“We must not turn our backs on the Afghans” says William Hague in The Times today. Can he really not see that in the post-war era Western interventions in the internal affairs of independent countries have been an unmitigated disaster? With one or two exceptions American and often British military action in pursuit of some specious high-sounding goal like “freedom” have resulted in outcomes which were worse than the start point.
In my lifetime Korea, Vietnam, Suez, Iraq, Afghanistan and countless other adventures have been long on pompous rhetoric but short on effectiveness – often tragically so. America has in theory the military strength to be the policeman of the Western conscience but, as we saw in Asia and the Middle East more than once, not the strategic nous to know how to win.
The Taliban is like the Vietcong a flexible pragmatic force which can disappear into the hills whenever it needs to, regroup and fight another day. In Iraq the sheer power of America backed by Britain’s largely token forces overthrew Saddam alright. Leaving still unresolved chaos behind, tens of thousands dead and continuing instability. Not to mention hundreds of bereaved American and British families.
President Biden is right to recognise that the American dream of honourable defence of liberty, articulated so eloquently in John Kennedy’s inaugural address in 1960, has proved to be bunkum. And the British Government should get real as well and realise that our obligations extend no further than the defence of our own borders. No more body bags returning from far away countries of which we know nothing please.
If we believe in Freedom of Speech, and so long as there is no public incitement of illegal acts, we have to tolerate these fools. It’s not illegal to be Katie Hopkins or David Icke.
I’m not going here to try and analyse or even condemn stupidity. I regret it, but struggle to find what to do. We live in an age of Fake News and have a head of Government who makes it up as he goes along. We recently had a President of the United States who added incomprehensible ranting to his manifest stupidity. What to do in both cases?
In 1939 Oswald Mosley held a massive rally at Earl’s Court spouting his usual vile but not illegal (just) vitriol. It was largely unreported in the media (Newspapers and Radio). There’s a clue here. Publicity seekers who get no publicity might just eventually give up. I couldn’t avoid La Hopkins if I tried. But if the media had said “Let’s show a few doctors talking about saving lives” rather than showing Katie Nobrain might that have worked ? Just a thought.
Interesting that Hugo Rifkind mentions France at the beginning of his piece on “Freedom” in The Times today saying that the French are different. Those twenty miles of the Channel really do keep us apart from the rest of the world eh? Except of course they don’t. No outpouring of good old English exceptionalism can obscure the truth that what is “freedom” one side of the Channel is also freedom the other side. Freedom is not a British value – it’s universal.
Rifkind demolishes the anti-vax brigade comprehensively and rightly in his article. But then he fails to point out that those who object to carrying and showing proof of their vaccination status are just as bad as the anti-vaccers. That isn’t defence of freedom one tiny bit, it’s insular and selfish arrogance.
The NHS letter showing your vaccination record is clear and uncontroversial. I’ve posted mine on social media to explain why it is a wholly benign document. To suggest that there is any loss of freedom if someone entitled to asks me to show it is perverse.
There is such a thing as society and we are all more than just being entire in ourselves and our families. We have a duty of care that goes beyond the walls of our home. Every day I leave my home, as well as when I’m in it, I must obey society’s laws. Society would descend into anarchy if there were no restraints on our freedom to act.
The virus is a deadly and unprecedented threat to us all and we all know families that have been devastated by the loss of someone dear to it. It is the duty of Government to protect us. If the judgment is that to have and show proof of vaccination is desirable to help do this let’s get off our high horses and accept the minuscule loss of freedom involved.
This is fascinating and checks with my own memories. We Brits were a beer and spirits (mostly beer) nation in my early childhood. My parents went to the pub and drank beer. My Nan drank Gin and French (and anything else actually) but we rarely had wine.
Then in the late 1950s Mum and Dad started to holiday abroad and wine started to appear at home, mostly for high days and holidays. Brands like Nicholas and Chianti in straw clad bottles appeared in the off licence and, roughly from when I got married in 1969, the beginnings of a wine culture started.
In the 1970s wine was still elitist, expensive and snobbish. But gradually the choice widened and imports exploded. The supermarkets stocked wine on their shelves and value brands from around the world became available. For wine consumption to today equal that of beer is remarkable, and slightly worrying – a litre of wine has rather more alcohol than a litre of beer!
Britain has the most varied wine choice in the world. Other big wine consuming nations like America, France, Italy or Australia have their own indigenous winemakers and consumers tend to stick to these. In the U.K., whilst we do now make now some good local wine, 98% is imported and the wine world beats a path to our door. In my wine rack you can find bottles of wines from ten different countries quite often (they only stay briefly in the rack).
Wine today is far less snobbish and much better value. It’s also far better to drink! The norm now is to drink wine young – even some Bordeaux reds are now drunk only a year or two old and far better for it. Supermarkets, and not just the posher ones, have excellent wine choices and value for money. The tend towards screw top closures is a positive one, though I now have a battery operated corkscrew for the traditionally cork sealed bottles!
In The Times today Matthew Parris compares Johnson’s COVID gamble with Margaret Thatcher’s Falklands. It’s an interesting analogy, though I think a false one. Parris exaggerates the risk of failure in the South Atlantic in 1982. The United States played a crucial often covert role in supporting Britain. Had the Task Force got into serious trouble the US would have upped her involvement to a more military one. It may have been the beginning of the end for the Old Alliance in the 1980s but it was still there, just.
Today Britain is friendless, an extraordinary state of affairs when looked at historically. In 1956 at Suez we at least had the French and the Israelis – but the Americans thought we were mad, said so, and the game was immediately up.
The Britain without allies after Suez is strongly analogous to the Britain without friends today. Try and find nations that support us, let alone want to copy us, on COVID and you’ll look in vain. In 1956 we hung out the flags and the media was mostly behind Eden. So it is today for Johnson with the dash for “freedom” – for now. The support for Britain’s dishonest attempt to unravel the Northern Ireland protocol is also totally absent beyond the Orangemen. Crucially President Biden, like his predecessor over Suez, thinks Britain is wrong.
Having rejected a formal partnership and economic ties with Europe the “Belarus” option is in play. That country is the only other European nation other than Britain to go it alone. We are increasingly like the fans of Millwall FC seeming to delight in the fact that everyone hates us.
Britain Contra Mundum is then far from new. Suez, The Falklands, Iraq and other adventures had little or no support from allies and friends. But COVID is different, it’s a global enemy demanding global solutions. Not a time for English exceptionalism you’d think. But that’s what we’ve got. Similarly we are actually putting at risk the Good Friday Agreement with our volte face in Northern Ireland. The similarities between these two acts of stupidity and treachery are that people will die unless somebody stops our reckless Prime Minister in his tracks.
There is an excellent leader in The Times today. In response I would sat that the biggest disease in these shores for five years has been English exceptionalism driven by a separatist and nationalist ideology.
Increasingly we resemble Millwall Football Club whose fans proudly proclaim the slogan “Nobody Likes Us and We Don’t Care”. Britain’s international reputation has never been lower. At the heart of this is ignorance and arrogance. As The Times says it’s a “bold and chaotic experiment”. England is a giant Petri dish.
The world is like a millipede with 99 legs moving in one direction and one in the opposite direction. We are the one hundreth leg. We eschew cooperation and do our own thing.
We will all have our coping mechanisms – at least the thinking amongst us will. As a double-vaccinated oldie I’m going nowhere. I won’t offer advice to others other than to say listen to the scientists and then decide. I am conscious, though, that the facile decision to put the recovery of the economy ahead of protecting the people means that many will be obliged to return to work before it is safe to do so.
The consequences of this further and culpable mismanagement of the pandemic, both collectively and for bereaved families, are tragic. There’s not much to be proud of in Little England. Lack of Leadership is matched by Lack of Logic. I don’t think that we have become ungovernable, but we are close. We are certainly ungoverned though.
David Aaranovitch in The Times today looks at Johnson/Cummings with a wry eye and with a fair degree of “WTF”.
When Michael Gove made his famous remark demeaning experts I was puzzled – even for Gove it seemed a strange, populist load of intellectually deficient detritus. Now I realise it was a statement of Government policy.
Dominic Cummings has revealed (a) Nobody in Government knew what they were doing and (b) the experts who did know what to do were often marginalised or ignored.
As with Brexit the people pulling Johnson’s strings were the Conservative Right – what Cummings referred to as the “Leave” campaigners. Also the ERG, the anti May coup organisers. We know who they are. (Now, incidentally, they argue to tear up the NI Protocol. Johnson obeys.) And they are in charge.
The string-pullers are the antithesis of “experts” driven not by science and logic but plotters driven by ideology and prejudice. Their numbers were boosted in the 2019 General Election when the Conservative benches were boosted by the arrival of shallow Johnson cheerleaders not overburdened with grey matter.
It takes something for those charged with a national emergency to make it worse. But when that failure is compounded by an unwillingness to listen , dishonest statements, delayed action that was deadly and a contempt for substantial cohorts of the population you know we were, and are, in trouble.
Danny Finklestein, who knows a bit about the subject, looks at Prime Ministers Questions in his Times piece today.
The question I’d ask the Prime Minister is whether he can’t or he won’t answer questions. That he doesn’t is not open to debate but whether this insouciance is just a subset of his arrogance or whether he really has completely lost the plot it’s hard to tell. If the latter a follow up should explore why.
Is Johnson’s failure to answer laziness ? Early onset dementia ? Substance abuse ? Some combination of manifest personality defects and declining mental powers ? It’s hard for the more distant observer to tell.
At his best Keir Starmer tears Johnson apart. But even this brilliant QC seems sometimes to show compassion as his opponent waffles incoherently on. Key players in this Parliament should be the Speaker, who is weak and servile, and Tory backbenchers who are obsequious or thick – generally both.
So PMQs are unwatchable as the PM like Archie Rice in “The Entertainer” tries an act that might once have worked but doesn’t. any more. The jokes are tired, he often forgets the punchline, and he is openly contemptuous of his moronic audience, at least on his side of the House.
Boris Johnson is different from any other Prime Minister in living memory. Watching Dominic Cummings’ BBC interview made one realise how different. And not in a good way. And yet despite his obvious inadequacies he seems fireproof. In normal times a PM so manifestly incapable of answering questions about his job, let alone doing it, wouldn’t survive. Johnson seems to prosper.
In an age when image succeeds more than substance freaks abound. The Music Hall of public life is packed with strange people doing very strange turns. In the heydays of the Halls the great performers , however strange, packed ‘em in. Now the Rees-Moggs, the Patels and the Johnsons (and the rest) are just walking shadows – poor players who strut and fret upon the stage telling idiot’s tales full of sound and fury signifying nothing.
John Osborne used “The Entertainer” as a metaphor for Britain’s decline at the time of Suez. Sixty years on that decline is almost complete. The Union is on its last legs. We are adrift from Europe. The special relationship across the Pond, like the Empire, is long gone. We are diseased and dispirited. And our head of Government whilst waving his flag and encouraging us to clap loudly forgets that he’s the caretaker of a very old ill-maintained building and that it’s unwise to make too much noise.
“In their different ways, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland have an ambivalent relationship with Britain and Britishness. In each of the smaller territories, the prospect of being swept away by a tide of Englishness masquerading as Britishness concentrates minds.” Alex Massie in “The Times’ today.
Spot on ! I know what being Scottish is (I lived in Scotland for many years). But English can only be defined as British without the Celtic bits. “British” as meaningful disappeared with the Empire. The Celts, especially the Scots, were drivers of imperial ambition. But the “British” role post Empire has indeed been a masquerade.
I went to the 1966 World Cup at a time when we were (just) clutching on to the spoils of Empire, or a few of them. In the crowd the flag of St George was absent. The flag everywhere was the Union Jack. To be English and British was in every respect the same thing. Even the symbols.
The Scots and Welsh have always their own thing and St Andrew and St David have had a prominence St George was denied. The only glue holding Britain together was imperial glue.
Devolution has formalised the distancing that was already underway. Increasingly Britain as nominally constructed has no meaning. It is an anachronism. The U.K. Government’s attempts to hold the United Kingdom together are laughable. It’s already fallen apart.
The cliché of a post Brexit “Little England” is true despite its ubiquitous use. Geographically and economically England is far from “little” – it is indeed, as Alex Massie says, by far the dominant territory in the U.K. But emotionally the littleness of England is everywhere. The xenophobia, the arrogance , the pomposity, the vulgarity and the ignorance of the English is to see all around us.
Post the break up of the United Kingdom the English can put the delusion of Britishness behind us and like the Scots and the Welsh be “a nation again” . If this is approached with humility ( a big “if”) and if we find a way to re-embrace our Europeanness ( an even bigger “if”) the future should be bright.
Four united nations in these islands is in prospect and historically and culturally logical, and certainly achievable. We will have to find a way to describe the islands though as “British” as a concept withers on the vine.
For brainless idiots in their thousands to indulge in misbehaviour and abuse they have to be brainless in the first place and secondly the society in which they operate has to tolerate it. Our dysfunctional society does that. It accepts or ignores the endemic failure of education and at the same time the failure to have put in place checks and balances which stop stupid people doing stupid things. We are close to being ungovernable.
Let’s be clear – we are not talking about a tiny minority of hotheads here. Research points to a cohort , mostly ill-educated white males , for whom drunkenness and disruption is at the core of their behaviour. Football is one of the contexts in which their ignorance plays out. It is aggressive and provocative.
Somewhere along the way in their adolescence these people slipped under the educators’ nets and emerged dimwitted and dangerous. Then peer groups were formed which legitimised behaviour by numbers. One man walking up Wembley Way chanting abuse can be ignored. Hundreds banded together, identified by their dress codes and flags and fuelled by alcohol, cannot.
The gangs have to know what they are against, and they have to have scapegoats – a blame culture lies at the heart of their behaviour. Behaviour which can trip over into a form of mass hysteria. It’s not cerebral of course but it can be used by politicians or others to further their own ends. The “Football Lads Alliance” was less about football and more about far–rightpolitics. They were direct descendants of those who marched for Mosley or Powell.
Football hooliganism is not a modern phenomenon but the modern version we saw at Wembley is part of a wider present day societal malaise. Not all of the recent mobs had any political motivation – many were “just” out of control hooligans. But the lack of education and the lack of social norms and checks and balances lies at the core of the problem. When a drunken mob riots we have to look and our schools and our homes, our families and more generally at our society to help explain why.
The evidence provided by analysis of the 2019 election is clear. Forty-five percent of voters with “Low” education voted Conservative and a further 19% for the Brexit Party. The Tories by absorbing UKIP ( in practice if not in fact) had sewn up the working class voter and since then they’ve absorbed the Brexit Party as well. The Conservatives, now indisputably Hard Right, are utterly dominant in that cohort.
Of course I am not accusing all working class Tory voters of being potential hooligans. Most are law-abiding citizens. However it is reasonable to assume that with the Conservatives now being almost indistinguishable from Nigel Farage’s UKIP (2006 – 2016) this has provided a cover for prejudice, flag-waving nationalism and xenophobia to emerge. Hostility to our once European partners, swingeing reductions in overseas aid and aggressive treatment of refugees, asylum seekers and potential migrants is straight out of the UKIP textbook. As is the forced “repatriation” of residents, often illegally, as highlighted by the Windrush scandal.
This brings me to the other football-related phenomena of these troubled times. The racial abuse directed at black footballers and the booing of opponents’ national anthems and their players at international games. This is intolerance and open prejudice of a quite sinister type. The Prime Minister’s ambivalence on the booing of England players “taking the knee” provided further cover behind which the abusers hid. Priti Patel, the Home Secretary has said that football fans have a right to boo the England team for “taking the knee” – the Home Secretary has called it “gesture politics”.
Authoritarianism is an obvious cause of prejudice and the most vulnerable to authoritarian messages are the less well educated. The dictatorial often binary (“For us or against us” ) political imperative rejects political plurality – it is by its nature intolerant. But it provides a sort of certainty. Symbols enforce this certainty. To adapt Evelyn Waugh: “… a drunk politician should… put out more flags in order to increase his… splendour.”