THE YEAR OF INDECISION

Well, exactly one year ago today we were all about to wake up to the news that a majority of the Great British Public had voted to leave the European Union. At the time, this blog showcased a variety of views pre-vote, and I welcomed them all into what I hoped would be perceived as a healthy forum for the great debate of our times. Twelve months on, the subject remains on the tip of that same public’s tongue, though the phrase ‘Brexit’ has become so ubiquitous that I have to admit I’m pretty sick of it. The General Election of just over a fortnight ago was called in order that Theresa May could strengthen her position when it came to orchestrating the actual physical withdrawal from the EU, and the inconclusive result of that campaign speaks volumes as to how divisive the issue has remained ever since June 23/24 last year.

For all Nigel Farage’s understandable euphoria when he saw his life’s work finally succeed, Britain’s ‘Independence Day’ didn’t necessarily mean everything changed in the space of 24 hours. We’ve had a year to get used to the result, though it’s only been in the past week that a Minister from the UK Parliament has actually sat down with the Brussels mandarins and begun negotiations; we’ve still got two years of this to look forward to. The result was more or less as close as the result of the Scottish Independence Referendum of 2014 and the reaction of many whose vote wasn’t on the winning side has been similarly ill-tempered and emitting a distinctly malodorous odour of sour grapes.

A rash of hissy-fit protests in the wake of the vote and then the emergence of figures such as Gina Miller have served to intensify divisions that even led to a tediously-vocal audience member being ejected from the ‘Question Time’ audience last Thursday. If the EU Referendum exposed divisions in the UK that had been fermenting for decades, the General Election has simply reinforced them.

The glaring divide between young and old on this issue has been simplified in characteristic tabloid fashion both in the actual tabloids and on television, though the divisions distinguishing the metropolitan mafia of Westminster bigwigs and media commentators from those residing outside of the self-contained M25 bubble are more prescient. A lazy assumption that to vote Leave was somehow the exclusive province of Britain First-supporting white working-class bigots or racist pensioners is typical of numerous distortions propagated over the past year; in reality, many British-born Asians voted Leave, some doing so because they believed Britain’s traditional loyalties lie with the Commonwealth rather than Eastern Europe.

A year on, many who didn’t pick the winning horse (not all of whom belonged to any ‘elite’) have accepted the result with good grace and are grown-up enough to acknowledge that a democratic vote doesn’t always side with the way you yourself voted; some, however, cling to the slim hope that the will of the people can somehow be overturned and what they regard as common sense will prevail in the end. These dissenting voices stretch from Europhile Tory grandees like Clarke and Heseltine to the aforementioned Miller and the conscience-stricken Christian Lib Dem ex-leader Tim Farron. Their determination that a so-called ‘Soft Brexit’ will preserve membership of the Single Market and Customs Union, therefore enabling free movement of labour to continue, flies in the face of the immigration issue that was so pivotal to the Leave vote in the first place; but as much as their argument effectively negates the actual result, any ‘Hard Brexit’ strategy has been trashed by the failure of Theresa May to achieve a majority in the Commons.

The problem with Brexit as far as most people are concerned is that they still don’t know what it fully entails; the simplistic Remain/Leave option on the ballot paper a year ago has become so ambiguous and open to so many interpretations in the last twelve months that it has allowed both sides to fill in the blank spaces with their own notions of what it should mean. It’ll take another couple of years before the full ramifications of the decision that claimed the head of a serving Prime Minister (and May well claim the head of another) are fully understood, and by then who knows what this country will resemble? As a means of healing divisions, Brexit remains an unconvincing Superglue.


GENTLEMEN PREFER RUNS

There’s something about cricket that lends itself to a certain kind of voice. John Arlott, Johnners, Jim Laker, Fred Trueman, Richie Benaud, and Henry Blofeld – none of these great gentlemen could have commentated on football or rugby league, for example. The fast-paced nature of both those sports was suited to immortal voices belonging to the likes of Brian Moore or Eddie Waring – the former able to capture goalmouth action with such a memorable level of fevered excitement that it ensured Jim Montgomery’s miraculous save from Peter Lorimer in the ’73 Cup Final would be incomplete without him; and the latter perfectly complementing what was once a gritty, grubby sport played on cold, muddy pitches with a bullish northern delivery that was never better expressed than when Wakefield Trinity’s Don Fox missed a penalty kick in the dying seconds of the ’68 Challenge Cup Final that handed the cup to Leeds – ‘eeh, the poor lad’.

Cricket, with its often soporific interludes and evocation of quintessential English summer serenity, requires a different kind of commentary, and with all of its past poets now gone, ‘Blowers’ was one of the last of the old school still elucidating at will on long-wave. Alas, no more. Blofeld has announced his retirement from ‘Test Match Special’ with the end of the current cricket season in September. His diction is pure pre-war and why not? Estuary English has no place in cricket and it remains one of the lingering bastions of unfashionable pronunciation that is allowed because it implies a certain eccentricity in the context of a sport that, certainly at county and Test Match level, refuses to adhere to the hyper pace of modern life. And even if you don’t like cricket, it’s hard to deny such a rare precious anachronism in the twenty-first century must be embraced.

Blofeld, whose father was at school with Ian Fleming and therefore no doubt provided the surname for James Bond’s nemesis, has been a fixture of radio’s most mellifluous sports broadcast since 1974 and it’s as hard to imagine TMS without him as it once was to imagine it without his illustrious predecessors and one-time fellow commentators. It turns out he’s ‘only’ 77; I imagined him to be closer to 100, but maybe that’s merely due to the voice, which betrays an admirable immunity to healthy living as recommended by government guidelines. But it will go on. As will he – one hopes. England needs him.

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THE INDIE CHART

Standing as an independent is often a handy get-out clause for an MP at odds with his or her superiors and officials; a bone of contention between party and politician can prompt a resignation and provoke a by-election, as happened with Zac Goldsmith in Richmond Park. Although it didn’t pay off for that particularly hapless Hooray Henry, if the MP is popular enough within the constituency, voters can overlook tribal loyalties and go for the personality rather than the party. Even then, however, one man (or woman) against the intimidating onslaught of everything a major political party can call upon is not an experience for the faint-hearted.

On the eve of the February 1974 Election, Eddie Milne – MP for Blyth of 14 years’ vintage – was deselected by Labour following years of campaigning against local government corruption in the North East; Milne was eventually vindicated when the Poulson Affair broke, but the involvement of leading Labour figures in the scandal had earned Milne the enmity of his local party. He decided to run as an independent and defeated the Labour candidate. When losing his seat in the October Election that same year, Milne blamed his loss on the overwhelming strength of the party machine, claiming Labour had utilised the entire weight at its disposal and directed it towards Blyth for the sole purpose of dislodging a thorn in its side.

When Nigel Farage announced his intention to stand as a candidate for the seat of South Thanet in Kent at the 2015 General Election, the same party machine that can be turned on its own renegade sons and daughters was directed towards the then-UKIP leader. It was evident that the Conservative Party was determined to prevent Farage from winning the seat at all costs. South Thanet was vacant on account of its Tory MP Laura Sandys deciding to stand down, and such a high-profile figure as Farage aiming to make it seventh time lucky in his ongoing bid for Westminster triggered the alarm bells at Central Office. Emails leaked to the media two years later alleged that Theresa May’s Political Secretary Stephen Parkinson and Chris Brannigan, Director of Government Relations at the Cabinet Office, had played a significant part in the operation to keep Farage out, suggesting this was no ordinary attempt to protect a vulnerable marginal.

Opinion polls published in the months leading up to the Election showed UKIP with a strong lead over the Tories in South Thanet – including 9% in April; Farage being perhaps the most famous politician in the country without an actual Parliamentary constituency to his name meant that the media selected the seat as one-to-watch during the campaign and on Election Night itself. The intervention of comedian Al Murray, standing as an independent in a stunt to further derail Farage’s chances of capturing the seat, placed an even greater spotlight on South Thanet. Its previous claim-to-fame rested on its MP from 1983-97, disgraced Tory Minister Jonathan Aitken; but in 2015 South Thanet attracted as much attention as any other constituency being fought over in the country.

To add additional spice to the drama, the Conservative candidate Craig Mackinlay was a former member of UKIP himself and had been the party’s deputy leader in 1997; he stood unsuccessfully at both the 2001 and 2005 General Elections for UKIP before defecting to the Tories shortly after his second defeat. The incumbent UKIP leader standing against a former UKIP deputy leader in the same seat in 2015 was a dream script for political observers, yet it was difficult to predict which way the wind would blow in South Thanet come the day of the Election. In the end, Mackinlay narrowly defeated Farage, receiving 18,838 votes to Nigel’s 16,026; and that seemed to be the end of the affair, with Farage resigning as UKIP leader and his best shot to date at becoming an MP resulting in failure once again.

However, when Channel 4 News broke the story of extortionate Conservative Party spending during the 2015 General Election the following year, South Thanet returned to the national headlines. The Tories were accused of pouring thousands into the battle-buses ferrying activists to and from marginal constituencies and covering their expenses (including hotel accommodation) in the process; though not a crime in itself, these associated costs should have been regarded as local expenditure rather than national, something which did indeed break the rules.

Kent Police opened an investigation into Craig Mackinlay’s spending returns, and whereas the CPS baulked at proceeding with prosecution when it came to the many other accusations of a similar ilk relating to 2015, the case of South Thanet has been the exception. Today, with less than a week to go to the General Election, it was announced that Craig Mackinlay, his election agent Nathan Gray, and party activist Marion Little have all been charged with offences under the Representation of the People Act 1983 and are scheduled to appear at Westminster Magistrates’ Court on July 4. The CPS decided there was sufficient evidence to charge the trio and it is in the public interest to do so.

With only two years between the last General Election and this one, rather than the expected five, the chances of the South Thanet 2015 result being declared void and a by-election being triggered as a consequence (depending on the outcome of the case against Mackinlay) have been scuppered by the overturning of the Fixed Term Parliament Act and the fact Mackinlay is standing again on June 8. As for Nigel Farage, he’s already declared he won’t be standing this time round, so what could have been a far more interesting end to this story won’t take place after all. But the murky nature of the machinations to prevent Nigel Farage from capturing South Thanet is a lesson to smaller parties and independents everywhere.

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PARADISE LOST

vlcsnap-2016-11-16-17h54m01s92There has been an abundance of media discussion on the ‘Special Relationship’ between the UK and the US in the wake of Donald Trump’s victory in the US Presidential Election, and the haste of Nigel Farage to play the Blair poodle to Trump’s Bush has been fairly excruciating to witness over the last few days. Obama’s ‘back of the queue’ response to Brexit set the British cat amongst the American pigeons a few months ago, yet the extent of the UK handover to US interests in the wake of the Empire’s dissolution half-a-century ago remains relatively under-reported.

Take the British Indian Ocean Territory, for example. Not familiar with it? Halfway between Tanzania and Indonesia, this area encompasses around a thousand islands within 23 square miles, the largest landmass of which is Diego Garcia, covering 17 square miles. Today, its inhabitants are US and UK military personnel and numerous contractors numbering up to 2,5000, though until the late 60s and early 70s the island had a native population of 2,000 descended largely from eighteenth century slaves originally emanating from Mozambique and Madagascar. Even after the abolition of slavery within the British Empire in 1834, the Chagos Archipelago remained a colonial outpost where the natives were very much second-class citizens; with the nearest imperial HQ in Mauritius, a considerable distance away, the post-slavery ‘freemen’ on Diego Garcia were poorly-paid contract workers employed by an absentee landlord, whose working and living conditions were rarely studied or improved.

During the Second World War, British and Indian troops were garrisoned on the island, with its strategic position attracting the peacetime attention of both the UK and US Governments, who entered into discussions to establish a permanent military base there. There had already been a significant change in the island population due to the French ownership of the various plantations there; a 1964 census claimed up to 80% of the populace were contract workers imported from the Seychelles. When talk of a military base resurfaced in the mid-60s, UK sovereignty in the region meant that the territory would remain British, despite any proposed base being a joint enterprise with the USA. Mauritius gaining independence in 1968 caused the UK to relieve the newly-independent former governor of the remote islands in the Chagos Archipelago of its duties, and to set about making plans for the main island’s future.

Fifty years ago next month, the British and American Governments signed an agreement that is shortly due to expire, one that allocated the region for military use, nominally under UK control, but essentially an army base for the US. In order to carry out the stipulations of the agreement, the native population was required to be evacuated from Diego Garcia, a task undertaken in virtual secrecy by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office between 1967 and 1973. This depopulation removed most of the island’s inhabitants to Mauritius and the Seychelles, though many settled in the unlikely environs of Crawley, West Sussex.

Sneakily skirting around UN rules and regulations on such issues, the British Government claimed the majority of the island’s population as it stood when seeking to evict them was ‘non-resident’, implying most were migrant workers with no historical or emotional attachment to the area. Those who actually contradicted the official view soon found themselves separated from family and friends when attempting to return home from visiting Mauritius, denied entry and suddenly rendered both homeless and jobless.

Perhaps the most despicable method of depopulation came via the cruel and cynical massacre of the island resident’s pets. According to veteran journalist John Pilger, upwards of a thousand animals kept as pets, mostly dogs, were taken away from the natives and gassed with exhaust fumes. This barbarous act served as a warning to the population that it was time to pack their bags, and when Labour MP Tam Dalyell received word of what was happening and expressed his intentions to raise the subject in the Commons, the FCO responded with a hastily-compiled excuse to cover their tracks that exposed their compliance with US military interests. By 1971, construction had already begun on establishing an American base on Diego Garcia.

In 1972, compensation payments to natives totalling £650,000 were handed to the Mauritian Government by the British, though it took the best part of five years before these payments reached those evicted from Diego Garcia. When the Washington Post tried to raise public awareness in America in the mid-70s, subsequent US Congressional Committees seeking to look into the matter were brushed off with a ‘classified information’ clause, whereas successive efforts to return islanders to their home have failed, blocked by endless legal loopholes as the case has been a virtual pass-the-parcel game through various international courts over the last 25 years that the British public has been largely ignorant of.

This week it has been announced that the latest attempt of islanders and their descendents to return home has been rejected by the British Government. FCO Minister Baroness Anelay has said that resettlement was turned down on the grounds of ‘feasibility, defence and security interests’ as well as ‘costs to the British taxpayer’, offering £4 million compensation payments spread over the next decade as a means of fobbing off ongoing campaigns to reclaim Diego Garcia from the US military.

Next time the subject of the ‘Special Relationship’ is raised, it’s probably worth examining precisely what that vague description actually means. In the case of the British Indian Ocean Territory, it essentially translates as the British selling their remaining dependencies down the river for the benefit of the American military, something that the upcoming Trump administration would probably wholeheartedly approve of. Nice one, Nigel.

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THE RIGHT HOOK

boxing-glovesThe impact of Brexit on the political makeup of this country made its mark in remarkably swift time, with the body count including the Prime Minister, the Chancellor and over half of the Shadow Cabinet. Yet, the one party that should have been on top of the world in the wake of British politics’ most seismic shift in over 30 years, the one that should have benefitted from it more than any other, the one for which Brexit was its entire raison d’être, appears to have imploded. While the media’s attention has largely been focused on the civil war within the Labour Party since June 23, the party that actually got the result it wanted has undergone an arguably greater period of turmoil post-Brexit. Yes, I’m naturally talking about our old friends in UKIP. This was the party formed for the sole reason of getting Britain out of the European Union; against all the expected odds, it finally succeeded in achieving its aim, and since then the whole enterprise has gone…well…tits up – an expression I’m sure they wouldn’t object to in UKIP circles.

Nigel Farage, the smoking, gurning, boozing boomerang of British politics who swore his second resignation as UKIP leader really was the end of his stint at the head of the party, is back in charge yet again, though this time he assures us it’s merely an interim post. This has been thrust upon him following the aborted 18-day reign of his successor Diane James. If Jeremy Corbyn was a virtually unknown entity to the average voter when he was elected Labour leader for the first time last year, Diane James was the invisible woman.

The strange – okay one strange – thing about UKIP is that its most familiar members weren’t actually running for control of the party when Nige stepped down for the last time. Ade Edmondson lookalike Paul Nuttall is a regular on ‘Question Time’, ‘The Daily Politics’ and ‘This Week’, as is Suzanne Evans; neither ran. Douglas Carswell is the party’s solitary MP, yet he wasn’t a contender either. Neil Hamilton, the former Tory MP who now leads UKIP in the Welsh Assembly (and a man who seems to live up to every UKIP stereotype with his air of a confused colonial colonel who refuses to accept the loss of the Empire), never got a leadership look in either.

Instead, we had a group of local councillor-types who, one suspected, even their mothers would struggle to recognise. Diane James won it and then quit less than three weeks later. Being kissed by Farage on the podium within seconds of her election victory probably wasn’t to blame, but few would envy her that honour.

A fresh leadership contest has now been thrown into disarray yet again following an ‘incident’ in the European Parliament yesterday, whereby bookies’ favourite Steven Woolfe had an altercation with a fellow UKIP MEP during a meeting of the party’s Euro-sceptic Euro boys (and girls) in Strasbourg. To be fair, all are facing a testing time; their ultimate aim would inevitably render them redundant. An MEP is fairly low down the political pecking order as it is, but actively campaigning for the UK to exit the EU naturally means no more British MEPs. Anyway, from what can be gathered from the somewhat unsavoury headlines, punches were exchanged between Mr Woolfe and – allegedly – Mike Hookem (ironically, UKIP’s Spokesman on Defence), during which the leadership hopeful banged his head; collapsing a couple of hours later, Woolfe was rushed to hospital and had a brain-scan. He is reportedly not in as serious a condition as initially thought.

Amidst this bout of playground politics, one of UKIP’s major donors Arron Banks has claimed the party to be at breaking point and let rip into Neil Hamilton, who supposedly had a few digs at Steven Woolfe on television before his condition after the scrap was fully known. Banks threatens to leave the party if both Hamilton and Douglas Carswell stay in it. The vitriolic antipathy between the various known names in UKIP makes some of Labour’s personality clashes seem no more unpleasant than the good-humoured piss-taking of Nicholas Parsons by Paul Merton on ‘Just a Minute’, and that UKIP seems to be bordering on the brink of complete collapse is remarkable considering no current political party in the country has laid out such a specific ambition and actually achieved it. Like a sportsman who has spent his entire career desperate for an Olympic gold medal, it almost feels as though reaching the pinnacle was a point at which there was only one way left to go – down.

Disgruntled Tories, disillusioned Labour voters, and – most probably – former BNP supporters who no doubt don’t like to talk about it, all flocked to UKIP during the long lead-up to the long-anticipated EU Referendum, won over by Farage’s Donald Trump-like outsider status, something perhaps enhanced by his persistent failure to be elected to Westminster. But now it would appear many that put their cross next to ‘Leave’ on the Referendum paper, chiming with UKIP sentiments, are already looking elsewhere for the next issue, whether drifting back to a Conservative Party now stripped of the Cameroons or even giving Jezza a chance. The old adage about being careful what you wish for appeared highly apt following the Brexit vote. For UKIP, it was a case of job done – so what now? Judging by recent events, oblivion.

The iniquities of Britain’s first-past-the-post system, giving the SNP 56 seats and UKIP just one at the 2015 General Election, has already made the party’s attempts to make inroads into the Commons hard work; but it seems now that UKIP are destined to retreat back to the fringes of British politics, side-by-side on the eternal periphery alongside their ideological enemies, the Greens. Be careful what you wish for indeed.

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MAKING PLANS FOR NIGEL

FarageWhere does one go once a lifetime’s ambition has been achieved? A singer who finally scores a No.1 single after years of trying, an Olympian who finally grabs gold following endless failures, a footballer who finally gets his hands on a cup winner’s medal, an actor who finally earns an Oscar – well, a career as a TV talking head might await, forever reliving that one former glory on nostalgia shows, eternally associated with a solitary victory in the public consciousness. It’s a living.

Alas, poor Nigel. Mr Farage saw his long-held dream realised when the UK voted to exit the European Union a couple of months ago, a dream few ever really imagined would come true when he embarked upon his career as an alternative politician with one fixed aim in mind several years ago. It took a good decade or so before the majority of the country came round to his way of thinking, but he managed a remarkable moment of synchronisation with public opinion in June, aided and abetted by an anti-EU tabloid press and a disgruntled mass who took a once-in-a lifetime opportunity to deliver a devastating bloody nose to the smug cosmopolitan countenance of a globalised elite that had shit on them from a great height for the best part of two decades.

So, now what? Resigning as UKIP leader for the second time in twelve months after Brexit, Farage took a month off and returned with an unbecoming moustache that provoked such ridicule on social media that it was hastily erased from the profile in record time. His party was left to stagger on without its sole selling point, desperately searching for available replacement leaders by delving in the booby-prize bag for the kind of people you’d studiously avoid at a social gathering, the kind of people in possession of prickly five o’clock shadows and slobbering lips you wouldn’t want within half-a-mile of your genitals.

Nige could continue to be the contentious rent-a-gob panellist on ‘Question Time’ if he so wished, but he has decided to take time out from his media career by giving a leg-up to Donald Trump, seemingly sighting kinship with the blustering billionaire’s efforts to claim temporary ownership of the White House. Addressing probably a far larger (and far more fanatical) audience than he has ever addressed before, Farage extolling the virtues of playing the political outsider to the converted – a converted with no real idea as to who he was – remains one of the most dispiriting sights to have ‘gone viral’ this week, and at the height of a very silly Silly Season to boot.

Whatever limited respect was afforded Farage in the wake of Brexit – and I mean limited – has been totally blown out of the water by his endorsement of Trump. Sharing a stage with a man whose cynical exploitation of disaffected voters makes Farage’s ill-advised ‘immigrants’ billboard resemble an 80s recruitment ad for the GLC is a bad move in anyone’s book. His error in allying himself with someone he mistakenly imagines is somehow representing the great political outsider that the western world has turned to after rejecting the ruling class of the last couple of decades raises fresh questions about his own personal judgement and makes him look like a character in search of a plot now that everything he set out to achieve has been achieved.

There’s no doubting the fact that there is a vast pool of previously-untapped frustration with our elected representatives out there; but how that is utilised by the renegade politician all-too often steers the electorate down unsavoury avenues of both ideological extremes – the neo-Trotskyite throwback of the Corbynistas over here or the gun-crazy, armchair redneck rhetoric over there. So-called outsiders are as adept at manipulating dissatisfaction with the old order as the old order itself, telling the dissatisfied what they want to hear without offering them a genuine alternative that challenges their prejudices. It’s an echo chamber of self-destructive dead-ends that will only ultimately benefit the promoted prophet, yet the fact that the prophet in question is portrayed as the Antichrist to the opposition is deemed sufficient to ensure the vote of the man or woman left behind by the perceived enemy who let them down before. It’s the political equivalent of a Daily Mail editorial, confirming every belief held by the reader and never once suggesting that vehement hatred of one political system is not necessarily enough in itself to bring about change that can improve the lives of all. There has to be more to it than that, but none of these rebel figureheads have a dream; they simply sell the electorate’s nightmares back to them.

Nigel Farage was a gift to satirists, cartoonists and impressionists after years of being subjected to interchangeable identikit Westminster androids straight off the Spad production line, a unique personality of a kind that catches the public imagination by virtue of his contrast with the mainstream produce, a Marmite man loved and loathed in equal measure. There have been past precedents, from Enoch Powell and Jeremy Thorpe to Sir Gerald Nabarro and Dennis Skinner, but the gradual eradication of these political ‘broken biscuits’ by the major parties helped to emphasise Farage’s uniqueness in an arena increasingly devoid of personality.

Now that Farage’s mission has been completed, however – and without him even having claimed a constituency, lest we forget (which perhaps makes his achievement even more astonishing) – what next for the man with a pint and a fag for every honest Englishman? Chat show, reality show, panel show – take your pick; but Donald Trump? I think not. In many respects, the Brexit vote was perhaps the worst thing that could ever have happened to Nige; it’s left him without his designated role in British public life. Had it gone the other way, he could have carried on forever stating the case for rejecting Brussels; yet seeing him reduced to acting as plucky little cheerleader for Trump was his own version of the Bush/Blair poodle parade. Time to hire a new PR firm, Nigel.

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NUL POINTS

EUWhen recalling his first meeting with Yoko Ono, John Lennon often remarked that the avant-garde artist’s exhibition he received a sneak preview of contained a tiny message at the top of a stepladder that could only be viewed with a magnifying glass. The message read simply ‘Yes’, something that sold Yoko to Lennon because he claimed it was the first positive statement he’d seen at an art show in years. Had that message read ‘No’, pop cultural history could possibly have been quite different. In a very roundabout way, this seems to me one of the problems the Leave campaigners have had in the Referendum wars that have resumed following a moment’s pause for Jo Cox.

No, Out or Leave as Brexit buzzwords can’t help but come across as negatives, the linguistic equivalents of the pub bore bemoaning everything new or innovative, forever giving the thumbs down and dragging the drinkers down with him. True, one could also attach positive attributes to No, Out or Leave; they could represent the teenager preparing to fly the family nest, stand on his own two feet and take control of his own destiny despite a smothering mother wanting him to stay; but the overall feeling I’m getting from the message of Brexit is not one that inspires positivity.

A great deal of the pro-Leave propaganda, certainly online, appears to emanate from very angry people, some of whom are old enough to have voted No in 1975, and who have had a bee in their bonnet about Europe ever since the vote went against them 41 years ago. By comparison, the most passionate advocates of Remain within social media outlets would appear to be mostly those who weren’t even a twinkle in the milkman’s son’s eye at the time of the EEC Referendum, and they don’t exhibit quite the same frothing-at-the-mouth fanaticism emanating from the most vociferous of the Brexit brigade.

I once heard it said that Britain was more or less offered governance of the embryonic Common Market in the 1950s, but spurned the opportunity to sit at the head of the European table because it was still too attached to the remnants of the Empire and was more concerned with gracefully bowing out of its colonial commitments than focusing its attention closer to home. That may or may not be true – and I would imagine French historians would probably dispute it; but it does perhaps reflect the half-hearted nature of our relationship with our Continental cousins. Not belonging to the Eurozone and not adopting the Euro is something that underlines a consistency running throughout our 44-year European adventure. We have always had one foot in and one foot out. But it’s possible this has been to our overall advantage since 1972.

Nigel Farage’s determination in constantly reducing the debate to the solitary subject of immigration, and proudly standing beside that dubious poster, has only reinforced his one-trick pony reputation and seems to have put the brakes on the progress of the Brexit horse that was racing ahead of Remain this time last week. With big business and big names on the Remain side lining-up to sing the praises of EU membership, Leave has been painted as the true voice of ‘the little people’, the choice of the brave and the bold outsider; but if Leave is presented as the ‘radical’ option, this could well prove to be its undoing, as the British are by nature a conservative people who are more likely to stick with the status quo than venture into the unknown.

Yes, we have a proud record of radicals and rebels throughout our history, but these tend to be isolated individuals rather than representative of the masses. A maverick such as Farage is in many respects a liability to the Leave campaign; but so skilled is he at generating headlines that it’s been hard for the less incendiary members of the Brexit persuasion to overshadow his rapacious capacity for publicity. Farage is the first pupil in the class that the new teacher gets to know the name of because he’s incapable of shutting up.

Initially, it was the Remain camp that appeared to be alienating public opinion with their pathetic insistence on horror stories, something that had relented a little until Gideon’s own-goal last week; but whether or not the tasteless threat of an emergency austerity budget will do for them what Farage’s billboard could do for the opposition remains to be seen – for the next couple of days, anyway. Farage’s accusation that Remain have exploited the death of Jo Cox for political gain may have a grain of truth to it, but evoking her name so soon after re-boarding a campaign express momentarily derailed by her shocking murder might prove to be another mistimed comment in a campaign that has had its fair share of them on both sides.

Tonight we have the grand finale of what has been a largely ineffective series of TV debates, and one that promises to be the most ludicrously showbizzy of the lot, staged at Wembley Arena. I envisage a cross between a rock concert and a Billy Graham rally and I doubt a single viewer still undecided will probably be persuaded either way. As things stand, just 48 hours from polling day, I’ve a distinct feeling the public are slowly edging away from Brexit. But don’t quote me on that. I’m not a betting man.

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AND IT’S GOODNIGHT FROM THEM

2 RonniesLast Sunday, BBC Parliament transmitted one of its occasional themed evenings, when it dips into the well-preserved political archives of the Beeb and offers viewers the opportunity to compare then and now. The theme this time round was, unsurprisingly, the EEC Referendum of 1975. We had snippets from news broadcasts and ‘Nationwide’, campaign ads from both camps, the full two-hour results programme from the day after the vote, and even an edition of ‘The Rock n Roll Years’ reviewing the sights and sounds of the year when the British public last had their say on Europe.

For those of us who have a strange addictive fascination with beige backdrops, purple ties and black-rimmed specs, these evenings are binge viewing experiences unlike any other. It’s also unmissable when the studio presenter cuts to a man on the street – in this case, two much-missed political reporters, Charles Wheeler and Vincent Hanna. A glimpse of the public crowding around behind them and occasionally being asked their opinion on developments is a curiously unique insight into not only the way Joe Public thought 40-odd years ago, but also how he looked. A cornucopia of Dickensian hairstyles, and not a piercing, tattoo or ‘casual’ outfit in sight; everyone looks like they’re on their way to a night at the theatre.

For me, the two stand-out programmes on Sunday night were the Oxford Union Debate and the ‘Panorama’ clash between Labour Cabinet Ministers Roy Jenkins and Tony Benn.

The former was televised to a huge audience in the absence of cameras at the Commons, and as well as a bizarre mix of students, from the anticipated King Crimson roadies to 20-year-olds who already resembled 50-year-olds, the case for both sides of the argument was put by Barbara Castle and Peter Shore (The ‘No’ camp) and Jeremy Thorpe and Ted Heath (‘Yes’). All four put their case across in a way that was largely devoid of the meaningless Birt-isms that plague political speeches in 2016, speaking plainly and passionately without recourse to a familiar collection of words in a specific, road-tested order that appear to say everything whilst actually saying nothing at all. Liberal leader Jeremy Thorpe, a year away from the scandal that cost him his job and killed his career, was immensely entertaining. Always a somewhat theatrical orator, he stole the show with a witty, flamboyant performance that nevertheless made the point in a manner that held the audience’s attention. It’s hard to imagine any of the contenders in the upcoming Wembley bash having either the ability or the allotted time to state their case with such panache.

As for the famous ‘Panorama’ heavyweight bout between Jenkins and Benn, it often reminded me of the equally famed showdown between former Leeds Utd boss Don Revie and his just-sacked successor Brian Clough, broadcast the year before. As Austin Mitchell did during that encounter, presenter David Dimbleby gradually sat back and allowed the opposing colleagues to simply get on with it. And they did, delivering a compelling master class in restrained antipathy. Benn had yet to fully develop the more eccentric extremism that contributed towards Jenkins’ eventual exodus from Labour five years later, and both men were true to their core convictions, able to argue the toss free from being consistently interrupted by an egocentric host clearly seeking his own chat show.

It’s a pity the programme makers of today haven’t used this example of televisual political discourse as the template for the now-customary leaders debates instead of the stop-start American Presidential model.

This format was in evidence on ITV this week, when David Cameron and Nigel Farage were invited to persuade the public that their personal vision of Britain either with or without the EU was the right one. Only, they didn’t go head-to-head; both had around 20 minutes to get their point across alone, as well as engaging with the token and obligatory studio audience and a selection of utterly predictable questions to which they gave utterly predictable answers. Farage was accused of racism by a black woman; Cameron responded to every question by falling back on his standard Churchillian script that only required ‘Land of Hope and Glory’ in the background to complete the patriotic picture. The whole exercise was flatter than a transsexual’s pre-op chest.

Tomorrow, we’re promised a six-way Remain/Brexit debate, which means even less time for the participants to get their scripted points across as well as the prospect of some truly foul-tasting broth; however, if Tuesday’s idea of a two-hander was anything to go by, it hardly seems worth investing in that as a means of seriously debating the issue. It’s difficult to believe that any don’t-know will have their mind made up by these essentially useless interventions into the argument on the part of an industry too rooted in the fast-cutting MTV school of broadcasting and the need to give every subject a Cowell-esque makeover for fear of audiences switching over. At least in the days of party political broadcasts, those that did switch over were confronted by the same programme on all channels. Viewers had no choice but to listen, and maybe minds were made up that way.

© The Editor

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