ANGELA’S ASHES

This has not been a good week for world leaders who’ve overstayed their welcome. Robert Mugabe had to be effectively woken-up in order to be notified he’d been overthrown by a military coup; and Angela Merkel’s twelve-year reign as German Chancellor seems less secure now than it has at any time since her rise to power. Not that you’d know it from her body language, however; with the characteristic arrogance that has become a hallmark of the institution Frau Merkel sponsors – the EU – Germany’s figurehead is carrying on regardless. Her party achieved its lowest share of the popular vote since 1949 in September’s Federal Election and a Government still hasn’t been formed, yet Merkel’s failure to cobble together a coalition from the chaos appears to be a mere storm in a democratic teacup to a woman whose dominance of German politics in the post-war era can only be matched by that of her one-time mentor, the late Helmut Kohl.

One thing you can say in Tony Blair’s favour (okay, I realise that’s not easy) is that he timed his exit at precisely the right moment, just on the cusp of an imminent economic crash he left his hapless successor to deal with. He didn’t wait to be pushed; he jumped. For politicians with a decade or more as top man to their name, such second-sense skills are rare. After that long in power, the talent that propelled them to the pinnacle is usually numbed by a notion of unassailable invincibility that generally tends to constitute their downfall; Mrs T inevitably springs to mind. One wonders if Angela Merkel has finally reached the point in 2017 that Maggie reached in 1990.

Theresa May’s unconvincing assertion that she intends to go ‘on and on’ a few months back was either a grandiose act of self-delusion on the part of the PM or Central Office propaganda that few of even her most devoted insiders swallowed without coughing-up again seconds later. When it comes to her counterpart in Central Europe, however, I have little doubt Merkel herself is a serious subscriber to her own political immortality. September’s abysmal election result, especially following the historic landslide victory of four years before, doesn’t seem to have dented Merkel’s conviction that nobody else is capable of controlling her country, and she’s prepared to go back to the German electorate if need be to ensure her survival after the collapse of coalition negotiations.

At a time when many Western Governments were practising understandable caution when it came to relaxing their immigration rules for admitting Syrian refugees, Merkel embarked upon a grandstand gesture in the wake of 2015’s European migrant crisis that masked the motivation behind the opening of Germany’s gates – i.e. the fact that the nation has an ageing population and too many jobs for too few young natives to fill. The plaudits she received beyond Germany for the publicised arrival of people fleeing Middle Eastern and African war zones also conveniently contradicted Merkel’s own opinions on multiculturalism, expressed in 2010. Addressing the youth wing of her Christian Democratic Union party, Merkel said attempts to construct a multicultural society in Germany had failed. ‘The concept that we are now living side-by-side and are happy about it does not work’, she said, before going on to emphasise immigrants should integrate and adopt German values, something she evidently believed they hadn’t up to that point.

Seven years later, Merkel’s previous beliefs were ironically expanded by the right-wing party Alternative for Germany in the Federal Election, claiming 94 seats in the Bundestag and making AfG the third largest party. Needless to say, Merkel is not looking to form a coalition with them. Up until AfG’s success in September’s Federal Election, they were led by Frauke Petry; but Frau Petry, whose views are far-from ‘moderate’, nevertheless announced she would sit in the Bundestag as an independent for fear of her political career being tarred with the kind of extremist far-right brush parties such as AfG invariably attract. The surge of support for AfG, however, undoubtedly represents the first real electoral backlash against the policies Merkel has pursued on immigration in the last few years; and as someone so closely associated with the EU, Merkel for many represents a strain of European politician whose pursuance of economic, social and racial integration between nations overrides concerns for home-grown natives left behind by the great Brussels gravy-train.

The success of such a project is rarely judged on the impact it has on those directly affected by it, anyway. An arch-advocate of the EU, Angela Merkel is as detached from the mindset that propelled AfG to such a strong showing in the Federal Election as one or two of our own broadsheet ‘cultural commentators’ are from some of the less-publicised negative effects that EU membership has had on Britain – mainly because they largely reside in wealthy, all-white neighbourhoods in which Eastern European immigrants have a fixed and lowly subservient role as au-pairs and nannies, glorified coolies for the post-imperial nouveau-riche, representing no threat to the position of those who employ them. As a ‘Question Time’ audience member recently memorably observed, who will serve us our café lattes in the event of an open-door policy being abandoned courtesy of Brexit?

Angela Merkel is no idiot; she is perhaps the most skilful professional politician of the past decade, one who has used her considerable talents to keep herself at the top of the tree whilst so many of her contemporaries and counterparts – Sarkozy, Cameron, Berlusconi et al – have fallen by the wayside. Yet even the greatest of political sagas has to have an end as well as a beginning and a middle. Merkel’s journey from the GDR has been one of the stories of our times; but nothing lasts forever, as Echo and the Bunnymen once said, and it’s hard to avoid the feeling that another one of this year’s Ms – along with May and Mugabe – is reaching the end of the road. What that might mean for Germany, for Europe, and for the EU, is too early to say; but maybe we’ll find out if the Germans are poised to go to the polls again before 2017 is out.

© The Editor

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Mr-Yesterday-Johnny-Monroe/dp/154995718X/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1510941083&sr=1-1

Advertisements

IT’S PUTIN WOT WON IT!

Well, Tsar Vladimir must be crapping himself; receiving a public ticking-off from a woman whose own Cabinet pays no heed to her authority must be like being asked outside by Walter the Softy. The PM last night used her speech at the Lord Mayor’s Banquet to issue a warning to Russia over its alleged cyber interference in recent European affairs, as well as the US Presidential Election of 2016. Trump remains unconvinced Russian online infiltration had any part to play in his unexpected victory last year, though to be honest he’s hardly likely to say otherwise. Granted, no concrete evidence of cyber skullduggery on the part of Moscow has yet to emerge, but the rumours persist.

If the desperate straw-clutching of our Democrat cousins across the pond a year on from Hillary’s disastrous attempt to return to the White House isn’t demoralising enough (for further details, see her whinging blame-game of a book), the need to attribute one’s own failure to another party has continued apace as all responsibility is absolved yet again. In case you didn’t already know, the reason a majority of Brits voted to leave the EU was due to the Russians. It’s official. No proof is available, naturally, but it had to be down to a malevolent alien force influencing the thought processes of those too stupid to make their own minds up, of course. It couldn’t be that many in this country were sick and tired of being dictated to by wealthy elites of tax-evading wankers and told that the grandiose gravy train of unelected Brussels bureaucrats was something their lives would be immeasurably poorer without.

I don’t believe Bob Geldof or Eddie Izzard truly understand the daily struggles of making do and mending at the bottom of the social ladder any more than Iain Duncan Smith does. The latter has never had it hard, so his perspective is formed by a lifetime of material comfort; on the other hand, the former may have both begun in humble surroundings, but were beneficiaries of eras when the edgy side of the entertainment industry offered a way out for terminal waifs and strays. For Izzard, it was the arse-end of ‘Alternative Comedy’; for Geldof, it was Rock ‘n’ Roll.

The Boomtown Rats reaching No.1 with ‘Rat Trap’ in November 1978 was a hugely significant pop cultural moment and shouldn’t be underestimated. No act from the Punk/New Wave scene had scaled the summit of the charts up to that point; yes, The Sex Pistols had unofficially done so the year before, but the music biz had conspired to prevent ‘God Save the Queen’ from hitting No.1 during Jubilee Week, so it was down to a bunch of Oirish Oiks to curtail the reign of John Travolta and Olivia Newton-John a year later. More significantly, the success of ‘Rat Trap’ opened the floodgates for Blondie, The Police, The Jam, Tubeway Army and others over the following couple of years, so it was no mean feat. Sadly, it’s an achievement Geldof himself has summarily trashed with his post-Live Aid activities.

Izzard at one time appeared to be a breath of fresh air, particularly during the ‘Loaded’ Lads era of the mid-90s, challenging stereotypes by openly flaunting his penchant for feminine cosmetics and making those of us who didn’t subscribe to the prevailing masculine trends feel as though we weren’t alone. Since then, however, Izzard has sabotaged his credentials by becoming a self-appointed spokesperson for every ‘phobia’ and ‘ism’ to pollute the dictionary and has engineered an atmosphere in which a teacher can be suspended from his job for the crime of (I kid you not) ‘misgendering’; yes, such a thing apparently exists amongst stupid people obsessed with identity politics trivia that most of us don’t have the luxury of being distracted by.

The late 70s and even the mid-90s are both a long time ago, though; whatever relevance either Geldof or Izzard once possessed is something that has no currency in 2017, certainly not for those who once bought the records of the former or applauded the outré appearance of the latter. Their willing submission to the Gina Miller manual plays upon the cultural importance both could lay claim to in their youth, but one that means bugger all as they career towards their pensions. Narcissistic egos, confronted by the uncomfortable reality of achievements with a vintage of 25-40 years, require fresh injections of the zeitgeist and they have hitched a ride on the Brexit bandwagon as a means of keeping their respective hands in. The mistake both have made is to attach themselves to a vehicle whose passengers are the kind of figures whose detachment from the day-to-day lives of the uneducated multitudes is as potent as hereditary peers of old, and one that inspires similar loathing.

Geldof and Izzard are contemporary cheerleaders for a trait characteristic of the left for decades – the paternalistic ‘we know better than you’ approach to the plebs, one that complements the contempt of the right for the lower orders, and one that treats them with equal condescension. It assumes the position that those who rose from the bottom of the heap in a distant era of easy social mobility are somehow qualified to preach to those that haven’t a cat in hell’s chance of following suit – and are more qualified than those who were born with a silver spoon in their mouths as opposed to those that waited until they could afford said utensil. The distance of the rise, however, renders the opinions of Geldof and Izzard out of touch and out of reach. Both have long moved in exclusive circles, and their grasp of reality is rooted in the reality of their pasts, a reality that is irrelevant to the here and now.

Geldof making a particular hand gesture on a flotilla hired at great expense to cruise down the Thames in the run-up to the Referendum is as detached from the concerns of the average voter as Izzard calling upon half-a-dozen Met Officers to wrestle a pleb to the pavement for nicking his silly beret. Neither has any real notion as to why those they view with such patronising cluelessness voted in a way that jeopardises their tax-evading lifestyles, and the more they sponsor Icke-esque conspiracy theories over Russian involvement in a democratic process, the more they remove themselves from those they purport to support.

© The Editor

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Mr-Yesterday-Johnny-Monroe/dp/154995718X/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1510587486&sr=1-1

B-DAY

It’s been quite another eventful week for the B word – the one that has no doubt already earned its inclusion in the Oxford English Dictionary because of its ubiquitous presence on so many tongues; I wasn’t even going to write about it again today, but how can one ignore it when that retired Messiah Mr Blair has intervened yet again? His long exile from the political arena apparently over now, Blair’s intervention in the ongoing debate has kept it at the forefront of popular discourse. Discredited by adventures in Iraq he may be, but Tony knows when he speaks, people pay attention; whether or not what he has to say is what people want to hear is debatable.

Blair’s own concept of a ‘Soft Brexit’ was aired today as he put forth the notion of the UK remaining in the single market with an EU compromise on the contentious issue of free movement. His idea of an ‘outer circle’, a one foot in/one foot out proposal he believes would suit the Remain crowd whilst simultaneously satisfying moderate Brexiteers is not one that most would regard as remotely feasible.

Tony’s latest light-bulb looks on the surface like an unrealistic and unrealisable fantasy that is essentially rejecting the will of the British people (or at least the majority that voted Leave) and hinges its hopes on Emmanuel Macron’s promises of far-reaching EU reforms that many on this side of the Channel would take with a pinch of Great British salt. It has no more credibility than the EU assurances given to David Cameron during his desperate attempts to secure a new deal for the UK in Brussels before the Referendum.

This new crumb of comfort for Remoaners comes at the end of a week in which the so-called Repeal Bill has been unveiled in a cauldron of controversy. Opposition from the devolved administrations in Scotland and Wales has been complemented by Labour demands for no opting out of the European Convention of Human Rights – something the Government denies is part of the process, anyway. For Labour, of course, the autumn debate on the issue presents it with an opportunity to trigger another General Election should its promise to vote against the proposed bill as it stands receive enough support to defeat it in the Commons. That would effectively be a vote of no confidence in the Government, and the outcome could be catastrophic for the Tories.

So much emphasis has been placed on the much-publicised (and criticised) mock-coalition with the DUP, some might think the bribery involved can carry any legislation through Parliament; but the ‘repatriation’ of certain EU laws to the British statue book being the first crucial stage of the post-Article 50 Brexit process means a good deal of future aspects of the process hinge on its success – and that success is in no way guaranteed at the moment, DUP support or no. A week that began with a minor aristocrat being reprimanded in the courts for essentially offering to finance a hit-and-run of Gina Miller, whether or not it was a tasteless tongue-in-cheek quip on social media, demonstrates that this issue continues to enflame passions on both sides.

Labour’s own take on Brexit has never really been as clearly defined as the Conservative one; Jeremy Corbyn’s invisibility during the Referendum campaign last year was much commented on at the time and arguably played its part in the doomed challenge to his leadership from Owen Smith that followed. Perhaps reflecting Jezza’s new strength as Labour leader, he met with the EU’s chief negotiator Michael Barnier in Brussels a couple of days ago; the meeting would suggest Corbyn reckons he’ll soon be in a position to orchestrate the direction of the UK’s Brexit strategy. Theresa May’s own position is so precarious, even after the cry for help to Ulster, that it would be a surprise if Corbyn hadn’t made approaches to Brussels to set his own party’s stall out on Brexit.

Yes, there are undoubtedly more Remainers within the Labour Party than on the Tory backbenches, but their eternal opposition to Jezza’s leadership had little bearing on the party’s performance in June’s General Election; if another Election is called before the year is out, their voices will be largely irrelevant in the overall picture when it comes to Labour’s Brexit stance, relegated to the same unloved echo chamber as the Lib Dems. Unless the most vocal Remainers of all parties unite their grievances under a new party banner soon, their constant interference in the democratic process will serve to further alienate the electorate from Parliament and further erode trust in the ability of Westminster to do its duty.

Boris Johnson, displaying his usual bullish theatricality in the Commons, declared the EU could ‘go whistle’ if it expected an ‘extortionate’ payment from the UK as part of the divorce bill; yet David Davis appeared to contradict the Foreign Secretary’s comedy Churchillian turn yesterday by admitting the cost of the divorce would probably be rather extortionate after all. Conflicting statements such as these emanating from the same Cabinet don’t really help clarify matters, though perhaps they reflect the absence of certainties that continue to bedevil the whole issue.

© The Editor

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

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.

© The Editor

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

OLD KING KOHL

The death of Helmut Kohl last week was understandably overshadowed by more dramatic events in Blighty, but I’ll be fair and declare that Kohl (for good or ill) was the most influential German since Franz Beckenbauer or the collective members of Kraftwerk, rather than that funny fellow with the toothbrush moustache – who was really an Austrian, anyway. Kohl passed away on Friday at the age of 87, having retired from public office in 1998; but he was German Chancellor at the most crucial stage of the country’s post-war existence, overseeing unification in 1990 and consequently becoming the first properly elected Chancellor of a united Germany since a certain Mr Hitler in 1933.

Born in Bavaria in 1930, the timing of his birth meant Kohl was legally required to join the Hitler Youth when turning fifteen, though he avoided being recruited into Adolf’s increasingly juvenile forces on account of the Second World War ending at the moment he was drafted. As with many factors in the life of Helmut Kohl – including growing up in West rather than East Germany – he found himself in the right place at the right time. Spared military service, he studied Law in Frankfurt and then history and political science in Heidelberg before entering the business world, though he’d been active in politics from university onwards, joining the newly-formed Christian Democratic Union Party. In divided post-war Germany, the legacy of the recent past necessitated a clean slate in politics as much as every other aspect of daily life, and Helmut Kohl was in attendance right at the very birth of modern German politics.

Kohl’s professional political career began in earnest with his election to the state assembly of the Rhineland-Palatinate Landtag in 1959, and he moved up the greasy pole of federal government throughout the 60s, elected Minister-President of Rhineland-Palatinate in 1969. With his centre-right stance, Kohl was at odds with the more conservative wing of the CDU; but the loss of power for the party after twenty years to the Social Democrats of Willie Brandt was compounded by Brandt’s attitude towards the GDR, which the CDU (unlike Kohl himself) officially opposed. In 1972, as West German Chancellor, Brandt instigated the Ostpolitik, a programme of rapprochement towards East Germany that attempted to establish formal relations between the two separate German states for the first time since their division.

The CDU leader Rainer Barzel gambled on public opposition to Brandt’s East German policies when he first provoked a vote of no-confidence in Brandt’s government (which he lost) and then ran as the CDU candidate for Chancellor in the 1972 federal elections; the gamble backfired again and Brandt was re-elected. Barzel’s failure gifted Helmut Kohl a clear run to becoming West Germany’s effective opposition leader, elected as Chairman of the CDU in 1973. After being a prominent figure on the German political scene for the best part of twenty years, Kohl finally led his party back into power in October 1982 at the expense of a coalition led by the Social Democrats’ Helmut Schmidt, which collapsed after losing a vote of no-confidence; and Kohl then strengthened his position via the ballot-box in the federal elections of 1983.

The previous decade had been a traumatic one for West Germany; the country’s economy may have emerged as one of Central Europe’s strongest (certainly when compared to the UK’s at the time), but the nation was as vulnerable to terrorist assaults as we were. The notorious Baader-Meinhof Gang – or, as they were more commonly known in Germany, the Red Army Faction – had repeatedly targeted holders of public office they claimed had been Nazi Party members during WWII; whatever legitimate grievances they may have held, however, were undermined by the violent means with which they addressed Germany’s recent past. Those born either during or after the war carried the guilt of their parents and resented the fact; Helmut Kohl, born before it, was equally determined to address Germany’s recent past, but by diplomatic and economic means.

Keen to forge a stronger bond with one of Germany’s oldest enemies, Kohl developed a close friendship with French President François Mitterrand; but Kohl’s plans for greater European integration and Germany being central to it were hampered by the inconvenient fact that his country remained divided. However, when the Berlin Wall tumbled down following the unexpected collapse of the East German Government in the autumn of 1989, Kohl had the opportunity he’d been waiting for. After eliciting the support of the USSR, Kohl wasted little time in drafting a reunification treaty that was signed within a year of the first civilian hammer hitting the Berlin Wall. Germany was back in one piece and Helmut Kohl now had the chance to, well, ‘make Germany great again’.

Along with Mitterrand, Kohl was the prime mover behind the Maastricht Treaty, the evolution of the EEC into the EU, and the creation of the Euro. Angela Merkel, an East German whose entry onto the national stage of German politics was as a member of Kohl’s first post-unification administration, is the most notable beneficiary of the rebirth of Germany her former boss instigated, whereas the rest of Europe now views Kohl’s achievement with decidedly mixed emotions.

Wherever one stands on the EU issue, however, there’s no denying Helmut Kohl was perhaps the most influential European politician of his generation, a man whose career spans the entire post-war history of Europe, and a man who played a major part in shaping that history by remaking the continent in his own image. That’s no mean feat.

© The Editor

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

A SONG FOR EUROPE

Ah, for the days of Katie Boyle in a sequinned gown speaking French with an RP accent as a crackling line from the distant Balkans announced the votes of the Yugoslavian jury – yes, along with Wogan’s wry interjections during an especially surreal performance and the oompah rhythm of a Germanic fairground ringing around the theatre; for most of us, that’s what the Eurovision Song Contest represented when we were first exposed to it. It was a musical event unlike any other aired live on TV; it couldn’t be compared to either the Proms or ‘Top of the Pops’; it existed in its own impenetrable and often inexplicable bubble.

Britain’s relationship with the Eurovision Song Contest is almost a microcosm of our relationship with Europe as a whole, rarely treating it with the reverence mainland Europeans themselves do. We’ve often regarded it as a joke and this has been mirrored by many of the most famous UK entries, the majority of which have plumbed the depths of pop banality; in recent years, our attitude towards it has combined the excavation of old-timers like Engelbert Humperdinck and Bonnie Tyler with singers so crap they couldn’t even win the bloody ‘X-Factor’, which speaks volumes. It also doesn’t help that we enter it with the knowledge we won’t win it.

At the beginning of Britain’s earliest European adventure, we had misplaced confidence on a par with the similar absence of realism that characterised England’s inaugural foray into the World Cup in 1950. The curious novelty of a live broadcast that crossed the Channel in the competition’s early days gave a rare platform to the strange music of ‘funny foreigners’ when there was less of a homogenous culture on the continent; we figured we could do better, though the superiority complex the contest bred in Brits wasn’t backed-up until our first triumph courtesy of Sandie Shaw in 1967. Abba’s game-changing win in 1974 was the first year when countries no longer had to sing in their native language, and that altered the feel of the contest thereafter. Those cheeky buggers were now singing in English – and Abba themselves had successfully hijacked the British Glam stomp of Wizzard with ‘Waterloo’, proving Europeans could take us on at our own game.

For the first thirty years of the Eurovision, the UK finished outside the top ten placed songs on just one occasion – 1978, when ‘The Bad Old Days’ by Co-Co (featuring future Bucks Fizz winner Cheryl Baker) slumped to eleventh thanks to a shaky live vocal performance; we won it four times from 1967 to 1981 and finished second ten times from our first appearance in 1957 to 1977. We were runners-up again on five more occasions (the last being in 1998), though we haven’t claimed the Eurovision crown now for twenty years. Since Katrina and the Waves won in 1997, the British entry has only made the top ten at the end of the night on three occasions and has finished rock bottom the same number of times.

Anyone doubting that politics play a part in the way nations vote need only look at the example of 2003, when tuneless duo Jemini not only became the first British entry to finish last but the only one to date to receive the dreaded nul points. Yes, their vocal performance was so flat and off-key that they didn’t deserve much when it came to the voting section of the show, but there was more to it than that. The 2003 Eurovision was staged two months after the UK joined forces with the US to invade Iraq. This transatlantic alliance played badly with our nearest neighbours and it’s entirely feasible to speculate one way that Europe could make its feelings known outside of a summit meeting was to give the Brits a kicking on a programme transmitted across the continent.

What awaits poor Lucie Jones in Kiev tonight, God only knows. This is, of course, the first Eurovision to be staged since Brexit. Theresa May’s chilly reception in Brussels when she made her debut visit to the EU lion’s den as PM said everything about the way the continent views these islands now, so we can hardly expect this year’s entry to be welcomed with open arms. However, the result of last June’s EU Referendum merely gives Europe an official excuse to take revenge on us via Eurovision voting; they’ve been down on us for a long time as it is. We haven’t had an entry placed in the top ten since 2009, and that entry itself – ‘It’s My Time’ by Jade Ewen (No, me neither) – was out first top ten placing in eleven years.

The Eurovision has changed a hell of a lot over the last twenty years as it is; the growing list of entrants – which now bizarrely includes Australia – has swelled to the point whereby semi-finals are held to reduce the length of the actual contest on the night, and Eastern European nations (who didn’t participate during the Cold War) have come to dominate the event ever since they were admitted in the wake of the Berlin Wall’s collapse. The continuing presence of some of the countries that ruled the roost prior to the demise of the Eastern Bloc – France, Germany, Italy, Spain and us – is due to the fact the so-called ‘Big 5’ automatically qualify every year on account of them being the largest financial contributors to the European Broadcasting Union.

Fifty years on from the barefoot dollybird’s win with ‘Puppet on a String’, the UK’s role in one of our most uniquely eccentric annual events is perhaps more in doubt than it ever has been. We can stay put, pushing forward more Cowell rejects in the absence of anyone else and hoping to reach the dizzying heights of 24th place (as Joe and Jake managed last year), or we can finally bow out of a competition that pre-dates the EU as a naive experiment to unite a divided continent. Personally, if we’re going to go, I think we should go out with a bang. I suggest The KLF’s incendiary performance alongside Extreme Noise Terror at the 1992 Brit Awards as a blueprint for our European exit. Any takers?

© The Editor

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

THE REVOLUTION HAS BEEN POSTPONED

I would imagine the sigh of relief from Brussels can be detected in Paris tonight. As with the recent failure of Geert Wilders to claim victory in the Netherlands, Marine Le Pen’s threat to win the French Presidency has been vanquished. Of course, over in EU Central, the potential panic wasn’t based on her far-right rhetoric and how it might impact upon those within France who don’t fall into her favoured demographic, but the explicit anti-EU bandwagon she’d attached herself to – a common thread amongst Europe’s contemporary far-right parties. In the wake of Brexit, the fear that the other leading Western European nations might follow suit and bring the whole bureaucratic house of cards crashing down appears to have been eased; but how long for, one wonders.

Jean-Claude Juncker’s petulant jibe at how the English language is losing its relevance on the continent a couple of days ago for some epitomised the arrogance of the unelected passengers on the Brussels gravy-train, whereas others might regard it as a tit-for-tat response to the equally combative approach of the right in both Westminster and on Fleet Street. It was almost reminiscent of when the host of the Eurovision Song Contest would make his or her announcements to the audience in French before being forced to repeat them in English – just so viewers knew which language took precedence. European harmony is certainly in short supply at the moment, but Juncker and his colleagues can take solace from the fact that, of the three key General Elections taking place in Europe this year, at least one of them has gone their way. And it’d be a major upset if the Germans don’t do likewise.

It’s probably true to say Britain never truly embraced the European project with the same verve as our continental neighbours; we were the cautious bass-player in the early Punk band who was the last member of the group to cut his hair and stop wearing flares – and even then, the barber and the boutique were approached with reluctance. If any member state was eventually going to bail out, it was bound to be Blighty; perhaps the real surprise is that it took so long before it happened, not that it actually did happen. For France to reach the same conclusion, however, would have been unthinkable until very recently. Then again, France’s all-encompassing enthusiasm for the European Union has been whittled away by similar factors that motivated some to vote Leave here last year.

Considering France has suffered more than most from Islamic terrorism in the last couple of years, the issue of immigration has unsurprisingly registered highly in this Presidential Election; Marine Le Pen, like Farage and Trump before her, has tapped into the neglected concerns of natives who, already victims of the post-2008 economic downturn, have naturally laid the blame at the door of globalisation and freedom-of-movement immigration. Le Pen has exploited this for her own gain, as any canny politician would, but it’s easily done when such a large demographic has been consistently ignored by the mainstream parties for so long. That neither Le Pen nor Macron belongs to a mainstream party speaks volumes as to this dissatisfaction with the political process.

Marine Le Pen has portrayed herself as a figure outside of the establishment, though it’s not as though she rose from humble beginnings and has entered the political arena overnight; she’s very much a member of an establishment, just not the establishment. However, she was able to play the outsider card on account of her opponent. Standing against Emmanuel Macron – former investment banker, ex-member of Hollande’s cabinet, liberal centrist and (crucially) pro-EU – the gift of Macron to Le Pen masks Macron’s own independence from the political establishment, leaving the Socialist Party and forming his own party, En Marche! By the way (just in case you were wondering), the exclamation mark is part of the party’s name.

Macron appears to be a rather bland professional politician in the Blair mould, espousing the kind of centrist rhetoric that’s certainly been discredited on this side of the Channel; in fact, the only thing I can see remotely interesting about him – other than (at 39) he’ll be France’s youngest-ever President – is that he married his former teacher, some twenty-odd years his senior, thus fulfilling the fantasies of many an adolescent boy. Were he a Brit and their positions were reversed, i.e. he’d been the former tutor who’d married a pupil, he could probably expect a knock on the door from Inspector Knacker and the Historical Fishing Party Squad; but they’re French, of course, and the French don’t get so hot under the collar about such things.

So, Le Pen may have lost this time round, but the challenge facing Macron, regardless of the blessing he’ll receive from Brussels, is to try to heal some of the gaping wounds French politicians have allowed to fester for a long time. If he doesn’t, he’ll find his opponent in 2017 (who is hardly the sort to disappear from the political scene with a whimper due to one defeat) will be more than ready to take him on again in 2022. The French electorate have resoundingly rejected the two dominant parties of the last half-century in this Presidential Election, so past loyalties can no longer be relied upon. Macron has quite a task on his hands, and if he isn’t capable of getting the job done, both he and his countrymen will suffer the consequences five years from now.

As for home soil, we’ve nothing to be smug about…

© The Editor

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

ROCK ON!

One of the most contentious issues during the EU Referendum was – it goes without saying – immigration, and specifically the subject of free movement within EU countries. However, the system that enables foreign nationals from other EU member states to be ‘fast-tracked’ into the UK to serve as convenient cheap labour – whether in a Sports Direct sweat-shop or as an au pair to Notting Hill twats – doesn’t necessarily mean they intend to put down permanent roots in Blighty. Many make as much cash as they can and then take it back home; but that fact was glossed over by those who stood to gain from their demonisation as it aided the Brexit cause.

We have been here before, though. Up until the Commonwealth Immigrants Act of 1962, all citizens of British colonies and overseas territories had full UK citizenship and were entitled to set up home in the Mother Country. Natives of nations with whom we had long-standing cultural and historical ties had been raised to believe Britain was their homeland, and those who arrived on these shores in the immediate post-war era contrasted with many recent ‘economic migrants’ in that their aim was to build new lives for themselves. Unfortunately, that didn’t prevent racial tensions in areas that experienced high immigration levels in the 60s and 70s. Further moving of the goalposts, not especially aided by the inflammatory language of Enoch Powell, came with other immigration acts in 1968, 1971 and 1981.

Those born in Hong Kong found their status as British subjects particularly affected by these changes; but Mrs Thatcher was aware of China’s impending takeover of our last imperial possession in the Far East and sought to stem an expected tide of immigration from Hong Kong, something that was heightened after the 1989 events in Tiananmen Square. Such circumstances didn’t – and don’t – apply to Britain’s lingering Mediterranean outpost, however. Gibraltar is also uncomfortably close to a large unfriendly neighbour with vague territorial claims, though there is no handover earmarked where Spain is concerned. As a consequence, the 30,000 strong population there is often more defiantly British than Britain itself.

Since being ceded to Britain in perpetuity as part of the 1713 Treaty of Utrecht – following its capture by an Anglo-Dutch force during the War of the Spanish Succession in 1704 – Gibraltar has been a permanent thorn in the side of relations between Britain and Spain, often surfacing in the most bizarre manner, such as accusations that General Franco ‘fixed’ it so that Cliff’s ‘Congratulations’ lost the 1968 Eurovision Song Contest to the Spanish entry at the eleventh hour. Its status as a British Overseas Territory may seem antiquated today, but its origins as such are very much in tune with how European powers settled disagreements in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, using the odd strategic island or peninsular as bargaining chips. Cyprus was acquired by Britain from the Ottoman Empire in not dissimilar circumstances.

The nascent Brexit negotiations have already thrust Gibraltar back onto the front pages; lest we forget, though, Gibraltar voted overwhelmingly in favour of Remain during the EU Referendum last year, being the first result to be declared that eventful evening – something that gave false hope to Remainers in the UK. The revelation that a clause in draft guidelines drawn up by Brussels mandarins suggests Brexit negotiations won’t include Gibraltar unless there is an agreement between Spain and the UK has provoked anger both here and on the Rock.

The draft negotiating guidelines state: ‘After the United Kingdom leaves the Union, no agreement between the EU and the United Kingdom may apply to the territory of Gibraltar without the agreement between the kingdom of Spain and the United Kingdom.’ In response, Andrew Rosindell, vice-chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group for Gibraltar, commented: ‘British people must and will stand together. We cannot be bullied by Spain. Any agreement must apply equally to the whole British family and that includes Gibraltar. There can be no compromise on this.’

Spain’s claims on Gibraltar have no more proper legal standing than Argentina’s claims on the Falklands, so to evoke the Spanish on this issue was guaranteed to enflame patriotic passions. Both Theresa May and Boris Johnson have responded to the EU proposals re Gibraltar by emphasising again that the concerns of the people of Gibraltar will not excised from the negotiations. And it’s worth remembering that Gibraltarians have twice voted overwhelmingly ‘no’ to shared sovereignty between the UK and Spain in referendums (in 1967 and 2002); moreover, the border between Spain and Gibraltar was only permanently opened after decades of petulance on the part of the Spanish when Spain joined the EEC in 1985.

If one excludes the Episkopi Cantonment enclave of Cyprus, essentially a military anomaly since the island’s independence in 1960, Gibraltar is unique amongst the fourteen remaining British Overseas Territories in that it is not some distant landmass in the Caribbean or South Atlantic, but essentially sits on Britain’s doorstep. Its presence during the EU Referendum may have seemed incongruous, considering it has no British Parliamentary constituency, but it certainly had a right to be there.

Whether or not one believes leftovers from the Empire should be ceded to their nearest neighbours, the Gibraltarians themselves are steadfast in their loyalty to the Crown and their preferences should be taken into account. It appears yet one more strand to the tangled web of Brexit needs to be dealt with sooner rather than later.

© The Editor

https://www.epubli.co.uk/shop/buch/48495#beschreibung

A MAJOR MISTAKE

Well, I wonder, have the ravens flown the Tower? Not as far as I know, but the sky isn’t raining a shower of bank notes down on the populace either. Theresa May today signed a document that could well define her time in Downing Street and could equally decide which direction the UK heads in for the next decade or so; nobody knows what will really happen – apart from Fleet Street, of course, which is telling us all exactly what we can look forward to; mind you, the Brexit battle bus did that too. The first step towards a not-so fond farewell to the EU is underway, but what precisely are we waving goodbye to?

John Major’s recent reappearance on the British political stage, following hot on the heels of his immediate successor Tony Blair, should have served as a potent reminder that what we now recognise as the European Union was established (and endorsed) during his premiership, rather than that of Edward Heath. Major’s early 70s PM predecessor tends to carry a great deal of retrospective blame for Britain’s eventful European adventure, though the Europe that Sailor Ted steered us towards had experienced a game-changing facelift in the thirty years since Heath himself had witnessed the devastation global conflict had wrought upon the continent.

The European Economic Community was an idealistic post-war project intended to do for European trade and industry what the United Nations intended to do for world peace; the triumph of the former, when measured against the limited success of the latter, naturally made it an attractive proposition to countries undergoing economic decline, with the UK foremost amongst them. Long before he led his party, Heath (unlike many Tories at the time) realised Britain urgently required a post-colonial role and he regarded membership of the EEC as the way to achieve one. It took the best part of a decade, but he eventually realised his ambition.

When Heath signed the Treaty of Accession on 22 January 1972 (with Britain’s membership of the EEC coming into effect on 1 January 1973), the bleak situation in Blighty appeared to vindicate his decision. Just two days before Heath signed on the dotted line, unemployment had topped the one million mark; a little over a week later, Bloody Sunday happened. The country was also in the middle of the first official miners’ strike since 1926, one spanning seven weeks and including the infamous forced closure of Birmingham’s Saltley Coke Works; with the nation’s power supply perilously close to running out, the Government capitulated and the NUM recognised the dangerous strength of the cards it held.

Britain’s entry into Europe was marketed as an exciting new dawn for the country; there was even a special concert staged at the London Palladium to mark the occasion, headlined by the biggest band in Britain at the time, Slade. But beneath the PR, there was concern that the nation was surrendering sovereignty to Brussels without the people being consulted; yes, the Treaty of Accession was debated in Parliament and at the party conferences in the months leading up to its ratification, but the electorate had no say in the matter. A shared economic policy with Europe seemed sensible on paper, but when the NUM flexed its muscles again barely a year after Britain joining the Common Market, the country’s fortunes plummeted once more and Heath was out of office.

Following the EEC Referendum instigated by Harold Wilson’s Government in 1975, Britain’s position at the European table in the immediate years after was largely marked by debates over the size of sausages, the imperial Vs metric weights-and-measurements argument, and other silly season stories that were recycled whenever the UK required a lazy scapegoat to attribute its ills to. Margaret Thatcher rarely disguised her antipathy towards the EEC, securing the UK Rebate in 1985 that allowed Britain to reduce its contribution to the organisation’s budget; but it was her successor at No.10 whose actions one could say directly led us to where we are today.

When Britain became a member of the Common Market (on the same day as Ireland and Denmark), the membership of the EEC totalled nine nations; by 1986, only three more had been added. Twelve seemed a nice manageable number, but the dramatic alteration of the continent following the collapse of the Eastern Bloc in the early 90s not only ruined the Eurovision Song Contest; it had a considerable impact on the EEC. Moves to enlarge the remit of the EEC beyond mere economic issues had been afoot for a long time, but the newly independent nations queuing up to join after the fall of the Berlin Wall presented the Brussels powers-that-be with the opportunity for expansion they’d been looking for, the chance to build the United States of Europe that Churchill foresaw decades before.

John Major was the third successive Tory PM whose term in office was marked by arguments over Europe. When the Maastricht Treaty was drafted at the end of 1991, the prospect of greater European integration and the introduction of a shared currency filled many with horror, albeit not Mr Major. The main opposition to the implementation of Maastricht came from within his own party, the so-called Maastricht Rebels, as well as some members of his Cabinet, whom Major referred to as ‘the bastards’. His Government’s small majority (18) was compounded by 22 rebels, who spent the best part of a year deliberately sabotaging every attempt by Major to get the job done.

Mercifully, Major resisted signing the UK up to the Euro, though Blair was keen for a while; Maastricht was eventually ratified, however, and the bureaucratic monolith that is the EU came into being proper. Maastricht created what we are now divorcing ourselves from, rather than the 1957 Treaty of Rome, and further national powers being devolved to Brussels came with the amendments inherent in the 1997 Treaty of Amsterdam, followed by the Treaties of Nice and Lisbon.

John Major may well have misread the aims and intentions of the EU when Maastricht was drafted, but I don’t believe he was/is that stupid; he must have known what it would amount to and how difficult it would be for the UK to extract itself from the monster Maastricht manufactured. If any single individual could be said to have sold Britain’s sovereignty down the river – if indeed one views membership of the EU as representing just that – it was John Major, not Ted Heath.

© The Editor

https://www.epubli.co.uk/shop/buch/48495#beschreibung

TRIGGER WARNING

I really honestly do not miss David Cameron at all; but I confess I miss taking the piss out of him. He was such a gift – a posh boy desperately trying not to be a posh boy and failing miserably, albeit hilariously. Blair might have looked like the archetypal trendy vicar twit when armed with his guitar, but it was impossible to doubt his deluded sincerity in genuinely believing it made him ‘cool’. By contrast, whenever Dave had a crack at playing the pleb, whether pretending to enjoy a pasty or deciding his favourite football team wore claret-and-blue (West Ham or Aston Villa?), he so was clearly chronically uncomfortable that watching him squirm was comedy gold.

Yes, there’s still Boris to send up, but Boris has cleverly created a character in which it appears he’s already sending himself up long before you get the chance to do likewise. The Foreign Secretary took the joke toff route from day one and has got away with it because being Bertie Wooster is a canny strategy; the Proles can suppress their instinctive antagonism towards the upper classes if the aristocracy’s poster boy is a superficially harmless bumbling buffoon who can laugh at himself along with the rest of us.

Which leaves us with the Duchess of Dullsville, Theresa May, the middle-class God-bothering matron of British politics. Of course, those who put her where she is (not the electorate, of course) regarded her as ‘a safe pair of hands’, that Westminster code-word for someone who inspires little more than a shrug of the shoulders and a yawn in a crisis like the one taking place during her swift rise to power. In the panicky, post-Referendum cauldron of last summer, the frightening prospect of an untrustworthy little backstabber like Gove, an unknown nonentity like Leadsom, or bloody Bo-Jo being given the keys to No.10 meant May seemed the only sensible option. Her talent for provoking indifference proved to be her secret weapon as she sneaked in on the inside and slipped past the finishing post.

Ironically, May’s invisibility during the Referendum campaign and her ‘don’t quote me on that’ caution when it came to publicly supporting the Remain camp – a stance surpassed only by Jeremy Corbyn’s own dynamic role in proceedings – has resulted in the responsibility for extracting the UK from the EU matrix falling on her shoulders rather than a prominent Brexiteer like Gove. It’s no wonder the most fervent Europhobes in the Conservative Party have frequently expressed doubts as to the strength of her commitment to the cause. Europe has been the single most divisive issue in Tory circles for forty years, yet overseeing the far-from simplistic process is not in the hands of someone who has decried the European Union throughout her career but someone whose dedication to the task has largely been limited to saying ‘Brexit means Brexit’ a lot since she became PM.

However, this is the week, or should I say the week, when Theresa May switches from Mrs Bouquet to Boudicca; yup, it’s all about to get exciting! The language used to describe ‘the triggering’ of Article 50 is evidently intended to add some Ian Fleming-penned thrills and spills to what is essentially a dull diplomatic procedure, as though Article 50 is a huge missile secretly nestled beneath the rim of a dormant volcano. Agent 006½ has bravely battled her way through an army of EU bureaucrats guarding said missile and now stands poised to launch it at the dark heart of Brussels by triggering the mechanism that has kept it immobile since 1975. Whatever you do, don’t miss this heart-stopping, page-turning adventure when it’s serialised in this week’s Daily Mail!

The problem with this particular Bond movie – ‘From Maidenhead with Love’ or ’Doctor Don’t-Know’ – is that it threatens to be the longest-running episode in the entire series, lasting so long that even the most diehard Bond fan won’t sit through the credits for the ‘James Bond will return in…’ pointer to the next adventure at the end. Naturally, none of this boring detail accompanied the straightforward Remain/Leave option on the ballot paper last June, though probably because nobody behind the decision to stage the EU Referendum planned for the possibility of a Leave vote, something David Davis virtually confirmed a couple of weeks ago; and he’s one of the three men entrusted to deal with it.

Wherever one stands re this issue – Union Jack waistcoat-wearing Euro-sceptic or placard-waving Remoaner – the decision of the majority, for good or ill, was final and now has to be enacted. That the enacting of this decision has left the Government floundering in unfamiliar waters is testament to their woeful lack of preparation and hardly fills one with confidence over their ability to deliver the best outcome for the country. Not that Theresa May appears unduly concerned. She’s keeping calm and carrying on.

The PM is obviously doing her best to project positivity, but her assertion that Brexit will make the UK a more united nation flies in the face of such basic evidence to the contrary that her public opinion borders on delusional. Britain right now is probably more divided on social, economic, racial, religious and nationalist grounds than it has been at any time since the early years of Thatcher’s reign; the seeds for this division were planted long ago, but the idea that two long drawn-out years exiting the EU will somehow serve as a tonic for the nation’s ills is laughable. It may well make those outside of London, Scotland and Northern Ireland happy, but unless all three shut up and put up, the European Union isn’t the only union we’ll be waving bye-bye to en route to the Promised Land of 2019.

© The Editor

https://www.epubli.co.uk/shop/buch/48495#beschreibung