb on the same day as Chinese President Xi Jinping was scheduled to give a speech at an international diplomatic shindig perhaps demonstrates its growing detachment from its former ally. Each of the recent publicised North Korean nuclear tests have coincided with major dates in the Chinese President’s schedule; the fact that China has backed UN sanctions against the nation it remains one of the few in the world to still trade with clearly grates.

China, however, is still in a position where it could effectively bring North Korea to its knees, being the country’s principle supplier of gas and oil as well as laundering billions in its banks; the apparent reason it doesn’t seems to stem from Chinese fears over what the collapse of the North Korean regime would do to the region. If North and South were to reunite, with the whole of the nation becoming one giant South Korea, China is concerned that the US would exercise the same influence it already has over the South, turning the reunified Korean Peninsula into another American base in the Pacific akin to Japan. China isn’t exactly keen on the thought of US troops stationed on its borders, but how much more is it prepared to tolerate before it exercises its remaining power over its one-time protégé?

China and the USA have a greater influence in the area around North Korea than any other world powers, so they are both better placed than most to change the current situation; but it’s equally obvious that they need to work together to bring about a resolution that the UN is incapable of concocting. North Korea has hardly paid much attention to that institution so far. President Trump declaring that America is considering no longer trading with any nation that trades with North Korea seemingly overlooks the fact that China provides the country with 90% of its trade. For the moment, North Korea is essentially dropping its trousers and mooning China, the US and the UN in an act of schoolboy taunting; but China still wields the cane. All it needs to do is use it and maybe the rest of the world can sleep a little sounder as a consequence.

© The Editor

https://www.epubli.de//shop/buch/Looking-for-Alison-Johnny-Monroe-9783745059861/63240