CLOSE YOUR EYES AND COUNT TO ZERO

vlcsnap-2022-11-12-16h54m29s679Who says satire is dead? Well, I’ve said it plenty of times – an opinion based largely on the dearth of satire on TV & radio (or the pitiful post-Brexit/Trump excuse that passes for satire in the 2020s). But I stand corrected as, like many, I saw one of the best satirical sketches since the heyday of Chris Morris the other day, featuring a genius new comic character – a parody of a posh activist on a par with past creations satirising pop culture archetypes, such as Ali G. This character went by the name of Indigo Rumbelow, and whilst on the surface she owes an undoubted debt to Andrew Doyle’s well-established intersectional feminist icon Titania McGrath, by making Rumbelow part of the climate change death cult, whoever created her hit on a canny contemporary angle to distinguish her from Doyle’s brilliantly accurate trust-funded SJW. Another factor that gave Indigo Rumbelow a distinctive gimmick was the presence of a straight man; he went by the name of Mark Austin, and his suit-and-tie newsreader style provided the perfect foil for Rumbelow’s studied scruffiness characteristic of the young middle-classes slumming it as faux-Bohemians. The whole performance was so well-observed you’d almost believe it was for real.

The sketch took the form of an interview, with straight man Austin grilling Rumbelow on the protest tactics of Just Stop Oil, the imaginary fruitcake fringe outfit to which she was supposed to belong. What made it so funny was that every time Austin tried to ask her what she thought the organisation’s infantile acts of civil disobedience achieved for her cause, Rumbelow had no answer and replied by reciting her apocalyptic mantra, screeching it over the top of Austin like some wild-eyed, possessed banshee whose voice increased several shaky octaves as she became more animated in the face of her inability to justify her counterproductive activism. It was a spot-on pastiche of the kind of privileged, attention-seeking narcissists with daddy issues that the real-life equivalent of these cults tend to attract; at one point she dismissed the concerns Austin voiced about the economy during a cost-of-living crisis and how Rumbelow’s simplistic solution to the world’s ills would make life even worse for anyone beyond her cosseted bubble – and it was easily the funniest thing I’ve seen on mainstream TV in years. Mark my words: one day, they’ll include this scene in a comedy compilation along with Basil Fawlty’s goosestep, David Brent’s dance, and Del Boy falling over at the bar.

I think this new satirical comedy series featuring the hilarious character Indigo Rumbelow was called ‘Sky News’; I’ve not heard of it before, but I’ll be keeping an eye open for the next time it’s on – certainly if the one sketch I saw was an indication of the quality comedy it intends to provide. Ah…hold on a minute…I’ve just been belatedly informed this ‘Sky News’ show is actually a genuine news channel, and Indigo Rumbelow wasn’t the inspired caricature of a posh activist I assumed, but is unfortunately the real thing, an utter car-crash of a saleswoman for her movement. Well, in my defence, it’s an easy mistake to make when one watches her performance. I don’t think I’ve ever seen anyone so spectacularly fail to convert viewers to their cause and in the process expertly confirm (if not strengthen) the existing opinion of Just Stop Oil as a creepy coalition of bored rich-kids and yoghurt-knitting hippies whose fanatical, tunnel-vision obsession borders on a religious cult that cannot handle the challenging voices of non-believers.

If one tots-up the cheap stunts Just Stop Oil and its affiliated loony tunes have inflicted on precious works of art, monuments to national heroes and the Queen’s (King’s?) Highway of late, it’s not hard to come to the conclusion that this cult is one with nihilism at its core. If you deconstruct anything and strip it of all meaning, there is no longer any barrier to destroying it because it’s without value, utterly worthless; everything becomes a housefly to be whacked with a rolled-up newspaper, an action entered into bereft of guilt or conscience because the dying fly means nothing. If you don’t care about something, you don’t care about its continued existence; indeed, you’d prefer it to end – if not actively attempting to accelerate that end, which is precisely the real motivation of such ‘activists’, emphasising the comparisons with brainwashed evangelicals praying for the Rapture with a copy of the Good Book in one hand and a can of Kool-Aid in the other, counting down the days to the end of days. And they want to take all of us with them, desperately determined to convert us to their deranged, demented death-wish, like coke-addled Jehovah’s Witnesses. Just Stop Oil or Extinction Rebellion don’t want to save the world; they want to end it. And the few survivors in the ashes, scrabbling around for bugs to feast on, will need a privately-educated, elite class to rule over them – which is when the instigators of the cult will emerge from their bunkers to initiate the planet’s second ‘Golden Age’ as we resume the feudal order of olde.

The countless Doomsday predictions from the special-needs wing of the climate change lobby could rival Neil Ferguson in terms of plucking worst-case-scenario imaginary stats out of the air; over the past quarter-century we’ve been bombarded with such predictions, most of which have pencilled-in future dates at which we were scheduled to pass the point of no return. Having subsequently survived all of these dates intact, the goalposts are simply (and quietly) moved so that ecological Armageddon remains safely ten years hence. Some of the most mind-bogglingly cuckoo statements yet heard dripped from the lips of Indigo Rumbelow during her Sky News appearance; talk of ‘birds falling from the sky’ during last summer’s heat-wave or attributing floods in Pakistan to climate change when long-term deforestation of the country has more to answer for were dispatched as though they were facts in the same way a head-shaking resident of the US Bible Belt will repeatedly declare ‘God created Adam and Eve’ when presented with evidence of the origins of our species. The sudden upsurge in public protests has been the petulant, foot-stamping response to the increasing proof contradicting their faith, the cries of Kidults to whom nobody has ever said the word ‘no’, like some latter-day Violet Elizabeth Bott from ‘Just William’.

It matters not to them that sitting down in the middle of the road prevents a mother collecting her children from school, a son missing his father’s funeral or a cancer patient being unable to make it to hospital for life-saving treatment; it matters not to them that the Chief Constable of Essex Police has been moved to state, ‘I think it is only a matter of time before somebody gets killed. The only way this is going to stop is if Just Stop Oil frankly grow-up and realise they are putting lives at risk.’ The fact a Chief Constable has come out with such a statement suggests the widespread exhaustion with stunts like weeping me-me-me activists ascending gantries on the M25, forcing road closures and more commuter chaos, has finally breached the ideological walls of our police forces. So far, the police’s pathetic response to Just Stop Oil – idly standing by, failing to move them on, and presenting us with yet another example of today’s two-tier policing – has forced members of the public to adopt vigilante tactics; perhaps now that the angry mood of the plebs with these deluded, hysterical extroverts has prompted a Chief Constable to issue an unusually stark warning, our alleged law-enforcers will actually intervene.

Virtually everything the likes of Just Stop Oil indulge in deters Joe Public from any semblance of sympathy with their cause. They also provide the opposing extreme – the lunatic fringes of climate change deniers to whom everything is a conspiracy theory (probably due to the Jews) – with additional ammunition, as well as risking the further extension of legislation to limit any form of public demonstration and thus curb civil liberties even more than the pandemic managed. But at least they can write a good comedy sketch, eh?

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MUDDY WATERS

TurdsThe way things are going, yer average member of the electorate probably reckons – and rightly so – that the Conservative Party will this time struggle to come up with one of its legendary last-minute winners to wrench victory from the jaws of defeat. Further behind in the polls than at any time in the past 20 years, the Tories are staring down the barrel of electoral annihilation unless the incumbent lady keeps on turning; and even then, it’s highly unlikely any miracles Liz Truss might attempt to perform will make much difference. There is now such a pungent odour of rottenness surrounding the Tory Party that it just won’t go away; they may have deposed the man viewed as the architect of the contempt for the public that behind-the-scenes events at No.10 during lockdown embodied, but the calamitous mini-budget affair seems to demonstrate that the incompetence so evident in the PM’s predecessor remains as strong as ever despite the change at the top. Even the old ‘Nasty Party’ tag has resurfaced this week with time-honoured kicks at those who are already down via rumours of benefit cuts and the revival of outdated prejudices towards claimants. Unsurprisingly, the general perception is that the blue side of the Commons is absolutely bloody useless, especially since it has had more than enough time to get it right.

Whereas apportioning blame to the last Labour Government was a familiar tactic of the Con-Dem Coalition from 2010 onwards whenever they f***ed something up, we’re now too removed from Blair and Brown for this to be a useful tool. And trying to pre-empt the blame game by predicting the next Labour Government will be even worse doesn’t wash. You should stand or fall by your own record – and you usually don’t have much of a record to be proud of if you keep chopping and changing the person at the top in the hope a fresh face will turn fortunes around. When one considers the Tory leader (and Prime Minister) has changed three times in 12 years of the country being run by a Conservative administration, yet Margaret Thatcher’s entire tenure in Downing Street comprised just one year less than that timespan, it’s like looking at the form book of Manchester United since the retirement of Sir Alex Ferguson: six coaches in nine years and no Premier League title.

Yet this is the same political party that won a landslide as recently as 2019, famously demolishing Labour’s ‘Red Wall’ in the process; the fact that those voters on loan to the Conservatives are now contemplating returning to Labour – despite their well-founded reservations about Labour’s Identity Politics-infected Metropolitan obsessions that have bugger all to do with its traditional working-class base – speaks volumes as to the level of letdown the Tories have generated. But this is where we are: an utterly appalling governing party and an awful opposition that people will end up voting for because there’s no other choice. And Keir Starmer leading his Shadow Cabinet in a version of ‘God Save the King’ rather than ‘The Red Flag’ to close the Labour Party Conference fooled none of the Queen-loving plebs this Anglophobe Party seeks to reconnect with. No, whereas the 2016 Leave vote can be seen as a bloody nose inflicted upon a worldview that Labour remain the cheerleaders for, I suspect a similar injury will be dished out to the Tories in 2024 simply because it’s their turn.

The prospect of Keir Starmer as Prime Minister is not something that fills my heart with joy, to put it mildly; I’ve never made any secret of my loathing of the man, and this goes back a decade to his time as DPP and head of the CPS. I can’t say the rest of the Labour frontbench fills me with confidence either. The detoxification of the Corbynite influence within the Party has succeeded to a degree, but it retains many of the elements that have long made it such an unattractive proposition to the electorate. Only the other week, Labour MP Rupa Huq echoed Joe Biden’s ‘You ain’t black’ sentiments by labelling Chancellor Kwasi Kwarteng ‘superficially black’ – as blatant an example of the racism at the heart of Woke ‘anti-racism’ as any British politician has been stupid enough to spout. The Party that can’t say what a woman is was also recently rumoured to have considered adding dilettante ‘lady’ Eddie Izzard to an all-woman shortlist to be selected as a Labour Parliamentary candidate; the fact all-woman shortlists even exist is patronising enough, but picking a bloke in drag to be included amongst the lucky ladies underlines further the kind of first-world luxury concerns that continue to alienate the Party both from its old supporters and from potential recruits that aren’t middle-class university graduates living in a big city.

Labour’s unrelenting Green fetish is another factor that wouldn’t play well with the wider electorate if implemented as legislation. Saving the planet may well be a noble crusade for those who can afford it, but the bulk of what Labour’s Green policies will cost the taxpayer is destined to hit the proles the hardest. And considering they’re hard hit enough at the moment when it comes to paying for energy, this isn’t a good sign; but it’s all our fault that the planet is f***ed, don’t forget – not a country like China pumping unchecked pollution into the atmosphere at will. Therefore, we have to pay for the privilege of saving it. We may not be able to heat our homes or buy food that’s edible, but at least our children’s children will be able to rent a shed by the end of the century. As with the war in Ukraine, Climate Change can be easily weaponised and blamed for any bad smell, something that pardons the genuine guilty parties who actually let Polly out of prison in the first place. Take the water companies – currently one of the worst examples of privatised industry, with chief executives and shareholders reaping astronomical rewards for running services that are piss-poor to say the least.

Their decayed fresh water supply pipes ‘mislaid’ over a trillion litres of water in 2021/22, and the utterly predictable heavy rain that followed the summer’s heat-wave led to a handful of companies releasing gallons of raw sewage into rivers and the sea, poisoning fishes and swimmers alike. So badly have some of the water companies performed that regulator Ofwat has heavily fined the worst offenders, prompting promises of £150 million reductions in water bills for affected customers. As an aside, I wish the regulator would change the name I keep typing as Oftwat, but I digress. One of the poorest performing and most heavily fined water companies was Thames Water. According to stats in the most recent edition of Private Eye, Thames Water has lost 217 billion litres of water over the past year, not to mention being responsible for a sinkhole that closed the Oxford stretch of the A34 as well as a pipe that burst in Windsor and caused disruption for those visiting the Castle during the mourning for Her Majesty; at the same time, the company’s Chief Executive was the recipient of a salary and bonus amounting to £2m. Well, that should make it a little easier to sleep at night in the absence of a conscience or sense of shame, I guess.

Apart from this seemingly decisive (if long overdue) action by Ofwat, the toothless likes of the Environment Agency has been remarkably ineffective in taking the water companies to task in recent years. And all the bodies entrusted with the state of the nation’s water are complicit in the ultimate buck-passing tactic that is to blame everything on Climate Change. For the water companies in particular, this is their very own ‘get out of jail card’, absolving them of all responsibility; but it works just as well for the failures of the regulatory bodies that are supposed to police them. Alas, such is the nature of the times we reside in. The Tories blame Labour; Labour blames the Tories; and all blame the war in Ukraine. And the pandemic. And Climate Change.

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THE WRONG SORT OF RAIN

Dr FosterUnless you happen to be six or seven-years-old – and I’m guessing you’re not – you’ll have lived through enough hot summers to know heat-waves are usually followed by thunderstorms. Indeed, there’s nothing quite like an outburst of summer rain at the end of a sweltering day for washing away the stuffy mugginess and cleansing your parched person after weeks of exhausting temperatures. Even 1976 – yes, even 1976 – saw the drought and the ladybird invasion and ‘Save it!’ stickers and street-corner standpipes eventually consigned to a lifetime of future anecdotes from those who were there when the heavens opened. Thankfully, we don’t live in a country stuck with the one climate all year round, so we’re all aware of the usual pattern when we’ve experienced an occasional bout of extremely hot weather. I wish someone would alert the MSM to this fact. Sometimes it seems their hysterical headlines are penned by those very six or seven-year-olds whose memories don’t stretch back far enough to recognise an annual pattern when it happens.

According to ‘journalists’ suffering from this particular strain of arrested development, ‘The UK’s heat-wave is predicted to come to a dramatic end this week!’ In an unprecedented move, weather forecasters apparently predict it’ll give way to thunderstorms. Fancy that. Now, for those averse to the kind of temperatures the country has been basking in for the last few weeks, the inevitable rainfall will come as one hell of a relief, but it’s highly unlikely they’ll be as shocked by this news as the headline-writers appear to imagine. And if the remarkable revelation that a hot spell will be followed by heavy showers isn’t enough to stoke the requisite panic in the reader, the Project Fear narrative our media seems addicted to informs us that floods are on the way! From the apocalyptic portrait of Britain as some sort of scorched earth African desert that could provoke a finger-wagging ‘told you so’ from Little Miss Thunberg to the unleashing of forces requiring the swift building of an ark, we swing from one crisis to another with barely a Pinter-esque pause for breath in between.

If one were to be a tad more generous towards the headline-writers, one might attribute their open-jawed surprise re the way weather works to a more familiar short-term memory loss. I guess it is fairly commonplace once you’ve lived long enough; by the time we get a year away from the previous summer, for example, I can barely remember if it was a warm one or a wet one last year. I can recall a few exceptionally hot days around six years ago, but only because the heat is attached to an especially vivid memory unrelated to the climate of the moment. Other than that, I see the stats for the UK’s highest temperatures on record and (unless it’s 1976), I would’ve struggled to put a date on said scorchers anyway. Of the top ten hottest days ever recorded in Blighty, all-but three have come this century, with a day from this very summer – 19 July in Coningsby, Lincolnshire – now having deposed 25 July 2019 in Cambridge as the official winner. And it seems only right to reveal the temperature in old money: 104.5 ºF – which is extremely bloody hot. Do you remember it being a hot summer in 2020, 2015, 2006 or 2003, though? I can’t say I do, but they were some of the other years figuring in this top ten, even if we’re only dealing with isolated days rather than a uniquely prolonged dry spell like 1976.

Anyway, as a nice man at the Met Office has explained, the welcome rains won’t cure the drought that has led to the standard hosepipe bans in the sweatiest corners of the country. This is on account of the fact that ground rendered so dry by constant exposure to the kind of heat the red-faced folk of Coningsby endured last month will struggle to absorb the anticipated downpours. A good deal of the water will not therefore soak into the soil and will instead run off it, leading to flash floods. Not a nice prospect for those riverside towns and villages accustomed to a rude awakening whenever this type of rain sends their neighbouring waterways redirected through their living rooms, yet this is not a nationwide crisis yet. Some parts of the country will still be baking in Fahrenheit temperatures of the upper 80s, whereas others will receive the ‘dramatic’ thunder and lightning we’ve been promised. Eight locations in England have now been officially designated drought areas, meaning images of wildfires and shallow reservoirs can carry on being run by news outlets. The insufferable humidity that usually serves as a prologue to a summer storm will be with us, so the experts say, and then rain will stop play. Of course, if investment in infrastructure was a by-product of privatisation, perhaps there wouldn’t be the outrageous amounts of water reserves lost through rotting pipes that have left water companies so ill-prepared for the current crisis, but that would mean depriving directors of their hard-earned bonuses, so we shouldn’t judge them too harshly.

With the coming of the UK’s very own monsoon season, Project Fear has ramped-up the drama by prophesising power-cuts, along with bus and train cancellations. After all, the imminent ending of a story that has generated so many of those hysterical headlines this summer needs to be superseded by another, lest the people slide into complacency and forget the end of the world is nigh. I guess the rains will keep the MSM going until the long-awaited Winter of Discontent is with us – and there’s a shilling for the first person to spot a ‘coldest winter since 1963’ headline. Naturally, this winter simply has to be the coldest since 1963 in order for the cost-of-living crisis story to reach its correct apogee from the perspective of the media. We’ve already been warned gas power stations may be switched-off before we get there as part of an emergency strategy to prevent 70s-style blackouts come the winter – an operation that goes by the suitably dramatic name of a ‘war-game’ plan. Not that any of this reduced power will be reflected in lower energy bills for the customer, mind.

Mercifully, the UK isn’t as dependent on Russian gas as, say, the Germans fatally are; but a hands-across-the-ocean approach to sharing energy with some of our European neighbours could cost us. Interconnectors link Britain with France and Norway, giving Brits top-ups from both nations when the UK network is running low. News that the Norwegians might be forced to ration such exports isn’t encouraging, and some in the industry have claimed the UK’s onshore storage amounts to gas that will span no more than 10 days. Predictions of the kind of energy-saving blackouts that anyone over the age of 50 will recall from candlelit childhoods are being touted, with one insider suggesting a possibility of limiting the use of gas and electricity to barely six hours a day. An ‘unplug-at-home January’ – as it’s been referred to – is the perfect element to add further colour to the forthcoming Project Fear winter narrative we can look forward to. Throw the recession into the mix and there should be enough to keep the MSM going till next spring, if we haven’t all frozen or starved to death by the time it comes around.

What to do? Well, standing for Parliament could be one way to survive the energy apocalypse. Over the past three years, taxpayers have forked-out £420,000 to cover the cost of heating the second homes of honourable members, with 405 MPs claiming energy expenses since April 2019, according to a report by Open Democracy earlier this year. One of those MPs was a certain Ms Truss. No wonder people are taking notice of the findings of this report now more than they did when it was published in the spring. Hot on the heels of Climate Change and Covid and lockdowns and Monkey Pox and a global recession and a summer drought, the MSM has been spoilt for choice, and it looks as though they’ve got plenty more to work with to ensure many a sleepless night. Where’s Nick Ross when you need him?

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LESS THAN ZERO

Humours of an ElectionDepending on the number of spares after the heir, the one-time tradition amongst the aristocracy was that the son lowest in the pecking order went into the Church; it was seen as a safe, comfortable option for the one with little or no hope of inheriting the family title – a bit of a booby prize, but better than nothing. With the clout of the Church in British society now even more diminished than that of the aristocracy, one wonders if the preferred profession of the second or third son of the nouveau riche dynasties in the 21st century is politics. Very few new arrivals in Westminster Village appear to be particularly intelligent individuals, so perhaps the smart sons (or daughters) are earmarked for the same big business daddy made his fortune in whilst politics is reserved for the idiot offspring. It would certainly explain the deterioration in the quality of our political leaders over the past couple of decades; indeed, if one goes to the very top, has there ever been a worse run of Prime Ministers than Brown, Cameron, May and Johnson? Sure, history has had its fair share of Downing Street disasters, but four in a row seems a bit extreme.

Perhaps it’s no real surprise that politicians tend to quit earlier nowadays; few betting men would put their life savings on any of the current crop possessing the staying power of a Dennis Skinner or a Ken Clarke, for sure; and when they prematurely bow out, where do most go? Big business seems to be the career of choice – on the boards of all the companies, corporations, banks and financial institutions that donated to their party whilst they were in office; this suggests the business world was the desired destination all along and politics was merely a stepping stone to a place where political fame is a free pass to a directorship in the absence of business nous. So much for public service. In a way, this perhaps explains why so many of Westminster’s bright young things who not much more than a decade ago were singled out as ones to watch (in terms of potential future leaders) are no longer in politics and why the long-serving Parliamentarian could well be an endangered species.

The advent of the career politician travelling along the smooth conveyor belt has been discussed many times before, entering politics with no life experience beyond their social bubble and then quitting for big business, the kind that is equally detached from the majority of the electorate. Previously, most politicians made their journeys the other way round, beginning by earning a recognisable living and then politics being seen as the end goal, arriving with a wealth of life experience to bring to the table. For some, there was a vocational calling to politics, though it would be naive to suggest all past politicians were motivated by purely selfless good intentions; politics has always been a handy haven for crooks and charlatans, and though some of the more honest Honourable Members who avoid losing their seats gradually lapse into the geriatric irrelevance of an old retainer, many of the good men and women remain hard at it until age eventually catches up with them.

Still, it’s difficult to escape the feeling that the overall standard of politician and political leader has definitely declined in recent years. One could possibly argue the rot set in with New Labour and its emphasis on style over substance, a factor embodied by Tony Blair and subsequent Blair copyists like David Cameron. At the same time, watching the current BBC2 series analysing the New Labour era as told by its key players, some of that period’s big beasts now seem positively heavyweight compared to those who have succeeded them. One wonders how much worse things have to get before today’s gravitas-free intellectual lightweights are looked back on as political giants – and few voters these days would invest much faith in the sentiments of the 1997 New Labour Election theme song; who in 2021 could possibly believe things can only get better?

When the average IQs of most leading politicians were considerably higher than the same average today, the more nefarious amongst them were naturally dangerous characters to hold power; yet I’d much rather have a clever villain in charge than an idiot – the latter being characterised by its own unique dangers in the same way a blunt instrument is potentially more lethal than a sharp one. The events of the past couple of years have seen so much power ceded to the stupid that the world is far less safe than it would be if controlled by highly intelligent bastards. Not even this lot initially imagined they could get away with transplanting a totalitarian tool like lockdown from Communist China to Western Europe and across the global Anglosphere, yet they did it…and the people let them. When Jacindra Arden can shamelessly admit she’s deliberately creating an effective apartheid system in New Zealand based around vaccine status, and cannot resist flashing her equine incisors as her eyes glint at the prospect, it’s undeniable these fools can’t believe their luck.

Having realised how successful the politics of fear have worked in the absence of intelligence, the salesmen that terrified us into obedience during the pandemic have switched gear to the next alarmist crisis that will maintain the fear factor and keep them in power – Climate Change. It might appear that COP26 is brought to you in association with the BBC (on account of it being shoehorned into every f***ing programme being broadcast this week), but the Global Warming shindig in Glasgow is another example of these leaders’ idiocy. This idiocy blinds them into believing we actually can’t see through what they’re doing, that we somehow can’t discern the double standards as they fly into Scotland aboard gas-guzzling private jets that burn sinkholes in the Ozone Layer before proposing a series of expensive eco-policies that we have to live by whilst they continue jetting around the world unaffected. And, of course, they still insist we should wear masks mass-produced in China (a nation not in attendance at COP26, despite being responsible for a quarter of the emissions poisoning the planet); these masks will add considerably to the plastic pollution of the oceans, an issue they wouldn’t shut up about not so long ago and now tend not to mention.

There is so much hypocritical cant in the condescending proclamations of these idiots it often beggars belief. They broke lockdown and social distancing rules when everyone else faced fines for breaking them, and they remain exempt from a ‘green’ regime they’re determined to impose upon the rest of us whether we can afford it or not – an agenda outlined by leaders whose pit-stop visit to the UK sidesteps all the restrictions and limitations that apply to us when travelling from one country to another. Meanwhile, that prominent sufferer of Bonaparte-Bercow Syndrome, Lil’ Sadiq Khan of London Town, has recently extended the ‘Ultra Low Emission Zone’, a green measure aimed at drivers of older vehicles in the capital (i.e. basically everyone with a car bar those who can shell out a fortune for an electric one). This eco twist on the Congestion Charge places tolls upon the owners of pre-2005 petrol cars and pre-2015 diesel ones that could amount to £400 per month; yet again, genuine concerns about air pollution are exploited by penalising those who can least afford the sacrifice.

But, let’s be fair – it’s not just politicians who are at it. One of the biggest anchors on TV in recent years, former Channel 4 News frontman Jon Snow tweeted the other day that a tree which had blown over onto the railway line, thus disrupting his train journey to COP26, was yet one more indication of the climate catastrophe. Nothing to do with it being autumn, then? At the same time, Joanna Lumley thinks we should introduce eco-austerity to help the environment; she wants to bring back the Blitz Spirit via rationing. Yeah, great idea after all the privations the public have endured since Lockdown Mk I. Whatever planet these planks are on, one wonders if it’s really worth saving.

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LIFE’S A GAS

GaslightWith its recurring habit of remaking foreign films – albeit usually ones produced in a foreign language – Hollywood sometimes attempts to eliminate all traces of the original movie for fear it will steal the remake’s thunder. In 1944 MGM was so determined its version of Patrick Hamilton’s stage play ‘Gaslight’ would be regarded as the motion picture version that it attempted to erase the existing prints of the 1940 British adaptation, even wanting to incinerate the negative. Happily, it didn’t succeed and the first film survives as a wonderfully atmospheric example of old-school British cinema shot entirely on a studio set that cleverly recreates a middle-class Victorian street; it reimagines a London square in the late 19th century with the same aesthetic inventiveness as David Lean reimagined the city’s slums in his take on ‘Oliver Twist’. The film stars Anton Walbrook as a sadistic controlling husband convincing his emotionally fragile wife she’s losing her mind, and is an enjoyable melodrama that nevertheless has some genuinely dark moments. Memorably claustrophobic as the virtually imprisoned wife played by Diana Wyngard becomes riddled with doubts about her sanity, it appears to be the source of a term now routinely used online, gaslighting.

The term gaslighting is recognised in psychiatry as an occasional symptom of interpersonal relationships – particular married ones – when one partner seeks to cover their extramarital tracks by infusing their other half with doubt over the alleged infidelity of the guilty party. Mind games between couples have long been familiar to relationship counsellors, but it took until the 1980s and 90s before gaslighting was acknowledged as a potent tool of psychological abuse, dependent upon an unequal power dynamic in which one partner holds the emotional upper hand and therefore has the strength to exacerbate the vulnerability of the other. The dramatic potential of gaslighting has also seen it become a staple storyline of soap operas, bringing the practice to a larger audience – such as in the abusive marriage of Helen Archer to the domineering Rob Tichener in ‘The Archers’ back in 2016.

In the context of relationships, gaslighting is not always the exclusive province of a blatantly wicked cad like the one played by Anton Walbrook in the aforementioned 1940 movie. It can often be a subconscious tactic used by one half of a partnership without necessarily seeking to reduce their partner to borderline psychosis; but it can inadvertently fuel underlying paranoia and doubts that were already present before the relationship even began. When one’s perception of reality is thrown into instability, the impact upon those with an existing grip on reality that could be described as tenuous – those whose relationship ‘rock’ served as the sole seemingly stable factor in their life – can be disastrous. Trust and faith in the sincerity of what people say and do can be a casualty of this infiltration of endless doubt into every discourse so that nothing is what it initially seems anymore.

If we broaden the scope of the term beyond the therapist’s walls, it can encompass any form of manipulation that persuades the manipulated to doubt their perception of a given situation. A type of gaslighting has long been a psychological weapon of warfare used to trash the certainties of the enemy in the righteousness of their mission, and has also been seized upon by totalitarian regimes as a means of controlling a peacetime population. Moreover, there’s no question gaslighting has been utilised during the pandemic to terrify the global masses into compliance. The flurry of misinformation that has permeated both social and mainstream media over the past couple of years has left many not really knowing who to trust or which path to take – pro-vaccination or anti-vaccination, pro-lockdown or anti-lockdown – so that division is rife and divide and rule is able to follow its familiar route in neutralising the prospect of mass disobedience towards the anti-democratic commandments of democratically-elected governments. One only has to look at the example of Australia to see this at its most extreme.

These lessons in gaslighting’s political effectiveness haven’t been lost on gatecrashers either. BLM have done it too – forcing the colour blind to see colour before everything else in a way their absence of prejudice never did until the relentlessly racist ‘anti-racism’ propaganda seeped deep, aided and abetted by utterly uncritical media reporting and endorsement. The imported idea of British society being some imaginary hybrid of Apartheid-era South Africa and an American Confederate State has no connection to reality for most in this country, but the fallacy is slowly becoming embedded in the public’s psyche, sowing division where it had never been before – and inculcating doubt. ‘Am I racist?’ is a question born of such reprehensible gaslighting. The infiltration of corporations and public bodies by the irredeemably toxic Critical Race Theory via compulsory Unconscious Bias Training, not to mention the transformation of the educational system into glorified CRT indoctrination, is breeding a generation convinced this is fact. When nothing is real, anything is.

The beginning of 2020 through to the end of 2021 has seen a traumatised population primed to be ‘triggered’ by gaslighting tactics on the part of both government and ideological movements such as BLM or Extinction Rebellion, and the policy appears to be working. The people of the Western world are now in an abusive relationship with their respective powers-that-be, coerced victims of the former’s gaslighting so that they now react to every ‘crisis’ with panic, hysteria and fear for their safety; compliance and unquestioning obedience seems the only safe option for many who just want an easy life – and that suits the gaslighters. We’ve gone from lockdowns and attendant coronavirus issues such as masks and vaccines to the imagined injustices exploited by BLM to the ongoing climate change apocalypse to rises in energy bills and taxes as well as the sudden shortage of HGV drivers that has in turn led to petrol shortages and empty supermarket shelves. And each has sparked varying degrees of panic. Job done.

Vaccine passports may have been – for the moment – abandoned as a China-style catch-all means of tracking and tracing the movements of the people 24/7, but evidence of one’s jab or non-jab are nonetheless being used by some businesses and institutions. The prospect of under-staffed professions being further depleted because some employees have the temerity to resist state-sanctioned medical intervention and therefore risk dismissal is a real one; and this is a tactic that hasn’t really been used since the Contagious Diseases Act of 1864. That was legislation designed to protect the armed forces from venereal disease, enabling police to arrest women on the suspicion of being prostitutes (mainly in ports and garrison towns) and giving doctors the right to initiate invasive medical examinations that no suspect had the right to resist; at the end of it, she’d be issued with a card certifying whether or not she was clean or unclean, and this would determine whether or not she’d be accepted back into polite society or would be blacklisted forevermore. Sound familiar?

When one thinks of how conditioned the people have become to receiving orders – remember that bizarre period when orders were effectively issued on a daily basis at SAGE press conferences – it’s no wonder those who remain resistant to them and are stubbornly continuing to think for themselves have been demonised. A pliable population successfully persuaded that they’re no more capable of rational independent judgement than a child is bound to react violently to the obstinacy of those who won’t play ball. The fact a ‘show me your papers’ rule has now been passed (albeit by the narrowest of margins) in the People’s Republic of Wales – opposed by every major party bar freedom-loving Labour – could either be an outrageous aberration or a victory for gaslighting that even those of us who fail to see the sensual appeal of sheep should be concerned about.

© The Editor

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I’LL GET ME COAT

GasOne of the benefits of my gradual withdrawal from watching ‘live’ television is the removal of that irritant known as the ad break; on the rare occasions now when something airs on commercial TV that I actually want to watch, I instinctively record it so that any pleasure which might be derived from the viewing experience is not routinely gatecrashed by ads. The ability to skip through ads was a genuinely liberating element of the VCR when it became part of the household furniture in the 1980s, but the advent of ‘catch-up’ has detached me further from the in-yer-face aggression of the ad man pushing his unwanted products on me. Quite a change from back in the days without choice, when we all saw the same ads at the same time and consequently all ended up humming the same jingles and reciting the same catchphrases. ‘Naughty but nice’; ‘The sweet you can eat between meals without ruining your appetite’; ‘Hands that do dishes can feel soft as your face…with mild green Fairy Liquid’ and so on. Rather quaintly, there are occasions today when I’m asked if I’ve seen ‘that ad’, and I have to explain I don’t watch them anymore.

This self-imposed exile from exposure to the ad break means I’ve no idea if energy suppliers advertise their wares on TV in the way they used to. Just as the unlikely likes of the Milk Marketing Board once claimed advertising space between programmes, I recall British Gas hiring Noel Edmonds to promote the brand in the late 70s with a characteristically annoying jingle. Why a publicity campaign was deemed necessary in the days before deregulation, when ‘the gas board’ was an umbrella term that encompassed twelve regional boards as a nationalised British Gas Corporation free from competition, isn’t entirely clear; but all of that was destined to be sacrificed at the free-market altar of privatisation come the Thatcher era, anyway. The plethora of competing energy suppliers may have offered a superficial variety of choice to the consumer since the tedious ‘Tell Sid’ auction of 1986, but anyone who has chopped and changed over the past 35 years is well aware that any initial reduction in price when switching from one supplier to another is short-lived, as there is always a gradual gravitation towards the same extortionate cost, whoever the supplier.

Energy suppliers seem to have been a political hot potato ever since plans to reform the system formed part of Ed Miliband’s manifesto in the run-up to the 2015 General Election campaign; it’s probably the sole policy idea from that era of the Labour Party that struck a chord with the electorate, for it was generally felt customers had been getting a raw deal from suppliers for far too long. Speaking personally, I know I’ve had more problems with gas and electricity bills over the last 20 years than any other; the likes of rent, water, telephone/internet, and even the much-derided TV licence (the cheapest of the lot by far) have all remained at a relatively manageable rate, in line with inflation and the cost of living. By contrast, gas and electricity have fluctuated wildly and rarely fall into the ‘manageable’ category; I tend to be informed of a ridiculous hike in prices via a letter (usually overestimating what I should be paying), which then necessitates a lengthy phone call in which I have to try and negotiate a price I can just about afford. And now it appears that same old troublesome utility is all set to spark one more crisis amidst the mounting of many.

This week, threats to gas supplies have been added to the Doomsday narrative that began with Brexit and has continued with Covid Project Fear. Just in case the prospect of the upcoming winter months doesn’t appear bleak enough with predictions of rising coronavirus cases, further lockdowns, and the reintroduction of restrictions, now the talk is of festive food shortages, possible blackouts reminiscent of the Three Day-Week, and astronomical increases in the cost of energy. Last year, Christmas came within a whisker of being cancelled ala Oliver Cromwell due to the Covid factor; this year, the media’s misery soothsayers are relishing one in which it’s okay to have more than six people in the house, but only so everyone can communally shiver and starve by candlelight. And, of course, by the time we’re on the eve of it it’ll be officially the Worst Winter Since 1963 as well – like every winter; and the NHS will be days away from complete collapse – like every winter. Other than that, though, sounds like it’s gonna be fun.

Seven of the smaller energy suppliers have gone bust in the past year – five of them in just the last few weeks – and the global gas market surge, provoked by a cold northern hemisphere winter that drained gas storage supplies, has sent the market price of gas soaring by over 50%; this is especially concerning in the UK, where the price of electricity has also risen due to gas plants generating just under half of the country’s electricity. The fact this is happening during September’s ‘Indian Summer’, even before the descent of the autumnal chill and the annual ignition of the fireplace, is worrying, for we’re hardly at peak usage time right now. The spectre of fuel poverty haunting households that we may well be confined to come the winter is not helped by scare stories about empty supermarket shelves; the ramifications of the energy crisis merges with food supplies via talk of a threatened shortage of carbon dioxide, which is a vital ingredient in the food and drinks industry. CO₂ can be found in beer and fizzy drinks, but it’s also used to stun animals prior to slaughter in abattoirs, as well as being a pivotal component of the protective packaging that keeps food fresh, meaning a shortage of it affects more than merely pig-farmers or dedicated diehard carnivores.

With so much time and effort devoted to imposing renewable sources of energy upon the public (without much in the way of consultation), the need to be seen doing anything to theoretically combat climate change has served to dismiss dependable and unfashionably traditional sources at a moment when they might actually come in handy. Plentiful supplies of natural gas have been left untapped by the fierce opposition to fracking, and nuclear being a dirty word has caused constant delays in the building of new plants to supersede the old ones; yet with the low-carbon PR campaign hindered by the unreliability of ‘green’ alternatives like solar and wind power, the remaining coal-powered stations in this country are now being bribed to stay open in order to cope with the impending new crisis, putting the usual crisis we are routinely bombarded with to one side. It seems the sudden U-turn mantra is jam today, regardless of the jam we’re constantly told we require for tomorrow.

The price rises are scheduled to kick-in next month, nicely timed to coincide with the end of the £20-a-week ‘uplift’ Universal Credit payment introduced during lockdown and the severest Covid restrictions; it was never going to last forever, though most probably didn’t imagine it would draw to a close the same week as a 12% increase in energy bills. It was inevitable that all the financial incentives required to pacify opposition to lockdown were destined to come to a shuddering halt eventually, though the timing of an energy crisis is unfortunate, to say the least. I guess the problem with news of this nature is differentiating between any genuine threat there may be and the scaremongering hyperbole we’ve become accustomed to over the past couple of years; the danger of governments and ruling elites crying wolf too often is that no one will believe them when the big bad wolf really is at the door.

© The Editor

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ONCE MORE UNTO THE PREACH

XRI don’t believe you can tell someone else how to live their life unless you’ve lived their life. I said that to someone recently about a well-meaning friend whose advice can sometimes be dispensed in a manner that often comes across as slightly condescending; it’s not from a position of assumed superiority, but simple ignorance of what it is to walk in my shoes. We all know people who make this mistake – and, hell, parents are as guilty as any friend could ever be; but on the whole the advice, however poorly expressed, is generally coming from a good place. It’s mildly irritating because, as the radical psychiatrist RD Laing once said, ‘Within the territory of ourselves, there can be only our footprints’; but we usually let it go on account of recognising the fact that no offence was intended. Perhaps it irritates more in the present climate due to finding ourselves in a virtual epidemic of condescending advice emanating from public figures; and what makes their condescending advice especially hard to stomach – aside from the holier-than-thou manner of its dispensation – is that most issuing it don’t practice what they preach. Throw hypocrisy into the mix and one reaches the point whereby anything these public figures say, even if it should make sense, is received with resentment and contempt.

Politicians, of course, specialise in this field. Margaret Thatcher famously yearned to ‘roll back the power of the State’ and David Cameron expressed similar statements 30 years later; yet the posh pig-f***er presided over a government that continued the interference of the State in the private sphere that had accelerated under Blair and Brown. Advice on how the masses should live their lives increased on Cameron’s watch – even if the majority of this Nanny State interventionism probably emanated from the Tories’ Coalition partners for the first five years of Cameron’s premiership. Maybe the finger-wagging Lib Dem line on telling people what to do infected the Conservative Party far deeper than many realised and could well be the one lasting legacy of the Con-Dem administration. Although the Labour Party in England and the SNP north of the border remain the worst standard bearers of this mindset, neither shared power with the Tories at Westminster, and neither were consequently able to exert the kind of influence the Lib Dems appear to have exerted over government policy that affects the greatest number of people in these islands to this very day.

It goes without saying the unique circumstances of the past eighteen months have intensified this approach; the old – and fondly-recalled – Public Information Films produced by the Central Office of Information (until the Coalition Government abolished it in a fit of Austerity pique) were both unintentionally entertaining and genuinely scary, yet the pseudo-PIFs we’ve endured throughout the pandemic – along with the ‘advertising campaign’ of posters on the sides of bus shelters – have felt closer to old-school Eastern Bloc propaganda in their unambiguously threatening tone, not necessarily suggesting the recommended route is a wiser one than the alternative, but telling the viewer there is no alternative and that they will effectively burn in Hell if they don’t comply. If they were still around and had been hired to run Covid Project Fear, the Kray Twins couldn’t have delivered a more persuasive argument to the sceptic.

Mutual respect is always a better starting point than one party demanding respect with menaces, and it’s difficult to take any advice on board when it comes from somebody one has absolutely no respect for whatsoever. I think I’ve perhaps reached the age where I hold almost all politicians in complete contempt, so when a politician tells me how to live my life, my back is instantly up. Even if one removes the Covid factor, there’s still no shortage of issues that should be down to the personal choice of the individual and have nothing to do with the State whatsoever. The SNP entering into partnership with the Greens – yet another political party that embody all the worst elements of this patronising lecturing and hectoring – is one of the most natural marriages in politics for we-know-what’s-good-for-you authoritarianism masquerading as social progress. An administration that proposes making saying something ‘offensive’ in the privacy of one’s home a criminal offence and advocates infants being able to change their genders in the classroom without recourse to parental consent or consultation is approaching the apex – or nadir – of State interventionism where it’s neither wanted nor needed. Yet, even if this is quite possibly the most extreme example to be found anywhere in the UK, it often feels like barely a day goes by without one more edict from on-high that is aimed at everyone in Britain, parent or no. And it usually comes from those who are eventually exposed as shameless hypocrites.

My gut response to any politician interfering in something they have no place interfering in is to turn the tables, to tell them okay, so I’ll do as I’m told if you follow suit; so, don’t fiddle your expenses or shag your PA when you’re a married man or snort coke when you’re forever warning us how dangerous drugs are. But we all know they’ll carry on regardless because they are born to rule and we are born to be ruled – by them; therefore, they are entitled to special privileges. To be honest, if they want to flout the rules behind closed doors, I really couldn’t care less because I couldn’t care less about them; it’s just when their public persona contradicts their private one that I really resent their unwelcome presence behind my own closed door.

Former Grauniad journo and ‘Newsnight’ reporter Allegra Stratton, a bezzie mate of Carrie Johnson (née Symonds), was until April this year the Downing Street Press Secretary and now works as spokesperson for Alok Sharma, President of the 2021 United Nations Climate Change Conference (AKA COP26), scheduled to take place in Glasgow this November. I shouldn’t imagine the numerous VIPs pencilled-in to attend will be arriving for the conference by ship, hot air balloon or horse & cart, and Ms Stratton and her new boss were recently named and shamed as drivers of diesel cars. This mode of vehicle is now regarded as one of the worst on the roads in terms of pollution – far more than petrol-driven cars – yet who would even give a f**k what type of cars such figures are reluctant to surrender in favour of more eco-friendly, carbon-neutral models if they weren’t so eager to lecture the rest of us on how we’re responsible for the death of the planet?

Probably the best example of hypocrisy exposed of late was that of Extinction Rebellion co-founder Gail Bradbrook. She was outed as another diesel car driver, and laid bare her eco warrior credentials by claiming it was the only way in which she could take her children to and from rugger practice on a Sunday due to poor public transport. And it won’t have escaped your attention that this is the week in which no one’s favourite bourgeois anarchists have apparently received permission from London’s impeccably unbiased authorities to resume the disruption of life in the capital with their tedious theatrics, bringing traffic to a standstill on London’s bridges and provoking the ire of the ordinary working people that ER couldn’t give a shit about unless they’re prepared to submit to a fire & brimstone sermon – probably via ‘the magic of dance’.

Maybe even more than Covid restrictions, preaching one thing in public and practicing another in private is a recurring own goal when it comes to green issues. Just ask Prince ‘air miles’ Harry. In fact, why bother? I wouldn’t think twice about any of these arseholes if they just got on with living their luxury lifestyles and stopped pretending they have a social conscience when in reality their contempt for me and thee is even greater than ours for them.

© The Editor

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THE EMERALD AISLE

I used to have a rather childish (though intentionally time-consuming) habit when on long, boring road journeys of inventing the combination of words behind acronyms of obscure businesses passing by the window. It goes without saying that each had to consist of ‘rude words’ or at least silly mixtures that made no sense; in most cases, I’d have no idea what the real words were, but I knew they would seem extremely dull by comparison. For example, LTN might stand for Lesbians Terrify Nonces – when in actual fact it stands for Low Traffic Neighbourhood. I know which I prefer, but then I’m not possessed by misguided righteousness that says placing roadblocks in residential areas to effectively outlaw the internal combustion engine there will somehow save the planet. The green lobby has been instrumental in the giving over of sections of the queen’s highway to those genial and generous road-users known as cyclists, though its enthusiastic endorsement of public transport has been somewhat hampered by the relentless reduction of bus services, not to mention the astronomical price of train fares. The Low Traffic Neighbourhood scheme is its latest brainwave, even if – as ever – those who suffer most at its hands are those for whom the motorcar is not a luxury item but a livelihood.

Certain neighbourhoods in London – not the wealthiest ones, by pure coincidence – have been subjected to the LTN treatment and the measures have begun to encroach into other big cities of late. LTN is largely imposed upon the people who live in these locations without prior consultation and redirects traffic back onto the main thoroughfares, leading to increased congestion and consequently more air pollution as vehicles pump out their poison in gridlocked queues that extend the rush hour and make the lives of motorists as miserable as those of pedestrians. A street subjected to LTN makes getting in and out especially difficult for car-owners who live there as well as small businesses whose premises are essentially on wheels; it can also severely impede the rapid response of the emergency services, with ambulances confronted by a sudden roadblock forced to find an alternative route; it can then literally be the difference between life and death. In short, it is the little people who are being punished for the crimes of corporations and conglomerates; those whose vehicles are vital to their survival are not responsible for climate change, yet the vehicle in its extortionate electric incarnation is only within the price range of those who don’t rely upon it to make a living.

At a time when small businesses are struggling enough as it is for obvious reasons, the kind of wet dream Caroline Lucas must wake-up from every morning is not necessarily what most people have been waiting for this Government to promote with a fanfare; but that’s what has happened this week. The unveiling of a 10-point plan for a ‘green industrial revolution’ – basically a bit of environmentally-friendly recycling of a discarded policy found at the back of Gordon Brown’s old Downing Street desk – couldn’t have been more ill-timed. Like the LTN schemes, Boris’s ‘Net Zero’ agenda is something that will be given the green light (pardon the pun) without the need to consult those whose lives it will most impact upon. And, needless to say, those whose lives it will most impact upon probably aren’t known for their handsome donations to the Conservative Party coffers.

It seems when the dust has settled on the economic apocalypse that has already begun, the only companies left standing will be the corporate behemoths, reducing the free market to an exclusive private members’ club; maybe it always has been, though it used to be sold (certainly back in the Thatcher era) as something that would open doors to wannabe entrepreneurs and any aspirational sort with a bit of ambition. But cynically adopting fashionable causes is now second nature for our corporate overlords, whether plastering the rainbow flag on their logos or showing ‘solidarity’ with BLM, so as long as they sing from the same green hymn-sheet, we can all clap for corporations. The fact that the kind of green policies usually advocated by opportunistic administrations are ones that tend to benefit a small and already affluent minority at the expense of the rest is something that either eludes its advocates or simply exposes their absolute disregard for the potential losers. After all, how many times do we have to be lectured on the evils of air pollution by jet-setting celebrities to realise how the general approach to environmental issues chiefly consists of the haves telling the have-nots to do as they say and not as they do?

A pushy salesman from British Gas turned up at my door a few weeks back, informing me a smart meter will be installed; I never requested one beforehand or was given the impression there and then that I had a choice, though a swift phone-call to the landlord informed me it wasn’t compulsory; I could contact British Gas and let them know I was content with the current arrangement and didn’t desire a replacement. As things stand, I take my own meter readings; I’ve had enough dubious estimated readings (and suspiciously high bills) from energy suppliers in the past to be sceptical when it comes to any allegedly foolproof upgrades in which I have no participation. But at least I had the option to cancel, even if it wasn’t immediately apparent to me. Replacing domestic boilers with expensive ‘heat pumps’ and phasing out petrol and diesel vehicles – all of which form part of Boris’s (or Carrie’s?) green revolution – will not require consulting those affected; the plan can simply go ahead free from any democratic process.

Then again, it’ll probably never happen. We’ve had a green revolution from every government of every colour for the past 20-odd years, with cheerleaders of the calibre of Peter Mandelson, Ed Miliband and Chris Huhne paying the same old lip-service to the green lobby and provoking sublime indifference in the electorate. None of it amounted to much – and, of course, who can forget David Cameron coming over all Lawrence of Antarctica with the huskies? Perhaps that image above all others emphasised the style-over-substance nature of what is usually proposed. At the same time, the fact Boris chose to announce this exciting news – with the potential beneficiaries minimal and predictable – in the middle of an economic meltdown perhaps underlines once again just how much the majority matter to the powers-that-be. Why on earth would anyone beyond the green obsessives and the Church of St Greta greet such an announcement with anything other than ‘Oh, not now’?

When electricity pylons first appeared on the landscape, I’ve no doubt many bemoaned them as ugly blots that despoiled the scenic appeal of the rural vista. Today, they’re so obligatory it’s difficult to imagine the landscape without them; the still-surreal spectacle of wind-farms provoke a similar response in the here and now to the one pylons once did, though I’m rather fond of the abstract apparitions and feel they blend in sympathetically when it comes to marriages between nature and technology. Whether they serve any purpose other than conveniently ticking a green box is another matter; ditto solar panels on rooftops. Yes, there are undoubtedly too many vehicles on the road today, though redirecting traffic down increasingly fruitless routes has been a central feature of urban redevelopment ever since the doomed designs for towns mapped out in the 1960s. There should be a way to balance the needs of those for whom the motorcar is a tool of their trade with improving the environment. I’ve a feeling this latest one isn’t it.

© The Editor

UNDER A BLOOD-RED SKY

When numerous American cities have been subjected to manmade fires of late, it somehow seems timely to receive a reminder that natural infernos are depressingly regular occurrences in some of the country’s hottest spots – spots that have always been that way and need no additional assistance from man. Less than a year on from the devastating bushfires that cut such a ruthless swathe through several states in Australia, the US has been experiencing its own devastation of a similarly destructive nature. At one time – and no doubt still today in some quarters – such awful occurrences were regarded as the acts of an angry God; the contemporary faith of climate change doesn’t attribute natural disasters of this kind to a vengeful celestial father figure, choosing instead to lay the blame at the door of the creature He made in His own image. But the belief of the new religion’s devotees in the guilt of those they hold responsible is no less unswerving in its conviction than the Bible Belt brigade and their dependable standby of God reading the Riot Act whenever the sins of man ask for it.

In many respects, the sins of man are still what we’re dealing with – just different ones. With God-botherers, it usually centres around man’s carnal appetites when the outraged Almighty intervenes; with the climate change crowd, it’s down to man’s insatiable greed and his indifference towards the damage being done to the environment as long as he can make a profit. Christian fundamentalists have the Holy Book and climate change fundamentalists have science. Both have their merits as source material and both have their failings – though those for whom either the Bible or science are the Gospel will not countenance these failings. Climate change was held up as the guilty party in Australia by some, though the country’s lengthy history of wildfires tearing through the vast landmass is well documented and predates modern global warming. Equally, the climate in California that draws the public to it has also been prone to perennial outbreaks, something that has become more noticeable today in that more corners of the state are now populated than ever before.

It is true that the temperature of the planet has increased in recent years and this undoubtedly means the risk of fires wreaking havoc on the land, on wildlife, and on people will increase with it. The pollution in the atmosphere for which man and his industry does indeed need to take responsibility has certainly played its part in accelerating the process; but to ignore the fact that the earth has routinely heated up and cooled down over millennia, and to turn a blind eye to how the current situation can be viewed in that historical context, is a dishonest bending of the argument to fit one’s personal position. If anything, there are several causes at play simultaneously, with climate change merely one of them. The silhouette of San Francisco’s Golden Gate Bridge against a toxic-looking fiery orange sky is unquestionably a dramatic, apocalyptic image; but it shouldn’t be utilised as political propaganda in the way the Democrats are predictably utilising it in the year of a Presidential Election.

I remember a few years back, watching a documentary on the English obsession with the country life and the craving for a rural idyll. The cliché of the wealthy couple departing the big city and relocating to the green and pleasant land was covered comprehensively, as was the fact that many do so on the misguided understanding that the green and pleasant land will respond to its new residents on the urbanites’ terms. A farmer spoke of recent new arrivals to his village, arrivals aggrieved by the aroma of his manure drifting in their direction or complaining about being woken by his cockerel at the crack of dawn. How bloody inconsiderate of the countryside! Wealthier Californians stretching their legs and setting up home in a great outdoors that has always seen wildfires leaving that outdoors a scorched wasteland seems like an extreme extension of this mindset; just because man has encroached further into one-time wilderness doesn’t mean nature will cease its more nihilistic activities simply to suit him and his concept of getting back to the garden – especially when the temperature is more conducive to such a scenario.

Of course, if our old friends Extinction Rebellion amounted to more than narcissistic circus performers disrupting the lives of city-dwellers with infantile glee, they’d be in California; they’d be rescuing terrified and injured animals from the wreckage, and providing assistance to families who’ve lost everything they own and no longer have a roof over their heads. But they’re not. They talk a good fight, yet are conspicuously absent when their obsession has its Ground Zero locations crying out for help. One of the regular complaints at the height of the Australian inferno was the cutting back on investment in the management of the land, and President Trump appears to have hinted that investment in California’s damaged areas might help minimise the chances of this year’s devastation being revisited on the state in the near future.

But whatever or not investment is made, the fact remains that California has been experiencing a severe drought for the best part of 20 years, and more than 2.3 acres have been lost to wildfires this year alone; the fires are going to happen, so it’s a case of being able to manage them better than the impossible task of preventing them altogether. Intense heat-waves have characterised the last few months in America’s western states, including Washington state and Oregon (where fires have also wreaked havoc); indeed, what is believed to be one of the highest temperatures ever recorded – 130F – was recorded in California recently. At the same time, and perhaps reflecting the variable conditions in such a huge country, other states such as Colorado have been experiencing record low temperatures that have spawned winds which have travelled into the fire-stricken states and contributed to the spread of the carnage. Meanwhile, down south, states such as Alabama and Florida have been battered by Storm Sally; as the hurricane has moved north-east, it has brought severe flooding to Georgia and the two Carolinas. Once again, those in the path of Mother Nature are realising Mother Nature will do as she pleases – even if her timing seems especially terrible.

One might almost conclude that the schizophrenic climactic chaos in the US at the moment is some sort of metaphor for the chaotic state of the nation as a whole; from the outside looking in, America does not appear to be a country at ease with itself. It goes without saying that for a Brit to observe this from a position of smug security would be farcical; we don’t seem to be any less divided on this side of the Atlantic; it’s just that America always does everything on a far bigger scale simply because it’s so bloody massive. Add a global pandemic and its consequently unprecedented restrictions on civil liberties to the mix and you’ve got an inevitably combustible recipe for disaster. The ‘Disneyfication’ of the natural world in recent years has turned a blind eye to the fact that life on earth has always been a battle. As David Bowie once said, ‘the Earth is a bitch’; I won’t say we’ve finished our news and that Homo-Sapiens have outgrown their use, though – not yet, anyway…

© 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