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Showing posts from 2017

1971: CYCLING UPHILL

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I left school at 15, in the late autumn of 1971. I remember my last hour at school and have written about this elsewhere. I had no consciousness of inhabiting history, of moving around in that foggy cloud that is the past. Things felt solid, concrete, firm to the touch. Hours lasted 60 long minutes and days took 24hrs to run their course. And yet what seemed so solid, so real then, has now been swallowed by the fog. At fifteen I was still obliged to attend the youth employment service, situated in Belmont, close to the Town Wall of Shrewsbury. On the wall was a poster announcing the death of the 1960s. The Beatles had split, Ali had been defeated, time to move on. Why it had been thought necessary to rub this in bewilders me to this day. However, at the time and even now, it strikes me as somewhat sinister. A statement of the triumph of time over hope and expectation. I cannot remember the interview or any of the subsequent proceedings, but they found me a job. Globe and Simpson was sit…

THE PRIVATE AND PUBLIC SPHERE

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When Conservatives Become Revolutionaries 
Politicians, political pundits, and obsessive Westminster watchers, it is often said live in a ‘bubble.’ They exist in a world in which politics exists as great clumsy giant overshadowing everything and everyone, - from the newsagent in the corner shop to the crew of a nuclear submarine out at sea.  This view is however accurate, or more accurate than the way most people view politics. For most members of the public see the world very differently. For them politics is peripheral. Other concerns dominate their private lives and clever politicians have always recognised this. Indeed, the whole ideology of conservatism has hitherto been built on the assumption that people just wanted to be left alone and have as little to do with politics as possible. Hitherto this has been broadly true, and again clever politicians on the right encouraged the illusion that this was possible.[1] Conservative politicians in the English-speaking world have now large…

SOCIAL DISSONANCE

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Brexit and The Corrosion of Civil SocietyDemocracy is dead without conflict, without the dialectic of competing ideas. If you want peace, harmony and unanimity go visit a graveyard. Compromise, the prerequisite of democracy is a form of creative tension, - never fully settled, always threatening fracture and division.
This is the framework in which debate and political discourse take place. However, there are limits to the degree of division compatible with a healthy democracy.  When the division becomes too wide civility, the agreed rules and formula begin to break down, compromise becomes impossible and conflict threatens to become violent; civil war begins to emerge as a possibility. Examples abound, Spain from 1933 to 1936, Ireland after the creation of the free state. France in late 1930s and Weimar Germany. As can be seen from the above examples, not all such discord ends in civil war, merely that it is threatened and civil unrest becomes more likely. I want to suggest that the…

NO BERTIE WOOSTER

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Like all tragedy, the current state of English* politics contains more than its fair share of the comic and grotesque, the imbecility of the Brexit negotiating team, and the doublethink of Corbyn supporters over his hard Brexit standpoint, providing just two examples of both. Now, just as you thought things could not possibly get worse we have the possibility of the Prime Minister, a member of the party of Churchill, Macmillan and yes Edward Heath, being Boris Johnson, David Davis or the cringe inducing Jacob Rees-Mogg! Like a circus act enter the clowns, a liar, crook - the greatest political Chancer since Horatio Bottomley, - an imbecile and a caricature upper-class idiot. In a close contest, it is difficult to see which would make the country a laughing stock than it already is.
Of the three Rees-Mogg has emerged largely without a trace, coming into the limelight following the Brexit referendum. He has sought, with some success to establish himself as the backbench exponent of hard B…

NIGEL FARAGE, BREXIT AND THE DUNKIRK SPIRIT

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DUNKIRK 
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Perhaps I should start by saying that I have not yet seen recently released film Dunkirk, though the 1958 film on the same subject, starring John Mills, will take some beating. Whilst a BBC drama/documentary shown a few years back seemed a definitive enough exploration for me. I have also just begun reading the book by Hugh Seabag- Montefiore, also called Dunkirk. Indeed, it seems the mere mention of the small seaside town on the northern French coast is enough for British, I suspect especially English, readers to know what the film/book/dramatization is about.[1] Dieppe, for example, the scene of another British wartime disaster simply hasn't the same name recognition. So given the plethora of, often jingoistic, commentary about the evacuation let’s be clear from the outset, - the evacuation of British troops from mainland Europe was a disaster. It was a disaster for this country, a disaster, of course, for France, but a disaster for the whole of Europe. Not only prolo…

LETTER FROM LONDON JULY 2017

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A Family Affair: Reading v's Listening: In The Aftermath of Grenfell1. Orwell once famously compared this country to a family with all the wrong members in charge. Putting to one side one’s feelings about the accuracy of the analogy it seems a particularly bitter comparison now. For if we stay with the analogy we are a family at war with itself. The corrupt uncles and dodgy aunts have conspired to gamble away the family’s future. Making promises they knew they couldn’t keep and promising lottery sized bonanza’s they persuaded a small majority of the family to invest in a pyramid scheme called Brexit. As the promises begin to turn sour and the bank statements start to arrive there is a growing sense that the family has been betrayed and the dodgy uncles mumble barely comprehensible excuses. All the while an ageing hippy, a great uncle whom everyone had forgotten about, has suddenly become a star for the younger family members, making wild promises of his own and encouraging the idea…

THE SHADOW OF THE TOWER

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Turning right outside my front door and within a minute you see it, as space clears between the trees, a dark presence on the western skyline. If you move closer you see a grotesque black and grey Skelton, the accusing wreckage of a block people called home as recently as Tuesday evening. It’s a monster now, twisted and horribly deformed, no, not black, black has a dignity and grace, but a dirty sullen grey, the colour of ash, of lives turned to dust. I have seen this colour before, in Mostar after the fratricidal attack on the city in the early 90s. It is an image belonging to a war zone. And in some respects, it is, though hyperbole of this kind feels best avoided today.


About suffering they were never wrong, The Old Masters; how well, they understood Its human position; how it takes place While someone else is eating or opening a window or just walking dully along;” W H Auden ‘Musee des Beaux Arts’
Auden, as he so often does, gets it right. The mother mourns her dead child as the un…

WHAT IS POPULISM Book Review

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If ever there was need to stop and pause, to stop and consider how we, on both sides of the Atlantic, got into the terrible mess we now find ourselves in, that moment is now. Just two years ago the world was a very different place. Obama was US president, whilst in the UK Cameron looked unlikely to obtain an overall majority and, though not well led, the Labour Party was still a significant electoral force. However, as the band played and children slept, the ship was gliding steadily toward the iceberg.
If we should wish to name that iceberg it would surely be populism. Few words have been bandied about with such little regard to whether there exists a shared understanding of what the term means. This makes ‘What Is Populism?’ by Jan-Werner Muller[1] a timely[2] contribution to a developing debate.
As so often the case with ambiguous terminology it proves easier to designate what populism is, than what it is not, and Werner Muller carries out a pretty forensic analysis that strips away…

BREXIT: A PERFECT STORM

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I The case for remain was poorly made, this was a consequence of several factors, one of which, incidentally, was the deliberate undermining of the Remain camp by Jeremy Corbyn and a small coterie around him. This does not explain the lacklustre campaign. At heart was the simple fact that the case for remaining in the EU was so glaringly obvious, rational and in the country’s best interests, that making it proved a mountain to climb. It is much harder to summon up the energy and intellectual rigour to persuade people that jumping off a cliff into the spray covered rocks below is not a good idea, than it is to make a more difficult and nuanced case.
Rational arguments, as the rational minded are oft having to relearn, rarely make themselves. The forces that shape our world are complex, subjective, random and ‘irrational.’ One only need examine one’s own inner and outer life to see how this is; sensible eating, regular exercise, not overworking, and finding enough quite time for meditatio…

NARCISSISM, KITSCH AND NOSTALGIA

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Trump Brexit And The Politics of Illusion ‘[Nazism] involved, perhaps first and foremost, a love of self, not the reality of the self but the self that is reflected in the mirror. This narcissism was projected into a political movement and eventually came to encompass an entire nation. The reflection in the mirror the Nazis had of themselves – blond, blue eyed, strong as Krupp steel, eternally youthful, with a Nietzschean will to power - that was the myth… Nazism was an attempt to lie beautifully to the German nation and to the world. The beautiful lie is, however, also the essence of Kitsch. Kitsch is a form of make-believe, a form of deception. It is the alternative to a daily reality that would otherwise be a spiritual vacuum…”
Rites of Spring, The Great War and The Birth of The Modern Age.’ Modris Eksteins
I The past is perhaps just as much an imagined country as it is another one. As Pessoa reflected, the greatest of all nostalgia's is the nostalgia for things that never were.…

CANALETTO AND THE WALLACE COLLECTION

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Is viewing paintings more than a comfort, a way of plugging into a wider, deeper, more profound perspective during troubled times, or is it merely escapism? I found myself thinking these thoughts the other week as I stood before one of the Canaletto’s in the Wallace Collection. These are magnificent pictures that can, if you stand still, focus and absorb the Venetian scene, the placid water and the active inhabitants, transport you back to early 18th Century Venice. For moments on end I was mesmerised and as we left the gallery and later, as my friend and I sat in the cafe on the ground floor, I felt somehow different about Brexit, Donald Trump and the gloomy international prognosis.  In what way ‘different’ it was hard to pin down, perhaps it was no more than having glimpsed another world, in which these concerns were not only absent but incomprehensible.  It was an emotion akin to envy, - most certainly misplaced, - of a simpler better age and a more profound sense of something lost.

S…

LONDON LETTER JANUARY 2017 ARTURO UI AND THE DELINQUENT ADOLESCENTS

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‘History repeats itself, first as tragedy, second as farce.’ The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte. Karl Marx 1852
History does not of course repeat itself in such a neat manner, as Marx well knew as he wrote his famous diatribe against the preposterous figure of Napoleon III. What periods of time sometimes do possess is something more akin to flavours, colours, echoes even smells, of another era. Thus, anyone from late Belle Epoch Paris or the 1920’s avant-garde would recognise the vibrancy of the 1960’s.[1] Similarly, the members of the Paris Commune were imbibing the same intoxicating perfume of 1848, as their reactionary opponents. So, as we enter the new year, a year that will be dominated by the populist neo fascism of Trump, that will be scattered with references to the 1930s, Hitler and the collapse of Wiemar culture we need to keep our antennae attuned to what is actually happening now. First statements of the obvious.  1. Trump is not Hitler; he is not even Mussolini. Trump…