The less you care, the better you will do. This has long been the promise of conservative politics on both sides of the Atlantic. People who couldn’t give a tinker’s cuss about the consequences of their actions are elevated to the highest levels of government. Their role is to trash what lesser mortals value.This describes the position of almost everyone in Donald Trump’s cabinet. In the UK, I feel it applies, among others, to Jeremy Hunt at the Department of Health, Boris Johnson at the Foreign Office, Priti Patel at international development and now Michael Gove at the environment department: the worst possible candidates are given the most sensitive portfolios.
Category Archives: Europe
Britain’s far right is desperate, angry, cornered, and dangerous, as the Finsbury Park atrocity may well show. In just a year, the number of far-right extremists referred to the government has jumped by nearly a third. Social media abounds with frothing far-right fanatics, screaming about betrayal and vengeance. Both Muslims and the left are firmly in their sights – and we urgently need a strategy to deal with it.What’s going on? There are all sorts of reasons for this rise. One part is the decision, last year, by the leave camp to run a vicious and dishonest anti-immigration campaign. This campaign had consequences. It’s not just about how xenophobia and anti-immigration rhetoric was apparently conferred with official legitimacy. Radical rightwingers see Brexit as a national revolution – even if this is not the case for most leave voters – an opportunity to wage a culture war against the social values of the left. Theresa May offered a false premise for her vanity general election – that Labour (which voted to trigger article 50) was attempting to subvert the referendum result. “Crush the saboteurs,” screeched the Daily Mail as the election was called. Such rhetoric from the press – like the Mail’s infamous “Enemies of the people” headline – grants legitimacy to the far-right’s worldview, that their opponents are national traitors and saboteurs. So when the attempt to smash the Labour party disastrously rebounded on the Tories, the radical right apparently became terrified that its version of Brexit – which for a small sliver of the population represents a national rightwing revolution – was imperilled. This fuels the traditional far-right “stab in the back” narrative – that traitors have betrayed the nation.
A puncture can change your life. In Louis Malle’s film Lacombe, Lucien (1974), the young peasant Lucien is rejected by his former schoolteacher who runs the local resistance organisation he wishes to join and then, returning home by bicycle, gets a flat tire. Seeking help in a nearby farmhouse, he finds himself among a band of carousing militiamen, collaborators sworn to eradicate La Résistance. He denounces the teacher, becomes a local boss of the militia, and is finally shot by resistance fighters.This much-quoted moment of chance is the starting point for the book Aurais-je été resistant ou bourreau? (2013) by literature professor and psychoanalyst Pierre Bayard, which translates as ‘Would I have been a resister or a collaborator?’ As historians, and indeed as citizens, we assume that we would have made the right decision during the Second World War, given what we know about its horrors. The myth developed by General Charles de Gaulle in 1944 – that the French overwhelmingly behaved patriotically, rallied behind his leadership, and liberated the country themselves – persuades us that we would most likely have resisted Nazi Germany. A myth, however, is designed to unify a people and legitimate its rulers, not to tell the truth. As a young lecturer at Oxford 35 years ago, I remember looking round my college’s governing body, composed overwhelmingly of conservative middle-aged men, and wondering what they would have done if Britain had been occupied by the Germans. I concluded that most of them would have collaborated.
China’s cardinal foreign policy imperative is to refrain from interfering abroad while advancing the proverbial good relations with key political actors – even when they may be at each other’s throats.Still, it’s nothing but gut-wrenching for Beijing to watch the current, unpredictable, Saudi-Qatari standoff. There’s no endgame in sight, as plausible scenarios include even regime change and a seismic geopolitical shift in Southwest Asia – what a Western-centric view calls the Middle East.And blood on the tracks in Southwest Asia cannot but translate into major trouble ahead for the New Silk Roads, now rebranded Belt and Road Initiative (BRI).
Once upon a time, under the leadership of Margaret Thatcher, the Tories filled all of Europe with trepidation. French President François Mitterrand complained to his psychologist that he was plagued by nightmares caused by the British leader and German Chancellor Helmut Kohl, as unclassified British documents revealed in late 2016, once preferred to chow down on a cream pie in Salzburg than meet with the British prime minister.Many in the UK thought a bit of fear was a good thing. Fear sounded like respect and influence — and, more than anything, like good deals. But now, after two catastrophic elections in less than a year, that is over. Completely.”The country looks ridiculous,” the Financial Times — not exactly a leftist mouthpiece — wrote recently. Indeed, the party of Winston Churchill and Margaret Thatcher has turned into a gaggle of high rollers and unwitting clowns.
Then the clock struck 10 last Thursday night, there was a moment of collective disorientation. With each tolling of the bell, the solid political ground we had been standing on was shaken by tectonic shifts below. On television, the anchors sounded unconvinced by the news they were announcing: according to the exit poll, the Tories had lost their majority and Labour had gained seats. “Boy, oh boy, oh boy,” David Dimbleby said on the BBC, “are we going to be hung, drawn and quartered if this is all wrong!”Lose yourself in a great story: Sign up for the long read emailRead moreFor weeks the polls had told us this was highly unlikely: most were predicting a Tory victory somewhere between comfortable and landslide. And for two years before that, journalists and pundits had told us it was not possible; the only logical conclusion for a Labour party led by Jeremy Corbyn was a ruinous election defeat. This was not simply a partisan view, but one broadly shared across the entire spectrum of mainstream politics.
It is a dangerous moment for any government when the public suspects that it is incapable of preventing a great disaster like the Grenfell Tower fire. Angry people see the state as failing in its basic duty to keep them safe. Politicians in power, in such circumstances, are embarrassingly keen to show that there is a firm hand on the tiller, calmly coping with a crisis for which they are not to blame. Above all else, they need to dissuade people from imagining that a calamity is a symptom that something is rotten in the state of Britain.Whatever the real culpability, it is vital to play for time in the expectation that the news agenda will ultimately move on. The old PR adage holds that the accused should first say “no story” or, in other words, deny all guilt until the media has lost interest and they can safely say “old story”.
It’s not the first time the Tories have been forced into bed with Unionists – and this long alliance is troubling
Northern Ireland’s Protestants have always proved useful political tools for British ministers and ambitious, desperate politicians. Churchill played the “Orange card” before the First World War. Callaghan was weak enough to need the province’s Protestant Unionist MPs in 1976 and offered Northern Ireland five extra seats at Westminster. They obligingly won the lot. Almost two decades later, John Major needed their support in a minority government in a vote on Spanish fishing rights – an abstruse, ridiculous performance that somehow parallels Lady May’s cynical “deal” with the DUP.
By chance this week, I’ve been re-reading Lloyd George’s memoirs of the Great War, in which the “Welsh wizard” – as deceitful as he was eloquent – alludes to the results of the Curragh mutiny of 1914, in which a cadre of British officers at the army’s Irish headquarters made it clear they would not march on the armed Protestants who opposed Home Rule
The Tories may still be in power at the end of the night, but Jeremy Corbyn won today.
Yes, I know this is shameless spin, but hear me out: the last few weeks have vindicated the approach of the Labour left and its international cothinkers under Corbyn.
This is the first election Labour has won seats in since 1997, and the party got its largest share of the vote since 2005 — all while closing a twenty-four point deficit. Since Corbyn assumed leadership in late 2015, he has survived attack after attack from his own party, culminating in a failed coup attempt against him. As Labour leader he was unable to rely on his parliamentary colleagues or his party staff. The small team around him was bombarded with hostile internal leaksand misinformation, and an unprecedented media smear campaign.
Every elite interest in the United Kingdom tried to knock down Jeremy Corbyn, but still he stands. He casts a longer shadow over his party’s centrists tonight than at any time since he was elected Labour leader.
THANK YOU, Jeremy Corbyn.
It is no exaggeration to say that the British Labour Party leader has changed progressive politics in the UK, and perhaps the wider West too, for a generation. The bearded, 68-year-old, self-declared socialist has proved that an unashamedly, unabashedly, unapologetically left-wing offer is not the politics of the impossible but, rather, a politics of the very much possible. Last Thursday’s election result in the UK is a ringing confirmation that stirring idealism need not be sacrificed at the altar of political pragmatism.