Liberation Day

No matter what the future may bring, those of us who were lucky enough to be alive and British on March 29 2017 will never forget the glorious day when the United Kingdom finally threw off the yoke of the European Union.  In the years to come, perhaps very soon, we will hold a national holiday to commemorate our liberation from four decades of unrelenting tyranny and near-total darkness, in which we had seen our precious nation brought to its knees by the dictatorship of Brussels.

At last, our emissaries handed over the letter expressing the will of the people,  and we were able to believe that it was really going to happen.   It was the end of a nightmare or the beginning of a dream.  Or the beginning of the beginning or the first birdsong heralding a new dawn or the birthpangs of a truly Global Britain.  For some, it was only comparable to VE Day or the liberation of Paris.  It was a moment that so many of us had dreamed of throughout the years of toil and suffering under the EU’s slippered jackboot.

Even Jacob Rees-Mogg was barely able to maintain the stiff upper lip and hold back the tears of joy as the first members of the EU occupying army began to pack their bags, taking their subsidies with them.  Others smiled contentedly as the EU nurses left in the wake of the occupying forces,  at the thought of the NHS that would soon be theirs. Cornwall and Wales let out a sigh of relief at the thought of all the European money that they would no longer receive.  Ukip MEPs, hardened through decades of guerrilla warfare in the belly of the beast on salaries of only £84,000 a year plus expenses, came back from Eurostar with their sten guns and handgrenades, wondering how they would turn swords into ploughshares and forge new careers in a country where their single MP had just turned independent.

Watching the non-existent crowds in the empty streets, Michael Gove felt a lump in his throat at the thought that he would not be prime minister after all, but took consolation from the prospect of all those drugs that could now come onto the UK market without EU clinical trials,  and the green spaces that could now be built over without all that EU red tape to prevent it.  Boris Johnson shambled out into the street with his shirt hanging out over his trousers wondering how long he would have to wait before he could prime minister.

Others dreamed of bigger things. Oceans full of fish.  Selling cows to New Zealand. Factories and coalmines reopening. Empty motorways and well-paid jobs for all. And above all, controlled borders and no foreigners, even though the government is now saying that immigration won’t go down after all.

The Sun, passed out like Father Jack in a corner of the nation’s living room, lifted its unshaven head and belched as it warned the Eurocratic scum that if they failed to reach a trade agreement the UK would stop sharing our ‘world-leading counter-terror and crime-fighting abilities’ with the EU.  ‘Your money or your lives!’ the Sun croaked drunkenly, because we really are that great.  And because in any trade negotiations, as the Sun reminded us before passing out again ‘ our crack team of politicians and civil servants’ will always vanquish the ‘Brussels no-hopers.’

Truly the white man had got his country back,  and could look forward once again to taking the underground and not hearing Polish in a journey that would hopefully end up somewhere in the early 1950s.   And the white woman  could also rejoice, like the woman in Hastings who found historical parallels between our current slavery and the Norman Conquest, and concluded that ‘The concept of being governed by an unelected body would have been absolutely abhorrent to anyone in those days. It’s almost like the state has been lost. It was like another takeover, we relinquished our law and power to an unelected body.’

As any student of history knows, those Normans would never have allowed England to be taken over by an unelected body, so we could only put out the flags and cheer even louder that such great and noble thoughts had brought us to this pass.   And the left could celebrate too, because as John McDonnell reminded us not long ago,  ‘Brexit is an opportunity.’   Now the working class had spoken and delivered a fatal blow to ‘the elite’ and the neoliberal order and the British had the chance to get the socialism they had always secretly wanted – even if it was only socialism in one country.

Bliss was it to be alive, as Wordsworth once said about an equally historic moment, and it needed a poet to capture the beauty and the history of our own Liberation Day. Fortunately we had Theresa May, one of those rare politicians with a poetic license to make the impossible sound plausible and articulate the opposite of what is actually happening with absolute and total conviction.

Yesterday the vicar’s daughter reached new rhetorical heights as she reminded the nation that we are now going to ‘going to make our own decisions and our own laws’, regardless of the fact that we already do.   She told us that the government that brought us foodbanks, fitness to work tests and the bedroom tax would ‘build a stronger, fairer Britain.’   Like so many others, she urged us to ‘ look forward with optimism and hope – and to believe in the enduring power of the British spirit.’

She told us ‘I choose to believe in Britain and that our best days lie ahead ‘ and we ‘chose’ to believe it too, even though there was absolutely nothing to suggest that any such future lay ahead.   We did so because we had learned that fairies were real and because Brexiters warned us that they were tired of negativity, pessimism, and doubt, and some of them were even suggesting that those of us who harboured such thoughts might be traitors or criminals or collaborators with the EU death machine.

Our Great Leader also ‘chose’ to believe in ‘the British spirit’ and we did too, because the spirit can reach places where material processes fail, and she was ‘confident that we have the vision and the plan’ even though nothing that has happened since last June suggests that she has either.  She promised us that we would become ‘a magnet for international talent and a home to the pioneers and innovators who will shape the world ahead’ –  even though we already are exactly that.

Typically British in her magnanimity, she offered the olive branch to the European despots, and told them that she wanted to have ‘a new deep and special partnership between Britain and the European Union’ – as opposed to the old one which we already have.

She also promised ‘ a bold and ambitious free trade agreement with the European Union that allows for the freest possible trade in goods and services between Britain and the EU’s member states; that gives British companies the maximum freedom to trade with and operate within European markets; and that lets European businesses do the same in Britain’ – precisely the agreement that we already have.

She pledged to ‘ strengthen the Union of the four nations that comprise our United Kingdom’ even though Scotland and Ireland are already pulling away and Wales is unlikely to be far behind.  She assured the workers amongst us that ‘workers’ rights are fully protected and maintained’ even though the British standard of living ranks at number ten out of 18 European countries and the Institute for Fiscal Studies predicts that most British workers will be earning no more in 2021 than they were in 2008.

Last but not least, she reminded parliament ‘ at moments like these – great turning points in our national story – the choices we make define the character of our nation.’

She was right about that too.

Empire 2.0

In years to come, historians will look back at the ruins of the country that was once the United Kingdom and wonder what brought about its spectacular and stunning collapse. As they pick their way through the rubble,  they will eventually end up in the strange and barren period that we are now living through, in which there is almost nothing that we seem able to do except watch as one of the greatest collection of fools, frauds, fakes incompetents that has ever led the British state leads the country towards disaster with the gleeful insouciance of a drunk batsman tottering out to the wicket to take a wild swing at any ball that moves.

Yesterday, for example, Theresa May had the unbelievable gall to accuse Nicola Sturgeon of ‘playing politics’ with the country’s future, as if she would never dream of doing such a thing.   And today, the pitiful David Davis admitted that the government has no contingency plan for leaving the EU without a deal, even though Theresa May only recently insisted that leaving the EU with no deal would be better than leaving it with a bad deal.  How could she be so sure, if she hadn’t actually assessed what might happen?  We don’t know, and she obviously doesn’t know either. Yet that didn’t stop her promising to inflict on the country what she didn’t know, regardless of the consequences, and there is little indication that those who voted to leave want to know, or even know that they don’t know.

This is the terrifying dynamic that the country is now trapped in.  It unfolds day after day, gathering pace and idiocy with each passing week.  There appears to be nothing that anyone can do to stop it.  Today, a report from the construction industry predicted the loss of 200,000 construction jobs.  Since the Referendum there has been a 90 percent drop in the number of EU nurses coming to the UK and there are nowhere near enough nurses to replace them.

Try and stop this – or even try to allow parliament to actually look in detail at what the unelected PM is planning – and you are likely to be dismissed as a ‘Remoaner’ and ‘whinger’ or even a ‘traitor’ who has defied the ‘will of the people’.

With hindsight historians may be able to understand how this incredible disaster was allowed to happen.  And when they sift through the fanaticism, the arrogance, the glassy-eyed optimism, the flagwaving jingoism and the sheer stupidity and destructive malevolence of the political class that made it happen, they may well discover something called Empire 2.0.

This apparently is the name that Whitehall civil servants have given to the government’s proposal to reinvent the Commonwealth as a post-EU substitute for the EU.  Liam Fox, the sleazy spiv who should never have been allowed to take office yet has inexplicably become trade secretary, does not like this terminology, saying ‘It’s a phrase I find slightly offensively caricaturing. So it’s not a phrase I would use.’

No one could caricature Fox and his colleagues better than they do themselves, but Empire 2.0 is in fact a very good shorthand explanation for what is taking place.  Empire 2.0 sounds like Hawaii 5.0 and for these clowns it is just as thrilling, or ‘terribly exciting’ as Nigel Farage put it.   Because one of the main reasons why this country is now preparing to commit collective national suicide is because it once had an empire and it has still not got used to the fact that it does not have one.

Like the woman on Question Time who insisted that Britain ruled as  ‘the light of the world’ for ‘thousand of years’, the British political class, and a significant percentage of its population believes that the British empire was great and it cannot get used to the fact that it no longer great.

This is a country haunted and poisoned by imperial nostalgia and imperial amnesia.  It’s a country that has tried to cling onto greatness by stacking up nuclear weapons so that it can sit at the big table at the UN; above all by kidding itself that it was acting like ‘Greece to Rome’ in its servile and subordinate relationship with the United States and its willingness to ride shotgun with every lunatic American military adventure.

But despite all this, the country senses that it is not great as it once was or has it should be.  It remembers a time when the tables of the world ate with British steel, when gunboats were there to remind dodgy foreigners and governments trying to prevent their populations from becoming opium addicts of their duties and responsibilities.

Now we have to abide by the rules of an organisation – the EU – that we willingly joined, and so we tell ourselves that the EU is a new ‘Reich’ and that we are living under the ‘dictatorship of Brussels.’

Having foreigners tell us what to do is bad enough, but the real indicator of our fall from greatness is the presence of foreigners inside ‘our’ borders.  It was alright once for us to emigrate to any country that took our fancy and conquer countries that opposed us – immigrants were not supposed to come here, at least not in such numbers that they became noticeable.  They were not supposed to walk around our streets and SPEAK THEIR OWN LANGUAGES.

For too many of our countrymen, such things are unacceptable.   And that is why we had to leave the EU.  That’s why we want Empire 2.0 to restore our links with our old friends from the Commmonwealth who once belonged to Empire 1.0, because we are a ‘great trading nation’ and great trading nations can do what they like even if they can’t.

It’s no good pointing out that countries that replace a rational and thoughtful analysis of their actual possibilities and prospects in the real world with fantasies are not going to get very far.   You can try to explain that leaving the single market and falling back on WTO rules is a catastrophic error.  People like Fox, who believe in the ‘tremendous opportunities opportunities to importers and exporters from across the whole Commonwealth, a genuinely win-win situation’, will never listen.  They will never change their minds, never think twice, never allow even the shadow of a doubt to drift across the bright horizon.

They remember when we were great and they know we can be great again.  For them, every precipice is a chance to fly.   Unfortunately, too many people share the same belief, and they will probably continue to share it, long after we hit the ground, and the bubble of Empire 2.0 floats out of reach, and bursts above their heads.

 

Who let the dogs out? Brexit

More than two months after the Brexit referendum, the surge in hate crime and racism unleashed by the referendum shows no sign of abating, and the politicians who did so much to help bring it about continue to deny any responsibility for it. Farage has done this on various occasions, and now MEP and arch-Brexiter Daniel Hannan has joined the dismal chorus.  

Asked by Dermot Murnaghan on Sky News whether he felt there had been ‘an increase in hate crimes involving foreign nationals in the UK’,  Hannan denied that any such increase had taken place and accused Murnaghan of being ‘tendentious’ in his questioning.

How so?  Because, according to Hannan,   ‘ there has been for a long period a rise in the reporting of hate crime incidents because of the way in which the police have their websites and treat every report as an incident.  There hasn’t been any increase in the number of cases referred for prosecution and some of the cases the media have jumped on have turned out to have nothing to do with Brexit at all.’

Of course tracing a direct causal link between every instance of racist violence and Brexit is difficult, if not impossible, but Hannan’s denial of any connection at all is weak, self-serving and intellectually dishonest.  Police figures make it clear that there has been an exponential rise in the number of reported racist or hate crime incidents in the months since the referendum, which has nothing to do with ‘the way in which the police have their websites,’ whatever that means.

Hannan is right that such incidents preceded Brexit.   Long before the referendum, politicians and newspapers were portraying migrants and foreigners as feckless parasites who come here either to take ‘our’ jobs or batten off the taxpayer.  If you routinely criticize people for not speaking English in public and accuse them of being cultural usurpers or invaders, you can’t be entirely surprised when Polish migrants are physically and sometimes verbally attacked if they speak to each other, or when mothers are frightened to talk to their own children in their own language in public.

After all, some of our leading politicians and newspapers have saying for years that migrants must be like us or leave, and they’ve done this without a sliver of shame and without any acknowledgement that their words might have actual consequences for the men and women who they were directed against.

This steady drip-drip of contempt, disdain, paranoia and chauvinist poison has eroded decades of slow and often painful progress towards a society in which overt expressions of racism were not socially legitimate or acceptable.

So on one level the surge in post-Brexit racism is something that has been incubating for a long time.  But the referendum brought out into the open what had previously been covert and underground, to the point when too many people now feel legitimised and justified in persecuting migrants or anyone who looks and sounds like one.

The politicians who directed the campaign may not have wanted this to happen, but they deliberately and cynically inflamed the most primitive xenophobic and nativist instincts in the population, because they knew that these were the sentiments that would bring them victory.    They may not think of themselves as racists and xenophobes, but in moral terms you don’t really look that great if you aren’t a ‘genuine’ racist, but someone who merely uses racism and xenophobia to your own political advantage.  It’s nothing to boast about, frankly.

In his Sky Interview Hannan tells Murnaghan that he has no right ‘ to insult 52% of the British electorate by suggesting there is some connection between voting to take back our laws and being unpleasant to people who have made their lives here, I think that’s an extremely dangerous way of going.’

Not nearly as dangerous as the menacing forces that Hannan and his cohorts have helped to unleash.   And regardless of what he says, I will insult and condemn the politicians who made this happen, and never more so than when they have the gall to pretend that it was nothing to do with them.

 

Troll Nation

Anyone who has published, tweeted or posted anything on the Internet will be aware that the worldwide web can be a dank and hateful environment in which all kinds of wild and extremely poisonous creatures flourish.  Whether it’s the anonymity provided by an avatar, or simply the fact that the Internet provides a tool for bullying and harassment as well as communication and discussion, it enables people to behave in ways that would not be possible and would certainly not be acceptable anywhere else.

To point this out doesn’t mean that I am anti-Internet, or that I believe, as Nick Cohen and others seem to, that the Internet has made people nastier and more stupid in the ‘real’ world.  It’s tempting to believe this, but I don’t see any evidence of it.  What I have seen is that the Internet provides a forum that did not previously exist, in which stupid and nasty people can flourish and even gain a power that they would not otherwise have had to bully, threaten, menace, or simply express views that would be generally considered shameful and reprehensible if they were not tapped into 140-characters or below-the-line comments sections.

There are so many dreadful examples of this.  No one will be surprised that Katie Hopkins marked the death of five men by drowning last week with a tweet suggesting that they were illegal immigrants.  That’s what made Hopkins famous.   Others with a similarly tenuous connection to humanity are known by their tweets rather their names. Three years ago Caroline Criado-Perez received hundreds of rape and death threats for having the temerity to suggest that Jane Austen should be on a pound note.   In May this year the 15-year-old British-Palestinian schoolgirl Leanne Mohammed was subjected to a storm of online abuse because she won a debating prize defending Palestinian rights.

Recently the actress Leslie Jones.was subjected to an absolutely savage misogynistic and racist twitter assault which forced her to abandon Twitter.   Her crime?  Jones is black and stars in the new female version of Ghostbusters – an apparently unforgiveable transgression in the eyes of thousands of bug-eyed racist morons who have harassed her and regarded the remake as some kind of heretical violation.

Clearly the Internet doesn’t turn people into jerks, but it nevertheless enables them to be jerks or reveal their innate jerkishness more openly.   Take some of the below-the-line commentators who saw fit to pontificate beneath the blog  by Rosie.Ayliffe, the mother of the young woman who was horrifically murdered in a backpacker’s hostel in Australia last month by a Frenchman named Smail Ayad.   I always find these murders of young women utterly depressing, but this one was more shocking to me than most, because Mia Ayliffe-Chung was a local girl and a friend of my daughter’s.

She once spent a night in our house with a group of my daughter’s friends and kept me up because she wouldn’t stop chattering away in the room upstairs. Another time we picked her and my daughter up from a local festival.  All this happened some years ago, and I hadn’t seen Mia or even thought about her till we found out that she had been murdered as we were driving back from France.

My daughter was not surprisingly stunned by this, and the murder of a local girl of her age brought home to us that it could very easily have happened to her, or to any of the young men and women who were once part of her life and who we have also known, who have left this obscure corner of the East Midlands to go travelling.

Since then I’ve followed her mother’s blogs on the Independent and followed the case in the media to its latest grim development, the death of Tom Jackson, who tried to save Mia and was killed.   I have to admit that I was initially surprised that she wanted  to write a blog about her journey to Australia to retrieve her ashes, and suspicious of the Independent’s motives in doing this.

Reading the blog however, I was very impressed by Rosie Ayliffe’s grace and decency, and  by her quiet determination not to allow the murder to become a pretext for anti-Muslim hatred or become another sensationalised media-victim.  It is clear that Rosie has attempted to celebrate Mia’s short life in public in order to prevent her daughter from being co-opted by the media or by anyone else, and also in an attempt to deal with her own grief.

All this is admirable and even heroic.   But that is not the opinion of some of the truly repellent creatures who have come swarming in below the line.  Most of them were as supportive and empathetic as you might expect from human beings worthy of the name, but others were disgusting and contemptible.

Some criticized Ayliffe for ‘politicizing’ her daughter’s murder by writing about it and insisting that it was not an ‘Islamic’ crime – even though there is nothing to suggest that Ayad was anything more than yet another misogynistic and possibly deranged male who did not like being rejected.   Yes there are reports that he supposedly cried ‘Alahu Akbar’ during his frenzied attack, which does not make it a ‘Muslim’ crime or an act of terrorism, as some of the below-the-line commentators immediately claimed – and attacked with the usual sarcastic ‘religion of peace’ comments that the likes of Katie Hopkins think are withering and devastating.

Some of these commentators have had the temerity to suggest that Ayliffe was some kind of ‘useful idiot’ deliberately playing down the ‘Islamic’ motivation in this crime out of political-correctness or ‘idealism.’  Today someone called her an ‘idiot mother’ supposedly profiting from the murder in order to make a career for herself as a journalist.   Another took time out to provide a little erudite mansplaining, criticizing Ayliffe for using the word xenophobia on the grounds that the word ‘xeno’ comes from the Greek word for ‘stranger’ and therefore could not be racist.

Some of this is outright hate-mongering, of the kind that regards even a mother’s blog about her daughter’s murder as a suitable forum, and some of it appears to come from the kind of dim, hectoring men who have always been among us.  What is clear is that none of these correspondents could care less about Mia Ayliffe-Chung or her mother, and are only interested in the murder insofar as it supports their bigotry.

The Independent has a long track record of allowing such comments and not monitoring its below-the-line pages, and it has wisely removed all comments and stopped doing comments under Ayliffe’s pieces now, and this is a good thing, because if the Internet has shown us anything these last years, it is that there are no barriers where trolls cannot travel, and no limits to what they are prepared to say or who they are prepared to hurt.

The fact that these poisonous bile-carriers feel justified in sneering at a grieving woman and using her daughter’s murder as a forum for spreading anti-Muslim hate is one hand a consequence of the digital revolution, that has given power to people who may not have any power that they may not have in any other sphere of their lives.  But the Internet is only partly responsible for removing or weakening the ethical and moral constraints that might once have induced such people to think twice about what they say and keep their ‘thoughts’ to themselves.

Ultimately the responsibility is theirs, but no matter how much they hide behind their avatars and abbreviated names, they are the ones we should condemn, again and again, till they are too ashamed to show even their digital faces in ‘public’.