I am observing, like most of us, events in the USA. This time last week, I shivered at that image of Theresa May, the UK Prime Minister, holding the hand of Donald Trump, President of the USA. OK, she held his hand to steady him as they walked down some stairs. He’s 70 after all.
I have struggled with Owen Smith, Labour’s leadership challenger and now rebel. But he has gone up in my estimation relating to the last week’s vote in the UK Parliament sanctioning the trigger for Article 50 – starting the process of exit.
Brexit in the context of Trump is a different proposition to the one at the time of the referendum in June 2016. Especially with UK International Trade Secretary, Liam Fox, being linked to Trump’s sinister corporate Dark Money (and notwithstanding Nigel Farage’s recent antics).
More significantly, however, is the realisation that we are all being hoodwinked by the Trump administration. Take, for example, Jon Snow’s tweet this morning where Trump has a go at his successor, Arnold Schwarzenegger, at the Apprentice reality TV show:
Now Jon Snow is a good journalist. Indeed, he will be running next week a series of programmes about fake news (maybe this is why he sent the above tweet). US journalists persist with the White House briefings and are lied to by Sean Spicer, Trump’s media spokesperson. But they persist. It really is the only world they know. But the issue is different: the protagonist has changed. There is plenty of fake news about, for sure. Blatant lies, yes. But these are distractions from what is really happening. The media is being distracted apart from Fox News, the source of news for most Trump’s supporters.
Time to wake up? It seems to me that the EU has woken up. Theresa May’s offer to act as a bridge between the EU and the USA was rejected. I’m undecided whether it was laughable that the British even offered to play this role in light of Brexit, or whether this is a maturing EU. An EU that realises that it will be the bulwark of democracy in the new world. The USA is going to be lost.
The UK at the moment is in a mess.
Daily I am subject to the effects of ongoing industrial action by two transport unions – one for train drivers, one for (what we used to call) guards. It being a privatised and fragmented railway network, this is happening in a single region, and hence the effects are localised. The objective for the railway workers is to run the trains safely (drivers have recently been given total responsibility for safety on trains, over-and-above the driving, which they argue is not safe). The same unions are in dispute with Transport for London over safety and staffing on the London Underground.
Last week it was the turn of the National Health Service. People are dying waiting to get into a hospital. The Government is now blaming General Practitioners, the primary carers. Seemingly because they do not provide a 7-day service, too many people are going to the emergency departments in hospitals at weekends and evenings.
Then there is my own profession, university teaching. The Government’s priority is to push ahead with a bill that enables private companies to award degrees and add further metrics to the practice of teaching. This progressively turns teaching into a proscriptive exercise rather than a learning experience. The arrival of private companies, it is argued, will provide choice in the ‘education market’ (as if there are not enough universities to provide choice) and innovate.
My take is this. With respect to the railway disputes, this is a Government that wants to impose new working conditions on railway workers that have the potential to make travel less safe. We have seen this before at privatisation, It can be deadly.
With regard to universities, the advent of 9000 pound fees per year changed the relationship between teaching staff and students. The fees effectively commodified learning and universities have been complicit in this. Private companies such as the large publishing houses want to control content and merge their content production with delivery. This will squeeze out any critical thinking.
As we have seen with Brexit, all is not what it seems. The Conservatives, with hindsight, were always Eurosceptic. They never embraced membership or tried to change it from within. The incoming Prime Minister, Theresa May, simply sees it as an opportunity. The opportunity to leave the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice and to control border (something that she failed to achieve as home minister in the Cameron Government). The mandate from the referendum is there, even if the damage done to the economy is significant. This is not about the economy, it is about nationalism.
And not unrelated is the situation with the National Health Service. It is the ultimate outcome of a postwar rejection of conservatism. A majority Labour Government in 1948 enacted legislation to enable healthcare to be provided free at the point of use. The UK conservatives see now their opportunity to end this once and for all. They have progressively been privatising it with many familiar private-sector firms cherry picking services (leaving the public sector with the difficult stuff like geriatric care and chronic illness). Now, the crisis that has erupted in recent weeks with Accident and Emergency services struggling, the blame has been put on General Practitioners who are opposing 7-day working. It is reported today that some are indicating their intention to leave the National Health Service. On the one hand, this looks like something that the Government cannot ignore. On the other hand, maybe it is just what they are looking for in order to introduce an insurance system?
Pictures: A lecture in progress in Leslie Soc-Sci building in theatre 2A.
I arrived in Munich last night to the delights of Pall Mall’s new campaign. The strap line is Enjoy the Moment. There are two posters doing the rounds – one of men (left) the other featuring a women and a man.
So, the scenario for the first one (left) is that the bloke on the left has lost a bet. The forfeit, however, is not what one might expect for a smoker, his life; rather the minor issue of his beard. I trust that his life ends in due course with ghastly lung disease.
The second one sees a woman in the foreground and a man in the background enjoying the rain (Pall Mall has a thing about women getting wet while smoking). “Schiet Wetter” goes the strapline (I think we can all translate that). Enjoy the moment. Two things I enjoy not very much. Being wet and cigarette smoke, other people’s,naturally.
It was in the UK General Election of 2015 that we seemingly encountered the concept of the dead cat. It was a campaign innovation by the Conservative Party’s campaign strategist, Linton Crosby (left). Essentially, throw the dead cat into the arena even if it is not a cat. Or dead. It does not matter. For most observers, it is a dead cat and it is the only thing that people can see. So, for example, linking Labour and the SNP – with Alec Salmond calling the shots. Never on, but enough to worry English voters (and possibly Scottish).
I mention this because this is the year that the implications of all of 2016’s successful dead cats – Brexit and Trump to name but two – will be realised. At least partially. Both fill me with foreboding – the former because of the apparent incompetence of the Government to manage the transition; the latter because…well, anxiety about a Trump presidency is natural, is it not? The bigger questions, however, are about how to counter the dead cat when it is thrown in to the arena and to understand the causes of the Brexit vote. I have short observations on both of these.
Let me deal with Brexit vote first. Over the Christmas break I read a very interesting academic paper with some poignant empirical observations. The paper is called “The 2016 Referendum, Brexit and the Left Behind: An Aggregate-level Analysis of the Result”. The authors are Matthew J Goodwin and Oliver Heath and is published in the Political Quarterly (Vol 87(3), July September 2016). This is an early peer-reviewed analysis of available data that the authors have interrogated to ascertain who were the key voters. This is a summary of what they found:
- There is a statistically significant positive correlation between (high) levels of education and propensity to vote Remain (excluding London and Scotland).
- The over 65s – particularly in areas where UKIP polled well in the 2014 European Parliament elections – significantly voted Leave. So, 19 of the 20 “oldest” local authority areas voted Leave. By contrast, 16 of the 20 “youngest” local authority areas voted Remain (Oxford and Cambridge are the youngest of these). The exceptions again are London and Scotland.
- Areas with the fewest recent immigrants from the EU that were most likely to vote Leave (for example, South Staffordshire and the West Midlands). Of the 20 local authority areas with the most EU migrants, 18 voted Remain.
- Those local authority areas that have experienced a sudden increase in the number of EU migrants over the last 10 years tended to me more pro-Leave.
What conclusions can be drawn from this analysis? The authors conclude that the Brexit vote was determined by a high turnout by older voters, those with lower educational qualifications and in lower-skilled jobs. Essentially, those “left behind” in terms of economic transformation and whose values are at odds with those of a “liberal elite”. I conclude that these are all political factors that successive UK governments have ignored.
So, what do I have to say about dead cats? I was listening to an excellent suite of programmes on BBC Radio 4 this week under the umbrella title of The New World. In the the first of these, Jo Fidgen examined the concept of post truth. In this programme, there were a few uncomfortable findings. It seems that we are all as likely as each other to disregard the truth particularly if we disagree (with it) and live with others who disagree. Most disturbing is the dead cat syndrome. Fidgen uses the example of a murder inquiry to make the point. An aristocrat has her jewelry stolen. The media report that the gardener had been arrested on suspicion of the theft. However, the gardener was released with no charge; but in a controlled experiment, on his release, a sample of people still believed that he was guilty, despite the no charge report. It was not until the media reported that the butler had then been arrested and charged that the people in the sample were prepared to believe that the dead cat gardener was in fact innocent. Truth is perhaps beyond political.
So, Gauloises is rehashing some of the imagery of its Vive le Moment advertising campaign. New taglines. I have seen a newer version of the women with moustaches on railway stations without having the option of taking a photo. But the young couple dancing in the street is completely new to me. What is going on here? Tagline is “Old Love, rejoined, new fire”. Erm….ok. So, young couple break up and get back together again with new energy, hence the dancing in the street. Enjoy the moment, for sure.
What I am confused about here is the law on advertising in Germany. In my previous post on the subject, it was clear that negative images of the effects of smoking were explicit with the foetus in the ashtray. But here, with the exception of the small black writing at the bottom “smoking is deadly” (upgraded from “smoking can be deadly”), all is idyllic.
A couple of days ago, I wrote a post flagging up the considered view of Professor John Gray on the potential motivation of voters in the USA and the election of Donald Trump. The underlying point of his “letter” is that economic factors rather than social factors account for the result.
This opinion is not shared by all, and for good reason. The ever-vigilent Mehdi Hasan – has looked at the available data on the demographic that voted for Trump. It may not be as clear cut as we had thought. In actual fact, he argues, those who have been left behind economically – despite the logic – were not those who voted Trump. Rather it was those who have done better than average under neo-liberalism who put him in the White House. And the disturbing conclusion is not that the election was decided on economic issues. It was pure racism.
I suppose that when the UK leaves the EU and Nigel Farage becomes PM at the behest of the US President, then cigarette advertising will be back on the streets of the UK as they are in Germany. The run up to Christmas is not the best time to see this particular species of advertising, but the Lucky Strike – Luckies – brand is loitering in U-Bahn Stations in Munich (left).
What is interesting about this one, notwithstanding its lack of imagination – good deal and thick, if my translation is up to it – is that it is forced to show something nasty on the front. Inside the black band on the packet is an ashtray with the ash forming the shape of a foetus. This is the first time that I have seen this on street posters. It raises the question as to whether the advertisers could have avoided this by not showing the packet? If they are able to do so, then this is an even more stupid billboard than I had first thought. If they cannot, how is the negative image going to be represeted on more alluring advertising such as that practised by Marlboro, Camel and Gauloises? I trust the answer will come like the answer to plenty of other potentially lethal questions (Trump, le Pen, Wilders) in the much-anticipated 2017!
After the Brexit vote I was grateful to a number of thinkers who had contributed to a week of short talks on BBC radio. I wrote about them here. The BBC revisited this format last week to help us to make sense of the US election. It was – as with Brexit – left to Professor John Gray to present a hard truth. I’ve taken the liberty of uploading it below.
The stark reality, for Gray, and I fear for the rest of us, is that (liberal) progressivism is not the norm in European human history. Autocracy and war are more representative of earlier times over the continent. Moreover, humanity may get into an autocratic and illiberal mindset – indeed, vote for it – because progressivism is itself partial. Essentially, not everyone benefits and progresses. And this comes back to bite society. The question for us is whether what we are experiencing in 2016 – and probably further into 2017 with elections in the Netherlands, France and Germany – a reversible phenomenon. John Gray, I sense, is not so sure.
Regular readers of this blog will already know my political philosophy. The election of Donald Trump as president of the United States of America is truly regressive. It represents not only an existential threat to liberals, people on the left and humanity more generally, but also a mortal threat to minorities, people of colour, LGBT, amongst others. In my lifetime, this is unprecedented. I grew up anticipating nuclear war – this was a time of Threads – in a bi-polar world of two ideologically-fuelled superpowers. But equally I grew up in a post-fascist world. This missing link, however, is about to be filled. Fascism has arrived.
The appeasement has started. With the noble exceptions in Europe of German Chancellor, Angela Merkel and French President Francois Hollande, world leaders waited for a call from Trump for an all-important opportunity to cosy up to him. The British Prime Minister, Theresa May, had to wait quite a while on Thursday – she was 10th on his list – to receive a call only to find that Nigel Farage, UKIP leader, got a very early selfie-opportunity (below left) to discuss “freedom and winning” with Trump in his eponymous tower.
The litany of regressive policy preferences for Trump is shocking. Trump is a climate change denier. To him, it is a hoax, despite all of the scientific evidence. Trump intends to pull out of the Paris Climate Change Accord that came into force on 4 November 2016 (but conveniently it was not ratified by the US Senate). This is an international agreement to hold global warming to no more than 2C above pre-industrial levels. It is a problem for Trump because his isolationist stance and job creation objectives require energy self-sufficiency through fossil fuels (oil, coal, gas and shale oil). The science points to a climate catastrophe involving fire, drought, desertification, flood, mass extinctions and rising sea levels. One man – and his like-minded cabinet – can render the planet uninhabitable even without nuclear weapons. Talking of which…
…Trump, in his election campaign, also asked – and I paraphrase – what the point of nuclear weapons is if they cannot be used. And similar to his belief in allowing guns into schools counter-intuitively to prevent mass shootings, he believes in nuclear proliferation for the same reason. At the very least we might finally confirm that Israel is a nuclear power and maybe it is time to expedite North Korea’s nuclear aspirations? Back to a Threads scenario, I think.
This fascism has consciously crept into the UK. There is no better example than the Daily Mail’s front page after three lawlords interpreted British law – as they had been asked to do by a British citizen – and noted that, constitutionally, the Prime Minister does not have the power to invoke Article 50 (the leave the EU mechanism) without the approval of the sovereign parliament. This decision is being appealed by the Government and will be heard next month. But Brexiters – led by UKIP leadership candidate, Suzanne Evans given a platform on Today (Radio 4’s flagship news and current affairs programme) – that Judges are trying to impede “the will of the people”; namely leaving the EU. Nothing of the sort. But Evans believes, seemingly, that independent judges should be subject to control by the parliament (the very same one that the Government does not want to inform about Brexit conditions).
This headline has fortunately had quite an impact. Stop Funding Hate is pushing to get advertisers to abandon newspapers that propagate hate as a matter of course. These titles include also The Sun, The Daily Express and The Daily Telegraph. Last week Lego stopped advertising with The Daily Mail (see below). The current effort is to put pressure on the John Lewis Partnership, a supposedly ethical employee-owned high-street retailer, to do the same. Its Christmas high budget mini film advertisements have become an anticipated festive season event in recent years. And they work. But some of the profit made goes into the pockets of these newspaper owners whose racist bile has undermined the fabric of British society’s values of tolerance, compassion and inclusiveness. John Lewis has so far responded with an anodyne statement (left) indicating that the company does not judge newspapers by their content. Fascist supporting, then? Customers need to know that. And we must stop normalising this thinking. They will come for us, too.
Finally, it is very difficult to enjoy comedy these days. Everything is beyond parody. Consistent throughout this US election campaign has been John Oliver. He tried hard to expose Trump’s fascism. His final show of 2016 screened on HBO on Sunday evening. Unfortunately it is not available in the UK to view. Some people have the means to Americanise their IP address. If you are one of these, I recommend. By the time the next series starts in 2017 he may have been deported (and HBO closed down).
The Divine Comedy is a self-confessed vehicle for Neil Hannon to embrace a passion for history, conventional and unconventional romance, surreal humour and outlandish orchestrations. Hannon is a fine musician, curious lyricist and showman – “I may act” he warned. This show was our fourth experience of the Divine Comedy, but only the second with a full band (previously we had seen Hannon perform alone with a piano and guitar at Somerset House and later in Cambridge). We have also seen him do Duckworth Lewis Method with Thomas Walsh in September 2013.
The first time we saw the Divine Comedy at a damp music festival in Inveraray, Hannon was clearly (and probably understandably) unhappy such that beer was thrown at the audience. Tonight, wine was actually offered to the audience in a glass (albeit to one lucky recipient in the front row). How things change.
Two observations. First, Hannon unusually did not play piano, only guitar. Second, I have never seen Hannon so relaxed despite a few technical sound issues that inexplicably accompanied the songs. One indicator of this was his dressing up routines. Staples in the repertoire, quite rightly, are the Complete Banker and Bang Goes the Knighthood. Both are propped with a bowler hat and an umbrella (the latter being particularly useful). Songs from the current album, Foreverland, benefit, it seems, from Hannon dressing up as Napoleon – two actually: the uncomfortably revelatory How can You Leave me on my Own? and To the Rescue (the latter gets a guest appearance from Billy Cooper and his trumpet). This is a little odd because the song about Napoleon, Napoleon Complex, did not get on to the running order, likewise the title track. Whilst I feared too much emphasis on the new album, it being the Foreverland tour, Hannon perhaps under-represented it. A Desperate Man, I feel, would have gone down a storm. But it was nice to duet Funny Peculiar with the enigmatic, charming and funny Lisa O’Neill, left, his support act (for some reason this reminds me of Dean Friedman and Denise Marsa’s Lucky Stars).
I find Hannon really frustrating at times. He writes great songs – Our Mutual Friend is epic and rendered so in this show. Sweden is a colossus. Though I do not know why (the Napoleon garb here seemed appropriate). Song of Love – does what it does better than any other. National Express takes us back to simpler times (albeit being a shade impolite to hostesses). Indie Disco is a clever temporal list of tunes that defined a generation. Tonight we Fly, flies absolutely as an encore. But why Hannon persists with the Frog Princess and Something for the Weekend, I do not understand. It is maybe something to do with imagination, fantasy, storytelling – all legitimate elements of the Hannon way. Count Grassi’s Passage Over Piedmont, one of Hannon’s own favourites, features the romance of travel (a recurring theme), with just a little too much cheese (songwriting surrealism)? That said, I cannot say that I did not enjoy them. Only that Hannon has better songs.
Playing with Hannon was his long-time collaborator, Andrew Skeets on keyboards (for me as much a part of the Divine Comedy as Hannon himself). Tim Weller was the drummer (his charming son sold me a couple of posters), Simon Little, Bass; Ian Watson accordian and keyboards and the guitarist who, embarrassingly, is nameless (if anyone can help with naming, let me know). A cool unruffled bunch.
This 50-date tour gives us the opportunity to go twice. It straddles 2016 and 2017. We are off to Hamburg in February. Really looking forward to it.