THE AGE OF ANXIETY

In many respects, last week’s inconclusive General Election result was the perfect outcome for our indecisive times. Nobody seems to know what’s going on and what little we do know hardly fills the heart with joy. TV politicos and leader writers are frothing at the mouth because it’s undoubtedly dramatic, and chaos always makes for a far more gripping story than stability – strong or otherwise. But for many beyond the bubble, it’s the latest in a seemingly never-ending sequence of unsettling events imbued with uncertainty. A sweeping generalisation, perhaps, but mankind’s instinctive solace in dependable routine – as deep-rooted in its instinct as that of the animal kingdom – is in a permanent state of flux due to circumstances we appear to have no control over.

The surprising result of last year’s EU Referendum provoked just as much champagne cork popping as it did despondent despair; the election of Donald Trump as US President had a similar impact. At the same time, the ongoing efforts of Remainers to delay the implementation of Brexit or to even overturn the outcome altogether has led to renewed paranoia and panic on the other side that the euphoria of the Leave success will be cancelled out by the vested interests of higher powers; equally, the persistent attempts to impeach Trump by his many enemies more or less from the moment he was sworn-in on the steps of the Capitol Building has served to strengthen the vicious divisions his entrance into the presidential race sparked off in the first place.

The 24/7 howl of protest emanating from social media, itself a medium apt for the here and now in its deceptive illusion of community and friends that rarely (if ever) meet in person, is the cry of those powerless to do anything else to make their grievances heard. I suppose Twitter or Facebook could have been just as fitting a forum for the silent majority during past crises that remain in living memory for some – in 1940 or 1962, for example – but its presence today in societies that have seen their traditional structures and certainties whittled away by economic and global forces seems as predetermined as Brexit and the Donald. Even from a distance that can still only be measured by months, it already appears evident that 2016’s two seismic political earthquakes – the EU Referendum and the US Presidential Election – could only end one way.

The central premise of the contemporary narrative is Project Fear. Whether in the hands of Kim Jong Un, Vladimir Putin, ISIS or home-grown Jihadists, Project Fear has enough visible entrails leading back to its origins to fill a ten-hour Adam Curtis series, yet few care about the cause; the effect is what worries most. Footage of North Korea’s nuclear arsenal or the carnage suicide bombers and machete-wielding white van men leave in their wake sits alongside Trump’s undoing of hard-fought legislation designed to extend the lifespan of the planet or Theresa May’s desperate desire to cling onto power by doing deals with bigoted Ulstermen, presenting a resounding ‘f**k you’ to those who can do little to prevent further destabilising of their world other than scrawl graffiti on a wall or wave a placard or simply wait for the light relief of a commercial break.

Yes, the false idyll of advertising has always sold the same unattainable dreams; after all, in 1965, Bob Dylan sang ‘Advertising signs that con/you into thinking that you’re the one/that can do what’s never been done/you can win what’s never been won’. More than half-a-century on, however, in an era of rising prices, static wages, food banks and empty houses too expensive to live in, they somehow seem more insulting and more frustrating than they ever did before because those dreams feel more unattainable than they ever did before. Every blinding white smile or smug motorist to grace our billboards and TV or Smartphone screens is spewing a sack-full of salt into our open wounds and then employing a scrubbing-brush to rub it in.

But, like ‘Britain’s Got Talent’ or ‘The Voice’, this is supposed to be our aspirational alternative to doom ‘n’ gloom; and watching some hapless wannabe being told that their future is the pound shop check-out till rather than Glastonbury after all gives us the opportunity to laugh in unison at the deluded fool who reached for the stars and landed in the gutter. We can ridicule the little man because the big man is too detached from our reality to strike a blow on target.

A report that appeared on FB last week claimed couples were considering not having children because ‘the world is so f**ked-up’; I thought of when my own parents were born, in the middle of the Second World War, and came to the conclusion that seemed a poor excuse for neglecting to sire offspring when there are so many blatantly sounder reasons for not doing so. Yes, the babies born during WWII largely arrived thanks to randy servicemen making the most of a 48-hour pass or restless wives enjoying a one-night stand with a GI, but I’m pretty sure the belief that the world was f**ked-up carried more weight back then than it does now. Then again, maybe they had something we don’t.

Perhaps the crucial element during the war was the recognition of a greater good that required the setting aside of minor gripes and divisions in order that it could be fought for. In the years following 1945, many who were there spoke of those times with a nostalgic glow that often seemed baffling to those born long after it was all over; but it’s possible the genuine sense of community arising from everyone working together for the same admirable objective – rather than the superficial virtual community of social media, which is an online asylum for the angry, lonely and confused – opened a brief portal into a different and more desirable model for society that sealed up thereafter.

At the moment, the world has the same sudden disorientation of a child whose parents have just separated; the past is a comfort blanket while the present is scary and the future is too frightening to contemplate. It won’t last; these periods never do. But living through it can be a bloody hard slog.

© The Editor

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MEANWHILE, BACK IN THE STATES…

There was an abundance of memorable moments during the Watergate scandal, but none managed to condense as much drama into such a short space of time as the so-called ‘Saturday Night Massacre’, which occurred on October 20 1973. The reputation of Nixon’s administration had suffered additional embarrassment ten days earlier with the resignation of Vice President Spiro Agnew whilst he faced charges of tax evasion unrelated to Watergate; but when the President ordered the Attorney General Eliot Richardson to fire Archibald Cox, the man Richardson had appointed as an independent special prosecutor to investigate the June 1972 break-in at the Democratic Party offices in Washington’s Watergate building, the Attorney General refused to do so.

As part of his investigations, Cox had issued a subpoena to Nixon that ordered the surrender of taped conversations between the President and his aides recorded in the Oval Office; Nixon had refused in recognition of the threat Cox posed to his story of events. By ordering his Attorney General to dismiss Cox, the President assumed the problem would be solved; he hadn’t anticipated Eliot Richardson would refuse the order and then resign in protest. Nixon’s response was to demand Richardson’s deputy William Ruckelshaus do the deed instead; Ruckelshaus also refused and resigned.

Desperate to save face, Nixon initially claimed Ruckelshaus had been sacked and turned to Solicitor General Robert Bork to fire Cox; Bork did so after being sworn-in as acting Attorney General, though the whole unedifying affair served to finally turn public opinion against Nixon. An NBC poll a week after the Saturday Night Massacre showed a plurality of Americans supported the impeachment of the President for the first time, even though it took another nine months before the House Judiciary Committee approved its first article of impeachment; and Nixon resigned before the process could even begin.

What an excitable US TV news presenter referred to as the biggest constitutional crisis in the history of the nation as the Saturday Night Massacre unfolded has had echoes in the past couple of eventful weeks in Washington. The main difference between 2017 and 1973 is that Nixon’s credibility began to disintegrate when he had already served one full term in office and had retained power on the back of a landslide victory. As for the Donald, it’s only four months since he took the oath of office for the first time and there seems to have been enough constitutional crises to make Richard Nixon’s spell as President seem like an uneventful and rather dull period of American history.

The dismissal of FBI Director James Comey on May 9 certainly revived memories of the Saturday Night Massacre for those either old enough to remember it or those who have read about it since. Comey’s termination came in the wake of the FBI investigation into the Hillary Clinton email affair as well as the organisation’s conviction that Russia interfered in Trump’s election campaign. Subsequent revelations that Trump had shared classified information with the Russian Ambassador and Russian Foreign Minister during a recent visit to the White House have done little to dispel the lingering belief of Russian involvement in the Donald’s rise to power. Comey has claimed the President asked him to cease investigations into the short-lived National Security Adviser Michael T Flynn’s Russian connections, something Trump has naturally refuted.

Lyndon Johnson’s opinion of the FBI’s fearsome first Director J Edgar Hoover, that it was ‘better have him inside the tent pissing out than have him outside pissing in’, suggests simply sacking James Comey might not be the end of the affair for Trump. Despite the President’s intervention in Syria not exactly easing US relations with the Kremlin, the Russian issue won’t go away. The appointment of a special counsel in the shape of former FBI Director Robert Mueller to continue the investigation hasn’t necessarily met with Trump’s approval, with the President referring to the ongoing efforts to establish a direct connection between him and Russia as a witch-hunt. Mind you, Trump’s tiresome whinging about the media and how everyone is against him is only unprecedented on his side of the Atlantic; he’s more than matched over here by the most frothing-at-the-mouth Corbynistas and their incurable persecution complex.

Trump has already taken his ‘You’re fired’ catchphrase from ‘The Apprentice’ into his Presidency, sacking the likes of acting Attorney General Sally Yates for disputing his executive order to bar citizens of certain specified Muslim countries from entering the US; he also demoted and replaced acting Immigration and Customs Enforcement Director Daniel Ragsdale the same day he dismissed Yates. No explanation for this dismissal was given, though mere coincidence in what was labelled by some as the ‘Monday Night Massacre’ seems unlikely. In this context, his firing of James Comey makes perfect sense. Trump still sees himself as the head of a company and everyone else as his employees. Anybody challenging his authority has to go.

Watergate was a slow burner of a scandal that unravelled at a sedate pace worthy of a weighty novel; it confirmed suspicions of Nixon that his most committed critics had harboured for a long time and cast a cynical shadow across Washington that has never really gone away. What’s happening now isn’t quite the same. In contrast with Richard Nixon’s unattainable ambition to be loved, Donald Trump couldn’t care less; Nixon’s downfall had all the elements of a Greek Tragedy, whereas Trump entered the political arena looking for a fight and now he’s got one. As long as Russian rumours continue to circulate and talk of invoking the 25th Amendment if impeachment fails giving his opponents hope, the Donald’s capacity to govern is entirely in his own hands. We shall see.

© The Editor

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STRIKE ZONE

Well, after all the endless gossip of a mutual admiration society between The Donald and Vlad, not to mention persistent accusations of Russian interference in last year’s US Presidential Election – both of which have been recycled by Trump’s opponents at home for months – one wonders what Mr Putin’s opinion of the President is now. American-led coalition airstrikes against Jihadists in Syria have been an under-reported element of the Syrian Civil War since 2014, but the deliberate targeting of one of Assad’s airfields by US missiles in the early hours of this morning is the first time the Americans have attacked government forces. Where this leaves opinion on western involvement in the Syrian conflict, not to mention US-Russian relations, is probably too early to speculate; but it’s fair to say the Kremlin isn’t happy.

Russia has called the American strike that struck Shayrat airbase at 1.40 GMT ‘an act of aggression against a sovereign nation’ – unlike annexing Crimea, then? All the doom-laden predictions that Moscow would be pulling the strings of a puppet President in the White House appear a tad premature now. The Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev said: ‘Instead of the previously touted idea of a joint fight against the main enemy – the Islamic State – the Trump Administration has shown that it will carry out a fierce battle against the lawful government of Syria’. Russia has also suspended a joint air safety agreement between it and the US in Syria as a result.

It would seem the appalling nature of events in Khan Shiekhoun on Tuesday has prompted a change to American foreign policy re Syria, certainly where Trump is concerned. From the off, he has repeatedly stressed domestic issues were at the top of his agenda, and his suspected softness towards Putin suggested he’d steer clear of Syria. But a President with such a swaggering personality and combative approach to governance was clearly presented with the kind of challenge to flex his muscles on the world stage that he couldn’t resist.

Not that this familiar Trump persona was the one on display in the press conference he gave following confirmation of the attack. Unusually – though not unexpectedly, considering the circumstances – subdued, the President didn’t mince his words and seemed to suggest America was acting on behalf of all nations who attributed the nerve gas bombing to Assad. Most nations were rightly appalled by what happened in Khan Shiekhoun, but even when Trump called on ‘all civilised nations’ to contribute towards ending the conflict, everybody knew only one would be prepared to react to Tuesday’s incident with force.

Caution has characterised the western powers’ attitude towards Syria, as though everyone was holding their tongues, waiting for America to make the first move; Obama preferred the sneaky drone game, essentially military involvement through the back door, but his successor has now stated his case in a far more decisive manner. If today’s target was indeed the same airbase from which Tuesday’s chemical attack was launched, then Trump has certainly laid down the gauntlet. What next, though? Rather worryingly, a Oklahoma Senator who praised the President’s actions hinted the attack should herald the rebuilding of the US military after Obama’s budget cuts in order that America can achieve ‘peace through strength’, the old Republican call-to-arms catchphrase.

In 2017, Vietnam is now probably too distant a memory for many to recall with the shudder it provoked for decades, but the shadow of Iraq is still a potent influence on the Commander in Chief’s decision when it comes to where US forces are deployed today. I doubt Trump would want to commit ‘boots-on-the-ground’ in Syria any more than his predecessor wanted to, but airstrikes don’t send body-bags back to American airfields. Launching 59 Tomahawk cruise missiles from two US Navy destroyers in the Mediterranean is a shrewder option when there remains such reluctance to send in the troops.

Every western country that dispatched soldiers to Iraq has subsequently shied away from repeating the same mistake in Syria, though some would argue this has enabled Assad (with the invaluable assistance of Russia) to continue getting away with murder. There was a proposal put forward two or three years back, particularly where British recruits to the fight against Assad were concerned, that the situation was comparable to the Spanish Civil War, when the International Brigades recruited multinational volunteers to the anti-fascist cause as many western powers preferred inactive neutrality. Perhaps the memory of the First World War was still strong in the minds of western leaders back then, just as Iraq is today.

Not all parallels with the Spanish Civil War stand up to scrutiny, but I suppose one could say that in that conflict, Nazi Germany effectively played the Russia to Franco’s Assad, with the Luftwaffe’s role in the bombing of Guernica a barbaric test-run for the horrors to come. However, what did follow in the same year the Spanish Civil War ended is hardly the most optimistic comparison one can make with what might follow Syria. We can only hope history’s habit of repeating itself takes a break for once.

© The Editor

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28 DAYS LATER

trumpOn paper, it’s already beginning to resemble a bizarre social experiment – replace the time-honoured tradition of a country being run by career politicians schooled in years of public office and hand over the reins of power to a man whose sole working experience has been within the field of big business and entertainment. Light the blue-touch paper, stand at a safe distance and watch the fireworks.

It won’t be until next Monday that Donald Trump marks just one month as resident of the White House, yet so much has been crammed into the last four strange weeks that it feels much longer. Just this week has seen the first resignation from his administration – his National Security Adviser, Mike Flynn, over allegations of uncomfortably close associations with the Russian Ambassador to the US; the FBI are currently investigating Flynn and perceiving his relationship with Sergey Kislyak as part of the ongoing suspicions over the Kremlin’s involvement in the Trump Presidency.

Trump has already set himself against the judiciary following the ramifications and legal challenges to his 90-day ban on visitors from seven selected Islamic countries, not to mention invoking the ire of those who were opposed to his Presidency from day one. Ordinarily, Americans will display inbred respect towards their President, whichever side of the political divide he stands on; all of this has been turned on its head by Trump; displaying that inbred respect in 2017 is the aberration, not the norm. Every policy so far announced has been a red rag to the liberal bull, yet every policy also appears to have reinforced the majority of his campaign promises – something most imagined would be quietly swept under the carpet once he took the oath of office. Even that bloody wall has been threatened. This isn’t what usually happens when people are elected.

Then again, under normal circumstances, when people are elected they’ve usually become so skilled in the art of saying one thing when in opposition and then doing another when in government that the public are accustomed to being let down. Lest we forget, however, these are not normal circumstances. Donald Trump is not a normal politician. In fact, I’d question whether or not he’d even find that job description as applicable to him, despite the lofty position he now finds himself in.

Previously, outsider was a term political observers had used to describe the likes of Jimmy Carter or Margaret Thatcher. In the case of Carter, he was a State Governor barely known outside of that State, but a country decimated by the fallout of Watergate turned to him as a break with the established Washington elite that had let the nation down; in the case of Thatcher, she may have had prior government experience, but she too was seen as a break with the recent past of continuous industrial turmoil that had characterised the British 70s; and, of course, she was a woman. Both were outsiders, albeit outsiders on the inside. The same could be said of Barack Obama, who was at least a State Senator before running for President. Trump has never been on the inside and that was his genuine outsider’s sales pitch; it worked.

Disillusionment with the old order has been gathering speed for the last decade, with the 2008 economic meltdown cited by many as the moment when the public realised things were not going to get better and the powers-that-be had no interest in making any country great again. The ground had been laid for a figure like Trump to come along a long time before he actually emerged as a candidate, yet a media machine in bed with those powers-that-be was not going to benefit from them being deposed; therefore, Trump’s campaign was understandably mocked and ridiculed from day one – an eventuality he himself aided and abetted with his behaviour. Even some of us not belonging to that media machine couldn’t really foresee Trump actually going all the way because it was such a dramatic severance of the world order as we had always known it that it seemed impossible to imagine that kind of surreal scenario. But it happened.

I often doubt the sanity of those who hanker after the highest office in the land, whether President or Prime Minister; we can all cite examples of past Presidents or PMs who were either chronically stupid or criminally devious – or both; the aphrodisiac of power has always eluded me, but there’s no doubt it serves as an irresistible element for the men or women in public office who crave it like a drug. That in itself suggests to me symptoms of mental disorder and potential demagoguery, so amateur diagnoses of Trump’s state of mind shouldn’t be restricted to him alone; they should be applied across the board.

Former Labour Foreign Secretary and founding member of the SDP, Dr David Owen combined his medical knowledge with his political experience by covering the subject in a couple of books, ‘The Hubris Syndrome: Bush, Blair and the Intoxication of Power’ and ‘In Sickness and In Power: Illness in Heads of Government during the last 100 Years’; and I reckon the connections are entirely relevant. You’d have to be mad to want to run a country, and I guess that’s why so many world leaders are.

As for the Donald, what happens next is anyone’s guess. 2020 seems a hell of a long way off at the moment and right now it’s difficult to picture him reaching the end of four years, let alone contemplating a second term. But for all the wishful thinking by the left of impeachment, we shouldn’t forget his Vice President Mike Pence. Trump may be an outsider, but he’s chosen to surround himself with some Republican stalwarts whose narrow minds make Trump’s stated vision of America seem radically liberal. Many may not be comfortable with the thought of Trump’s finger hovering above the button, but the prospect of President Pence is considerably more concerning; Pence is an insider, the kind of establishment figure Trump was supposed to be a break with. So, be careful what you wish for, you Twitter Oswald’s.

© The Editor

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LESS HOMAGE, ALBION

avengersBack in 2011, David Cameron’s desperation to be Barack Obama’s Bezzy Mate was a predictable move from an unpopular Prime Minister in relation to a popular President, serving burgers in the back garden of No.10 in the hope that some of Obama’s movie star sheen would rub off on him. By contrast, Theresa May’s quick-off-the-mark dash to get to Donald Trump before any other world leader made sense in the context of an uncertain post-Brexit future, though both actions tell a familiar story where the Special Relationship is concerned. With the odd rare exception, the wartime scenario of the gum-chewing GIs that swept a generation of British girls off their feet seems to have been the blueprint for summit meetings between UK PMs and US Presidents ever since. Culturally, the same pattern has been replicated in recent years, though it hasn’t always been the case.

Take Gerry Anderson. ‘Stingray’, ‘Thunderbirds’ and ‘Captain Scarlet and The Mysterons’ may well be the notable Supermarionation series that spring to mind whenever the name of Gerry Anderson is evoked, but how many of you remember ‘The Secret Service’?

‘The Secret Service’ was commonly regarded as Gerry Anderson’s first flop. It was the last series he made with puppets in the 1960s and was only seen on Southern and ATV back in the days when ITV was a collection of competing regional broadcasters that often went their own obstinate ways when it came to scheduling. If you don’t know much, or anything, about this near-forgotten series, ‘The Secret Service’ was a bizarre mix of puppetry and live action; the close-ups are puppets whereas the long shots, including a character stepping out of a car and walking up to a door, are all live action. The master of gobbledygook, Professor Stanley Unwin, plays himself as a country vicar who also happens to be a secret agent – yes, that’s right! It was the 60s, after all.

‘The Secret Service’ taps into that strange, brief period in the 60s when a very English eccentricity was given a kitsch Technicolor makeover and was actually chic for a while. It’s also there in ‘The Avengers’ and ‘The Prisoner’ as well as hit records of the era, from Syd Barrett’s Psychedelic nursery rhymes on the first Pink Floyd LP to the story of Grocer Jack in Keith West’s ‘Excerpt from a Teenage Opera’ – quirky, whimsical, nostalgic and childlike. It was even reflected in British comics produced during this period, with surreal characters of the calibre of Robot Archie, Adam Eterno, and The Spyder, all of whom illuminated drizzly childhood Saturday afternoons as they appeared in the pages of ‘Lion’ and ‘Valiant’. A decade ago, when some of these characters were revived in the comic miniseries and graphic novel, ‘Albion’, penned by Alan Moore’s daughter Leah, she made a valid point justifying their resurrection.

‘The British sensibility from those times has been imprisoned’, she said when ‘Albion’ was published in 2006. ‘The anarchic silliness and weirdness of the comics was just part of the way we saw the world back then. Sadly, we’ve lost that, along with some of our civil liberties.’

Speaking at a moment when Tony Blair was still extending his insidious reach into so many facets of British society, on one hand Leah Moore’s statement expresses a subliminal longing for an irretrievable Golden Age – a common thread in English art and literature stretching all the way back to ‘Paradise Lost’ and even evident in the soothingly melancholic Oliver Postgate series such as ‘Noggin the Nog’ and ‘Bagpuss’; but in reviving comic characters she was probably too young to recall from her own childhood, she demonstrated a refreshing awareness of a once singularly English identity within home-grown pop culture that has been gradually eroded by an unstoppable tidal wave of American cultural colonialism. It has to be said, however, that we have been complicit in this.

In the immediate post-war era, the juvenile crime-wave that saw young men who had been raised in the absence of fathers imitating stars of US gangster flicks like Cagney, Bogart, Raft and Robinson was portrayed on-screen in ‘The Blue Lamp’, the movie that introduced Sgt Dixon to popular culture; it also set the scene for one of the great miscarriages of justice in British legal history, the hanging of Derek Bentley after his pal Christopher Craig shot dead a policeman in an early example of ‘Gun Crime’. After the gangsters came Marlon Brando, James Dean, Elvis Presley and rock ‘n’ roll as well as every iconic American television series from ‘Rawhide’ and ‘Star Trek’ to ‘Batman’ and ‘Starsky and Hutch’ – all entertaining, all worthwhile in their own right. They competed for our attention along with The Beatles, Monty Python, James Bond and Doctor Who; we were still capable of holding our own.

Over the past twenty-five to thirty years, though, we seem to have conceded defeat. Yes, there have been small-scale and determined revivals, whether the self-conscious Englishness of Britpop or even the short-lived vogue for cock-er-nee gangster movies shot by Guy Richie; but the subtle and stealthy immersion of purely American cultural traditions into the British way of life, especially for anyone born after around 1980, has been steady and consistent.

Okay, so McDonald’s is an obvious conquering invader; but what of high-school proms or sleep-overs or baby showers? None of these have any connection to this country other than their persistent appearance in the US movies that constituted video rental shop viewing in the 80s and 90s and the US TV shows that have filled-up the schedules of 24-hour television since the same period. So pervasive have they become in the lives of anyone under 35 that many cannot imagine Britain without them. This is equally applicable to the dolt whose call to the emergency services resulted in him dialling 911 as it is to the sudden pronunciation of the letter ‘a’ in ‘patriotism’ switching from lower case to upper case.

All Hallows Eve is a classic example; as a festival, it predates any American element and yet one could imagine it was invented by the US sometime in the 80s, almost in the same way Christmas has been refashioned by Disney and Coca-Cola, whereby rosy-cheeked Santa Claus has usurped the druid-like spectre of Pagan Father Christmas. I was exposed to ‘trick or treat’ as a kid in a memorable ‘Charlie Brown’ cartoon, where poor Linus sits out all night in the pumpkin patch, awaiting the arrival of the Great Pumpkin; but nothing of that kind happened here on Halloween then. Lo and behold, by the time I’d progressed from ‘Peanuts’ to subtitled French movies on BBC2 in the hope (usually realised) of seeing some naked mademoiselle, the younger residents of the street had suddenly taken up trick or treat as an annual tradition.

I’m not necessarily advocating a Morris Dancing tournament to replace the OTT Americanisation of Halloween as it’s been here for the last quarter-of-a-century, but there are enough weird and wonderful native traditions without importing another cynical retail shindig to these shores. Mind you, Brits seem so permanently in awe of anything American (as long as it’s not Donald Trump) that this has even extended to a UK TV series such as ‘Peaky Blinders’, which owes so much to HBO’s ‘Boardwalk Empire’ that it borders on embarrassing.

With some of the best non-Scandinavian TV shows I’ve seen in recent years emanating from the States, I’m not opposed to US culture at all; but I do resent the way in which it has served to obliterate so much of what once made us so distinctive from our old colony. As far as the Special Relationship stands, Britain seems to have become the nation equivalent of a 1970s TOTP covers LP. Do we still possess the ability to stem the tide or have we surrendered as shamefully as Theresa May?

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SPEAKER’S CORNER

bercowMP David Davis is currently known for forming one-third of an uneasy trio with Bo-Jo and Dr Fox to which Theresa May has assigned the tricky task of extricating the UK from the EU; plucked from the backbenches he had inhabited ever since his highly-publicised stunt of quitting Cameron’s Shadow Cabinet in 2008, resigning his seat and then standing for it again, Davis now has the kind of responsibility his 30-year career in Parliament has often hinted at but has never previously seemed likely. However, when he’d only been in the job for a couple of years, he wrote a book timed to coincide with the long-awaited televising of the Commons.

‘The BBC Viewer’s Guide to Parliament’ is a slim little volume penned by Davis and published in 1989. I picked it off the Oxfam bookshelf around five years ago and have to admit it is a handy layman’s introduction to the beguiling institution, one that deciphers some of the more incomprehensible traditions and phrases that regularly crop up both in the press and on TV, the kind that are rarely explained by political anoraks because the assumption is that everybody reading or watching must understand them or wouldn’t be reading or watching in the first place. The cover features ‘Punch’-like caricatures of Thatcher, Kinnock, Lawson, Hattersley, Howe and Robin Cook as well as the then-Speaker of the House, Bernard Weatherill.

The key difference between Weatherill and his three successors in the Speaker’s Chair, Betty Boothroyd, Michael Martin and John Bercow, is evident in his caricature on the cover of the book; he’s depicted wearing the long judge’s wig that had formed part of the Speaker’s traditional uniform for centuries. When the House of Commons finally made it to TV screens, he did indeed appear in the customary apparel and added to the theatre of the spectacle in the process, as befitting the holder of one of Parliament’s oldest posts (dating back to at least 1258).

When Boothroyd became the first female Speaker in 1992, she decided to dispense with the wig and neither of the two men to follow her has chosen to revive it; perhaps television exposure gave the public the impression that the archaic visual trimmings of the Commons were an indication of how out-of-touch Parliament was, and the ‘modernising’ approach from Blair’s Government onwards seems to have mistaken window dressing for content when it comes to how Parliament is perceived by the man-in-the-street. Personally, I believe the grandiose Gothic setting of the Palace of Westminster is entirely suited to powdered periwigs and foppish finery, and no amount of sartorial modernisation can compensate for fixing the factors that provoke genuine grievances in the average member of the electorate.

The last Speaker of the House, Michael Martin, was infamously and unceremoniously ousted in 2009, when he was embroiled in the Expenses’ Scandal, the first Speaker to have been forced out in such a manner since 1659. His successor, the divisive John Bercow, has held the post ever since, despite his widespread unpopularity amongst fellow Tories. Once a member of the notorious, borderline racist far-right Conservative Monday Club, the pint-sized Tory has drifted towards the centre over the past decade or so and has usually found more support within Labour and Lib Dem ranks as a consequence.

As a member of Ian Duncan Smith’s Shadow Cabinet in 2002, Bercow defied IDS’s three-line whip ordering the Tories to vote against Labour’s bill to give unmarried gay and heterosexual couples the right to adopt; his resignation as a result confirmed his embrace of a more socially liberal agenda. The enmity felt towards him by members of his own party was later highlighted during his election as Speaker when it was alleged as few as three Tory MPs voted for him; his election was largely achieved via Labour MPs, who were well aware of the dislike of Bercow in Conservative circles.

The Tory-led Coalition attempted a sneaky ruse to depose Bercow in 2015, proposing a secret ballot vote on the Speaker’s re-election after the upcoming General Election, a motion introduced on the eve of Parliament’s dissolution and in the absence of several Labour MPs who had already headed back to their constituencies. It failed and Bercow was re-elected following the Election.

Two incidents in the Commons yesterday underlined Bercow’s curious relationship with the Conservative Party. The first followed Theresa May referring to one of Jeremy Corbyn’s front-bench London clique, Emily Thornberry, by her actual title of ‘Lady Nugee’; the Shadow Foreign Secretary who sneered at the working-class with her White Van Tweet of 2014 and sent her son to a ‘partially selective’ school (ala noted migraine-sufferer Diane Abbott), clearly regarded this as an insult that doesn’t sit comfortably on her socialist shoulders. She simmered and stewed before crying to teacher, prompting the Speaker to intervene and rebuke the PM.

Bercow grabbed more headlines, however, with his assertion that he would oppose any invitation to President Trump to address both Houses in Westminster Hall; he reminded the Commons this was an entirely optional honour and not necessarily an obligatory one, but he also managed to emphasise his own personal opposition to the Donald’s current travel ban concerning citizens of several Muslim countries. Labour, Lib Dem and SNP MPs who supported the Speaker’s outburst claimed Bercow was saying what many of them thought re the State Visit of the US President, filling the vacuum left by the Prime Minister’s hasty jaunt to Washington and apparent ease in overlooking contentious policies in her desperation to secure a trade deal; prominent Tories, on the other hand, accused Bercow of playing to the gallery and seeking publicity by jumping on the anti-Trump bandwagon.

The impartiality of the Speaker of the House, regardless of which party he or she belongs to, is supposed to be one of the position’s job descriptions, and Bercow has been deemed by some as overstepping the mark with his comments on Trump. One could say he was echoing the sentiments of the majority of the public where Trump is concerned; others could say he and his missus are a little too fond of the limelight and should keep their opinions to themselves. Whichever side of the argument you fall on, there’s no denying that in this 24-hour media age, the post that is almost as ancient as Parliament itself hasn’t been rendered irrelevant by the passage of time, retaining the ability to make itself heard in a way that David Davis’s little guidebook failed to foresee nearly thirty years ago.

© The Editor

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THE HYPOCRITICAL OATH

mooreThe regressive left must think all of its Christmases have come at once. How tedious it would have been had Britain voted to remain in the EU and Hillary Clinton had won the keys to the White House. There was precious little opportunity to raise a placard and embark upon a march when Martin Luther Mandela-Obama was President. Mr Charming could slaughter as many innocents as he liked with the odd drone, promise to close Guantanamo Bay without doing so, and bar citizens of certain Islamic nations from entering the US; but all of that could slip under the left’s radar because he was cool – a finger-snapping Jazz Dude President. Plenty of style on the surface and plenty of unpleasantness beneath it that goes with the office, whoever holds it; as long as the latter is carefully obscured by celebrity sheen, all is well with the world – though wasn’t that kind of superficial salesman-like take on politics the very thing we wanted an end to?

Twitterati who know no better (and plenty others who should) have been proclaiming the Apocalypse for the past seven days, having the time of their lives whilst doing so. Helium-inhaler Laurie Penny Dreadful blamed the resumption of her menstrual cycle on Trump’s inauguration; another woman claimed she was going to abort the baby she discovered she was carrying on the very same day because associations with the Donald would damn the child forevermore – though with a potential mother of that mentality, the unborn baby was at least spared a lifetime of being saddled with a new twist on the old Original Sin concept.

In case you missed it, Donald Trump isn’t merely a charmless, boorish bruiser who views his country as a failing business he intends to turn around and make a handsome profit from; no, he’s Hitler, Stalin, Genghis Khan, Lex Luthor, Ming the Merciless and Doctor Doom all rolled into one unappetising package – and he must be exterminated! Posing as those who care for their fellow-man, some openly advocate his assassination while a cowardly punch delivered by a masked thug to the head of an admittedly repugnant white supremacist on the streets of Washington is apparently something we are supposed to admire. Not for the weekend anarchist the Christopher Hitchens approach of destroying your enemies by destroying their argument, of course; that would require brains rather than brawn. Lest we forget, however, Black Panther H. Rap Brown once said ‘Violence is as American as cherry pie’, so I guess the current method of dealing with the problem makes sense.

‘We will repel bullies!’ cried actor David Harbour (who he?) at the Screen Actors Guild awards, the latest in the ongoing round of ceremonial self-indulgent back-slapping Hollywood vomit-fests leading up to the ultimate golden bucket of puke, the Oscars. ‘We will punch some people in the face!’ he screamed with characteristic humanity as the rest of his rant was submerged by a tsunami of rapturous applause. Peace ‘n’ love, eh? Violence is okay as long as it’s directed towards individuals the consensus has decreed worthy targets. Funnily enough, ISIS regards anyone who doesn’t subscribe to its nihilistic dogma in similar terms. There used to be a word for that, along with imposing views upon a populace and silencing dissenting voices. Oh, yeah – Fascism.

On this side of the pond, double-barrelled activists have been creaming their jeans at the prospect of a state visit by the Donald; it goes without saying there’s already a petition. Minor invites of the same nature to the leaders of Saudi Arabia or China don’t quite provoke the storm this one has, despite their abysmal human rights records surpassing America’s; and who was our PM cosying-up to after holding (little) hands with Trump? President Erdogan of Turkey, a man who has overseen a ruthless purge of anybody brave enough to question his regime; I haven’t heard many protests about that summit meeting from the usual suspects.

UKIP’s Raheem Kassam isn’t exactly the shy retiring type; his regular Twitter pronouncements appear to delight in provoking a vociferous response, yet his gleeful rejection of the perceived wisdom on Trump has inadvertently laid bare one important aspect of the regressive left’s attitude to multiculturalism. Yesterday he was accused of ‘betraying his culture’ by not frothing at the mouth over the news of Mr President’s ban on selected Islamic nationals entering the US; a lapsed Muslim, Kassam is a brown gentleman who refuses to submit to the nice little stereotype of a British Asian, and this upsets the multicultural model somewhat.

By spurning a Holy Book that, as with many, condemns the kind of personal practices the regressive left demands as a right, Raheem Kassam is a Bad Man rather than a mildly entertaining, attention-seeking contrarian. The left may imagine white guilt over our colonial history is eased by advertising its tolerance towards Islam whilst simultaneously overlooking hardline Islamic countries’ far-from tolerant suppression of women, gays and dissidents; but the toe-curling and patronising approach to Muslims who adhere to the victimised minority mindset, unable to defend themselves and therefore in need of kindly middle-class white Brits to come to their rescue and speak up on their behalf (their mastery of the English language is quite basic, you understand), is a head-patting exercise of a kind even our imperial forefathers would find appallingly condescending.

The marches and protests we’ve already been treated to, and will continue to be for the next few months, are the regressive left’s World Cup; they love ‘em, that’s why they’re so quick to take to the streets and chant as though they were in a stadium, announcing to a global TV audience that the referee likes playing with himself. It’s a wonder the whole spectacle isn’t presented live on BBC1 by Gary Lineker, ably assisted by Simon Schama and Lily Allen as pundits.

It’s time to get a grip and put things in perspective; and look at it this way – if Hillary had been elected, we’d have more U2 albums to endure. As it is, Saint Bono has threatened to release no new material until Trump is out of office. Here’s to two full terms, then. I say that not because I especially want it, but because the entertainment quota is virtually guaranteed from both camps on account of them being as unpleasant as each other.

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