NOW YOU SEE HER, NOW YOU DON’T

Peng ShuaiIt must be great being China; I mean, you can literally get away with anything and nobody’s going to stop you. Perhaps only Vladimir Putin alone also knows how good that feels. Come and have a go if you think you’re hard enough – only, no one will and no one does. You create a deadly virus, you somehow let it slip out of the lab and spread across the globe, and then – as a totalitarian state – you devise an inhumane method of placing your citizens under constant surveillance and/or house-arrest and every free, democratic nation around the world follows your lead. What’s not to like? And now China has flexed its muscles even further on the international stage by removing one of its leading sportswomen from public view, just like that – because it can. Why, all she did was make online sexual assault allegations against a former vice-premier.

35-year-old Peng Shuai, one-time women’s doubles world number one and a Wimbledon winner in that category alongside Hsieh Su-wei in 2013, has effectively vanished following the allegations made on the Weibo social media site. They were made against Zhang Gaoli, alleging the senior CCP official tried to force her into having sex after playing tennis at his home. The allegations, which have subsequently been removed from the site, appeared on 2 November; and Shuai hasn’t been seen since – unless one believes the email (credited to her) that was released last week in which ‘she’ retracts the allegations and claims she’s not missing but is merely keeping out of the public eye by relaxing at home, a claim supported by some unconvincing photos that accompanied the missive. A few days later, Chinese state media released a clip apparently featuring the reclusive star having an evening out at a restaurant, which is certainly a new twist on the traditional hostage video.

So, the official line from the CCP is that there is no story, Peng Shuai is not missing, and serious allegations against one of the party’s highest-ranking figures are not worthy of comment. Across-the-board denial has been the response whenever questions have been asked by outsiders, with a blanket ban in effect on Chinese media outlets. ‘I have not heard of the issue you raised,’ said China’s foreign ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin. ‘This is not a diplomatic question.’ His response has been deleted from the Chinese Government’s official website, so it therefore never happened. A similar bout of feigned ignorance afflicted the pages of the CCP’s Global Times. ‘As a person who is familiar with the Chinese system,’ wrote editor-in-chief Hu Xijin, ‘I don’t believe Peng Shuai has received retaliation and repression speculated by foreign media for the thing people talked about.’ ‘The thing people talked about’ – interesting wording; no surprise about the wording, however, when one considers this story doesn’t exist in the Chinese media landscape.

The Women’s Tennis Association is not exactly satisfied with these excuses for explanations, threatening to withdraw from the Chinese tournaments that constitute a money-spinning section of next season’s tour unless Shuai resurfaces soon; the WTA’s male equivalent – along with some of its most notable members – has also voiced concerns as to her whereabouts after airing the allegations. Both the UN and the White House have issued statements condemning the situation, whilst over here there have been calls for a boycott of the Beijing Winter Olympics – probably unlikely, but China does like to contradict the critical narrative via grand gestures that paint it in a positive light, like its spectacular staging of the Olympic Games in Beijing back in 2008. Any such boycott could potentially damage the global brand, though it’ll most likely end up little more than a dent on account of the few who I imagine will follow through on their threat.

After all, how many of the virtuous footballers taking the knee and wrapping themselves around the rainbow flag will extend their stunning and brave solidarity with the oppressed people of the planet into the next World Cup, where they’ll be guaranteed a global platform? In case you’ve forgotten, FIFA received enough weighty brown packages under the table during the bidding process to award the competition to that renowned haven for LGBTXYZ (and women’s) rights, Qatar – y’know the Middle Eastern kingdom whereby effective slave labour has been busily building the required stadia whilst the authorities have been sweeping a fair few insignificant workforce fatalities under the carpet. Hmm, difficult dilemma facing yer average international footballer, that one.

Maybe it’s just easier indulging in your vacuous gesture before kick-off at every game in the Premier League rather than risking losing your place in the national side should you question the narrative. Moreover, why take the chance of your face being removed from all the products you sponsor when they’re being sold in some of the world’s most profitable marketplaces – ones that unfortunately happen to be the kind of places that have no respect whatsoever for the personal freedoms you’re so keen to promote unless doing so threatens your own luxury livelihood? At least you’re being seen doing the accepted ‘right thing’ week in-week out and that’s enough – even if it makes not the slightest bit of difference to a serf baking beneath the Qatari sun as he installs another executive box for FIFA officials.

Sport being such a huge generator of huge wealth for its highest-paid practitioners is always the sting in the tail of a sportsman or woman acquiring a conscience, where blind eyes are turned to genuine suffering if it jeopardises the career to raise the subject. Some do have the balls to go out on a limb and make a stance, but most prefer to merely make the token gestures and not offend the goose laying their golden eggs. On a positive note in this particular case, some of the leading names in tennis have at least nailed their colours to the mast where Peng Shuai is concerned – everyone from Billie Jean King to Novak Djokovic; but we shall have to wait and see what happens next if she fails to appear in public again. Not that Shuai is the first notable athlete to disappear from view, mind.

Ugandan hurdler John Akii-Bua won his country’s first ever gold medal at the 1972 Munich Olympics, yet was discovered in a Kenyan refugee camp eight years later; despite receiving a hero’s welcome following his Olympic success, the collapse of Idi Amin’s regime in 1979 forced him to flee Uganda, and it took the intervention of his shoe manufacturer Puma to intervene upon his discovery before he was released to work for the firm in Germany. Ironically, considering his nation was ruled by such a bonkers and dangerous despot at the time of his triumph, Akii-Bua received the patronage of Amin and his disappearance, for once, wasn’t down to Mr President. If only the same could be said for Peng Shuai.

An interesting non-critical voice has come from the International Olympic Committee, though perhaps it’s no great surprise considering it could give FIFA a run for its money in the honesty stakes. An IOC statement said they had ‘seen the latest reports and are encouraged by assurances that she is safe.’ There you go. But Peng Shuai remains out of sight for the moment and the serious sexual assault allegations have yet to be investigated. It’ll be interesting to see how far China tries to take this or if it has actually underestimated the international response it has provoked and the whole business has been a step too far for a country that has grown used to doing whatever the hell it wants without having to face any real consequences.

© The Editor

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SCIENCE FRICTION

DoomwatchAs political slogans go, ‘Follow the Science’ was a useful default phrase whenever the shifting sands of SAGE pushed the Government into one more U-turn in the Covid U-bend last year. The scaremongering boffins feeding the PM their flexible advice on what to do and what not to do in order to stay safe, save lives and prop-up the NHS evidently felt able to chop and change on a whim because they were science people and whatever they said was therefore scientific; any challenges to their wisdom – though the MSM largely avoided those, anyway – could be rebuffed by essentially saying this is the science and you simply follow it, end of. It’s just as well the voices questioning the validity of the science were few and far between when it came to mainstream platforms, and their small numbers meant they could easily be written off as crackpot conspiracy theorists. It’s a neat way of silencing your critics, but killing potential debate with one word or a phrase is very 2020s, of course. Question Identity Politics and you’re far-right or racist (or maybe being one means you’re both); question the Trans issue and you’re a Transphobe; question Islam and you’re Islamophobic and so on.

One would think anyone so fanatically committed to a cause would be prepared to argue their case with a convincing and persuasive argument; but dogmatic fanatics are not rational, logical individuals who can defend their corner with rationality or logic, which is why they tend to resort to name-calling, trolling, abuse, cancel campaigns etc. They’ve twigged that most will accept their position just because they can scream louder than the opposition – and it’s not a nice sound, after all. Not that one has to scream where Covid issues are concerned, however. ‘Jean in Suffolk’, a listener participating in a Talk Radio phone-in the other day declared ‘Vaccinations should be compulsory for everyone. Some people have to be protected from themselves.’ In a similar vein, an online friend of mine from one of the overseas Anglosphere territories posts daily updates that read like government propaganda bulletins; I wouldn’t have previously credited them with such slavish subservience to the official line, but maybe I too often make the mistake of assuming everyone of my acquaintance has the same instinct as me to question and be suspicious of anything that emanates from a government department. I didn’t put that instinct on hold in 2020 and I’m certainly not doing so now.

At the moment, it feels as though we’re sleepwalking into a very scary place indeed and that sleepwalk is unimpeded by those one would expect to step back and see the bigger picture had they not been cowed into compliance. For example, I’m not quite sure how anyone could realistically defend some of the moves being proposed in that most frighteningly authoritarian pandemic police state, Australia; but somebody must be or else they wouldn’t be happening. According to a report issued last week, ‘People in South Australia will be forced to download an app that combines facial recognition and geolocation. The State will text them at random times, and thereafter they will have 15 minutes to take a picture of their face in the location where they are supposed to be. Should they fail, the local police department will be sent to follow up in person.’ No, that wasn’t written by Chris Morris, nor was it adapted from an embryonic manuscript for ‘Nineteen Eighty-Four’ that Orwell abandoned because he felt it was too far-fetched. It’s for real.

Pre-Covid, the so-called quarantine app is something that few would have been surprised to hear was compulsory in China, but a Western democracy? Perhaps the manner in which the democratic nations of the free world have taken so easily to Chinese ways reflects the gradual and deepening infiltration of Western government, business, industry, media, academia and institutions by the mighty Yuan over the last decade or so – something that has been achieved with the kind of impressive stealth a neutral could admire were it the work of an evil genius in a Bond movie. I suppose you know the aim of the infiltration project has been all-but achieved when controlling the populace in the style of an unelected Communist plutocracy suddenly doesn’t seem such a bad idea to Western leaders after all. With the curve still defiantly un-flattened, the Government here is now renewing the ‘emergency’ Covid legislation for another six months. Say no more.

And how’s following the science going amidst this adoption of pseudo-totalitarian rule? As a mantra, Follow the Science was so ubiquitous for so long that it’s interesting to see how its most enthusiastic advocates are now choosing to disregard the science because it doesn’t fit their agenda. The Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (the JCVI), an independent expert advisory panel of almost 60 years standing, was turned to by the Government to provide its usual advice and recommendations, this time on the subject of vaccinating children aged 12-15. The conclusions of the JCVI were that jabs at that age weren’t necessary; this wasn’t what the Government wanted to hear, so it asked them to reconsider; some JCVI members resigned in protest, but those remaining stood by their conclusions, which the Government has apparently decided to overrule by testing out their chosen stance in that ever-dependable arena, the Court of Public Opinion.

But the JCVI are a scientific body, one which presumably follows the science; in response to its recommendations, ones based on scientific calculations, the Government seems determined to push ahead with vaccinating children, despite medical and scientific advice from the experts stressing the opposite. Mind you, this is an administration that appears committed to vaccine passports even though vaccines don’t prevent transmission, so insisting those who least need to be jabbed should be jabbed (and applying emotional blackmail via their trusty MSM support network) isn’t as shocking a move as it might have once seemed. And, as ever, there’s always more going on than receives publicity. An NHS vaccination memo slipped out a few days ago in which the question ‘Is there a financial supplement for vaccinating eligible 12-15 year olds?’ was accompanied by the following answer: ‘Yes. In addition to the £12.58 item of service fee, a further supplement of £10 can be claimed per vaccination dose to eligible children and young people aged 12-15.’ Well, it’s one way of saving the NHS, I guess.

Let’s face it – scepticism is an entirely natural reaction now. Who has broadcast the Covid message? Politicians and the mainstream media. Who has enforced it? The police. None of these institutions have exactly covered themselves in glory over the last 10-15 years, so it’s no wonder so few trust them anymore. One might as well expect yer average Afghan to trust the West after abandoning them to the Taliban. The cynical exploitation of the unique and often frightening situation of the last year and-a-half by those in power has been unforgivable. Certainly, a government engaged in so many anti-democratic abuses of civil liberties under the convenient cloak of a pandemic should provoke mass defection to the opposition, yet this is where there’s so much cause for despair.

Under normal circumstances, one could endure a terrible government because the thought of kicking them out and replacing them with something better is always there; yet when one looks across at the Labour Party in the realisation that they’re the sole realistic alternative to the Tories, one is immediately aware there is no alternative anymore. They’re just as awful, if not worse. But perhaps at a time when so much choice is being taken out of our hands, that’s the abysmal excuse for choice we still have left. Hey, Biden’s a pitiful President, but at least he’s not Trump! Hey, Keir Starmer’s a pitiful Prime Minister, but at least he’s not Boris! If only there was some scientific formula to solve this conundrum, we could follow it.

© The Editor

Website: https://www.johnnymonroe.co.uk/

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SLIPPERY SLOPES AND SILVER LININGS

Over the past few days, we’ve received two reminders of how societies bereft of basic civil liberties and intolerant of criticism or dissent operate. In Saudi Arabia, the women’s rights activist Loujain al-Hathloul was sentenced to five years and eight months for ‘spying with foreign parties’ and ‘conspiring against the kingdom’. One of the prominent campaigners to demand Saudi women be granted the considerable privilege of putting their feet on a pedal and steering a wheel, she had already been detained for over two years without charge; even though her sentence is to be backdated to her initial detainment in May 2018, her potential early release on parole will come with the caveat of a five-year travel ban and a three-year threat of a return to prison should she be deemed to be committing the same ‘crimes’. Loujain al-Hathloul claims she was tortured and sexually harassed during the period before her sentencing, and whilst her case is an undoubted abuse of human rights, it falls into a familiar middle-eastern tradition that could happen at any time.

A case more pertinent to the unique conditions of 2020 occurred in China when Zhang Zhan, a ‘citizen journalist’ who had posted online critiques of the Chinese Government’s response to the embryonic pandemic in Wuhan earlier this year, was sentenced to four years. Eight whistleblowers have already been punished for criticising how the CCP dealt with events in Wuhan, but Zhang Zhan received a wider audience via her videos and blogs reporting on the situation and challenging the party line. Found guilty of spreading ‘false remarks’ and ‘picking quarrels and provoking trouble’, Zhang has been on hunger strike since June and, following in a proud tradition established over a century ago to treat Suffragettes protesting the same way, she has been force-fed by her captors courtesy of the good old nasal tube. The manner of punishment dished out to both Loujain al-Hathloul and Zhang Zhan should serve as a potent lesson in how a West we are constantly being told is an utterly oppressive place to live has some serious competition for that accolade in other corners of the globe. But maybe our own democratically-elected overlords are the ones learning that lesson.

A government beholden to scientific and medical advisors whose sudden elevation to positions of power has given them carte-blanche to let their fantasy totalitarian blueprints for society run riot is not one any of us should invest our trust in. The general population is not so dim that it can’t calculate the positive effects of the measures introduced to prevent the rise in coronavirus infections that it has endured for the best part of ten months are, at best, minimal. In terms of achieving their overall aim, they just don’t bloody work. If incessant lockdowns, social distancing, the wearing of masks, the cancelling of ordinary social pursuits and the prevention of mingling with family and friends did work, the virus would have been severely downgraded by now – the magic vaccine not withstanding; instead, with the evidence of these policies’ failure all around us, the Government and its motley crew of megalomaniac cranks and quacks are ramping up the restrictions with a dangerous blend of desperation and self-righteousness. Tier 3 wasn’t enough, so Tier 4 came along; and now we’re informed Tier 4 is no good either. How many Tiers does it take to change a light-bulb?

When the public were gearing up to put the restrictions on temporary hold for a few days in order to enjoy Christmas, the ‘mutant strain’ (which had been held in reserve for just such a moment) was suddenly detonated to justify cancelling festivities. How convenient. And, if the latest Tiers produce the same results as all the ones before, who’s to blame for the rising infection rates? Well, not ‘the science’, obviously; no, it’s all the fault of those members of the public who aren’t doing as they’re told, of course. One doesn’t have to venture far into any shopping parade to realise the majority are observing the rules; the idea that the naughty minority disobeying the rules are a big enough section of the population to affect infection rates is laughable, but let’s not let that get in the way of passing the buck and absolving Government and the likes of SAGE from any blame, shall we? Yup, it’s our old default friend, divide and rule again. Point to dying grannies on trolleys in hospital corridors and then point to the nominated guilty parties to neutralise any deviation from the narrative. Question or criticise and you’ve got octogenarian blood on your hands. It’s your fault that new box of Werther’s Original will now never be opened, you sadistic, seditious traitor.

The apocalyptic prophesises of a ‘Covid Catastrophe’ pale next to the grim reality of the ‘Lockdown Catastrophe’, a killer which will have far more catastrophic ramifications for decades if the disastrous approach applied so far isn’t abandoned soon. The Doomsday predictions which repeatedly emanate from that deluded, fantasist clown Neil Ferguson sound more and more like an administration and its crackpot advisors scraping the bottom of a propaganda barrel to legitimise the continuation and strengthening of newfound powers it doesn’t want to relinquish. No, we’re not Saudi Arabia or China – that goes without saying; but where are we going if we stay on this path? Hardly towards a freer democratic society. Look at what we’ve already surrendered without a fight over the last few months, based on the pretext that each sacrifice was for the greater good. This time last year, would any of us have believed the extent of what we’ve given away in 2020? And where the hell will we be this time next year if this situation carries on?

The media lapdogs’ abandonment of their duty to question the wisdom of Government policy in 2020 perhaps reflects the manner in which newspaper proprietors and TV broadcasters have dispensed with their most authoritative and independent voices over the past decade; you can’t move on Fleet Street for the chattering of chickens that have come home to roost in the derelict newsrooms of every once-great paper. If any public service is struggling to cope with the demands placed upon it in the current crisis, chances are it’s because budgets have been annually slashed in a relentless tide of underinvestment that never anticipated a time when it’d be needed again; similarly, don’t expect any media outlet to abruptly regain its long-lost mojo when all the journalists whose talented pens put those outlets on the map have been pensioned off or simply sacked over the last few years. It’s no wonder the MSM response to this situation has been so supine and spineless.

All the most measured, rational, intelligent and eloquent responses this year have been found online. Yes, Twitter has a lot to answer for, but highlighting the worst offenders on social media as evidence that cyberspace is as much a stew of deliberate misinformation, lies and biased bullshit as any medium of older vintage is like holding up ‘Love, Actually’ as evidence that all British cinema is shit. In fact, one cannot but admire the true voices of sanity and reason that have fought for the right to be heard in a climate that has seen big tech try to silence any dissenters that have dared to question the prevailing and suffocating orthodoxy. The mere fact those voices have dared to speak and have made so many isolated individuals genuinely feel they’re not alone in 2020 has been the sole crumb of comfort and sliver of hope for a future that this God-awful year has offered. And, as long as those voices can continue to be heard in 2021, there is hope that twelve months from now we won’t find ourselves living in an offshore suburb of Riyadh or Beijing, bereft of any proof of who we used to be or who we really are.

© The Editor

OUR FRIENDS IN THE EAST

There’s something uncomfortably reassuring about China and Russia being portrayed as evil ‘super states’ run by dictators reminiscent of Bond villains. Such images correspond to a traditional narrative that’s far easier to understand in these relentlessly confusing times, when so many threats to global stability are either anonymous (terrorism) or literally faceless (Covid-19). We know where we are when the bad guys are clearly defined and they represent an entire nation rather than being those stateless invaders failing to recognise borders such as an invisible virus or Jihadist organisations with secret cells dotted across the world. This week, the narrative has been upheld with accusations of cyber interference on the part of the Kremlin in the British democratic process and by the UK Government belatedly deciding Huawei poses a threat to national security if allowed to take control of the country’s 5G network. Both Moscow and Beijing have refuted the accusations against them, but – to paraphrase dear old Mandy Rice-Davies one more time – they would, wouldn’t they.

The fresh allegations re Russia concern what appears to be the official ‘hacking branch’ of the Kremlin called APT29, which almost sounds like a cuddly Soviet equivalent of R2-D2; I can visualise ATP29 resembling C-3PO’s little sidekick, only painted red and bearing the hammer & sickle on his tin chest. If only. Anyway, this professional outfit of dedicated cyber spies and agent provocateurs are the same unit accused of interfering in the 2016 US Presidential Election; this time round, they’ve allegedly tried to eavesdrop on the research into finding a vaccine for the coronavirus, not only here but in the States and Canada as well. If they’d wanted to know, surely it would’ve been more polite simply to ask? After all, we’re all supposed to be in this together, aren’t we?

To have the Russians and the Chinese as the bad guys again means we know where we are, even if the crimes they’re being accused of today are firmly rooted in the 21st century. Russia’s tech mischief also extends beyond the Kremlin’s in-house boffins to other Russian-based hackers who do this sort of thing for a living. These unnamed infiltrators were this week outed as having ‘sexed-up’ secret Whitehall documents that fell into Labour hands and gave Jeremy Corbyn the opportunity to make his claims about plans to sell off the NHS to the US during last December’s General Election campaign. Of course, nothing appears as-if-by-magic in politics; timing is everything, and to have the Foreign Secretary publicly naming and shaming the Russian state in this way comes on the eve of the publication of the so-called ‘Russia Report’.

The Novichok incident of 2018 – when the sealing-off of Salisbury probably acted as a useful training exercise for where we are now – seems to have triggered a more thorough response to growing concerns about a malignant Russian presence in British political life. This eventually prompted the compiling of information to form the core of a report into the case against Russia by the Intelligence and Security Committee, a cross-party group of MPs independent of Government. And the Government has been sitting on this report for over six months now. Yet the sudden rush of Dominic Raab to speak of Russian hacking when no public accusations have previously been made due to an absence of evidence implies the findings of the committee may indeed confirm the rumours and suspicions that have been flying about for a long time. But why the delay?

Earlier in the week, the Government’s attempts to interfere in the process were pretty blatant when they tried to hand the chairmanship of the Intelligence and Security Committee to…er…Chris Grayling. Yes, you can stop laughing at the back; we all know Grayling is unquestionably the most incompetent individual ever to stumble into running a Government department, with a track record of disaster unprecedented in Westminster history; but he’s a Friend of Boris. So, perfect man for the job of heading a supposedly impartial, non-partisan committee to scrutinise the findings of the intelligence and security services when a long-awaited report into the extent of Russian influence in UK politics is finally poised to see the light of day, a report that might have a few embarrassing things to say about the relationship between the Conservative Party and millionaire Oligarch donors. Additionally, Raab connecting Russia with Labour could be viewed by a cynic – heaven forbid – as a pre-emptive strike by the Government to deflect any findings that suggest the Russian connection is greater on the blue side of the House.

Some backstage manoeuvring by Labour and SNP members of the committee resulted in a ‘coup’, with the installation of Conservative MP Julian Lewis as chairman instead; and Lewis’ reward for blocking the Government’s choice was the removal of the party whip. In other words, if you’re not gonna play ball then I’m taking my ball back. Whether or not the extent of Russian interference is dramatically exposed, simply hinted at or disappointingly redacted when the report surfaces remains to be seen; but the Government’s actions this week certainly suggest it might make for an interesting read.

I know everything pre-Covid feels like a hundred years ago now, but some of you may remember the sacking of Gavin Williamson as Defence Secretary in May last year. Williamson was pressurised into walking the plank by Theresa May after he was blamed for the leaking of information from the National Security Council regarding the dangers of allowing China’s Huawei to run Britain’s 5G mobile network. Although Williamson denied he was responsible for the leak, the matter shone the spotlight on the relationship between the Chinese Government and Huawei, not to mention the stupidity of handing over the running of the entire system to a company suspected of acting in the interests of Beijing and its habit of eavesdropping on those using its technology.

Tellingly, it has required far more hostile measures taken by the US against Huawei to force the UK Government to make its mind up. This week it was announced equipment produced by the Chinese company will no longer be available to UK mobile providers by the end of the year and all 5G kit will have to be removed from networks by 2027. At the time of Gavin Williamson’s dismissal, the National Cyber Security Centre denied any sign of Chinese state activity in Huawei software, whereas now he NCSC has altered its opinion and has ‘significantly changed’ its security assessment of Huawei. Not before time, one might conclude.

Just like the wicked Cold War villains of old, both Russia and China are in a position at the moment whereby they essentially believe they can do what the hell they like and there’ll be no comeback. Russia can dispatch a couple of cathedral tourists to liquidate one of their exiled countrymen to have fallen foul of Vlad; China can tear-up the Sino-British Joint Declaration on Hong Kong and suppress democracy in the same way they would on the mainland; and that’s not even mentioning the sinister Xinjiang re-education camps for Uyghur Muslims – sorry, I meant Radical Islamists – which are carrying on regardless of international condemnation. But, hell, if you want old-fashioned bad guys, I guess you have to take the rough with the smooth.

© The Editor

SUSPICIOUS MINDS

When several 5G masts were attacked during the early pre-lockdown panic, images of pitchfork-carrying retards reverting to primitive superstitions were instantly evoked – y’know, the kind that spot a train in the distance and cry ‘Iron horse! Tis the Devil’s work!’ All the backwoods backwards clichés employed in everything from ‘The Wicker Man’ and ‘Deliverance’ to ‘The League of Gentlemen’ came to the fore, even though the source of this misguided hysteria was the ultimate contemporary tool, i.e. our very own global Speakers’ Corner. Even without the odious David Icke (and online channels that shamelessly promote him to boost their revenues), cyberspace is hardly short on wild conspiracy theories or fiction presented as fact; but so much internet output is geared towards confirming whatever one already chooses to believe and disbelieve that it’s no real wonder this is the case.

Crackpot writings on the Holocaust or the Moon Landings were once restricted to discredited historians and scientists whose works were in the hands of a tiny minority of pseudo-academic fruitcakes; but, as we have seen over the past 20 years, the spread of information via the 21st century’s superhighway means everything can now reach anybody. While those who propagate insane, nonsensical theories may be as deluded and demented as their hardcore devotees, they have nevertheless cannily tapped in to something that reaches a far wider audience – the destabilising uncertainties of our times, wherein nothing appears to be as it once seemed. Exploiting a climate spiked with cynicism and disillusionment courtesy of successive exposés of actual corruption at the highest levels of society’s institutions – politics, royalty, the church, the police, the press – the conspiracy theorists long ago twigged that when the people believe nothing, they’ll believe anything.

The guilty parties to blame for this situation, for abusing their power and presuming their wealth or status would insulate them from exposure, cannot be surprised at the monster they’ve created. Every politician caught with his hand in the till or his trousers round his ankles, every priest preaching damnation to sinners and then found fiddling with an altar-boy when the service is over, every public health ‘expert’ extolling the merits of social distancing to the masses and then discovered spurning them in private, every police commissioner turning a blind eye to grooming gangs whilst ‘checking the thinking’ of the person behind a tweet questioning the crazed logic of a trans-activist – all plant seeds of despair, despondency, anger and outrage in the minds of the public and tell them nobody holding a position that was once imbued with respect can be trusted anymore. When there are no moral barometers, people seek a truth that reinforces their suspicions, whether it’s true or not. They need something reassuring to cling to.

So, it’s no great leap of the imagination when the world is placed in unprecedented suspended animation that many desperately looking for an answer will fall for any tall story. The more governments try to cover their tracks and withhold as much as they can from their populace, the more they leave themselves open to accusations both wild and legitimate, and China is an obvious target in the current situation. Despite protracted arse-licking on the part of the World Health Organisation and Google employing the kind of censorious approach to associating Covid-19 with China as certain sections of the left adopt whenever anyone dares to criticise elements of Islam, it’s inevitable China’s undoubted culpability in the coronavirus pandemic will not only receive genuine and warranted examination, but will also provoke fantastical theories sold as the truth.

Yet, even when one takes a step back from the more extreme allegations aimed at exposing the causes behind something that has left the people of the world dazed and confused and feeling like they’re not being told everything, the impact of the lockdown has exacerbated the inherent mistrust and dislike of one’s neighbours that is always just below the surface of many, pushing it beyond the pale in a way that probably wouldn’t have happened under normal circumstances. For all the doorstep clapping and pots-and-pans-banging that supposedly sums up the ‘we’re all in it together’ coronavirus community, the simultaneous snitching that has evolved from traditional curtain-twitching has played into the hands of police forces loving the new powers to extend their jurisdiction in dealings with the man, woman, child and rough-sleeper in the street, which is hardly the basis for a jolly Blitz Spirit.

And there are also the ‘lockdown fundamentalists’, those who not only call the cops if they catch sight of more than two pedestrians at a time outside their homes, but who have taken it upon themselves to take more direct action. I suspect the same yahoos who regarded 5G masts as evil transmitters of the yellow peril are responsible for the latest guerrilla tactics in the unlikely environs of North Yorkshire. Home-made ‘man-traps’ – gruesome blocks of wood packed with nails – have been discovered in various woodlands in Cleveland that are now routinely used as locations for allocated daily strolls and meanders by householders needing to get out of their houses. These horrible objects have led to warnings for the public to be vigilant when venturing into the likes of Margrove Woods and Guisborough Forest; and police in the region have apparently spoken to an unnamed ‘former parish councillor and retired teacher’ who admitted to being responsible for what was described as a blockade of branches and rocks on a cyclist trail.

I have a feeling the North East probably isn’t unique when it comes to such OTT means of preventing people from making the most of what little outdoor life they can grab. Police have apparently stepped up their patrols of the affected locations, but the initial online police ‘shaming’ of isolated dog-walkers wandering the vast open plains of Derbyshire perhaps didn’t help matters and only served to fuel the fire in the bellies of the easily unhinged. A steady diet of corona-news, whatever the media medium, is not especially healthy even for those of us not prone to hammering nails in blocks of wood and then scattering them in woodlands frequented by more members of the public than usual; but the relentless cycle of doom ‘n’ gloom on a loop becomes for some a disturbingly addictive justification for their antisocial actions.

Personally, I can handle all this stuff in small doses. I haven’t cut myself off completely from news outlets, for it’s helpful to know what’s happening out there – and it’s obviously necessary when it comes to writing one of these posts. But you can have too much of a bad thing. Whatever our individual circumstances, we’re all living with aspects of this on a daily basis even when we’re not checking headlines; and we need a breather – well, many breathers, to be honest. It’s just a bummer if we decide to take a breather by strolling through the woods and end up in A&E, no doubt occupying a bed that could be occupied by someone infected with a certain virus that the lockdown fundamentalists would regard as more deserving. Now, that’s ironic, Alanis.

© The Editor

CHINA CRISIS

As someone whose intended blissful slumber is plagued by an inordinate amount of nightmares, it’s no surprise that most of them are so bloody awful that they’re always an immense relief to wake-up from. I recently had one in which I was out walking on a public park with a friend; as we were casually ascending a fairly steep hill, we heard an almighty bang and ran to the top of the hill to be confronted by the iconic atomic mushroom cloud on the landscape. Right there and then, I knew the game of life was up. But the fact my subconscious selected such an arcane image to represent death perhaps gives my age away. Having lived for half-a-century, I belong to the last post-war generation whose Doomsday narrative was scripted by the Bomb, the toxic shadow that fell over everyone born in the first 25-30 years after Hiroshima. For us, the Bomb took on the role played by the Four Horsemen for centuries before. It defined the end of the world in one instantly unmistakable image.

The last time the Bomb loomed large as the embodiment of the apocalypse was in the 1980s. From Frankie Goes to Hollywood’s ‘Two Tribes’ to the BBC’s terrifying ‘Threads’ and from US TV’s ‘The Day After’ to Raymond Briggs’ ‘When the Wind Blows’, the Bomb was so prevalent in the culture that there was a general feeling it would probably drop sooner rather than later. The curtailment of the Cold War appeared to put paid to this long-running paranoia, but all that happened was that plenty new forms of paranoia queued-up to take their turns and fill the void in the public consciousness.

Along with Radical Islamic terrorism, Global Warming swiftly seized the spotlight from the Bomb, and despite perennial competition from the former, it is the latter that has comprehensively claimed this century’s Doomsday narrative. I certainly didn’t spend the majority of my 80s days worrying about imminent annihilation courtesy of the Soviet Union’s nuclear arsenal, and I don’t blame the personal ‘mental health issues’ that began to ferment during that period on it either. It was always an abstract threat that people knew they were powerless to prevent; the first you’d hear of it would be three or four minutes before it happened, by which time it would be far too late to alter your fate. So, why worry? But perhaps the fact the Bomb should resurface in a nightmare almost 40 years later demonstrates how deep that horrific sight remains buried in my psyche, a hereditary sleeper cell bedded before I was born.

One wonders what apocalyptic imagery will feature in the nightmares of today’s kids and teens 30 or 40 years from now. I’m posing this question on their behalf because most of them don’t believe they’ll be around 30 or 40 years from now. That’s what they’ve been told by those they turn to for responsible reassurance. There have been reports recently that the excessive coverage of the Climate Change debate within the media and the promotion of it by parents and teachers as indisputable fact is leading to serious sleep deprivation and depression in their children. The relentless exposure given to the scaremongering of the movement’s most vocal figureheads and constant ‘if we don’t act now, we’ll all be dead in a decade’ threats is understandably having a worrying impact on those too young to realise their parental role models don’t actually have all the answers.

The religious cult that parts of the Climate Change movement has developed into over the past couple of years at times reminds me of various extremes on the fringes of the Christian Church, those Armageddon-worshipping lunatics actively praying for the onset of The Rapture. One is dismissed as the deluded death-wish of pliable minds susceptible to warped interpretations of the Holy Book, whereas the other is sold as a scientific certainty that cannot be questioned. To do so is heresy and punishable in the eternal damnation of a global funeral pyre that will consume us all unless Sainsbury’s stop selling their fruit and veg in plastic food bags. And while the world’s attention is overly focused on something only corporations and conglomerates really have the power to do anything about, more old-fashioned and reliable threats are constantly playing their part in curing the problem of overpopulation.

I read one report that the source of the so-called Wuhan coronavirus – y’know, the one that’s gone…erm…’viral’ – had something to do with the Far East’s bafflingly enduring belief in the healing powers of rhino horns and the like. If this is payback for the loathsome trafficking of endangered species for dubious medicinal purposes that are rooted in superstition, it’s easy to think that it serves them bloody well right. But, of course, we shouldn’t perceive an entire nation or race of people as a single entity; remember we’re talking about over a thousand individuals who have died. Actually, despite so much attention being given over to the contemporary Doomsday narrative, the epidemic that began in Wuhan demonstrates that new strains of traditional viruses which periodically wipe out vast numbers of people on the planet have been getting on with it.

In the early 2000s, the SARS virus outbreak – which is believed to have originated from wild animals sold as food at markets in China – killed an estimated 774 worldwide; the Ebola virus – which was first identified as far back as 1976 – was responsible for over 11,000 deaths in West Africa between 2013 and 2016; swine flu killed more than 2,000 in India in 2015. And ancient plagues the western world has largely eradicated continue to regularly reappear elsewhere, thriving in places prone to poor sanitary due to poverty, natural disasters or wars. Cholera, for example, has had several outbreaks in Africa, the Indian Subcontinent and the Middle East this century; over a thousand died of it in Yemen as recent as 2016-17; more than 4,000 in Zimbabwe in 2008-9. However, even those figures pale next to the staggering 9,000-plus killed by the disease in Haiti since 2010. Ever get the feeling the Doomsday narrative is being recited from the wrong manual?

Well, at least the response to the current coronavirus has been pretty prompt. Parts of China have been effectively quarantined in efforts to contain the virus, though with international travel to and from mainland China now so commonplace – especially during Chinese New Year – the rapid spread of it was inevitable before an epidemic was acknowledged. Over 40,000 cases have been confirmed in China alone, whereas the likes of Hong Kong, Singapore, Thailand, Japan, South Korea, Malaysia, Vietnam and Taiwan have also been hit. Surprisingly, the highest number of confirmed cases outside of the Far East so far has been in Germany.

Brighton businessman Steve Walsh, unfortunately labelled the UK’s ‘super spreader’, is said to have unknowingly infected 11 other people with the virus following a sales conference in Singapore and then a skiing holiday in the French Alps. Sealed-off in an isolation unit at St Thomas’ Hospital in London, Mr Walsh is now more or less recovered by all accounts. To date, the only recorded deaths from the coronavirus outside of mainland China have been one each in Hong Kong and the Philippines respectively, so that suggests the worldwide prevention operation is currently working to plan. Genuine nightmares are the mind’s unrestrained demons running amok when we have no control over them; the waking world, on the other hand, has a degree of control over events – the kind we cannot command during sleep. It just sometimes requires a little redirecting to discern where the real nightmares reside.

© The Editor

IMPERIAL LATHER

A good deal of what has constituted headline news over the past few days has been covered here before, and even if a story develops and takes on a different shape, a commentator can struggle to add something new to what has already been said. The nature of the Winegum – preferring to put most of what needs to be said on a subject into one post or perhaps a handful spread over several weeks – means there has to be a dramatic development in order for a fresh perspective. I suppose I could’ve written something about Prince Andrew; but I did that back in August.

Granted, HRH’s unprecedented act of television hara-kiri on Saturday night perhaps warranted a post; but social media spent most of the weekend doing what social media does best when it responds to a story by putting its most waspish hat on. I didn’t feel it was possible to top the endless spoof reviews of the Woking branch of Pizza Express. There were references to a surprising absence of sweat when enjoying an especially spicy pizza, a pizza that made such a deep impression it remained engrained on the memory whilst all around it utterly vanished, including meeting pretty young girls and having one’s photo taken with them. And at least we all now know what to do when ending a friendship – simply ceasing contact and ignoring their calls is not the way to do it; instead, you spend four days as their house-guest. Oh, and if you happen to be one of the world’s most recognisable public figures, with guaranteed Paparazzi snappers on your tail, you go for a stroll in Central Park. Stupid or arrogant? From everything I can gather it seems Prince Andrew is an unappealing blend of both.

Whether or not he enjoyed an intimate moment with a 17-year-old girl – an ‘action’ (as he would put it) that even US law (unlike the media) recognises as the action of a pederast rather than a paedophile – Andrew came across as a little boy who had done something naughty and would not take the George Washington route by owning up to it, instead digging himself a hole that grew deeper with each denial. Unlike Diana’s self-pitying confessional back in the 90s, Andrew didn’t come across as someone wanting the world to feel sorry for him – more someone who imagined the audience to be even stupider than him by believing him; and there’s nothing quite so funny as someone who thinks he’s smart and blatantly isn’t.

Just over 20 years ago, not long after Andrew’s equally nauseating ex had been exposed as a toe-sucker, brother Brian was present during the gift-wrapping of Britain’s final Far East imperial possession for its nearest neighbour. Despite Prince Charles’ scathing observations on 1997 events in Hong Kong, the transition itself was a smooth one; arranged well in advance, it had none of the spontaneous drama that had redrawn the map of Europe eight years earlier. Yes, there were bloody moments in Romania, though the brutal reprisals were mercifully brief; in East Germany, the armed enforcers of the system stood by and let it happen because they knew they were beaten. Just a few months before the fall of the Berlin Wall, however, there had been a reminder that people power can be ruthlessly crushed on the very streets it sprang from – a watershed that exacerbated nerves over the prospect of Hong Kong being absorbed into Mother China’s suffocating bosom.

A memorable episode of ‘The Simpsons’ in which the family accompany Marge’s ugly sisters to Beijing in order to adopt a baby sees Homer wander into Tiananmen Square and come across a plaque that reads ‘In 1989, nothing happened here’. That was probably not far from the official Chinese line for a long time, but the shadow of the student revolution that never was has no doubt lingered at the back of revolutionary Hong Kong minds ever since. Hong Kong youth born after the Handover, let alone the Tiananmen Square Massacre, know the potential risks involved in standing up to China, yet it would appear that many of them spearheading the current insurrection in Hong Kong now feel they have nothing to lose. There certainly appears to be a strain of nihilism governing the actions of some, and it’s difficult to see their brave stance ending in anything other than tears.

After months of disruptive protests, the siege of the Polytechnic University in Kowloon has taken events onto a scary new level. Watching scenes shot behind the campus barricades on TV, I was reminded not only of the improvised rebellion that marked the outbreak of the Northern Ireland Troubles fifty years ago – echoes of the DIY petrol bombs hurled from rooftops at the RUC; but the use of catapults recalled medieval sieges. So bizarre was the sight, I half-expected the protestors to launch a dead cow at the Hong Kong police from the battlements in the manner of ‘Monty Python and the Holy Grail’. It was both darkly comic and disturbingly frightening, for you can foresee the awful outcome – and I suspect the 100 or so still rumoured to be holding out can too. It’s all so horribly inevitable.

Many have attempted to escape the fortress since the siege began on Sunday, but few have managed it; the police have completely encircled the campus and claim that over 600 of the protestors have surrendered. This was after police retaliated to the catapults and petrol bombs with tear gas. Around 20 years ago, I remember a resident of the shared house I lived in charging indoors in the middle of the night having evaded arrest (for what, I cannot recall); unfortunately for him, before he slipped their grip the boys-in-blue had sprayed some mace-like substance to disable him. He’d still managed to get away, but his face was on fire; as I watched him furiously splashing water on his pained countenance, I moved a little too close and was smacked in the kisser by a stinging force-field that caused me to immediately pull back. If that’s just a miniscule taste of what tear gas can do, its employment in Hong Kong shouldn’t be seen as the police treating the protestors lightly.

Of course, the constant fear throughout all of this has been the anticipation of reprisals from mainland China, though so far China – probably mindful of international opinion – has shown remarkable restraint, leaving the Hong Kong police to handle things. It’s possible the ending of the siege at the Polytechnic University could be the beginning of the end of this current wave of protests, though if it isn’t one wonders how much longer China will allow the situation to go on. And when one looks at the Kowloon campus and the fate awaiting those still there, it does tend to put the pathetic, privileged complaints of western students into perspective; this is real life or death stuff, not quibbling over the offensiveness of bloody pronouns.

Probably having one eye on post-Brexit trade deals, the response from the British Government over the chaos in the old colony has been somewhat muted; however, despite our intentions to uphold the ‘one country, two systems’ promise of the Sino-British Joint Declaration we were party to, there’s very little Britain can do. Besides, there are other political distractions over here at the moment. We have the first televised head-to-head of the General Election to look forward to on ITV this evening, restricted to a strict Boris Vs Jezza clash, with the High Court having rather amusingly denied Swinson and Sturgeon the chance to add some anti-democratic Scottish spice to proceedings. So, once again, it’s dumb and dumber. And if that prospect is as depressing to you as everything else hogging the headlines, let’s lighten the mood with two pictures of a kitten that sleeps like a human. Spread the love…

 

 

 

 

 

 

© The Editor

THE CHINESE WAY

Long after most gave up the ghost, my VCR finally collected its retirement clock a year or so ago. It probably won’t be replaced, yet I still have hundreds of tapes crammed with off-air recordings, many of which will never see the light of day as commercial releases. Probably due to this fact, I held onto most of them when the pre-recorded VHS movies were bagged and binned – ones I could always purchase again on DVD if need be. The majority of these tapes contain content reflecting my eclectic viewing habits at the time they were recorded; reluctant to waste tape, it’s a dead cert any videocassette from the early 90s, for example, will see its last ten or twelve minutes used-up with a TOTP performance, a promo video from ‘The Chart Show’, and a few clips from ‘Prisoner: Cell Block H’.

One tape from 1997 I recall has a characteristically idiosyncratic mix – featuring Radiohead’s iconic ‘OK Computer’ Glastonbury set as broadcast on BBC2, the erotically-charged neo-Noir movie ‘The Last Seduction’, and highlights of the Hong Kong Handover Ceremony of June 30/July 1 that year. It’s only through writing this that I’ve looked-up the dates and rearranged my somewhat sketchy memory of summer ’97 – one in which several substances were consumed and have therefore buggered-up my memory’s timeline in the process. I’d thought the Handover Ceremony was closer to something else that happened that summer, something that happened on August 31.

Yes, of course, that summer crashed to its climax with the death of Diana and the month of mourning that plunged the nation into paroxysms of public grief on a scale I was able to view with detachment only because I had always been ambivalent about ‘The People’s Princess’. Was I alone in finding the final act of the British Empire more moving than the floral display outside Kensington Palace? It certainly felt like it at the time. Odd snippets come back to me now, like wondering how old ‘fatty’ Chris Patten could have sired two such gorgeous daughters; they were seen on the day China took back control due to the former Tory MP being the last colony’s last governor, the consolation prize awarded to him by John Major upon losing his seat at the 1992 General Election. I know it sounds positively 19th century – a man from Westminster dispatched to govern an imperial possession; yet, it was less than 30 years ago.

As a child, I became aware this country had numerous cultural and sentimental tentacles stretching across the globe and that we retained little pockets of British soil a long way from home. There was Gibraltar, and there still is Gibraltar; but there was also Hong Kong, which was the one remaining genuinely exotic leftover from Empire – one of the spoils of the Opium Wars that went on to become the Far East’s premier economic powerhouse. I remember that early 70s ‘mum hunk’, the suave Gerald Harper visiting Hong Kong in a couple of episodes of ‘Hadleigh’; there was also a BBC documentary series called ‘Hong Kong Beat’, focusing on the Royal Hong Kong Police Force, with its catchy theme tune even making the charts; and, lest we forget, Bruce Lee made most of his movies there, movies that went on to become staple diets of video rental shops. Yet, as we moved into the 1980s, anything to do with Hong Kong started to centre around Britain’s 99-year lease, as if the island was a holiday home owned by the UK that would be inherited by Hong Kong’s nearest neighbour once its owner died. Actually, maybe that’s how it really was.

For decades, Hong Kong had provided refuge for political dissidents fleeing China, and the prospect of the colony falling under Chinese jurisdiction was understandably worrying for them; their concerns naturally intensified following the Tiananmen Square massacre of 1989. Even though the signing of the Sino-British Joint Declaration in 1984 laid out the ‘one country, two systems’ concept to allay fears Hong Kong would end up as a suburb of mainland China and be subject to the same repressive rules and regulations governing the People’s Republic, it was accompanied by gradual goalpost-moving on the part of the British Government to deliberately limit the potential numbers of Hong Kong natives claiming British citizenship and the right to settle in the mother country. After Tiananmen Square, with the Handover only eight years away, an estimated 10,000 rushed to apply for residency in the UK. Singapore, Canada, Australia and the US proved to be popular alternative destinations, and during its last decade as a Crown Colony, Hong Kong lost almost a million of its citizens who chose to emigrate rather than remain.

Tony Blair had been PM less than two months when he joined his Foreign Secretary Robin Cook, Governor Patten and Prince Charles on the podium to officially cede ownership of the island to China. Brian’s unflattering account of the occasion surfaced in the Mail on Sunday a few years later, wherein he compared the Handover Ceremony to a cynically choreographed Soviet-style performance and referred to the event as ‘The Great Chinese Takeaway’; the Prince of Wales was of course representing Brenda, as he had 17 years earlier when the Union Jack was lowered in Rhodesia. With Africa long gone by 1997, it was time for the Far East to finally follow suit, and I have to say my memory of watching the Ceremony live on TV isn’t one that evokes the heir’s cynicism. I was conscious this was something of genuine historical significance, like Churchill’s funeral – the belated end of one kind of Britain and (with Blair fittingly present) the beginning of another.

For the people of Hong Kong, there was no sailing off into the sunset on the Royal Yacht Britannia, however; they were left to deal with the realities of the new regime. Their predicament couldn’t be compared to the difficulties facing the UK’s other ex-colonies following the cutting of imperial apron springs, i.e. being at the mercy of hard-line religious despots or military coups; Hong Kong had not achieved independence, but had merely changed hands. Having a totalitarian super-state on the doorstep is no more a pacifier of anxiety for Hong Kong’s citizens than it is for those residing in the former Soviet satellites; the perennial fear that Beijing will slowly implement its own authoritarian agenda on the island by stealth is something that has continued to creep up on the people; and cracking down on public demonstrations of dissatisfaction such as the ‘umbrella protests’ of five years ago with tough sentencing appeared to suggest their fears were well-founded.

Attempts to introduce a new extradition law, whereby anyone from Hong Kong who invokes the ire of Beijing can be removed to mainland China for trial, has now provoked a fresh outburst of protest. This time, however, it hasn’t emanated wholly from the Hong Kong youth born after the Handover, whose view of themselves as international citizens has supplanted the traditional affinity with Britain of previous generations; it has spawned an unlikely alliance of different demographics ordinarily divided by faith, politics and age – united in their opposition at Beijing reneging on aspects of the Sino-British Joint Declaration; this week it has crossed the line from peaceful protest to civil disorder. The island’s former colonial overlord, however, can do nothing but issue meek condemnations of China’s actions; we absolved ourselves of all responsibility in 1997 – and, besides, China today equates with trade and money. We wouldn’t want to upset our friends in Beijing – making one wonder if it was just Hong Kong that was handed over 22 years ago.

© The Editor

GAVIN IN STASIS

I must admit, it is hard to attribute anything approaching a heroic act to a member of Theresa May’s Cabinet; one cannot avoid being suspicious and seeing self-promotion as the motivation behind every move made in public. ‘Will it help make me look good before the electorate and boost my impending leadership bid if I’m photographed alongside an autistic adolescent in pigtails who has somehow become the poster-girl for climate change?’ and so on. It’s so difficult not to be cynical about politicians today that even when one of them might actually have done something for purely selfless reasons, crediting them with it is a tough call tinged with suspicious reservations.

The sacking of Defence Secretary Gavin Williamson has been officially justified because he was named as the source of the leak surrounding the National Security Council’s discussion over the Chinese Government’s telecommunications wing, Huawei, being invited to get its feet under the UK’s online table. Williamson denies this rather serious allegation whilst Jeremy Hunt has become the latest Minister to undermine the PM’s (non)authority by suggesting a police investigation wouldn’t be out of the question, contradicting Mrs May’s own decision not to pursue the matter beyond firing Williamson. If the ex-Defence Secretary is guilty, why did he do it when he must have realised the potential damage it could do to his political ambitions? Could it actually have been that extremely rare Westminster beast, a case of conscience over career?

Let’s face it, Gavin Williamson is not an easy man to warm to; then again, name me a member of the Cabinet who is. I know we’re all born with the face God gave us, but Williamson’s ego does seem to be etched on his smug countenance; I may be doing him a disservice, but to me he has the arrogant air of an office-worker celebrating promotion with a trip to a lap-dancing bar, where he probably waves a wad in a young lady’s face in expectation of a blowjob. His attempts to cultivate a Mandelson-like ‘Dark Arts’ image have been cringeworthy from the off. From his pet tarantula to his ‘ooh, you’re hard’ boast that he had ‘made’ Theresa May and could therefore just as easily ‘break’ her, Williamson’s role as the mastermind behind May’s leadership election and then organising the bribery of the DUP gave rise to his reputation as Kingmaker, and he appeared to be a man May couldn’t manage without – until now.

The Tory Chair of the Defence Select Committee, Dr Julian Lewis, was one Williamson ally speaking up for the deposed Minister last night. Dr Lewis pointed out that Williamson wasn’t the only member of the Cabinet to express reservations over the wisdom of awarding contracts to corporations answerable to a Communist regime not averse to keeping tabs on its citizens. Unsurprisingly for someone who has enthusiastically embraced any form of internet snooping since her days as Home Secretary, the PM was in favour of allowing Huawei to play a part in this country’s 5G network – something no other western leader has even contemplated; by all accounts, Williamson was appalled by this development and appears to have risked his role in Government (and possible rise all the way to the top job) by passing on his concerns to Fleet Street.

I would hesitate to call the information leaked a ‘sensitive state secret’; it appears to be more a case of where the information was leaked from – a body established during Cameron’s tenure, somewhere Ministers and officials could discuss clandestine topics free from the public gaze; and what could be more clandestine than offering the Chinese a chance to buy into Britain’s internet system? No wonder they wanted that one kept under wraps. But, as Julian Lewis rightly stated, the nature of the information Gavin Williamson is alleged to have leaked hardly places him in the same treasonous league as Kim Philby or George Blake. What Williamson has done – if indeed, he has done it – is to spill the beans on just how shamelessly willing our senior elected representatives are to flog anything to the highest bidder, free from any principles or sense of scruples; as long as they can make a mint from outsourcing, they’ll do it. Just look at who replaced ATOS with the contract for the notorious DWP disability assessments – an equally loathsome US corporation short on sympathy for the ill and infirm called Maximus; and the less said about Grayling’s ferry fiasco, the better. Should ISIS put in a bid to run all primary schools in England and Wales, they’d probably be in with a shot if their bid was juicy enough.

Williamson’s promotion from Chief Whip to Defence Secretary seemed to begin the process of his gradual detachment from the PM’s inner circle, especially when he became a tad prone to the odd gaffe and earned the nickname of ‘Private Pike’ among some of his less generous colleagues. If he was responsible for the NSC leak, it’s hard to see what he had to gain from his actions being uncovered other than alerting the rest of us to the seriously worrying shit that goes on behind closed doors at Downing Street, as opposed to the silly in-fighting and backstabbing we’re used to hearing about. And, if that was what happened, he deserves credit – however begrudgingly we give it him.

Another Tory MP, Adam Holloway, made a wider point in relation to Williamson last night, stating how he believed contemporary politicians just aren’t up to it, whatever the challenge presented to them might be. Ministers find themselves in positions of power they simply aren’t qualified to do justice to, lacking both leadership skills and any talent beyond generating sufficient hype around them in the manner of a band desperate for a record deal; how else can we explain so many ‘name’ MPs who have risen without a trace in the past decade? A former military man, Adam Holloway said most of the current Cabinet would be ‘very unlikely to rise to the rank of General’; it’s certainly hard looking across both benches in the Commons and seeing anyone with the heavyweight clout of a Benn or a Thatcher. Or perhaps past politicians were forged in different ages that deserved different leaders; despite the grimly serious issues facing the country, we appear to have reaped the harvest of the 90s, when style triumphed over substance in all facets of public life.

The fact a figure as friendless as Theresa May can fire someone who was once such a vital ally suggests the embarrassment of this particular leak must have been acute for the Prime Minister, even when one considers the Cabinet Office has shown itself to have the consistency of a sieve over the last couple of years. Williamson’s dramatic dismissal and possible breach of the Official Secrets Act may well be as ‘unprecedented’ as media folk kept claiming yesterday, but the leak is merely emblematic of a chaotic Cabinet environment with a grasp of authority reminiscent of St Trinian’s. The timing of this latest unwelcome headline from the PM’s perspective, on the very eve of possible obliteration in the local elections, suggests Williamson’s alleged crime is a little more serious than some that have resulted in sackings of late; but yet another enemy on the backbenches could be just one more nail in the Maybot coffin. Not all bad news, then.

© The Editor

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