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Archive for the month “May, 2014”

UKIP and the Small c


There’s a chunk in everyone’s – what, soul? mind? brain? personality? – that is conservative.

Wait, wait, bear with me. I can feel any liberal or left wing readers already eyeing the exits. Don’t. Sit down and listen. You can argue with me when I’ve finished.

I don’t mean economically, and I don’t mean socially. I don’t mean culturally. I mean, what, emotionally perhaps?

Think for a second. You are a regular at a local pub. You go in one day after a few weeks away to find the owners have refurbished. They’ve taken out the pool table and put in a family dining area. The jukebox – that jukebox that you listened to 70s classic rock or rare soul classics or the like on – that’s been replaced by a sound-system operated by the guy behind the bar. He likes his coffee-table trip-hop. That slightly bland and inoffensive stuff that followed in the wake of Massive Attack and Portishead in the late 90s. All day, while you are having your pint, you are sitting there and he’s listening to Morcheeba or Zero 7 down low, in that ‘just intrusive enough to be be irritating, just quiet enough that you can’t complain’ way that they all seem to have mastered now, serving the happy family in the corner with beer battered cod and chunky chips with mayo, and thinking “but I wanted to put ‘More than a feeling’ on and strut around the pool table knocking the balls in. I had my game face on”.

A part of your soul revolts against it. Natural. Sorry. Why must things change? I liked them just as they were.

Anyone who has ever worked can confirm this. The management brings in new working practices. They may not even be (although a little part of me is inherently sceptical of management, always) a bad thing. Doesn’t matter. In the car home, your workmate grumbles to you. The old methods were working just fine. Why do we have to do it this way now? Bloody managers.

A major retailer – a Woolworths – closes down. And we all indulge in an emotional spasm. What will the High Street be without it? You don’t really – generally – think of the staff. You just think of the presence. What will the High Street be without it? Well, you were all getting along buying things quite well without it, otherwise it wouldn’t have shut down in the first place, the bloody place would still be in profit. But it doesn’t matter. That part of you, that small c part, that emotional part. It rebels, it revolts.

Tomorrow morning we go to the polls. Oh, it isn’t an election that means as much as the general election, but it is still important on many levels. And many people – many not bigoted people – will go out and vote for a party that is drenched in bigotry. How did we get there?

The conversation that I want to have here is with the not-bigoted people.

You can’t reach the racist. He or she is more prevalent than liberal fantasy likes to believe, but he or she doesn’t make up the numbers here. But you can reach the small c people, who make up the majority of support for this party.

They may be more small c conservative, about different subjects, than lovely socially liberal me, and lovely socially liberal you, with our mildly fascistic disbelief that anyone can feel anything but the way we feel, but we have the same small c gene somewhere in us. Else Last of The Summer Wine wouldn’t have lasted seemingly longer than the 100 Years War.

Here’s a way of suggesting how:

Immigration (lets be honest here? You are a socially and culturally liberal eurosceptic and you are voting for UKIP tomorrow? Take a look at yourself. Go sit in the corner. You are knowingly voting for a party that panders to this. You don’t believe the red-meat stuff but you are doing it anyway because you feel leaving Europe is worth a shitstorm of xenophobia, hatred and mistrust arriving? Shame on you. Seriously. Shame. On. You). This is what the discussion is about. Change.

The problem we have had in this country is our main parties fluctuate between making an incredibly weak argument for the change that immigration brings, and pandering to opposition to it. This is the context in which UKIP is currently striding around, leading the polls, like a giant purple Godzilla, ready to wreak havoc on 30 years of liberal orthodoxy. But it doesn’t have to be that way.

What the major parties always needed to do, and pretty much signally failed to do, is make the case in emotional terms.

To take the small c conservative people aside and say “look, I get you, I feel your pain*, I understand that the society you live in has changed and this scares you. I’m not going to lie to you. It’s going to continue to change. Economics changes society. Demographics changes society. Technology changes society. Ideas change society. Immigration changes society. That is, unfortunately, the nature of the beast. But I’m going to help you here. We are going to help ameliorate what you feel are the negative impacts of this change. We are going to emphasise to you the positive impacts of change. That family moving in next door, the Romanians, the Bulgarians, whatever, you don’t really hate them, do you? Oh, come on, they may irritate you sometimes – I’ve never lived next door to someone who hasn’t irritated me sometimes – but give them a chance. Invite them around. Talk to them as you get in your car in the morning. You know what? It turns out the husband is a Man United fan like you, and he’s never been further north than Watford, either”.

A conversation is needed that melds the best part of the idea of multi-culturalism – the idea that vibrant communities can bring in new ideas, that culture melds and is syncretic, that we respect what is imported (and this isn’t the same as the blissfully ignorant liberal fantasia that no element of any imported culture can ever be challenged) – with the best part of integration too – proper integration, not just shuffling poor folk off to ghettos. A conversation that acknowledges that a host society has to integrate as well as others integrating into it, that culture moves, never stays stop still, and that we can mourn the passing of the old neighbourhood without hating the people who have redeveloped it, revitalised it, changed it.

And that conversation doesn’t need to be hippy-dippy and love-in. It doesn’t have to hide from the fact that a bunch of people from different backgrounds living together is always going to cause friction at some level. It does. Guess what?

So does a bunch of people from the same background. There’s a unifying theme there. And that theme isn’t immigration.

That theme is people.

We need to move beyond the part where the liberals call everyone scared of change bigots, and those scared of change retreat into atavism, and our politicians, recognising that there are more atavists than there are liberals, spend their time pandering to the latter. We need to learn to show empathy for the alienated incomer and the alienated local.

(This, by the way, works on many levels, about many things people are small c about. Hey, you, not really church-goer, but still, think of yourself as broadly Christian and you are, what? 35? 40? And you are worried about gay marriage?

Imagine what it feels like to be a gay man in his 60s. You’ve gone, in your lifetime, from having your sexuality illegal, to it being immoral, to it being mocked, to it being…what? Legal? You can get married now? Whoop and everything, but imagine how bewildering it is for them, too? Look. You’ve both got something in common, now)

And until the major parties start learning to do both, to ease the passage in, and smooth the ruffled feathers already there? To both sing the praises of and remove any friction from?

Then the small c conservatives will always be prey for the bigots. Because those fucks are always there. And always will be. And are more prevalent than we’d love to believe.

And I don’t know about you, but I think there’s enough of them bastards as it is, so I don’t fancy adding any more than necessary to the crowd of white hooded wankers, do you?

*I should really put a trigger warning in when knowingly using Bill Clinton quotes.

 

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The War Only John Sees


It must be hard, personally and professionally, to be John Pilger.

I mean, let us look at personally first. A while back, I described one of his Guardian pieces as “deranged”. A friend picked me up on it, and pointed out that we shouldn’t use such provocative language about someone who was a war reporter, as highly probably, he’s seen things neither you nor I would ever wish to see (as well as it being a slightly cruel description of anyone with mental health issues).

Fair dos, I thought, especially when said friend went on to admit that the piece in question didn’t precisely give a glowing advert for Mr Pilger’s mental state. I’ve been the subject of the odd violent interaction in my time, pure fisticuffs, and they left me somewhat shaken, so I can only imagine what horror Pilger has seen. It’d be imprinted on my eyelids while I tried to sleep, no doubt.

That point taken (which also, I would argue, applies to Robert Fisk, and separates them somewhat from the Lindsey Germans of the world, who pontificate from plush surroundings), and also, an unbearable sadness admitted that someone who has done such good work in his youth is churning out such material (and he may always have given me the slight air of a pompous blowhard, a humourless Assange style figure, but one can’t deny that his work on Vietnam and Cambodia and East Timor in the day was both vital and important), the point about it being difficult professionally hoves into view.

You see, when John used to jet from conflict to conflict back in the day, he was the heroic bringer of news to us. It must have felt a vital and important job, something to be justly proud and righteous about.

The problem is, however, that today, we don’t need John in the same way, and we can see when John is being – how to put this delicately? – a teensy bit partial.

Witness his latest piece in the Guardian. John begins with the usual litany of crimes that the US is responsible for – the coups and invasions of the Cold War. What’s rather telling about this is, well, when ever John writes a piece even vaguely connected to the US, he begins with, well, the usual litany of crimes that the US is responsible for, the coups and invasions of the Cold War. If it isn’t Vietnam, it’s Mossadeq (I mean, John, who are you left trying to tell about Mossadeq? Is there anyone with any knowledge of international relations – ie/ anyone who would read a John Pilger article- who DOESN’T know about the overthrow of Mossadeq? I’ve known about it for 30 bloody years, man). Or Allende. Or Lumumba. Et al.

The fact that the US has a lot of blood in its side of the Cold War ledger is indisputable. Often, and I will say this, often that blood was…well…not even spuriously justifiable. I’m with John on that. The overthrow of Allende, to take the last example, was brutal, criminal and underhand and I wouldn’t excuse it in the slightest.

What is interesting, however, is that John never really addresses the blood on the other side of the ledger. Not once. There’s nary a peep regarding Hungary or the crushing of the Prague Spring. We never get to hear about the slave state that North Korea became. Nothing about the brutal Marxist Leninist regimes in Africa, such as Mengitsu in Ethiopia. The brutal repression of Eastern Europe gets glossed over, the Cultural Revolution in China ignored. We don’t get the Eastern Bloc supplying the Baathist regime in Iraq with weaponry. Nope. We don’t get that at all.

 

Oh John *used* to mention – say – the Czech Spring quite regularly, back in those Charter 77 style days. He won’t talk about them now though, for the simple reason it takes the narrative of “evil USA rapaciously destabilising everything around the world” and adds a level of nuance, of balance. A real idealist should be able to stand up and say “both sides in a war did grubby and vicious things, I condemn them utterly”. But that’s what not what we get.

What we get is the bad of the West.

Anyone with any sense of history would accept that during the Cold War period – and indeed after – the US and its allies have often acted quite repugnantly. The fact that they saw themselves in a life or death struggle against an oppressive ideology shouldn’t – in the slightest – excuse the crimes, mistakes, cynicism, realpolitik and repression that the West aided and abetted and practiced at times. We know that, John.

How about today?

Ah, you see, today, the West – the US in particular – is gearing us up for a World War with Russia, John says.

Yeah, who knew, eh? The urgent scrabbling around for some sort of stability and compromise over Ukraine is, in fact, a deadly Western plan to provoke the innocent Russian nation.

John alleges that the EuroMaidan uprising was a “coup”, “masterminded” by the USA.

He’s obviously got a different definition of “coup”, here. A looser one, maybe. To most outside observers who don’t watch Russia Today religiously, it looked very much like a spontaneous national protest movement which, after bloody clashes, came to an agreement with the corrupt President of the country.

When said President scuttled overnight with dozens of trucks full of embezzled booty from his palatial mansion, he was impeached. A new government was chosen by a majority of the already elected Parliament. They put an interim government in place and called elections for May.

Never mind that, John calls them a “junta”. A pretty impressive word that, “junta”, to be honest. It smacks of generals in gold braid sitting around a table ensuring elections are never called for.

Maybe 30 years ago, you could have told us these things unchallenged. Maybe someone – one or two experts on the region – would have popped up to disagree, but unless they had a platform, a newspaper column in the Guardian, say, nobody could have really questioned your interpretation.

The thing is, John, now we can see the news. Not only can we see our news, but we can see Ukrainian news and Polish news, Russian news and Latvian news. We can see what happens and when. This is the information age. The world ain’t like that, anymore, John. We can see.

But of course, it gets better. The US masterminded the “coup”, to “encircle” Russia and to “seize” its “legitimate”, vital, warm water port in Crimea.

Only thing is, those of us who don’t have memories like goldfish can remember specific assurances being made to the Russians regarding the port.

We remember there being a lease that doesn’t run out for decades.

We recall that no threats were made towards the port in the slightest.

We also recall how Putin’s “defending themselves” involved invading the Crimea, and – at gun point – a minority of its Parliament voting for a referendum nobody hitherto had wanted, in the middle of the night, oh, and while we are at it? Electing as head of the provincial government someone who had hitherto received less than 5% of the vote. Lo and behold, the electorate voted 97% in favour of Crimea being swallowed by Russia (Russian Government figures), or, if you believe what the Russian Government accidentally put on its website and then hastily hid, 50% of 30-60% of the electorate voted in favour.

While under occupation.

With all Ukrainian news channels turned off.

And menacing noises being made towards the minority groups.

Hmmmm. Junta. That’s a fine word, isn’t it? You think the Crimean “leaders” may have been a little bit, well, Junta-ish? Junty?

Having failed in this nefarious plan to take over Crimea, John now detects that the entire of Ukraine has become, basically, a satrapy for the CIA. Sitting in Kiev, the CIA director, no doubt cackling and stroking a white cat, is terrorising the poor Russian speakers of Eastern Ukraine.

John touches on Odessa, and the – no arguments – horrible and violent clashes that led to a trade union building burning down with over 40 people inside. His version of events has the CIA inspired Neo-Nazi hordes stopping a doctor who come to rescue people and threatening him as a jew (how they knew he was Jewish, isn’t revealed).

Only problem with this narrative is, it was shared on Facebook by a gentleman claiming to be a doctor in Odessa. When the Odessa directory was searched? No such doctor existed. And, lo, his picture seemed to be that of a Russian dentist from thousands of miles away. When this information came to light, the Facebook page of said “doctor” disappeared. Never mind. 8000 shares later, and the story is still circulating, and John has gobbled it up as truth, and that’s all that matters.

It goes on and on, wearingly so, and throughout the piece, Putin is shown as a noble defender of his country, standing up to the evil US and their cackling Neo-Nazi henchmen. Putin keeps on offering “diplomatic solutions” (whilst his proxies on the ground run rampage, holding “referendums” that seem as believable as, well, John’s article) which the evil US dismiss out of hand.

Because the US wants war. And, yet again, to round off, he pulls out his Daniel Ellsburg quote (this seems to come out as often as Eisenhower’s – mistaken – warnings about the Military-Industrial complex), about a silent coup taking place in Washington and militarists running the show. And they are planning WAR, damn you, WORLD WAR.

Meanwhile, back on Planet Earth, Barack Obama flails around, somehow trying to work out what the hell is going on, whilst Putin takes Eastern Ukraine salami slice by salami slice.

And we can see it, John. I’m afraid your partial reporting won’t work anymore.

Old Bill’s lungs


He bubbled when he breathed. That’s my abiding memory.

I never knew my grandfather on my father’s side, he died when my father was very young (although twice, in childhood, old men stopped me in the street and said “you are Griff’s boy, aren’t you?” and we had to explain that no, I wasn’t Griff’s boy, I was his grandson, so I obviously had some of his stamp about me. A decent man, well-liked and taken early, by all accounts), but in terms of character, my mother’s side more than made up for it. There was her father’s family, an array of chancers, gamblers and rogues, like her grandfather, the premiere Bookies runner of the valleys, whose funeral was swamped by wreaths from his connections in that still illegal trade, or her Uncle Benny, a shining genius of a man who combined being the most flamboyantly homosexual man in the rough, tough mining area with a career in the diplomatic service and fluency in several languages, including Cantonese, no small feat for a working class boy born between the wars.

Her mother’s side were more respectable. A bit more staid. More, well, lets be honest about this, in the environment which they came from?

More chapel.

What David Cameron or Ed Miliband would call “hard-working families” today. Diligent. Strivers. Religious but not full of religiousity. Her grandmother, Polly Smith, blind from an early age, had moved down with her family from Bedford by horse and cart as a child. The horse died in Stow-on-The-Wold, the family walked the rest of the way.

Poll married two men, both of them veterans of the Great War, and its the second, Bill Smith, who I remember. And he bubbled, as he breathed.

That’s something, in my daytime dealing with the elderly, that I’ve kind of noticed slowly phasing out over the past decade or so. Part of it, no doubt, is due to the death of the mining industry. That coal came with a price, and the price was often measured in blood-flecked sputum. But also, another part, came from the other side. The Great War side. Both of Poll’s husbands had been gassed in the trenches, and decades later – this would be the mid 70s – their lungs had still not recovered entirely. I wonder how many of my generation have similar memories, of elderly relatives who would bubble and whistle, struggle for breath, in everyday conversation.

I run with the hawk and the hounds, often, in the subject of international intervention. Having rejected a good while back a large chunk of the dogma attached to oppositionalism, I take each call for it from the same perspective. I look at the region, the area, the nation. I try to read up about the politics and culture. I try to avoid easy stances. I research and ask people I know who have knowledge of the area – whether from experience, blood ties or from academic sources – what they feel about the current situation.

With the current crisis in Ukraine, for instance, I’ve been trying to read as widely as possible, from as many sources as possible. Citizen journalists and official lines. History (And, oh, it still offends me how few times Holodomor and purges and Soviet ethnic cleansing get referenced in any of this. Russian speaking majority in the east of the country? Well, crikey, where did all those Ukrainian speakers go? Can we, maybe, do a little connecting of the two here?).

Then I haver between positions, try and make an unbiased, informed choice of opinion. Often as not, it will be seen through the lens of living in the west, it’d be pretty impossible to escape certain cultural influences even for the most broadminded (good), the most culturally relativist (not so good at all) of us. (I’m not really an exemplar of anything for doing this, by the way. We’ve got the tools here, now, to do it far more than we ever did decades before. That we – on the whole – don’t is possibly laziness or possibly something slightly different – satiety? The easiness of junk information? Like 57 channels of shit on your tv and no Kenneth Clark documentary series in sight. Whatever the reason, I’m just saying, it isn’t a hard thing, now, to learn, and it isn’t a hard thing to learn free of the lens of ideology, however much ideology of the ideology I or you still share).

So yeah, I run with the hawk and hounds and manage, just, to keep friends on both sides of the divide simply because they recognise – I hope – that when I come to an opinion, I come to it from the perspective of an attempt at decency, an attempt to become informed and not to view people as pieces on some imaginary chess board. Empathy. That’s the key to it, even when you blunder in an opinion.

You may wonder how the two elements of this post meld together. Here’s how:

When I make a decision one way or t’other, when I fall to one side, I come up against arguments which oppose intervention in a foreign country – say, against Assad’s regime in Syria – they generally fall into 4 categories.

The first, a kind of self-loathing liberalism, holds that human rights are, y’know, a kind of fascism. How dare we come along and tell the indigenous people of the global south that they have a right to this, that or the other? This one, I tend to dismiss out of hand. Human rights are universal, or they are nothing. The UN has a fucking Human Rights arm, for christsake. The club whose only criteria for membership is “you have to control this country”. Enough with that. I dismiss that idea.

The second is a kind of lumpen-Marxism. It isn’t really Marxism, because Marx, even when wrong, was a far more elegant thinker than most Marxists are, or ever will be. There’s a fantastic quote, by the historian Norman Davies, who likens modern day Marxism as “having the same relation to Marx as the South Sea Cargo Cults do to the Anglican Mass”. The actual reality is, this isn’t Marxism, although most major Marxist organisations in the world would probably cleave to this particular brand of oppositionalism. With its talk of resource wars and its misunderstanding of imperialism – both economic and actual – it really deserves the more appropriate title “SmedleyButlerism”. War is a racket, ah huh? Who gets rich from it, eh? Bankers and arms dealers, innit? ALL ABOUT THE OIL, STUPID. The problem is, of course, that the world is a grubby place, and the world of war grubbier still, so there will always be things which feed this conspiracist viewpoint. Halliburton, I’m looking at you. But, despite the grubbiness of such deals, this doesn’t mean this worldview is right. It most patently, often, isn’t.

The third, one finds harder to deal with. It says “We will make things worse”. It is harder to deal with because, inevitably, in the short term, war does make things worse, armed intervention does make things worse. The question is, always, will it make things better, in the long run? How long will this take? Is that really our intention? One doesn’t have to be naive about our elected leaders to think that – most probably – it is their intention to make things better. Very few people get elected with the intention to make life hell for everyone else, no matter what party affiliation you loathe. Whether that will be the result of their actions, however, depends on your reading of the situation and – perhaps critically – their competence to deliver. It is a worrying thing to be trusting people who you wouldn’t trust to run a whelk stall in a domestic setting with the power of life and death over people far away. A natural caution there is most definitely advisable and not the same as objections one or two in the slightest. This is the killer, for me. This objection meant that I was – and remain – one of the last agnostics on Iraq. It means I don’t know what the hell was the solution in Syria three years ago and I sure as hell don’t know now the region has gone to hell and back. It means I was ambivalent about Libya, that I supported Mali and Kosovo and Sierra Leone, and gnashed my teeth at the inaction in the Former Republics of Yugoslavia pre-Kosovo.

And then there’s the fourth objection. The fourth objection is hardest to deal with, and it is where this post melds together. It was Otto Von Bismarck who most coherently summed it up, with his famed line: “The whole of the Balkans is not worth the bones of a single Pomeranian grenadier”. Of course, at its worse, this represents a kind of Little Englander chauvinism – your dead children are not worth the gold and possible blood we may expend to save them.

But then I remember Bill, and his wheeze, and his bubble, and I recognise there’s a healthy streak of cynicism that underlies the proletariat (the class I still unrepentedly self-identity with after decades of being told we don’t exist) – a cynicism that takes in Flanders Fields and Gallipoli, or the famed story of the soldiers listening to a Churchill speech in the field in 45 and jeering “the old bugger is pissed” before voting him out office (and the armed forces vote and the fact that they backed Labour in the same proportions as those at home is often brushed under the carpet in our narrative of that most just of wars), Goose Green and Catch 22, PTSD, soldiers returning home to the decaying working class communities they joined to escape from, and old Bill’s lungs. Its a cynicism that says all your moral adventures are paid for with our blood, with our limbs and with our lives.

And for all I rage often at the bien-pensant liberals and their moral relativism, and the craziness of the left abandoning internationalism for conspiracism, it remains the truth that any “anti-war” feeling in this country, as in all countries, is most definitely fed more by that cynicism than anything else. Sneer at its provincialism, its chauvinism, Little Englander mentality, its reactionary backwardness all you like. Call it racist to value the lives of a few thousand servicemen and women over hundreds of thousands of those of a different skin colour all you wish. There’s a large chunk of truth in all of that.

But then I remember Bill. And how he bubbled when he breathed. And that’s the argument that you can’t dismiss out of hand. The folk memory of these occurences is within us all, still. We gear up to the celebrations (Baffling. Do they want to recast it as World War II, Mk 1 or something?) of the centenary of the commencement of World War 1, and its shadow still falls, today, over us all. Its good that it does, in many ways, as it appears to have innoculated us, finally, against that jingoistic expansionist glory hunting element that was in the national character (it took Germany another 30 years and something far more disastrous to come to the same state of catharsis, and millions of people, Jew and Gentile, mainly from all points East, paid most of that price for them).

But any discussion of anti-war feeling that focuses on the moral cowardice of point 1, the malformed ideology of point 2, or the inherent conservatism of point 3, and ignores Bill’s lungs, is airless and weightless bloviating, a discussion that takes place amongst the elite, and for the elite.

The Conspiraleft


I don’t know whether you recall Naomi Wolf’s bestseller “The Beauty Myth”? I read it at university and remember thinking it good (although I vastly preferred Faludi’s “Backlash”).

Well, somewhere between there, via Occupy Wall Street, and here?

She’s gone a bit, as we say around my neck of the woods, “doolally tap”.

From her publicly posted Facebook page, she treats us to this:-

“In 2006 I went to Sierra Leone where 15000 girls had been kidnapped as sex slaves and NO ONE IN THE US CARED…not the state dept, not the military, no one in the media would run the story I was pushing for but finally Oprah did the story…news shows said ‘our audience is suburban’ meaning ‘we don’t care about black girls being kidnapped’….so the HUGE ANOMALOUS reaction to this EVERYDAY kind of sexual violence against African teenage girls is VERY SUSPECT and totally theatricalized, if that is a word”

A couple of things, really, Naomi. Firstly, those 15000 girls you mention? They weren’t all stolen in one go. Secondly, they weren’t all stolen in one go by an Islamist terror group. Thirdly, they weren’t all stolen in one go by an Islamist terror group whose leader made a broadcast saying he’d stolen them to be slaves because they were receiving an education. And fourthly, after all being stolen in one go by an Islamist terror group who then made a broadcast saying he’d stolen them to be slaves because they were recieving an eduction, the people of Sierra Leone didn’t launch a 3 week co-ordinated social media campaign (like the people – WOMEN – of Nigeria did) to bring to this to the attention of a blase world.

So, you know, maybe it’s that. Or maybe the US ZIONAZI WARPIG MILITARY INDUSTRIAL COMPLEX is USING IT TO STEAL NIGERIA’S OIL?????????

Anyone seen Occam’s Razor?

 

Top Jeer


I don’t like cars. Let’s get that out straight off the bat.

Oh, I recognise their worth for getting individuals from A to B. I don’t have a Green antipathy towards them. Just, I don’t like them, in that barely developed teenage boy way that so many men do. You won’t catch me having a long discussion about the merits of a particular model. I don’t buy Practical Car Masturbation Monthly, or whatever any of the specialist titles are called.

I’m also, as may be probably guessed from my political views, not really a sharer of the world-view of Mr Clarkson.

Which leads me to only make two observations regarding the latest racism row that recently erupted around the fellow.

Observation 1 is that, I have no idea what his intention was in using the language, whether he is actually a racist, I don’t really care, and I believe nobody should be fired for their unbroadcast, private language in a free and open democracy.

However, this is not the same as a public service broadcaster employing them. We shouldn’t be at this stage. We shouldn’t, because way before this point, the BBC should have stopped making the show, or stopped making the show in this current format, with these current scripts.

This isn’t a call for him not to be allowed to make a TV program in which he “hilariously” mixes jokes, which are occasionally aimed at the disabled, referencing people’s sexuality or exhibiting petty, oafish low level (at best) national chauvinism with comedy car reviews.

He should be free to make whatever program he likes.

A commercial channel could – if it feels it could attract and keep advertisers for that time slot, when he’s busy offending potential clientele (good luck with that) – then air it. Entirely up to them, there. But a public service broadcaster, paid for by the licence fees and from the general taxation of the disabled, the license fees and general taxation of people of all sexualities and all ethnic backgrounds, should not be airing it. That’s a simple principle. You expect your providers of public services – be they NHS, broadcasting, or bin-men, to be impartial as much as humanly possible.

That isn’t about censoring “views” away from public service broadcasting. Because what Mr Clarkson represents shouldn’t even be dignified with the word “views”. It is merely about making sure that such a service is impartial. I wouldn’t want my NHS doctor to call people, say, “slope”. Because he represents a public service organisation. If someone chooses to go on – say – Question Time and use the word “slope” to describe a man of Southeast Asian origin, let him go ahead. Watch how it affects his popularity. The stage is set for you, Mr Farage.

The private sector? Well, let the market decide. Strangely enough, I feel Mr Clarkson’s antics are both justified by the market (the massive sales of Top Gear DVDs) and protected from the markets, because I suspect very very few commercial providers would handle the flocking away of advertisers from a particular time slot that such open and constant low level charmless bigotry would provoke.

If you look across the Atlantic to America, with their first amendment rights, whilst racist attitudes are present in drama (as an integral part of the drama) after a certain point at night, you wouldn’t catch any of their channels broadcasting such witless stuff (and it is the witlessness of it that makes it so bad – something like “South Park” will be gleefully offensive to all races and nations including its own. But that has wit to it. People get there is humour present. “Top Gear” doesn’t even begin to approach wit. It gazes, longingly, at the foothills of wit from the trench of lumpen blokeish idiot banter it inhabits). Because the market will iron it out.

There’s also the fact that Top Gear has grown into this role. Its had a very strange evolution into quite a weird beast, one that bears little resemblance to the original program, which was a magazine program about cars. Imagining it being pitched today leads one to think of the scene where Alan Partridge pitches more and more desperate shows, culminating in “Monkey Tennis”

Partridge: “Its a car magazine show”

BBC Commissioning Editor: “No, I don’t think…”

Partridge: “But wait! Every so often, the presenter says something controversial and borderline racist”

I can’t really see it happening, can you?

The second point is a shorter summation of the first:

IT’S A FUCKING CAR REVIEW SHOW, YOU FUCKING MORON. CAN’T YOU JUST REVIEW A CAR WITHOUT BEING BIGOTED? WHAT WOULD THE SHOW LOSE, PRECISELY, FROM YOU NOT MAKING HILARIOUS REMARKS ABOUT LAZY MEXICANS? WHAT DID THE ‘SLOPE’ ‘JOKE’ ADD TO THE SHOW? 0.10 SECONDS OF LAUGHTER? DO YOU THINK YOU WERE STANDING UP FOR SOMETHING? WHAT, PRECISELY?

The solipsism of anti-imperialism


Lindsey German is a former member of the SWP and current “convenor” of the “Stop The War” coalition, a coalition who appear to exist entirely to oppose what they see as the continuous and unvarnished evil of the West. Ms German has frequently disgraced herself in the very recent past – making excuses for the terrorist who attacked a French Jewish school (such excuses, of course, she would never make for Mr Breivik), pushing a pretty nauseating pro-Putin line over Ukraine, etc etc.

Last night, however, she decided to up the ante completely. In a Guardian article ostensibly about the 200 Nigerian schoolgirls whose kidnapping by the brutal Islamist terror organisation Boko Haram has become an internet cause celebre (mainly, it must be said, led by Nigerians – mainly female Nigerians at that – themselves), she indulged in yet another round of…

Oh, go on, you know. Another round of blame the west.

It is interesting to see how she formulates this argument. After a couple of paragraphs of throat-clearing (in which the kidnapping is described as a “tragedy” – a revealing choice of word, given a tragedy is generally something, y’know, unavoidable, accidental and grim, like a volcano eruption or a tidal wave, rather than what this actually is, which is a massive criminal human rights violation by a bunch of medievalist psychopaths), she gets down to brass tacks.

To wit, the west shouldn’t get involved. Oh no. Because they will turn Nigeria into Afghanistan. And anyway, the Americans are already there! Boots on the ground in Niger! (Ok, it’s actually the country next door. Ok, there’s only actually 100 of them there. Ok, they operate unarmed surveillance drones at the behest of the Niger government who are worried about….ummm…..medievalist psychopaths spilling over the border).

“And western intervention is already firmly embedded in Africa. It does not have the same profile as in Afghanistan or Iraq, because past wars have made it harder to put boots on the ground. But Barack Obama has his military forces engaged in West Africa through their Predator drone base in Niger, which borders northern Nigeria. It also borders Mali, the scene of recent French and British interventions, and Libya, object of a disastrous western bombing campaign in 2011 that has left that country in a state of civil war and collapse.

US drones also operate in Djibouti, Ethiopia and just across the Red Sea in Yemen. The west has been engaged in proxy wars in Somalia in recent years.

If Islamism is now a threat to western interests in growing parts of Africa, it is one that they have played a large part in creating.”

Never mind there’s rather a large distance between Djibouti and Yemen and Nigeria. Around 3000 miles as the crow flies. Approximately the same distance there is between London and Gambia. Or London and New York. Because Africa is all the same place, innit? Those drones operating out of Djibouti most definitely add to the insecurity in Northern Nigeria. Just as Boris Johnson’s transport policies affect the New York Subway…

Oh, and there’s Mali. Mali is interesting because it happened last year. Remember last year? I remember it happening. And Libya? Remember the Libyan campaign in 2011? Of course you do.

Boko Haram, which “The West” has played a “large part in creating” in Nigeria, was formed in 2002. Its name allegedly translates as “Western Education is sinful” (although there is some etymological dispute over this, but its very much against western – or indeed, any feminine – education, whatever the provenance of its name). It started its campaign of violence in 2009. I’m quite impressed how, as well as destabilising the entire of the region by having 100 soldiers in the country next door, and a drone base 3000 miles away, the evil US have also managed to create Boko Haram via time travel! Astounding!

She then finishes the piece with some general knock-about “hate capitalism” stuff which blames the evil imperialist west for exploiting Africa, and blissfully ignores the major rising economic presence in the area, sitting behind some of the most brutal regimes, the lovely authoritarian Chinese regime, who are busy buying up African resources like there is no tomorrow.

I made a very simple, and easy joke earlier, on Twitter. “There’s a Yoruba saying which translates as ‘as day follows night, whatever the situation, Lindsey German will find a way to attack the West'”. I apologise for that joke – the language in the areas where Boko Haram operate is predominantly Hausa, so it was inaccurate – but the truth of it remains.

Some authors, Ms German prime amongst them, refuse to see any situation through the viewpoint of what it is like for those living in the area. To them, geo-politics is all about you and nothing else. Thus, Ukraine’s national integrity can be sacrificed because one doesn’t like the EU, or NATO. Nigerian schoolgirls being kidnapped can be waved away as a tragedy and then blame fixed on “the West”. Everything comes down to who you hate at home, nothing comes down to what is actually happening abroad.

There is a word for this. The word is solipsism.”Fuck what happens to the Nigerian girls, I’ll just do a bit of dear oh dear hand-wringing and then oppose any action at all that could help them. Why? Because I hate having to live in a reasonably successful pluralist democracy. Why? Because capitalism”.

Pretty sight, that view, isn’t it? Aren’t you pleased our leading liberal-left newspaper gives this woman space to push it?

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