EQUAL OPPORTUNITIES

Better watch what you say in your comments today – disagree with me and I’ll be on the Hate Crime Hotline to PC PC; I’ll have you done for Petuniaphobia, and going by the new guidelines outlined by the Old Bill and their comrades-in-compassion the Clown Prosecution Service, anything can be interpreted as online abuse. Much as some find ‘Mrs Brown’s Boys’ the funniest thing since sliced Del Boys whilst others would rather be trapped in a lift with Kelvin McKenzie than watch it, definitions of what constitutes a cyber Hate Crime are subjective. Latest statistics reveal the CPS successfully prosecuted over 15,000 ‘Hate Crime incidents’ in 2015-16, though the Hate Crime category is so wide-ranging that it can encompass everything from a long-running vicious vendetta in which death threats are regularly tossed about to the guy who made a joke YT video whereby he manipulated his girlfriend’s dog into making a Hitler salute.

The latter not only highlights the ludicrousness of criminalising comedy (see Paul Gascoigne), but also seems to tie-in with the concerted clampdown on free speech that is well in advance of us on the other side of the Atlantic. An intended free speech rally in Boston at the weekend was gatecrashed by thousands of so-called ‘anti-fascist’ protestors, including the masked left-wing anarchists who go by the name of Antifa; following the heaven-sent Twitter comments of Mr President in response to the trouble in Charlottesville the week before, I wonder if the Donald pointed out that the violence this time round emanated not from both sides, but just the one – i.e. the anti-fascists?

Amongst numerous tasteless tactics in evidence was hijacking the death of Heather Heyer – the one fatality of the drive-in at Charlottesville; the protestors half-inched her image in the same way some here exploited the murder of Jo Cox for their own loathsome ends last year. Now the ‘movement’ has its first martyr, and even the picture of Heyer which was worn like a piece of corporate protest merchandise had a distinct look of the airbrushed Che Guevara photo that was de rigueur for late 60s student bedsits. Whatever she may have been in life, Heather Heyer has now been immortalised as a brand name for the Alt Left. Her family must be so proud.

The rally itself was intended to be unashamedly conservative with a small ‘c’, though everyone attending was naturally labelled ‘white supremacist/KKK/racist’ etc. If you’re not with us, you’re against us; there’s no moderate middle ground in this New World Order. And the world that existed before it actually didn’t exist at all; remove all physical traces of it and it never happened; get Google in on the act and cyberspace follows suit. Simple Ministry of Truth principles apply today. The intolerant McCarthyism of the SJWs has already polluted US campuses and rendered them uncomfortably reminiscent of Chinese universities during the Cultural Revolution, and this mindset has now spilled over into so many facets of American life that anyone daring to lift their head above the PC parapet is shot down in a way that would constitute a Hate Crime were it the other way round.

Back in Blighty, a naive notion of equality whereby cultural, racial and sexual differences are deemed an unnecessary weapon of division is the mantra of the moment, whereas the accompanying word is ‘fluidity’. Schools now generate the fallacy that we’re all the same – something that extends to the school sports day, whereby everyone who competes receives equal billing. Of course, the quality of education a child receives still being dependent on whether or not its parents can afford to pay for the best makes a mockery of this philosophy; and outlawing competition amongst pupils hardly prepares them for the world beyond the playground when it remains a crucial element of the rat-race. Parents that have repeatedly told their offspring how special they are have had such praise reinforced by teachers, yet the insulated Telly Tubby Land these pampered potentates are eventually released from is hardly the ideal training camp for the absence of gormless optimism that awaits them.

As recent as four or five years ago, I would’ve regarded myself as very much on the left, and while I’m a long way from the right (I remain contemptuous of IDS and Gideon), I do feel somewhat stranded at the moment – a bit like one of those athletes in the Olympics who fly under no flag. Politically, I’m stateless. The humourless, censorious finger-wagging serial banners that have taken control of the left are to me no different from the Whitehouse/Muggeridge/Longford collective that once operated from a similar standpoint on the right. It matters not to me which side of the political divide these attitudes inhabit; they go against so many of my core beliefs, and if it is the left that currently exercise these restrictions of freedom of thought and speech, f**k ‘em. I reserve the right to criticise whoever I want to, whichever party of whichever colour they represent. And I can do that without resorting to name-calling Hate Crime.

One of the unfortunate offshoots of being told what one cannot think or say is that it creates a vacuum for rational and sensible debate, one that is then filled by the egotistical gobshites and professional contrarians who love the sound of their own voices – the kind that don’t possess the intelligence or humour of a Christopher Hitchens. As these are then perceived as the only ones who express an alternative opinion to the consensus, anyone who harbours an alternative is inevitably lumped in with them. I detest Hopkins as much as I detest Abbott, so where do I go? I may have voted Lib Dem at the last two General Elections, but that was for a decent constituency MP rather than any party allegiance, and Old Mother Cable carping on about a rerun of the EU Referendum is about as relevant to me today as calling for a repeal of the Corn Laws.

Equality cuts both ways; it doesn’t mean usurping those who kept minorities oppressed and then oppressing the usurped. It should mean everyone – whatever their political persuasion – being on a level playing field and all voices being heard. But, politically, it doesn’t work that way anymore than the Tsar being ultimately superseded by Stalin meant the Romanov’s palaces were burned to the ground and the ruling class of Bolsheviks set up home in a community of garden sheds. The aphrodisiac of power is as appealing to those who don’t have it as those reluctant to let it go; and I’ll still be out in the wilderness whichever side grabs it. In 2017, however, I think the wilderness is the most interesting place to be.

© The Editor

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

THIS YEAR’S MODEL

It says a lot about ‘terrorism fatigue’ that the latest atrocity – 14 dead in Barcelona to date – is something I’m struggling to write about without being overwhelmed by déjà-vu. Spain hasn’t experienced this kind of attack since the appalling Madrid bombings of 2004, but Blighty hadn’t undergone anything on the scale of 7/7 until Westminster, Manchester and London Bridge in our ‘Spring of Discontent’ earlier this year. By the time the third of these casual massacres came around, the media clichés were becoming familiar enough to induce the kind of reaction that dilutes the brutality of the slaughter and renders it almost on a par with all the other eye-rolling headlines that newspaper proprietors concoct to arrest falling sales figures.

The censorship of the gruesome reality is part of the game. There was an almighty storm on Twitter last night in which some thought it vital to show images from Barcelona whereas others regarded doing so as insulting to the people who lost their lives. Key to their recruitment policy, ISIS don’t spare the gory details in screening the aftermath of allied bombing raids on innocents abroad; seeing pictures that news outlets prefer not to show us has an impact that the Jihadi mindset responds to with a sense of vindication for their own retaliatory actions. What, one wonders, would the response in the west be were our broadcasters to practice a similarly uncompromising disregard for the editor’s scissors in the wake of another terrorist incident? Perhaps their very worry as to what response it might inspire is significant.

Whereas television news initially picked up the fearless baton from cinema newsreels and broadcasted the grim warts-and-all facts in vision from the 60s through to the 80s, recent trends have seen oversensitive censoring that leaves the reality to the viewers’ imaginations. Footage of Nazi death-camps may not have emerged until six years of conflict were already reaching their climax, but the horrific sight solidified hatred of the Germans for a generation and offered further justification for the Second World War, even if it was hardly still needed by 1945. Programmes this week marking the 70th anniversary of the partition of India have screened archive film of the bloodbaths in the wake of the British exit from the Subcontinent, yet it’s almost as though the grim images being in monochrome and from so long ago means they’re permissible in a historical context – akin to a false admission that this kind of brutality is something the civilised world left behind more than half-a-century ago.

Hearing of one more massacre on European soil and being denied the evidence transforms mass murder into an abstract concept and distances it further from the gut reaction images naturally provoke. When the world was shown the 1982 butchery at the Sabra and Shatila refugee camps in Beirut, Israeli troops absolving themselves of responsibility led to impassioned demonstrations in Tel Aviv that spilled over into Israel’s parliament; merely hearing of what had happened probably wouldn’t have inspired the same level of outrage as seeing the images did.

But seeing the hideous truth of precisely what it is Jihadists are capable of would tarnish the fatuous script Theresa May recited with routine precision last night – the whole ‘standing with…’ speech, which has no doubt already been accompanied by complementary appropriation of the Barcelona FC badge as a makeshift profile picture on social media. The pat sentiment of this speech, echoed across Europe in the respective languages of all the other leaders who recycled it, says nothing about the issue and fails to address it because to address it would leave the harmonious Utopian narrative in tatters. Jeremy Corbyn’s dismissal of Sarah Champion for having the nerve to say a fact out loud is symptomatic of this brush-it-under-the-carpet and don’t-frighten-the-children attitude which is fine for an ostrich but won’t prevent another atrocity in another European city before the year is out.

Unrelated on the surface, though sharing the same spirit, are the increasingly fanatical demands by the Puritan militants to remove public monuments to long-dead American heroes whose philosophies are out of kilter with contemporary mores (no surprise when most have been deceased for over a century). Confederate generals are the current target, though one enlightened online idiot apparently advocated the blowing-up of Mount Rushmore yesterday. Considering the first handful of US Presidents were slave-owners and that the White House itself was built by slave labour – something Obama at least acknowledged with a refreshing absence of froth in his mouth – means any rewriting of American history on this level will require the removal of a good deal more than a statue of Robert E Lee from the landscape.

The Taliban or ISIS destroying ancient antiquities and Islamic iconography that they find offensive or insulting to their twisted take on the faith is no different from what is being allowed to take place in America at the moment; to condemn one and condone the other is hypocrisy of the highest order. These are not the symbolic gestures of revolutionary rebellions emanating from a subjugated populace breaking the chains of totalitarian bondage, but the product of those indoctrinated in the ideology of fanaticism. Whether on an American campus, in a Middle Eastern Jihadi training camp, or inside English churches under the reign of Edward VI, it matters not; the motivation is the same, and it is this unswerving tunnel vision that drives the greatest threats to freedom of thought, speech and living we are confronted by in 2017.

© The Editor

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

SONG OF THE SOUTH

When Belfast City Council voted to break with tradition in 2012 by reducing the flying of the Union Flag atop City Hall from 365 to 18 days a year, the more vociferous wing of the Unionist community greeted the announcement with violent protests. A couple of days ago, marking the anniversary of the Battle of the Boyne, bonfires were lit across Unionist strongholds of the province, many of which were decorated with photos of prominent Sinn Fein politicians. I only nod to our neighbours over the Irish Sea to make a roundabout point on how the issues that enflame passions on both sides of the sectarian divide in Northern Ireland barely register on the mainland; they’re viewed by the rest of the UK (with the possible exception of Glasgow) as parochial concerns unique to Ulster and characteristic of a land with an extremely long memory.

Even with the high profile suddenly afforded the DUP in the wake of Theresa May’s golden handshake, the ‘street politics’ of Northern Ireland rarely attract outsiders to the barricades, something that can’t be said of another divided community from a region with a similarly turbulent history several thousand miles away – Virginia. The dramatic and ugly events that took place in Charlottesville, Virginia at the weekend didn’t have their source material in religious divisions, but race – the most contentious of all American issues that just won’t go away. Not even eight years of a black President could sort it.

Virginia was one of the four slave states from the ‘Upper South’ of the US that, along with Arkansas, Tennessee and North Carolina, joined the original seven Southern secessionist states in the Confederacy during the Civil War. Its history, now so bound-up with the Confederacy and its aftermath, predates that era considerably, with Virginia being the first English colony in the New World, established as far back as 1607. But it was also prominent among the 13 colonies that broke with British rule and has a claim as being the birthplace of the USA; it certainly was the birthplace of eight US Presidents, for one thing.

Like the rest of the states in the South, Virginia had a segregationist policy in place until the civil rights movement of the 1960s gradually led to a repeal of the remaining Jim Crow laws; but its past, like many of its neighbours’ pasts, continues to attract the attention of those for whom integration remains a greater threat to making America great again than the hardware in Kim Jong Un’s toy-box.

Recent attempts to reduce the high visibility of the Confederate Flag in the Southern states have gone hand-in-hand with a concerted programme to remove statues of, and monuments to, Confederate heroes from public places; and these efforts at erasing a history that sits uncomfortably on the shoulders of modern America have served to ignite the ire of white Southern natives proud of their inheritance, as well as white supremacists from different parts of the country who exploit the situation to promote their cause. When Washington belatedly addressed the iniquities and inequality of the South in the 60s by outlawing its segregationist traditions, the white population claimed the rest of the US didn’t understand the South and there’s probably a grain of truth in that. The South was seen as something of an embarrassment that contradicted America’s international reputation as the Land of the Free; the South was a place where the past remained present.

The ongoing contemporary operation to change the perception of the South, not only for outsiders but also for those who live there, has been characterised by the official removal of ‘negative’ symbols relating to its past; though whereas the pulling down of statues during an uprising or revolution tends to come from the emancipated population itself, the policy of removing them that has been taking place across the South of late is a decision of federal government. Many have viewed this decision as symptomatic of rewriting American history, a rewrite that fails to acknowledge aspects of it that don’t complement the image America likes to project of itself. There are also concerns that by erasing the visible legacy of the Confederacy, future generations are being presented with a lopsided story of their country, one without warts and all, and one depriving them of a history they could learn from.

Plans to remove a statue of Robert E Lee, Confederate Civil War general, in Charlottesville led to the town being invaded on Saturday by a ‘Unite the Right’ march, bringing in angry white men from all over America for a rally that was destined to be met with a counter-rally. Whatever valid points had a right to be made didn’t stand a chance of being heard; both sides were infiltrated by those whose intentions were obvious from the start, many of whom had little or nothing to do with the part of the country they headed for.

The relatively liberal college town of Charlottesville was hijacked by opposing sides looking for a battlefield. The far-from spotless ‘Black Lives Matter’ crowd were accompanied by the masked men from ‘antifa’ – an abbreviation of ‘anti-fascist’ – who have a reputation as violent left-wing anarchists; they were the group responsible for the trouble that occurred in Washington on the day of Donald Trump’s inauguration. Those under the Alt-Right banner included neo-Nazis as well as that old mainstay always up for a fight, the Ku Klux Klan. The KKK are almost to the South what the Orangemen are to Ulster, though for all their shared pseudo-Masonic ritualism and shameful record of gerrymandering, the Orangemen are a long way from the Klan when it comes to provoking and stoking hatred in the most sinister manner.

What was already a predictable and unedifying clash on Saturday plumbed especially appalling depths when one lunatic ironically took a leaf out of the Jihadi manual and drove a car directly at protestors; his efforts were responsible for 19 injuries and one death. The white supremacists, who view President Trump as ‘their man’, were gratified that the Donald seemed reluctant to attribute blame for events to them, though the majority of the Alt Right (to whom Trump owes a great debt) probably regard the extremists who descended upon Charlottesville with the same abhorrence as the left views the ‘antifa’. It would certainly suit the narrative of the moment to lump together anyone who questions or challenges the anti-Trump consensus into one hate-fuelled, racist mob; but unfortunately, it’s not quite so…erm…black and white.

© The Editor

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

FROM AVARICE TO AUSTERITY

This wet and windy month of August 2017 is, if nothing else, awash in anniversaries – fifty years since the 1967 Sexual Offences Act; forty since Elvis Presley died; twenty since Diana died…and so on. Perhaps the focus on these anniversaries helps distract us from the imminent apocalypse courtesy of Mr Trump and Mr Jong-Un, though one anniversary was highlighted today that is hardly cause for celebration, even if it has not only dictated the global political landscape for the last ten years, but has also impacted upon all our lives in one way or another.

If we cast our minds back a mere decade (easily done when you’re over 21), we find Gordon Brown, the so-called Iron Chancellor as was, finally ascending to the position he always felt his predecessor had promised him during their legendary dinner at an Islington restaurant thirteen years previously. However, it was ironic that a man who supposedly had his fiscal finger on the financial pulse could be so short-sighted when it came to the inevitable bust of the boom he had been happy to take credit for. Perhaps the prospect of finally getting his hands on the key to No.10 was too great a distraction for Gordon Brown in the summer of 2007 and he took his eye off the ball; after all, the US housing market bubble had already burst by the time he succeeded Blair; surely, just as what goes up must come down, a boom must be followed by a bust?

Although he was obviously keen to put his own stamp on the role of Prime Minister, Gordon Brown didn’t initially show that his predecessor’s fondness for dishing out knighthoods and Peerages to prominent financiers was about to be discontinued. The bankers were still the bosom buddies of New Labour; the partnership they had entered into on the eve of the 1997 General Election retained its cosy nature and the likes of Peter Mandelson, poised to return to Government as Brown sought to shore up his fresh-faceless Cabinet with a few experienced old hands, was the embodiment of New Labour’s love affair with the wealthy, forever sighted on the yachts of Russian oligarchs or quaffing champers in the City. Should the Government be accused of giving the bankers too much leeway and allowing them to exercise too much influence over the economy, Labour could simply point to the population and their plentiful status symbols as evidence that affluence was now available for all.

However, the crisis arising from the inevitable collapse of the US subprime mortgage market – with America already borrowing heavily from China (which had saved its pennies as the west was recklessly throwing its own about like bloody confetti) and banks no longer lending to each other – began to seriously affect international finance in the summer of 2007 and the first British casualty was the high-street bank, Northern Rock.

Northern Rock had centred its financial practises on securitisation – borrowing both home and abroad to fund the mortgages it sold before re-selling mortgages in the capital markets internationally; but when investors’ demand for securitised mortgages plummeted, Northern Rock could no longer repay the loans it had acquired around the world when business was booming. Moreover, ever since being caught napping by the dot-com crash, the financial markets had tended to second-guess potential crises, and the ensuing publicity afforded Northern Rock’s shaky foundations only served to bring about the disaster that was being predicted. Northern Rock approached the Bank of England for a liquidity support facility to compensate for the sudden loss of the funds it had previously raised in the markets; this move, reported with sensationalist relish by the British press, triggered the first run on a British bank in over a century.

Further scaremongering reporting from the media as customers queued around the block to empty their accounts before (so they feared) their savings evaporated evoked the panic at George Bailey’s Building and Loan bank in ‘It’s A Wonderful Life’; it seemed as though the collapse of Northern Rock was becoming a self-fulfilling prophesy as the public believed the hype and sought to withdraw every penny they had stored in the bank’s coffers.

This remarkable event should have been anticipated by Gordon Brown; after all, he’d only ceased to be Chancellor for three months before Northern Rock’s dramatic downfall leapt from the financial section of the papers to the front page. But Alistair Darling was now in charge of the nation’s purse-strings and accusations of responsibility for a financial crisis that may have had its genesis on Gordon Brown’s watch were met with an effective ‘It weren’t me, Guv’. The Government observed from the sidelines as two unsuccessful attempts to rescue Northern Rock came to nothing and then belatedly intervened by taking the bank into state ownership. It was ironic that a party that had spent the best part of fifteen years dispensing with the nationalisation programme that had been integral to its constitution since its inception should have to end its days in Government nationalising the one industry that had always prided itself on its independence from the state; but once Northern Rock was pulled back from the precipice by nationalisation, the legacy of living beyond one’s means began to spread.

If Gordon Brown imagined slipping into Tony Blair’s shoes would be achieved without the need for a shoe-horn merely because he’d had his beady eye on those shoes for ten years, then the honeymoon period that had raised his popularity high enough for him to have won the autumn Election he’d baulked at calling was short-lived indeed. The Northern Rock debacle would act as the harbinger of an economic meltdown that would dog Brown throughout what would turn out to be the brief tenure of his premiership. Northern Rock was no one-off drama that could be glossed over as an aberration from the prosperous state of affairs Brown had overseen during his residence at No.11.

The global markets were sliding towards recession in 2007, and Britain, saddled with debts accumulated during the Blair boom years – a boom that had benefitted everyone from the million-pound bonus banker at the top to the designer-clad Chav at the bottom – was poised to pay the price for its reckless dependency on credit. A decade later, with the average British salary the same as the average British consumer debt per person (£28,000), the country is still paying the price.

© The Editor

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

RUDDY HELL!

I’m sure we all recall the unique interpretation of the Joint Enterprise law as practiced by teachers back in the day. One pupil has broken one of the school rules, but won’t confess to it, despite Sir or Miss’s entreaties for him or her to come forward. The teacher’s solution is to keep the entire class entombed in the classroom until the guilty pupil speaks up; the knowledge that others are aware of the criminal’s identity is paramount, but the teacher expecting these others to break the code against grassing is futile. Nobody will admit anything, so every child is punished for one child’s misdemeanours because there’s always somebody spoiling it for everyone else.

If we take this collective memory from ‘the happiest days of our lives’ and use it as a metaphor for the Government’s attitude towards online security, then Amber Rudd is the teacher and we – an estimated 4 billion global users – are the class. A few of us have been very naughty indeed, posting terrorist propaganda and Hate Speech (surely that’s for the Wiltshire Constabulary to deal with?); and Mrs Rudd’s solution is to apply the tried and tested school version of Joint Enterprise as a means of dealing with it. According to the Home Secretary, ‘Real People’ don’t want secure encryption on their messaging mediums. As she declared in the Telegraph – ‘Who uses WhatsApp because it is end-to-end encrypted, rather than because it is an incredibly user-friendly and cheap way of staying in touch with friends and family?’

On the eve of her visit to Silicon Valley, the Home Secretary has been making it clear her predecessor in the post taught her well when it comes to the subject of cyber civil liberties. In her Telegraph piece, she referred more than once to that exalted demographic, ‘Real People’, a new twist perhaps on David Cameron’s more favoured ‘Hard-Working People’. One presumes these are the same Real People who reside in Nick Clegg’s Alarm Clock Britain; and in Alarm Clock Britain as perceived by Amber Rudd, those of us who don’t mind those nice chaps at GCHQ acting as internet traffic cops are Real People; those of us who do are obviously hate-fuelled ISIS sympathisers who have something to hide.

Rudd intends to challenge the most popular online services such as Facebook and Twitter, as well as Microsoft and Google, to up their game in ‘removing extremist content’. However, one man’s extremist content is another man’s democratic expression of freedom. Outside of gruesome ritual beheadings, the definition of extremist content can vary depending on our individual perspective. Naked breasts are viewed by some as a feminist statement; to others, they’re just a pair of knockers to drool over; and to others, they’re virtually pornographic and should never be seen in public. Context is vital, of course, but tits are tits. You either have a problem with them being exposed or you don’t. Twitter and Facebook often do and censure the mammary offenders whilst being a little more lenient on things most of us would regard as not quite so benign.

Rudd evidently doesn’t have the same kind of problem with the business practices of Google and Facebook as she does with some of their content. Were her justification of the nosey parker principle to be applied to some of the internet’s multi-billion dollar corporations, we’d all be able to see how they masterfully evade the paying of taxes and maybe we could have a crack at it too once we’re shown the way it works. The Government she’ll be representing in San Francisco at the inaugural gathering of ‘The Global Internet Forum to Counter Terrorism’ also doesn’t have a problem with selling arms to the very country from which the current nihilistic strand of Islam originated as it bombs Yemen into bloody submission. That some of those Great British Weapons occasionally find their way into the hands of those same nasty people (not Real ones) who are prone to aiming them back at us is quite ‘extremist’, isn’t it?

A preview of Rudd’s expected lecture…sorry, speech reads ‘Terrorists and extremists have sought to misuse your platforms to spread their hateful messages’ (unlike the Tory press recycling Jeremy Corbyn’s past ‘association’ with the IRA, then?). She will then go on to say ‘This Forum is a crucial way to start turning the tide. The responsibility for tackling this threat at every level lies with both governments and with industry…we have a shared interest: we want to protect our citizens and keep the free and open internet we all love.’ In her Telegraph piece, she claimed ‘This is not about asking the companies to break encryption…Real People often prefer ease of use and a multitude of features to perfect, unbreakable security.’ Perfect and unbreakable to all but governments and their snooping secret services, lest we forget.

The Chief Executive of Big Brother Watch, Renate Samson, reacted to Rudd’s self-justifying waffle by calling it ‘at best naive, at worst dangerous’. He added ‘Suggesting that people don’t really want security from their online services is frankly insulting….once again, the Government are attempting to undermine the security of all in response to the actions of the few. We are all digital citizens; we all deserve security in the digital space.’

As part of the Home Secretary’s showy bragging about how the Government is dealing with this problem, she’s also expected to highlight how one police unit in Blightly has removed 28,000 examples of ‘terrorist content’ along with securing the closure of millions of online accounts over the past seven years. Rudd may well believe dredging up facts and figures of this nature supports her argument, but imagining any government can play at being a cyber Sgt Dixon giving mischievous Jihadists a clip round the ear-hole without stooping to snooping on everyone is pure Cloud Cuckoo Land. The only way any government can curb the antisocial tendencies of the badly-behaved internet is to apply the Joint Enterprise rule to all of us who use it. If we want to be ‘safe’, we have to sacrifice our privacy. Just be honest, Amber – or let us have a read of your emails.

© The Editor

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

THE (SOUTH) AMERICAN DREAM

Well, voting is underway today – in Venezuela. The troubled South American nation hasn’t gone to the polls to vote for a new government, however, but a constituent assembly to rewrite the country’s constitution. A few months ago, when these proposals were unveiled, an unofficial referendum was held in which seven million Venezuelans voted; 98% of them rejected the proposals, but the proposals are going ahead regardless. And Remoaners think they’ve got it bad here. The move to convene the constituent assembly followed the decision in March when the Supreme Court announced its intentions to take over the National Assembly, which is run by the opposition. Although the protests that greeted this announcement caused it to be reversed, President Nicolas Maduro was accused by the opposition of attempting to stage a coup, and it is Maduro’s determination to carry on regardless that seems to be tearing Venezuela apart, even if problems run much deeper and go back much further.

Venezuela is hardly unique amongst South American countries in experiencing ongoing difficulties when it comes to democracy, but external events have also contributed to its current crisis. With 95% of its export revenues dependent on oil, the diminishing global value of the commodity has hit it hard. Widespread food shortages have been the most devastating manifestation of the economic collapse, with figures estimating almost 75% of the population has lost an average of 8.7 kg in weight in the absence of proper nutrition, whereas only 15% of medicines are readily available. The hyperinflation that has struck the nation as of last year has seen consumer prices rise by a staggering 800% and the annual inflation rate has been estimated at 160%. As if things weren’t bad enough, the country also has an appalling murder rate.

Anyone who happens to be a regular listener of Radio 4’s wonderfully eye-opening institution, ‘From Our Own Correspondent’, will be familiar with Venezuela’s decline in recent years, though the powder keg atmosphere has finally erupted into violent protest this year and the country now appears to be at breaking point. The portrait of society in a state of collapse that ‘From Our Own Correspondent’ has documented often seems uncomfortably reminiscent of the chaotic circumstances in Germany after the First World War, the ones that created the conditions for the rise of Nazism.

Nicolas Maduro’s predecessor in the Presidential office, the late Hugo Chavez, had written the Venezuelan constitution in 1999 that his successor now seeks to overturn. Chavez used to carry the constitution around in his pocket, the ‘little blue book’ he was prone to brandishing whenever a camera was on hand. As architect of the so-called Bolivarian Revolution, which had ideological allies in other Socialist South American nations such as Bolivia, Ecuador and Nicaragua, Chavez embodied the classic anti-imperialist revolutionary leader in a Castro vein that has regularly proven popular amongst those opposing the foreign policies of South America’s northern neighbour. When the great Socialist experiment invariably runs into a brick wall, blaming US intervention in the country’s affairs in remains the default excuse, and Chavez knew how to play that one.

The legacy of Chavez’s populist reforms, which were initiated when the Venezuelan economy was riding high on astronomical oil revenues – and included the nationalisation of major industries, excessive public spending, and the establishment of social programmes to improve the health and education of the population – began to reveal themselves in a less benign light at the point when Chavez lost his battle against cancer in 2013. They may have appeared admirable on paper, but Chavez failed to curb endemic corruption in public office and the police force, not to mention lowering the murder rate; a master of propaganda like Hugo Chavez was able to paper-over these cracks in his Socialist vision, but his successor has not been so fortunate. In many respects, Nicolas Maduro inherited an unenviable economic time-bomb not unlike the poisoned chalice Tony Blair handed over to Gordon Brown in 2007, though one suspects UK-style austerity would seem like affluence to most Venezuelans today.

Nicolas Maduro’s response to the crisis has been perceived as the President desperately trying to save his own skin rather than putting the interests of the country first. The aborted attempt to silence the opposition by taking over the National Assembly hasn’t deterred his determination to convene a constituent assembly that will have the power to override the democratic institution he failed to seize control of. Over 6,000 candidates are standing for the constituent assembly, none of them from the opposition, which has boycotted it wholesale. But while international condemnation of the election has been summarily ignored, one of Venezuela’s prominent neighbours Colombia – only just emerging from its own turbulence – has also refused to recognise the result when it comes.

The President hasn’t done himself any favours by cracking-down on more physical opposition to his power; since street protests began in April, upwards of 3,000 protestors have been detained and dozens have been killed. The most high-profile presence on these protests has belonged to ‘The Resistance’, a masked group claiming to be the protectors of peaceful protestors; they generally head the marches and are prepared to fight fire with fire when confronted by police and security guards. A ban on demonstrations hasn’t had much of an impact, with the barricades manned again on streets in the capital Caracas as the government continues to insist the constituent assembly will be the only solution to the anarchy of recent months. But Venezuela has so many more problems than that, and genuine solutions are in short supply.

© The Editor

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

BACK (STABBING) IN THE USA

All too often, that celebrated US sitcom known as ‘The Trump Presidency’ hits heights worthy of a script penned by Larry David. With the disappointing departure of wacky White House Spokesman Sean Spicer, it seemed the loss of such a colourful cast-member risked the show never being the same again; lo and behold, however, the Donald hired his replacement on the same day, and Anthony Scaramucci has quickly settled into Spicer’s shoes by proving to be instantly popular with viewers. Mr Scaramucci made an immediate impact in a classic episode that saw him interviewed by Emily Maitlis, and has also maintained the tradition of washing dirty linen in public by launching a personal attack on White House Chief of Staff Reince Priebus – with hilarious, as they say, consequences.

Beyond the fourth wall, the serious business of running the USA hasn’t been quite so side-splitting. Over on Capitol Hill last night, it was drama rather than comedy that dominated proceedings as the Senate debated the President’s repeal of ‘Obamacare’. This was the third attempt to repeal the healthcare act of Trump’s predecessor, and the third failure. The bill became known as the ‘Skinny’ repeal, due to it being a scaled-down version of a total repeal that it was reckoned all Senate Republicans could agree to. Had the bill succeeded, it would still have left an estimated 16 million Americans losing their health insurance within a decade as well as a 20% increase in insurance premiums for those fortunate enough to keep it.

What made the defeat an especially bitter pill for the Trump administration to swallow is that three prominent Republican Senators – Susan Collins, Lisa Murkowski, and former Presidential candidate John McCain – voted against the bill and contributed significantly to its defeat in the process; the latter member of the trio was apparently badgered by Vice President Mike Pence for the best part of 20 minutes in a desperate attempt to get the veteran Republican to vote according to the President’s wishes, before taking his place alongside a group of enthusiastic Democrats as the bill was voted down by the tantalisingly tight margin of 51 votes to 49. Trump’s response was to claim all three Republican turncoats ‘let America down’; but for McCain in particular it was an opportunity for revenge.

During his run for the Presidency in 2008, much was made of John McCain’s Vietnam War record. After being shot down on a bombing raid over Hanoi in 1967, McCain was a Prisoner of War for six years and suffered appalling torture at the hands of his captors that has left him with lifelong physical disabilities, most famously the fact he cannot raise his hands fully above his head. McCain entered politics a decade after his return from Vietnam, but has long had something of a reputation as a ‘maverick’, not always prone to toeing the party line. His run for the Presidency in 2008 saw him lose to Barack Obama, though his cause probably wasn’t helped by the selection of the execrable Sarah Palin as his running-mate. Nevertheless, he has remained one of the most recognisable and respected Washington veterans – not that this counted for much where Donald Trump was concerned.

During the embryonic stages of his efforts to gain the Republican nomination for 2016, Trump mocked McCain’s record in Vietnam by saying he preferred ‘heroes who weren’t captured’. It should be noted that, though of an eligible age, Trump himself conveniently avoided the Vietnam draft like one of his White House predecessors, Dubya; he also didn’t enlist as a volunteer or consider joining the Reserve Officer Training Corps; as a student, he obtained four deferments and was given a further medical deferment when threatened with the draft in 1968 on the grounds of ‘heel spurs’, which was nice.

A man such as McCain, with over thirty years in politics, will have developed an extremely thick skin by now, but a crass comment along the lines of the one Trump made was bound to rankle; last night, he had the chance to give the President the finger and he took it. Trump’s avowed intention to get rid of Obamacare now seemingly stands in tatters, largely thanks to a man whose recent diagnosis with a serious brain tumour means he really doesn’t have anything to lose. That he returned to active politics just a couple of weeks after brain surgery shows he’s quite a tough cookie.

Ironically, McCain had spoken out against Obamacare and the need for it to be replaced during his re-election campaign in 2016, though by the time he came to cast a decisive vote yesterday evening, his opposition to the proposals on the table appeared to stem more from his disapproval of the clandestine manner in which the bill was prepared. McCain made a speech a couple of days before last night’s vote calling for a ‘return to regular order’ when it comes to lawmaking, so it was perhaps no surprise that – coupled with the urge to get one over the President – McCain should side with Democrats at the eleventh hour.

The ‘Skinny’ repeal compromise was regarded as the only version Republicans might be able to get through Congress; its defeat means there are no other prospective bills on the cards to repeal Obamacare; despite this, Trump tweeted in the aftermath of the vote ‘As I said from the beginning, let Obamacare implode, then deal.’ At the same time, one of Trump’s early rivals for last year’s Republican nomination, Texas Senator Ted Cruz, declared ‘Mark my words, this journey is not yet done.’ It probably won’t be in the long-term, but for now it is; and the Republicans have one of their own to thank for it.

© The Editor

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

THEY’RE ALL GOING ON A SUMMER HOLIDAY

It may not be a long hot summer ahead of us – give or take the odd ‘phew, what a scorcher’ day – but it promises to be one in which our nation’s elected representatives plan and plot their enticing battle strategies for the autumn. As Westminster covers its furniture for a couple of months, MPs return to their constituencies and prepare not so much for government as for the next stage of the war. Being an observer and writer on events of this nature, I find these are invigorating times to be doing so. In the last three years, we’ve had two referendums (one regional, one national) and two General Elections; and none appear to have resolved any of the issues that prompted them in the first place. We seem to be in a permanent, if fascinating, state of flux.

I was talking to a friend the other day on how cinema and television mirror the political uncertainties of the day in their output; current offerings from ‘A Handmaid’s Tale’ to ‘The Walking Dead’ and even the revived ‘Planet of the Apes’ series seem to me to reflect the mistrust and diminishing faith in the institutions that govern western society, a factor that has gathered pace post-9/11 and in the wake of the 2008 financial crash. Interestingly, the last time this trend was so prominent was back in the 70s – with everything from ‘Survivors’ and ‘The Changes’ on the small screen to ‘Network’, ‘The Omega Man’, ‘Logan’s Run’ and ‘A Clockwork Orange’ on the big screen, dystopian portrayals of the near-future that characterised the contemporary concerns of the era that produced them.

Go back to the 50s – supposedly a far more stable era – yet we have the likes of ‘Invasion of the Body-Snatchers’ acting as a metaphor for McCarthyism, ‘Quatermass’ satirising the pre-war establishment’s flirtations with fascism as the British ruling class is infiltrated by aliens, and the post-Hiroshima fear of what the Atom Bomb left in its wake manifested as mutant creatures in ‘Tarantula’ or the Godzilla movies. After a rare bout of international optimism in the 90s – following celebrated events such as the collapse of the Eastern Bloc, the release of Nelson Mandela and the end of apartheid that followed it – the shift in mood that for those on the left has been exacerbated by Brexit or the election of Trump has resulted in a return to the apocalyptic narrative in fiction.

How this relates to the current state of play in Blighty is easier to describe in escapist terms via the fresh upsurge in fantasy trash such as ‘Love Island’ or the ongoing and increasingly desperate talent show franchise acting as television ostriches with heads firmly buried in the sand. When the TV news is so relentless in its assault on the lingering shreds of naive belief that things can only get better, however, it’s no wonder the populace turns to the modern-day equivalent of the dance marathons of the Great Depression for superficial consolation or even the comforting embrace of Regency England in the likes of ‘Poldark’.

In a way, it’s no great surprise that this has happened when the public look to their leaders for guidance and see people at the top who appear to have such a slender grip on power that it could slip away at any given moment. When one considers we have a minority Government led by a Prime Minister so in denial of her own shortcomings and eager to enter into deals with anyone that can provide her administration with the illusion of strength and stability, whether Trump, the DUP or Saudi Arabia, it doesn’t inspire much in the way of confidence. Theresa May now takes time out from what must have been a personally devastating couple of months for her to calculate how she can survive until the end of the Brexit negotiations two years hence. She’ll dust herself down for the party conference season in September, but she knows the knives are out within her own Cabinet and she’s very much living on borrowed time. Who would envy her?

A year ago, it was Jeremy Corbyn who was facing assaults from his own side, yet Jezza has emerged from the wreckage of the General Election with his position undoubtedly strengthened and his Labour opponents weakened. His remarkable winning over of the general public from such a lowly starting point has both shown the irrelevance of Fleet Street in dictating opinion and how people respond positively to the relative novelty of a politician who seems to have genuine beliefs that aren’t necessarily dependent on the shifting sands of the consensus. His response to recent terrorist events and Grenfell have captured the public mood far more effectively than May’s awkward and stilted reaction, something that won’t do him any harm come the next visit to the polling station, whenever that may be.

The euphoric mood of the Corbyn wing of the Labour Party right now couldn’t contrast greater with the shambolic infighting of the Tories, and it certainly feels that electioneering for them didn’t end on June 8. Few would argue that should the realistic possibility of another General Election at any time over the next few months come to pass, Labour appear more likely to win it than the Conservatives; and the Conservatives are all-too aware of this, which is why they’re putting the inevitable leadership contest on hold for the time being. It doesn’t say much for their prospects that the attitude they’ve adopted seems to be ‘any Prime Minister is better than no Prime Minister’.

The reduced ambition of the Lib Dems, despite moderately increasing their Parliamentary head-count after the wipe-out of 2015, has been reflected in the unopposed election of Vince Cable as leader; this backwards step is reminiscent of when the Tories had Michael Howard in the hot-seat after William Hague’s retirement in 2001, almost an admission of irrelevance. Pursuing an anti-Brexit policy that includes a desire for another EU Referendum might win them a few fans amongst diehard Remainers, but the wider electorate have already accepted Brexit and just want it to be over and done with as quickly as possible.

So, the recess is with us and the respective parties are taking a break from daily duties in the Commons; but as Mrs May heads off for a hike in the Welsh mountains and Mr Corbyn retreats to his allotment, I doubt either will view the summer as a holiday. Both have challenges ahead of them that negate putting their feet up, and the business of either running the country or preparing to run it won’t pause just because there are sandcastles waiting to be built.

© The Editor

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

YOU SAY, WE PAY

The amount of money people are paid in relation to the job they do has been quite a hot topic over the past year or so; the public sector pay issue is the one that won’t go away, and the series of strikes by junior doctors last year shone a spotlight on the subject that has intensified in its glaring luminance via the row over the Government’s refusal to budge on its public sector pay cap. Doctors, nurses, fire fighters, the police – all deemed to be engaged in occupations that we all benefit from and would struggle without. Recent terrorist atrocities and disasters have brought their front-line contribution into focus yet again, though we do live in a country in which envy and mistrust of the successful is easily translated into resentment of the money such figures earn.

The Daily Mail, one of many Fleet Street titles owned by billionaires registered as non-doms who avoid paying millions in tax on an annual basis as a consequence, has nevertheless added to its long-time anti-BBC agenda of late by excitedly speculating on the pay of its biggest stars. Former Culture Secretary John ‘Whiplash’ Whittingdale was one of the motivators behind a new contractual obligation when negotiating the BBC’s Royal Charter a couple of years ago, one that specified the corporation would have to reveal the wages of its highest earners. Any who earned over £150,000 would be ‘named and shamed’.

I noticed the story was the Mail’s front cover today and will probably fill the first three or four pages of the rag tomorrow. It makes the assumption people care about these things, and to be fair, I’m pretty sure many do; I can’t say I’m one of them, but I don’t read the Daily Mail either. In comparison to what, say, Premier League footballers earn on a weekly basis, even the annual salaries of the BBC’s highest-paid employees probably seem like loose change. But, lest we forget, the BBC is financed by those of us who pay our TV licences, so it counts as a special case.

Michael Grade, a man whose working life has more or less been spent entirely in television, points out that revealing these BBC salaries will inflate those salaries thereafter as commercial competitors will now know how much to tempt stars away with; not that this will concern the Daily Mail, naturally. ‘If the Government was concerned the BBC wasn’t giving value for money,’ said Grade, ‘then they should have cut the licence fee, and not intervened in people’s privacy and their own private affairs about what they’re paid.’

There is undoubtedly a curtain-twitching, nosy neighbour element to this story; the need to know what other people are paid can either be used as yardstick to measure the chasm between Us and Them or can provide an excuse to start a rant about nurses using food banks. Of course, nurses using food banks has little to do with how much Chris Evans is paid and a tad more to do with the Westminster villagers who insisted revealing the pay of the top earners when renegotiating the BBC Charter; but this fact won’t register when the nation’s curtain-twitchers are rooting around through Gary Lineker’s pay-cheques.

As I’m one of the few people I know who does actually pay for a TV licence, what concerns me isn’t really what the BBC pays its big guns out of the licence fee – and that’s all we’re getting via these revelations, by the way; additional payments from independent production companies don’t count. For me, it’s more a question of getting my money’s worth; when Tony Hall waffles on about ‘culture’ and simultaneously slashes the budget for BBC4 or Radio 4 whilst lashing out God-knows how much on endless variations of ‘Bake Off’ and the rest of the talent show circus, I don’t feel I’m receiving value. Content is what irks me, not payment; by trying to out-ITV ITV, the BBC is failing to do what it’s there for. It’s supposed to educate and inform as well as entertain. And droning on about ‘diversity’ once again is not the response to these revelations I want.

I wouldn’t expect the likes of Graham Norton or Claudia Winkleman to receive the same amount of money for doing what they do as someone receiving benefits in Scunthorpe. The entertainment world has always rewarded its stars way out of proportion to what they actually do; that’s why those stars live in nice parts of the country and most of us don’t. Millions of Americans may have been struggling knee-deep in poverty during the Great Depression of the 1930s, yet Hollywood treated its celluloid heroes and heroines like kings and queens. They lived in immense luxury in comparison to those marooned in the Midwest dustbowls, but the population still crammed into the cinemas to watch them. Does the Mail imagine knowing that Chris Evans is paid £2.2 million will suddenly provoke a massive fall in his Radio 2 listening figures?

Some jobs are paid better than others; that’s a simple fact. Hedge-fund managers and top City people earn astronomical amounts by average standards, and politicians don’t do badly out of the various directorships they can boast on top of their MPs salaries, not to mention the fees they receive for public speaking; just ask Gideon. Are any of them doing work more valuable than fighting fires and crime or healing the sick? So what are we supposed to make of the fact that some of the most famous names in television and radio earn a lot as well? It can hardly have come as a great surprise to any of us. Anyone with ambition would obviously like to earn enough money to live in relative comfort and to not have to worry about paying the rent; but only a small handful of professions facilitate that ambition. It’s not great, but it’s life.

© The Editor

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

LAST TRAIN TO MAIDENHEAD

The temporary suspension of collective responsibility within a Cabinet by a serving Prime Minister is not a decision taken lightly by the man/woman in charge; more often than not, the ramifications of releasing the shackles of the party line can give the individual Ministers an appetite for expressing personal opinions that they remain reluctant to relinquish thereafter. At the time of the 1975 EEC Referendum, Harold Wilson may have got the eventual result he wanted; but it’s arguable the left/right divide within Labour that was given such a public platform during the campaign sowed the seeds for the split that did so much damage to the party in the 80s.

Similarly, David Cameron giving free rein to the Brexiteers within his own Cabinet last year continues to threaten unity at the highest level; not only did the result of the EU Referendum cost Dave his job, but it seems to have started a trend amongst Ministers to publicly disagree with one another on a regular basis, something the shaky outcome of the General Election seems to have exacerbated. Theresa May’s weak authority and inability to keep a lid on Cabinet conferences has played its part in the publicised bickering between prominent members of that Cabinet; Brexit remains the most divisive issue, but at the moment one feels as though if one person sat around the table at No.10 didn’t care much for the digestive biscuits provided, the nation would know about it within hours.

Chancellor Philip Hammond is the current target surrounding many of the leaks, accused by one unnamed colleague of trying to ‘f*** up Brexit’ and by another of claiming ‘even a woman can drive a train’ when public sector pay was under discussion. Of course, many of those feeding these stories from Downing Street to the press are rather eager to make the PM’s residence their address for the next four or five years, and the headlines reflect the struggle to topple Mrs May that is undeniably underway. She might hope threatening them with ‘it’s me or Corbyn’ will dampen the jostling for succession over the summer recess; but the hard slog of running a minority administration with a Cabinet of power-hungry backstabbers has the potential to break even a deluded martinet like Theresa May come the autumn.

Another divisive issue that has been around longer than Brexit and may well outlast it is that of HS2. The latest news of the proposed route for the white elephant express has added a layer of irony to a housing crisis in which not enough new or affordable homes are being built. It emerged yesterday that the planned eastern route of the line – from Leeds to Birmingham – will run east of Sheffield and not be served by any new stations in South Yorkshire; using Sheffield’s main city centre station means the route will plough through a newly-built housing estate in nearby Mexborough. The official Government statement claims only 16 of the 216 homes will make way for the line, but sceptical residents don’t accept this; they also question the compensation payments they’ll be entitled to that the Government initially said would enable them to purchase another home of equivalent value in the area.

Transport Secretary Chris Grayling bigged-up the scheme yet again in the Commons yesterday and attempted to dismiss its numerous critics by reading from the usual ‘economic benefits’ script that accompanies any project in which people stand to lose both homes and businesses; but when one recalls Grayling’s abysmal performances in his previous Ministerial posts, any reassurances from him are hardly likely to fill those in HS2’s firing line with confidence. The South Yorkshire section of the route was unveiled a year ago, but confirmation of it yesterday prompted Rotherham’s Labour MP Sarah Champion to tweet ‘South Yorkshire will now get all of the disruption of HS2 without the benefit.’

As one resident of the new Mexborough estate that will be partially demolished to make way for the line said, ‘Bear in mind this is the construction of a viaduct that’s going to be 20ft in the sky coming within 10ft of your property, and they say, “it’s okay, your property isn’t one that has to be knocked down”.’ The construction of London’s Westway flyover in the late 60s caused similar damage as it cut a brutal swathe through North Kensington, whereas an entire centuries-old village was obliterated by the building of the Scammonden Dam and Reservoir that comprised the construction of the M62 motorway during the same period. Any project of this nature tends to dramatically alter the landscape and affect those that inhabit it, but such disruption in recent decades has largely been down to accommodating the motorcar; the railways were last the source of such opposition and upset in the nineteenth century.

HS2 was a contentious subject in Government circles long before Theresa May seized power and will remain so for her successor, whoever that may be. The route will pass through upwards of 70 Parliamentary constituencies and MPs have been inundated with demands from constituents to vote against the scheme, many of them Tories. The official Government line on HS2 is currently holding steady, but the PM’s failure to prevent leaks and to gag her most outspoken Ministers at the moment suggests if any issue that divides the public is just as likely to divide the Cabinet, chances are we’ll find out about it pretty quickly. When her position is somewhat perilous to say the least, Theresa May can ill-afford to allow the current state of play to continue; but it would appear she’s already lost the battle.

© The Editor

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