The Amazing Mr Johnson and his gang of dissemblers

They really don’t care do they? From the dissembling team that lied through their teeth in order to persuade a gullible public that we should leave the EU we have had more than five years of reputation shattering mendacity. It’s not their reputations that have been destroyed, it’s ours as a credible nation.

Truth is what they can con us into believing is true. Johnson has being doing it all his life. To his school, his university, his employers , his spouses and his friends. It would take a Barbara Highsmith to imagine the Amazing Mr Johnson , fantasist to his bootstraps.

And what about the Cabinet ? They’ll have what Boris is having. Not one of them has the guts to stand up for principled governance. Do the wrong thing. Lie about it. Do it again. Denial is their watchword.

Modern governments have powerful propaganda tools at their disposal and when there is largely a lapdog media nobody holds them to account. The hospital nonsense is a classic. I think most of us know what a new hospital is despite their rarity. It isn’t a new wing any more than a new classroom would be a new school. But heigh it is because we say it is.

Will the ignominious defeat of the US and Britain in Afghanistan finally put the Neoconservatives back in their box?

Back in 2001, the Bush administration identified two objectives for its response to the attacks on the Twin Towers and Pentagon. First was suppression of international terrorism, explicitly al-Qaeda. Second was a cynical exploitation of the outrage as a pretext to deploy American might, to secure control of the region.” Max Hastings in The Times

Whilst the objective of the Iraq war in 2003 was openly “Regime Change” in the very early days after 9/11 the objective for the American (and Allied) military action in Afghanistan two years earlier was more limited – the pursuit of Al- Qaeda , especially, it’s leader Osama bin Laden. As the Taliban, the de facto Government of Afghanistan, refused to hand over bin Laden in effect regime change became the goal – as it was to be later in Iraq.

The false dawn of effective Regine Change in Iraq was been matched in countless other failed and deadly interventions

“Regime Change” is the foreign policy part of an ideology often referred to as “NeoConservative”. NeoConservatives believed that military power can legitimately be used by America and other democracies to target anti-American/Western regimes especially those with “leftist” or ideological Islamic militant governments/dictatorships in control.

Historically the Regime change imperative is sometimes traced back to President Wilson who “wished to make the world safe for democracy” and more recently to President Kennedy who in his inaugural address said “Let every nation know, whether it wishes us well or ill, that we shall pay any price, bear any burden, meet any hardship, support any friend, oppose any foe to assure the survival and the success of liberty.”

Both Wilson and Kennedy were Democrats so we are in theory well away from any Hard Right Neoconservatism. But we could in the past definitely observe an underlying political bias in the US in favour of “liberty” and against anti democratic forces. The American organised Bay of Pigs failed invasion of Cuba in 1961 was anti Fidel Castro who was a self-proclaimed Marxist-Leninist. But Castro was in reality a liberty-denying dictator for whom power was far more important than ideology – as it usually is.

The nobility of Kennedy’s words looks less so when you look at the reality. Was there “liberty” in the Soviet Union. Of course not. Did the US “pay any price, bear any burden” to establish it ? No again. The war remained “Cold” – the survival of the human race required that it did, though the Cuban Missile Crisis was a close run thing.

Sanctions can be effective as can western military expenditure in part designed to bankrupt the “enemy” who hasn’t the capability economically to match it. The West did force the end of the USSR in this way, but Russia remains a liberty-free zone. As, of course, does its fellow world power China.

The “deployment of American might”, as Max Hastings calls it, ensured back in the 1940s that Europe became free from tyranny, or at least the Western part of it did. But this selectivity left Eastern Europe under the yoke, albeit a different yoke. Since then it’s been mostly downhill. From Korea, via Vietnam to Afghanistan and Iraq American military intervention has been disastrous. If the NeoCons had had their way Iran would have joined this list.

Will the ignominious defeat of the US and Britain in Afghanistan force a change of tack and finally put the Neoconservatives back in their box? It should. Meanwhile it’s China which is quietly establishing a hegemony. It won’t be long before we see the Chinese bearing not Arms but Gifts in Afghanistan. The two countries actually share a common border in Afghanistan’s Wakhan Province. Not many people know that.

If “The Hundred” becomes established it’s rivals, especially in domestic cricket, will wither and die. Yes each man kills the thing he loves.

In 1978 the London Symphony Orchestra released the LP “Classic Rock” which was a collection of pop songs given the symphonic treatment. It wasn’t pop music and it wasn’t classical music. It was a hybrid and a tremendous success. A success based on some good tunes, well arranged and well marketed. Around the same time there were many other similar offers like the RPOs “Hooked on Classics”.

Purists were sniffy. They shouldn’t have been. Running an orchestra is a costly business and if “Beethoven’s Greatest Hits” sells (it did) what’s not to like?

These thoughts came to mind when I was considering my response to cricket’s “The Hundred”. Could it be argued that the adaptation of cricket that this tournament has been and its repackaging of the game for the elusive “new audience” is just like what happened to music as it was popularised (vulgarised some would say of course). Up to a point, but there is a crucial difference.

“Hooked on Classics” did not mean that there were fewer Symphony Concerts or Orchestras. Classical music fans could largely ignore it and the vast majority did. There was space enough for the bastard child whilst Symphony concerts, opera, the Proms and the rest carried on unaffected.

But with “The Hundred” it occupies space in high summer and the school holidays which was previously occupied by the Counties. Grounds and players are turned over to a tournament played by teams with no traditions and in a format played nowhere else in the world.

Many of us will ignore “The Hundred” because of what it is – a vulgar parody of the historic great game of cricket. But it’s there – noisy, simplistic, trivial and trite. It’s the Andre Rieu of cricket without the subtlety. Once you let the Goths and the Vandals in you’ll never get rid of them.

Cricket has always been more than just a business. But as T20 tournaments in India, Australia and elsewhere have shown there’s a buck to be made. The irony is that if a new audience has in part been tapped they haven’t experienced real cricket but a mutant variety of it. They won’t say “I enjoyed that, I’ll go to a County Championship game or a Test Match”.

County cricket at Taunton. A thing to love.

English cricket has been impoverished by The Hundred. Evolutionary science shows that the stronger species always wins. If the Hundred becomes established it’s rivals, especially in domestic cricket, will wither and die. Yes each man kills the thing he loves. And when it’s gone – that’s it. RIP.

Extinction Rebellion – strong on opposition, weak on solutions

Extinction Rebellion

Extinction Rebellion will be having one of their often very aggressive protest demonstrations this week. They are usually loud on what they don’t like but quiet on solutions. They certainly tell us who they don’t like – it includes people like me who spent my whole career working for an oil company!

The key consideration in almost any public policy issue is to have a realistic grip on timescale. For climate change and its effects that timescale is very long term indeed. Some actions taken today may not have any noticeable effects for a decade or more. Politicians doing “good things” want instant results so that they can boast about them. Equally they are reluctant to take tough decisions that could be electorally unpopular. So there’s often a lot of hot air, but very little action.

We could cut road mileage by 4% overnight as the Tony Blair Institute suggests if we had the guts substantially to raise tax/duty on road fuels (petrol and diesel). Blair himself introduced a freeze on tax increases in the light of protests. This measure would be fair in that the biggest polluters (high mileage drivers) would have the biggest incentive to reduce their journeys, switch to public transport or electric vehicles.

Extinction Rebellion are either ignorant or disingenuous (probably both) in attacking Oil companies. These corporations are very small scale polluters themselves and their activities are very energy efficient. It is Big Oil’s customers that are the contributors to climate change – that’s you and me by the way. The days of oil companies creating demand are long gone. Their role is to satisfy demand not create it. This fact is largely ignored by the protesters as Shell, BP or Exxon are easier targets.

It’s humiliating and tragic to say they died in vain, but it’s true

We assembled the most incredible, technologically advanced alliance the world has ever seen, … and we are being defeated by an insurgency” Matthew Parris in The Times today.

More of the same

Yes, and what is worse, it happened before. President Biden was uncomfortable with the Vietnam parallels but they are precise. You do not beat determined but unconventional forces with a conventional army or with B52s. They disappear into the hills, regroup and come back to hit you when they choose to.

You also do not win when your own public turns against you. The cumulative effect of body bags and military funerals is understandable revulsion. The war for the hearts and minds of parents and spouses of the fallen, and of the public at large, was lost as the futility of the enterprise became daily more obvious.

It was not the Taliban that perpetrated 9/11 and the terrorists were not Afghanis . The Taliban did not do a Pearl Harbour. The justification for attacking them was weak. The same had applied decades earlier to the Vietcong. We never learn.

John Kennedy’s inaugural speech cast America in the role of moral policeman: “We shall pay any price, bear any burden, meet any hardship, support any friend, oppose any foe to assure the survival and the success of liberty”. It was stirring stuff but it was wrong. Korea was fresh in the memory as a fiasco, Vietnam rumbling to become another one. Might may be Right sometimes. But not if you have no post conflict plan – that was Iraq as well as Afghanistan.

Harold Wilson kept Britain from being dragged into Vietnam on America’s coat tails. Sadly Tony Blair failed to do the same. So Afghanistan became our tragedy too. They died in vain

Addendum: I have just discovered this interview that William Dalrymple gave about Afghanistan ten years ago ! Essential viewing.

A modern terrorist is as likely to operate from a house in Plymouth as from a cave in Afghanistan

The Americans have been in Afghanistan for very nearly twenty years. They didn’t charge in to defeat the Taliban dominated Afghan government but to kill Osama bin Laden. They made one hell of a meal of that and eventually had to go, uninvited, into Pakistan to do it. The West actually had no quarrel with the Afghan government initially other than that it gave a home to Al-Qaeda. A big “other” admittedly.

The Neocons changed a specific task driven invasion into Regime Change. As in Iraq this has ended in disaster. The US has a long record of failure in its Regime change ambitions. To defeat a government or system you disapprove of may be a noble thing but it can and usually does have unintended consequences. Around the world there are some pretty sordid governments of which the Taliban was just one. Will the US at last learn that it has neither the diplomatic skills nor the capability or the local and international support and credibility to be the planet’s moral policeman?

The evidence of 9/11 was, of course, that Al-Qaeda operating from Afghanistan and protected by the Taliban was an existential threat to the world. But removing its head may not have removed the threat. To have the Taliban restored increases the risk but the extent of this is unknown. A modern terrorist is as likely to operate from a house in Plymouth as from a cave in Afghanistan.

For the West still to be spouting certitudes about freedom and democracy and point the finger, or a weapon, at governments it doesn’t like is surely passé, as well as dangerous. America’s diplomacy is also at a low point. Teddy Roosevelt said “Speak softly and carry a big stick”. Neither seems to work any more.

Some reflections on VJ Day 15th August 1945

Philip E Briggs. VJ Day reflections

Dad wasn’t a hero. He would have been disapproving of the ubiquity of the whole “Help for Heroes” thing which suggests that as soon as you put on a military uniform you become heroic. He volunteered in 1941 because he had a sense of duty – the vast majority of the British people, one way or another, did the same thing. He was an intelligent, fit young man (24) about to be married and a few years into a career as a Transport Manager. That was his thing, he was good with vehicles. Quiet. Good at sport. Honourable. Decent. The Army gave him a commission and allocated him to the Royal Army Service Corps, who did transport. He married as planned and then, like thousands of others, he was in a troop ship bound for…? He didn’t know, and it changed along the way but in early February 1942 he found himself in Singapore one of those sent to reinforce the garrison island. Not great timing.

In the days before Singapore fell Dad was involved in the action. But it was a hopeless cause. The British and Commonwealth troops were rounded up, placed first in Changi, and then moved to Thailand where work on the Thai/Burma railway began. It was to be a year before my mother, who was pregnant and expecting their first child in April knew his fate. At the end of March, six weeks after Singapore fell, she had a communication saying that Dad was “missing”. Over a year later, on April 3rd 1943, she finally received a telegram from the War Office that he was a Prisoner of War.

On VJ Day, 15th August 1945, my mother celebrated in a muted way. She was not to know Dad’s fate until 10th September when a cable confirmed that he was on his way home. He sailed from Rangoon on the 32 year old HMT Orduna on 21st September and arrived in Liverpool on 19th October. He had been away from England, and my mother, for nearly four years.

As with so many Far East Prisoners of War Dad rarely talked about his experiences. I know that he was involved in the Camp radio – he kept an earphone in his shoe. I know that he was part of a small group of Officers who made contact with Thai locals to smuggle some food into the Camp. I know that if he’d been discovered in these activities he’d have been shot – or worse. Somehow he survived. He survived privations that books like the Booker prize-winning “The Narrow Road to the Deep North” describe so graphically. Officers had a better chance of survival than other ranks. Young, fit men perhaps survived better than older ones. But luck played its part. The serendipity of his incarceration and survival didn’t turn my father into a hero. He lived to be 75 . He lived a fulfilling life after the War. He never forgot what he’d been through. And he never forgave his captors.

Some brands and some people are too soiled ever to recover

The Times today muses today on the PR challenge presented by Prince Andrew. Having worked for a while in PR for a major brand I would say that the only option is to tell the truth. If you don’t someone will find out and what is bad becomes disastrous. The art of apology is a tricky one to learn when pride is a dominant element. How often do we hear phrases like “I’m sorry if anyone is offended by my actions” when the proper wording should be “I’m sorry that my actions caused offence” – subtly but crucially different.

I’ve met Andrew a couple of times and found him thick and pompous. Power is different in all cases but in his case it seems to come solely from position rather than achievement. His Falklands war service may be praiseworthy – I’ve no idea. But there’s not much else on the credit side. A PR nightmare is to have to promote a brand with few or any positive values.

John Profumo, a good man brought down by a sordid liaison and mendacity, devoted the rest of his life to good works. He sought no publicity and made no attempt at public rehabilitation. I doubt that this is a model for Andrew – one cannot imagine him quietly doing good. 

The “MeToo” movement has been a good thing in that it has shown how even the rich and famous can be held accountable for their actions. PR has to be based on truth but even then some brands and some people are too soiled ever to recover.

That Elizabeth Windsor has been a good monarch does not make the undemocratic system that makes her our head of State have merit

If you want to read Mr Forsyth’s article it’s here, but I don’t recommend it !

Voting and choosing those who govern us is quite a good thing. Fallible of course if the electoral system is undemocratic (Britain’s is) or if the candidates are poor (likewise). But better than dictatorship and/or government by appointment or hereditary right.

That Elizabeth Windsor has been a good monarch does not make the undemocratic system that makes her our head of State have merit. There is something about a Republic that is morally comforting especially if the President’s role is ceremonial and apolitical – as in Germany or Ireland for (good) example.

We have been a couple of accidents away from having Andrew Windsor as our Head of State a thought that should concentrate the mind. As should memories of the ghastly Edward VIII. Yes Republics can elect dangerous fools but in the main in modern times the system doesn’t throw up Trumps. Andrew, aside from any moral inadequacies, was a joke as a representative for Trade. I saw him close up in this position and he was an arrogant, pompous, ignorant cypher. The idea that Britain would benefit from his “Hosting drinks receptions on a new national flagship” (as Forsyth suggests) is satire worthy of Monty Python.

There is so much needing change in our governance system and I would accept that moving to become a Republic is not an urgent priority. Abolishing the House of Lords as presently constituted and introducing a fair electoral system are higher priority. But one day we may have the courage to abolish the monarchy. I hope we do.

How Brexit is the result of a modern day “Elders of Zion” conspiracy

David Aaranovitch in the Times today records how it was a Times journalist, Philip Graves, who, one hundred years ago, bust open “The Jewish Peril” conspiracy and proved it to be fiction,

A hundred years ago, as now, life was confusing – maybe it always is? There are two responses to confusion – to hide or to enquire. What those who seek to benefit from ignorance do is pitch a solution that removes the need for the hard work of enquiry. And they do it with such vigour and noise that even those hiding cannot ignore it.

The “Europe is to blame” deception is a modern day “Elders of Zion” . A small group of politically motivated men and women decided that a route to power was to offer a solution to people’s concerns – especially about the influence of not Jews, but foreigners generally and Europeans in particular.

And so the “Leave the EU”movement was born. The goal was “to subvert the world order and replace it with their own.” Well maybe not the world order, but certainly the British bit of it.

The driver of the revolution is always lies. Tyrants cannot gain power by telling the truth only by distorting it, and by invention. The “Elders” of the European Union were power mad bureaucrats bent on creating a superstate with ultimate power over brave little England. It too was “twaddle” and “balderdash” but it presented a credible explanation to help us resolve our confusion.

We too have had our Philip Graves, many of them, proving that a conspiracy to gain power was underway. But they were ignored by too many as the participators in the fraud gained support. The waving of the flag and the raw appeal to patriotism was decisive. Brussels was the enemy. 🇬🇧