Conservageddon.

  Brexocalypse and the Revenge of the Corbynator.

  Step by stumbling step, this country is being destroyed by feckless Tory chaos.
  It began with David Cameron’s manifesto promise to have a referendum on EU membership.  That manifesto was written when all signs, all polls, indicated a hung parliament.  It was included in order to mollify the eurosceptics in the conservative party, a group who had been a constant thorn in John Major’s side during his similar tenure as a Prime Minister with a slim majority in the commons.
  The feckless Tory chaos continued in the aftermath of their EU referendum.  Cameron, after promising he would not, resigned.  At first it seemed obvious that Boris Johnson would be Prime Minister, but due to the Cuckoo Nest Plot he failed.  There was a risk it would be Michael Gove for a moment, then a bizarre nineteenth century throwback called Andrea Leadsom, then Theresa May won by default after every other conservative party leadership candidate quit.
  Pitiful.
  But May’s honeymoon lasted, and the brutality of the gutter press toward Corbyn was undeniable.  By last month Labour were at a catastrophic low according to the pollsters and the conservatives would waltz to a three figure majority if they called an election.  May, after promising she would not, did.
  I would like to pause for a moment to remind you of this:

crush saboteurs

  This was what they thought they were doing.  This is what they thought was going to happen.  This is what they think of everyone who disagrees with them, and they are so utterly, caustically pompous they will never understand that’s not the case.
  The public evidently disagreed with this sentiment.  Now yes, there are nuances here.  The election in Scotland was a completely different animal for a number of reasons, the Labour Party did not ‘win’ by any stretch (though Jeremy Corbyn’s ideas, leadership qualities and campaigning style have all certainly been vindicated), the Conservatives are still the largest party in the commons.  What is absolutely certain, beyond a shadow of a doubt, is that Theresa May is finished.
  At the time of writing there are less than two weeks before the Brexit negotiations are due to begin and there is almost no chance this government survives until they finish.  They have little confidence in May, poisonous, racist Boris Johnson is on manoeuvres and things are about to get much, much worse.
  In a functioning democracy, with responsible politicians trying to govern in the national interest, the Prime Minister would reach across the aisle and try to come to some sort of agreement.  There would be tensions, true, but collegiate debate with the opposition would replace the tribalism our political system encourages, at least while the crisis of Brexit is dealt with.  This has not happened and I very much doubt it will happen.
  The fact of the matter is that the Tories are incapable of viewing themselves as one political party among many.  They see their philosophy as ‘common sense,’ not a point of view, they see the country as property of the Conservative Party and view any opposition to their policies as unpatriotic sedition.  They are not democrats, they are demagogues.
  This is the only explanation for their decision to get into bed with the vile, spiteful DUP.  After running a large part of their campaign castigating Jeremy Corbyn for his past association with Sinn Fein in, he (believably) claims, his attempts to work towards peace in Northern Ireland they have thrown in their lot with a party that doesn’t believe in dinosaurs.  Four years ago one of its candidates was jailed for bombing his catholic neighbours’ house.  Right now they are mired in a corruption scandal so deep that Stormont has broken and direct rule from Westminster may have to be re-imposed.  They wrote to the Scottish government to demand gay Northern Irish couples be denied access to equal marriage rights.  They have worked hard to keep abortion illegal in Northern Ireland even in cases of rape or incest.  Last week, less than two weeks after a man was shot dead by the UDA in front of his daughter in a car park they had a jovial meeting with UDA members.  There are rumours that they will demand the Orange Order be given the right to march through various catholic areas in exchange for their cooperation with May.
  If all of that wasn’t enough to let any sane person know that these people should be kept as far away from power as possible; this is a flagrant breach of the Good Friday Agreement.  The government in Westminster is bound by its terms to remain neutral when it comes to the parties in Stormont.  How could a government claim to be impartial if the DUP is part of it?  If it clearly puts itself in debt to the DUP?  If it signs any kind of agreement that grants power over the whole of the UK?  And when direct rule is imposed again, as it will be very soon, the insanity of this deal becomes even more acute.
  Do you remember the troubles?  I remember the tail end.  I remember kneecappings, bombs and terrified children on the news.  I remember the IRA, and the UVA, and the rest of the blinkered, fundamentalist thugs who pretended their cause was just while they bought their semtex from Gaddafi.  I don’t think it would all come flooding back at once, not full bore, but the idea that Theresa May has the negotiating skills to prevent an upsurge in tension spilling into violence feels equally unlikely.
  And yet still the Tories chose this path over trying to reach out to Westminster parties.  The arrogance of it.  The gall it takes to view your own attempts to cling to power as being more important than peace in Northern Ireland.  Not one Tory has come forward to suggest this is a bad idea.  Not one has raised concerns about the peace process.  This government of failures cannot possibly last, and these toxic, Brextremist, feckless Tories deserve the hell the electorate will rain upon them.
  In the meantime I have no idea what happens next.  It feels like something big is brewing, people are tired of politics and constant upheaval.  The Queen’s speech at the opening of parliament has been delayed for the first time ever because this Tory shower can’t get it’s act together.  There is no way, at all, that we go another year without another general election, and it’s all the Tories’ fault.

Why I’m Voting Labour.

And why you should too.

  This is the most important election of my lifetime.  This is more important than 1997, when New Labour swept to power, more important than 1992, when the Tories somehow won, more important than 2010, when the Tories went into coalition with the LibDems.  And the reason for this is Brexit.

Leaving the EU changes everything.  It changes this country in ways we can’t even understand yet, and the next government is going to build the foundations for whatever comes next.  The idea that the process of withdrawing from the EU can be reversed, as much I would love it to happen, is simply wishful thinking.  We are on our way to a lonely place, and the gaps left in our laws will have to be filled.

Jeremy Corbyn believes in progressive taxation, he believes the public sector is a force for good, he believes that the state can and should own and operate the railways and hospitals and that the private sector cannot, he believes a university education should not be prohibitively expensive.  Theresa May believes in cutting taxes for the wealthiest, cutting public services, leaving the railways in private hands, bringing back fox hunting, cosying up to Trump, isolating us from our European Allies, and abolishing the Human Rights Act.

The Tories are now so far to the right it astonishes me.  They are a toxic group, falling for the belief that the Brexit vote was not the misguided cry of the oppressed masses, but was somehow tethered to nostalgia.  The truth, of course, is that a vast number of complex issues led to Brexit, but the xenophobic lobby has been the most gleeful and noisy and Theresa May has thrown in her lot with them.

If the Labour party is allowed to build the foundations for a new, post-Brexit Britain I believe they will try to make sure it is fair.  Corbyn, despite reports to the contrary, is no ravening communist hell bent on establishing a soviet system, he is not the second coming of Lenin, he’s a fairly ordinary sort of socialist.  His party will bear the poor in mind as they shape our future, they will take some of the riches from people who own more than they need and give them to people who need it, they will protect our right to healthcare, our right to education and our essential human rights.

The Tories will make us a tax haven.  A kind of oligarchy, where billionaires are the new aristocracy and the rest of us are the peasantry.  They will screw you out of every workplace protection, they will cosy up with the orange nightmare in charge of America, they will pander to the xenophobes to retain the UKIP vote, and, when you are old, they will take your home if you dare to develop dementia.

I can’t do that.  I worry they will win, and win big, and all the polls seem to suggest that’s how it’s going.  All bar one, the one that tells me this election can be entirely changed by 18-24 year olds getting out to vote.  If you’re of that age vote on Thursday, if you know someone of that age take them to the polling booth on Thursday.  Is this naked electioneering?  Maybe.  Are Labour perfect?  No, of course not.  But the Tories are poison.  Don’t let us drown in a future ruled by a billionaire aristocracy.

Everybody In Labour Is Wrong.

But the Tories are still worse.

  There are quite a lot of frustrated articles out there about the future of the Labour party.  They range from the broadly accurate to the deranged and, as far as I can see, they all miss some of the most important points.  So, despite my best efforts, here is my take on what needs to be done to rescue the Labour party.  Gods help me.

The first thing is that both the left of the party (hereafter occasionally referred to as the Corbynistas, a word I use without malice, I actually quite like it) and the more mainstream wing of the party (hereafter referred to as ‘the more mainstream wing of the party.’  Stop calling them Blairites, it’s inaccurate) need to admit that they are both at fault.  Yes, that includes you, Nick Cohen, and you, John MacDonnell, and you, David Miliband, and you, Diane Abbott… the list goes on.  The left has been furious with the direction of the party for decades now, with many good reasons and, arguably, many poor ones.  The mainstream wing of the party had grown hopelessly, laughably unimaginative and complacent, fiddling at the edges of their own threadbare ideology without doing anything about the anachronistic, neo-liberal rot at its core.  Of course Corbyn won, he offered to represent the ideals of millions of people, and the other candidates had absolutely nothing.  They are all competent politicians but they really were offering Tory-lite policies, all of them were calling for slightly less austerity instead of none.  None of them offered a big, desperately needed change to the way our financial industries are run.  None of them offered anything at all to the North.  Corbyn said the right things and, I still think, meant them.

But then came the EU Referendum and Corbyn’s dismal Remain Campaign.  Even now some of you reading this will be saying that he did his best and campaigned hard; stop.  I did not see him at any point talking positively about the EU.  I did not hear anything he had to say about the EU during the entire campaign.  He barely talked to the press, stayed away from the airwaves, held some impressively large rallies with thousands in attendance but, and I hate to point this out, ‘thousands’ is not enough when you need to engage with an electorate of sixty million people. 

So parliamentary Labour party members seized their opportunity to get rid of him, as well they probably should have.  They resigned en masse from his cabinet and forced him to hold a new leadership election.  Their standard bearer would be Angela Eagle, for a few minutes, before it became Owen Jones.  And he was rubbish as well.

Corbyn won easily, and I voted for him both times.  So did my girlfriend at the time.  Some of you are nodding at this decision, some of you want to smash your computer screen.  Calm down.  It felt to me, at the time and with good reason, that the parliamentary Labour party had been briefing against Corbyn, sabotaging him and openly displaying disloyalty and why the hell should anyone reward that?  He hadn’t had a chance to actually do the job and now they were trying to get rid of him.  The hopes of more than half of the Labour party had been placed in him a scant few months earlier, and the contempt in which those hopes were held by the PLP was scathing, snobbish and infuriating.  Angry yet?  If not you’re not a Labour party member.

It’s only after all this that the scales have fallen from my eyes.

This is what both sides need to understand; I am bitterly, brutally disappointed that I can’t continue to support him as leader.  Nobody should be crowing about this.  Nobody should be continuing to support him.  Nobody should be angry with anyone for failing to keep the faith with him.  I still don’t doubt his principles, I think he’s got an extremely difficult job, and he’s not up to it.

A party leader who never speaks to the press never speaks to the people.  You don’t like the mainstream media?  Neither do I, but a lot of people do and those people have votes and the right to be informed.  A new leader need not speak to the Mail or the Sun, but they should speak to someone at some point.  The Canary doesn’t bloody count.

A party leader who allows the conservatives to get away with holding the rights of EU nationals ransom, like a bargaining chip, can’t do the job.  A party leader who only uses a three-line whip once, and that to help the government drive us off the article 50 cliff, isn’t acting in the interests of the country or the world.  A party leader who isn’t absolutely wiping the floor with these risible, shambolic Tories every time he steps up to speak can’t do the job.  He has to go.

‘And what then?’ as most Corbynistas would immediately say.  Well you get a new leader.  It should probably be Kier Starmer, he’s brilliant, of the left, principled and capable of actually speaking to the public.  Bookie’s favourite is Clive Lewis, who would be fine.  Not inspired, but fine.

There are, no doubt, rather a lot of nodding heads in the mainstream party camp, rather a lot of raised voices in the Corbynista camp.  Fine, you’ll all be yelling in a minute, because the Labour party also needs to do a swift U-turn and rebuild its manifesto pretty much from the ground up.

These are the policies that are good and true, and mostly not even controversial:

–          Remaining in the EU.  You’d pick up as many votes as you lose with this one so stop having a flap.  We need to stay in the EU, Labour needs to use the vast army of members it’s gathered to go and tell people why it’s good.  Yes it has problems, no I don’t like it very much, but I honestly don’t trust the UK government to guarantee the rights the EU gives me.  And if you’re saying we can remain in the EU you’ll be able to form some other policies because your entire workload for decades won’t be figuring out bloody Brexit.

–          Tax the rich, stop austerity.  This isn’t even complicated, poor people are not at fault for the banking crisis of 2008 that started this whole mess and they shouldn’t pay for it.  Wealth disparity is vast, they can afford to pay more.  Nobody, anywhere, should personally own a billion dollars.

–          Invest in the North.  Find industries that work up there and build some of them.  Not wind farms or some half-formed idea about ‘reindustrialising,’ something new.  Most likely many new things.  Yes, this is a bit of a wash of an idea but I’m not an economist, I just know that leaving people to slowly waste away is vile and turning back the clock is impossible. Massive investment is needed now, jobs are needed now. Find a way, or at least start talking about it seriously, the political silence around this is scandalous.

–          Give hospitals the money they need. The Tories are not doing this, and they are claiming that it’s somehow the fault of the NHS structure, some inherent facet of the public sector that’s leading to this crisis.  It’s not, it obviously needs money to function.

–          Stop sanctioning job seekers for being late to a meeting, get rid of disability assessment tests.

–          Burn everything owned by Serco, Capita, G4S, and every incompetent parasite company like them to the ground. Scatter the ashes. Salt the earth.

Does this win the next general election?  Maybe, if you have someone capable of speech to talk about the policies and win the argument.  I might even go so far as to say it probably would win, it’s big, it’s new, it’s not too extreme, basically it’s not nearly far enough to the left for me.  But it would win.  And Labour needs to win, it needs to stop these Tory bastards from wrecking absolutely everything.  Scotland is gone, you know that?  It’s not in doubt, within ten years Scotland will have left the UK because Tories buggered it all up.  Personally, I think that’s fine, but the fact that Tory incompetence has ended the union beggars belief and the Labour party still would lose seats if an election was held tomorrow.  A lot of people on the left seem to have a strange fondness for this state of affairs, but the Tories in power are a nightmare and the only real way to stop them is to get Labour into government.  You’re all wrong, calm down, stop shouting and read this again.  Keep reading it.  It’s not just the other side.  This does include you, all of it does, don’t kid yourself that it doesn’t.  Stop swearing at each other, stop blaming each other, stop dredging up the past, stop sniping, unite and save this country from these reckless, fanatic, dangerous Tories.  You’re running out of time.

What Comes Next?

Antifa logo  I really don’t want to have to write about Trump, but right now I feel I have to.  There’s a pattern forming which nobody is talking about yet, and we need to be vigilant.

First the good news; it is now no longer a fair criticism to claim that the American people are apathetic about politics.  They are absolutely awake to the feckless fascist lurking in the White House and willing to kick up a hell of a fuss about it.

Here ends the good news.

The last week has been, it’s fair to say, monumental.  Trump entered office and managed to immediately infuriate most of the media and the CIA with a pair of insane, rambling speeches.  Even his inauguration speech sounded like one of his rallies, a screeching, self-congratulatory gout of grievance and verbal masturbation that those who don’t support him find repulsive.  The day after he became the most powerful man in the world there were marches against his bigotry and misogyny which obviously dwarfed the crowd watching him take the oath of office.  Trump, however, is such an insecure man-child that he could not allow this objective fact to settle in his mind, and sent his spokesman out to claim, on the basis of no evidence, that his supporters outnumbered the Women’s Marches and President Obama’s inauguration.

A lot of people have tried to read more into this.  They say that it was a deliberate distraction while the Republicans pushed through legislation to strip away several million American’s access to healthcare.

Come off it.

Trump is not a master of manipulation.  He’s a bully, a racist, a misogynist, a climate change denier, a fascist, and a hundred other disgusting things but he is, first, a showman.  He only knows how to interact with the world in that capacity.  He continues holding rallies because he’s good at it and he craves a cheering crowd, he signs grand, sweeping executive orders because it keeps the attention of the world on him, he lies all the time because in his mind he is the main character in a television show.  In his mind he is not lying, the show is wrong and must be rewritten.

By all accounts he voraciously consumes media (though not books).  He watches a quite unsettling amount of television and, I am sure from observing his account, is constantly glued to Twitter.  As he tried to settle into his office (and reintroduced the ‘global gag rule,’ which every Republican President has reintroduced and every Democrat has repealed) he would have seen the suggestions that he had used his insanity to try to distract the world.  I think he took this on board and, as reports leaked out about the chaos caused by his incompetence in government and a backlash grew at the fresh lie his press secretary had told claiming that he had won the popular vote (which, incidentally, he absolutely did not) he announced he was actually going to build a wall along the border between the US and Mexico.

And why wouldn’t he think that was a good idea?  It shows that he’s planning to keep his campaign promises.  It shows that his government is on track and decisive.  It always played well at the rallies.

It did not play well in the press.  It did not play well in the international press.  His promise to somehow make Mexico pay for it played extremely badly with the former President of Mexico (who posted these exact words in a Tweet: ‘We’re not going to pay for that fucking wall #fuckingwall) and it was, at its core, mental.  A bloody stupid policy from a bloody stupid man.

Steve Bannon, his neo-Nazi media advisor, probably thought it would play rather well with rather a lot of Americans.  He has spent decades living in a bubble of his very own, one comprised of bitter men who think they’re the master race.  He was probably surprised it didn’t go down well, and he blamed the mainstream media for its poor reception.  This is why they doubled down on their attack on the media, it’s not some Putin-esque power play, it’s panic.  We need to worry about Bannon though, Trump is a media obsessed man, his media advisor will be favoured in his court.

I’ll have to skip over rather a lot because so much dumb crap happened.  Trump has no idea how to govern, he’s only interested in looking like he knows how to govern.  And then he signed an executive order to ban immigration from Muslim majority countries.

America has never been a sectarian state before.  It is now.

Now there are protests at airports, there are people in the Republican party (very, very tentatively) suggesting it’s a bad idea, foreign governments are angry, a Daily Mail columnist agreed with Jeremy Corbyn that Trump should not be allowed in the country while this racist ban is in place.

Now, ignoring all the other crap, ignoring that the ban specifically targets Muslim majority countries where Trump does not have business interests and ignores Muslim majority countries where he does have business interests, ignoring that a five year old child was detained by police for hours on end at an American airport, ignoring that a court has ordered the executive order be suspended and Trump has carried on enforcing it anyway, ignoring the fury and the protests and the international condemnation (though not from my government, but that’s an infuriated rant for another day) this has been a disaster for Trump.

I know, I know, he treats the press like an enemy and he doesn’t seem to have even the briefest connection to the truth, but this will get to him.  There’s no way it can’t, an avalanche of infuriated condemnation is being launched at the USA from every corner of the earth and it will get to him.  Even if it doesn’t it will get to the Republicans, though whether they can find their spines or grow some values and actually do anything about it is another matter.  No matter what else happens he has almost certainly alienated everyone outside of his inner circle, and nobody can govern like that.

It’s the future I fear, though.  He has in the last few hours begun to make a great deal of noise about Daesh.  It sounds to me like the first, terrible rumble towards war.  And his will be a terrible war.  He will order airstrikes that butcher civilians, then deny it ever happened.  He will level cities.  Slaughter families with cruise missiles.  He will ignore human shields and kill ‘em all.

And then what?  What will he do when his army is bogged down in another middle eastern quagmire and someone with brown skin and a foreign accent opens fire and shouts allahu akhbar?  His knee will jerk, and he will crack down on Muslims even more.  ‘Gitmo times a thousand’ was one of his campaign promises, so there, on American soil, we will see the first internment camp.  Then he will try to follow through with his promise to deport millions of undocumented migrants.  The conditions will be terrible.  They will have to work for food.  Internment camps will become concentration camps, the step from concentration camp to death camp is barely visible.

This probably will not happen.  The world won’t allow it, the American public won’t wear it, he probably won’t last that long.  But I was sure he wouldn’t try to build a wall.  I was sure he wouldn’t be so stupid as to ban Muslims from traveling to America. I was certain he would never win.

Be afraid, America.  I was going to tell you that all that is necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing, but you’ve heard that and evil may triumph despite your efforts.  Instead of Burke I give you Bakunin:

‘Destroy or be destroyed, there is no middle way.  Let us then be the destroyers.’

This Seething Mess of a Year In Review.

  ‘Let’s be honest, 2016 has been shit’ – The beginning of the British Green Party’s New Year message.  No, really.

Let’s start with the obvious, unforeseen horror of David Bowie’s death.  This should have been a warning, really, if you’re inclined towards magical thinking.  The only upside to it was the outpouring of love and grief in Brixton which saw a sudden, unplanned street party and singalong that still honestly brings tears to my eyes when I see it.  But we should have known then that the transgressive, unifying force of love for the other that Bowie embodied was about to take the worst kicking of my lifetime.

bowie-tribute
RIP

 

I’ll try to avoid discussing other celebrity deaths in this piece, that’s not really what it’s about, but I would probably be remiss in not mentioning Alan Rickman, Terry Wogan,, Victoria Wood, Prince, Caroline Aherne, Gene Wilder, Pete Burns, AA Gill (who I disagreed with often and profoundly but still enjoyed), George Michael, Muhammed Ali, Leonard Cohen and a ridiculous list of others.  With every passing month there was another front page obituary which could not help but add to the sensation that the world we recognised was vanishing.

There were some moments of hope in 2016.  Not many, admittedly.  The Panama papers leaked, giving the world an insight into the rampant corruption we all sort-of knew was happening around the world.  The first solar powered aircraft to circumnavigate the world.  The USA and China ratified the Paris global climate agreement.  The first proven vaccine for the Ebola virus was developed.  The good stops here, though, and I’ve got to talk about the darkness.

Brexit came first.  It arguably isn’t as bad as the other big political story of 2016 but it’s still disastrous.  A lot of my friends, some younger than me, some relatively new to politics, felt repulsed and lost.  They felt, I think, that the world they believed they lived in was an illusion.  It’s interesting to me how much they all, bar one or two exceptions, leapt to the remain side of the Brexit debate.

Now I know that a lot of Brexit supporters roll their eyes at this phenomenon.  They write off all the Remain voters as a naïve, liberal, metropolitan elite and, actually, I think this is a mistake on their part.  The truth of it is that Remain voters are by and large involved with the world in a way Leave voters aren’t.  There is a generation of voters who now feel disenfranchised, betrayed and furious with their treatment and they have no love for an isolationist world they neither remember nor care about.  It’s been the habit of commentators to examine the Leave voters meticulously, I’d like to see some more attention paid to the fact that the people who are going to inherit the fallout of Brexit are never going to forgive those who stole the future from them.

Nevertheless; Leave won.  The campaigns they ran were a disgusting, racist, toxic nightmare and even when a neo-Nazi supporter murdered a left-wing Remain supporting MP in the street they shamelessly carried on with the empty rhetoric of nationalism and race baiting.  For forty years the repellent right wing newspapers of Britain had been screaming hysterically about the evils of the EU, nobody dared publically defend it and even Jeremy Corbyn, who ostensibly supported the remain campaign, said he was only ‘about 70% in favour’ of staying.  David Cameron, the other half of the Remain campaign leadership, brought out banker after banker to announce the dangers of leaving and how much it might damage their bonuses.

Does anyone really wonder why Remain lost?  And then the hate crimes began.  An undercurrent of disgusting blood-and-soil nationalism was implicit throughout the Leave campaign, so naturally the racists took the referendum as a victory for their fucknugget philosophy.  Suddenly Mr Farage is even more ever present in our media than he was before, constantly babbling crap about how those who do not support Brexit are treacherous scum, and the right wing press lap it up and repeat it.  We’ve seen judges attacked in print for rendering a judgement, in a democracy, that the press did not like.  We have a government so weak that they barely bother to mention that this is unacceptable.  We have the disgraced, possibly corrupt former defence secretary Liam Fox in a position of what looks like power.  We have Boris Johnson as foreign secretary.  We have Theresa May as a prime minister.  And the more they go on the more convinced I am that they have no idea what the hell they’re doing.

Enough.  I can only talk about Brexit for so long.  I have to talk about Trump now.

Urgh.

The election of Donald Trump to the Presidency of the United States of America should have come as more of a surprise than it did.  Not only were the polls trending heavily against him, he was a monstrously awful campaigner by the standards of a normal campaign.  I think we forget, in the rest of the world, just how abysmally racist America can be.  It’s a paranoid, insular place with some of the most appalling wealth disparity in the world and a terrifying tendency to glorify in its worst aspects.  Even more than Britain it refuses to look elsewhere for inspiration, when it seeks inspiration it looks only to its own past.  Now, finally, its rapacious worship of the dollar, its cult of celebrity and its bigotry has reached its culmination; a man who has praised internment camps, admitted to sexual assault and expressed admiration for Vladimir Putin.  If you are a left wing person still somehow under the impression that being enamoured of Putin is no bad thing then you need to read about Alexander Litvinenko, Boris Nemtsov and the invasion of Ukraine.

He will be a disaster and he can’t bring back the world the people who voted for him want.  It’s gone.  Yes he’s a dangerous fascist and he should be treated as the pariah he deserves to be but for the next four years he’s going to be POTUS.  Gods help us all.  So much has been said about him that I feel anything I add here might be redundant.

So what’s to be done in 2017?  It’s probably going to be worse than 2016, if only because Trump will actually take office and get to work dismantling the rights people in the USA have fought so hard for.  Nationalism is an empty, vile creed that wins because it is the creed of selfishness, it is Adam Smith’s vile maxim; ‘all for me, and nothing for anybody else.’  There’s more to it than that, obviously, but I have neither the space nor the inclination to go into it here.  It will have to suffice to say that internationalism represents the hope of humanity at this point, that closing the blinds and pretending that the world ends at the borders of your nation-state is not a healthy or good way to govern the world.  We’re going to need to fight for this, but we’re also going to need to examine our own failings.  The rate of homelessness has soared in the last few years, the use of food banks has become commonplace, a contempt for the poor has become the watchword of all of our political classes across the whole spectrum of ideology, and the poor are being seduced by the filth who will not help them but will use them as a stepping stone to power.

In the meantime, and more urgently, we will need to stand up against the casual cruelty of this blinkered, nostalgia-led fascism.  From Farage, to Trump, to Putin, to Le Pen, the hope of the world is under threat.  They are the past, shuddering through a final, convulsive last gasp, we’ll all have to be ready to resist them and repair the damage they do.

In Praise of Nero.

nero
According to almost all images of the man he did not have the most conventionally attractive chin.  Also sometimes a neckbeard.

It was Nero’s 1,979th birthday yesterday and I think it’s probably time to look at him again.  Among the general public he is generally regarded as a lunatic who burned Christians to death and fiddled while his city burned.  Among historians he is generally regarded as a slightly fey fop who was in far over his head and lost his mind when he began to understand the sheer scope of his power.

To my mind both of these views are insufficient.

Picture a man who knows himself to be a God.  He is not big headed or arrogant as such, he is a God.  He is a God, a descendent of Gods and he carries on the work of his ancestor Gods.  And yet, despite this knowledge of his own divinity, he is most fond of some of the most despised people in his dominion.

Nero loved acting, poetry and singing.  According to Seutonius ‘he often appeared in public in a dining-robe, with a handkerchief bound about his neck’ and he never wore the same garment twice.  He loved theatre above all, it was his abiding passion.  He was, let’s face it, a cravat wearing 19th century fop born a couple of millennia too early.

Which is why it is perhaps stunning that, in the early part of his reign, he was reasonably well regarded by the masses of the roman people.  Not the aristocracy, of course, they thought he was a disgrace.  And when he took to the stage to pursue his dream of being an actor the aristocracy regarded it as a dreadful, undignified scandal.  He performed his poetry to the public, he sang and played his lute for them, and though they had no option but to do so there’s no real evidence to suggest their applause weren’t genuine.

Then, before the horrors of his later life when ultimate power would consume him utterly, Rome burned.  Nobody knows the cause, though it was most probably arson and could very possibly have been arson by Christian terrorists.  Later it would be said that he cackled, that the scandalous lover of music watched Rome burn and did nothing but play his fiddle, but contemporary accounts tell a different story.

He opened his private estates to refugees.  He did his best to prevent looting.  He began a huge program of public works to rebuild and to employ the thousands upon thousands who had lost everything in nine days of inferno.

But his vision stretched further than that.

Nero was never a man to think small.  He saw an opportunity to remake the eternal city before him.  Instead of cramped alleys and impenetrable mazes there would be plazas, and statues, and wide avenues.  His would be a Rome of art and high culture, not stern and stoic functionality.  He would rebuild the empire to suit his vision, it would be an empire of staggering beauty and soaring art.  No longer would actors be viewed as the scum of the earth, no longer would poetry be the domain of the young and empty headed, Rome would reshape the world to be elegant, inspiring and majestic.

It didn’t work, of course.  The cost of such an operation would have been incomprehensibly massive.  The world turned, Nero began to resent his failures and from there on his reign is a cascade of increasing horror.  Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely, being a good man is incompatible with being a God.

But imagine for a moment that it had worked.  Picture it; the civilisation that lies at the foundation of all of western culture turned primarily to the creation of beauty.  What could have come of that?  What sort of a world would we live in?  It may well have been worse, of course, but think of the possibilities of a world founded and grounded in the philosophy of the aesthete.

Nero failed, but his vision as he stood and gazed at the ashes of the greatest city in the world is one that would have swept me away.  I would have loved him for that romanticism, for that glory.  Perhaps loved him enough to follow him as he marched into hell.

Salve, Imperator.

  With thanks to LJ Trafford for drawing my attention to the Suetonius quote on Twitter and to Tom Holland for the excellent narrative biography of his life in his book ‘Dynasty.’

International Men’s Day

samaritansrightnumber     It’s International Men’s Day so, in that spirit, it’s time to talk about some men’s issues. Not the turgid crap MRA’s or Meninist twerps bang on about, which is always, *always*, the lack of availability of sex, but actual men’s issues. You know, the ones that the above groups never bother actually talking about.
    Depression, for instance. Suicide is the leading cause of death for men under the age of 45. We’re bad at opening up, at sharing our feelings with each other. There is a cultural problem, especially in Britain, with dealing with men’s mental health. Among other men we’re hard wired to feel embarrassed if anyone begins to speak about their difficulties. If there is a man in your life who’s having a hard time or who has been a bit withdrawn, try speaking to him. Ask if he’s okay. Ask what’s up. Discuss it over a coffee or a beer, encourage him to open up in a safe environment where he will not be judged.
    Secondly, and this is the one that’s probably easier to deal with, men are much more likely to die of preventable diseases than women. The reasons for this are, again, cultural. There is still a cultural pressure to ‘tough out’ illnesses or minor health complaints rather than attempt to go to a doctor. Men need to be much more willing to get health complaints dealt with because that strange lump or that recurring headache might develop into something much, much more serious. This is a hard barrier to break, mostly because it’s self inflicted, but it *can* be broken. If you have some niggling health issue that simply won’t go away then make a doctor’s appointment on Monday and be prepared to talk about it.
    Thirdly; violence. It doesn’t take a philosopher to figure out that violence is undesirable and should be avoided if at all possible. It also doesn’t take a demographer to figure out that men are more likely to be victims of it than women (though the figures are out there and they’re deeply depressing). I don’t need to say it but I will; don’t indulge in violence. Men are better than that.
    Finally, chauvinism. Chauvinism does not empower men, it never has. It unquestionably has worse social effects on women but it also reduces men to brutes who cannot control their urges. I, for one, reject the chauvinist view that I am a violent rapist in waiting. I, like all men, am more than capable of reason and sound judgement, of controlling my body. I am also capable of drawing a distinction between a woman who wishes to have a conversation and a woman who wants to sleep with me.
    There are men’s issues and they are both real and urgent. We have to remember what they are and not slide into an insipid, reductive view of masculinity. If there’s a man in your life that you appreciate then let him know, if you are a man then try to remember that privilege comes with both a cost and a responsibility. You owe your brothers the support and solidarity that seems so often to come so naturally to women, and you owe it to yourself to be the best man you can be.