Archive for the ‘politics’ Category

Yeah, I suppose it was inevitable that sooner or later I’d have to write about… him: the walking excrement that currently occupies the big round room in the big white house.

I’m sure I wasn’t the first person to employ the phrase ‘the orange poltroon’ to describe Donald John Trump, but I was certainly unaware of anyone else using it when I started to use it in tweets. And I’d said for years that ‘poltroon’ was one of my favourite words so… anyway, I’m claiming it for the UK side of things.

I mean, sure, I’ve occasionally mentioned President Poltroon before on here; days after he was elected, I observed that he now had a power that genuinely scared me, and no, it wasn’t the power to obliterate countries leaving only a mushroom cloud in its place.

I’m only faintly surprised he hasn’t excercised the full extent of the power-that-scares-me already, that some maniac supporter hasn’t killed a federal judge, say… and received a pardon from Trump for doing so, or killed those serving on a grand jury investigating the orange poltroon, and then been pardoned by said poltroon.

Pardoned, I hasten to add, with no deleterious consequences for said poltroon.

For the current iteration of the Republican Party have made it crystal clear in their behaviour the past couple of years that, no matter what the orange poltroon does in office, they’ll follow the exact same strategy as they followed during the election campaign… once it became apparent that Trump was [going to be] the nominee:

That Trump is a racist misogynist bully, a sexual abuser, a fool, who rarely reads, knowingly plays to the worst of the worst, lies like he breathes, and wants to bang his daughter, is beyond doubt. His ego and his vanity were well known long before he ran for office, and no-one expected that to change after sixty million or so people marked their ballots in his favour.

And, sure, no one was overly surprised at the sheer venality expressed by others in the GOP who turned the supineness and submissiveness of the cowardly bully, when faced with a bigger bully, into a bloody art form. Partly because he serves their purposes, partly because of their contemptible fear that Trump will turn against them at any moment.

And, of course, having given him their support, they’ve got too much personally and politically invested to back down now.

But of all the norms that Trump has shattered, has ignored, has completely crapped over, what no one truly predicted however was the breach of the most basic norm of constitutional government.

The most basic, the fundamental, tenet of American government. No… not that he’d ‘do something unconstitutional’; it’s possible that any President could do that; that’s in part why the Supreme Court exists, and in whole why the impeachment power exists.

The fundamental constitutional norm that Trump’s pissed on from a huge height is something that John Ramm¹ was at pains to point out to students:

“The American system of government works as it should, and only works as it should, if and only if, each branch of government respects the authority and legitimacy of the others.”

And Trump doesn’t. It’s as plain as that.

There was a throwaway comment Trump gave in a recent interview which I was mildly surprised wasn’t picked up more, since it revealed so much. He’d been told – let’s face it, he didn’t read it himself – that the Presidency is covered in Article II of the Constitution of the United States.

Article II.

And it so obviously irritated him, so plainly irked him. That The Presidency wasn’t in Article I, I mean.

Because, despite the Constitution giving – obviously – different powers, different rights and responsibilities, to each of the three branches of government, Trump clearly believes with every fibre of his being that it shouldn’t. It’s beyond comprehension to him that the other two branches, Congress (the legislature) and the Supreme Court (the judiciary), are equal branches of government; he plainly believes that they’re not only lesser than the Presidency (the executive) but that they inherently hold less legitimacy and authority… because they’re lesser.

And that’s a tough position for him to even state, let alone argue… if the Presidency is Article II. I mean, he’ll try, obviously. Because he’s a fool. But even someone with his… unique kind of intelligence… will struggle.

His view of Congress, of members of Congress, of Senators, is transparent: he views them with contempt. All of them. The ones who hate him, the ones who profess to love him, those who condemn him, and those who support him. Because they’re not Presidents, because they’re not him.

And the message to Republican Senators and members of Congress isn’t: ‘if you back me, I’ll say nice things about you’; it’s ‘if you pieces of crap support me, I might not shit on you… today‘.

And they take that. They take it every day, and then come back for more.

I mean, when it comes to Republican members of Congress and Senators, who knows, maybe he’s right – practically, not morally – to treat them like that, because it’s bloody worked. And it continues to bloody work.

Even those in the GOP who once criticised him in the harshest possible language have all sucked at his teat since, and voted to pass legislation of which he approves. And without in any way repudiating their previous criticisms, they’ve pretended those criticisms were never made, those statements were never issues, the video of them doesn’t exist.

As for the judiciary, well, the orange poltroon’s expressed his contempt for how it operates in the US any number of times, while both praising and condemning the court system, and individual justices of the Supreme Court.

But again, remember that

“The American system of government works as it should, and only works as it should, if and only if, each branch of government respects the authority and legitimacy of the others.” 
 
Thirty five years ago, about now, during the impeachment of the hearings of them President Nixon, it was revealed that in Nixon’s secret recordings of what happened in the Oval Office, there was an 18½ minute gap. In the resulting litigation, the Supreme Court (an 8-0 decision, in US v Nixon) ordered Nixon in July 1974 to deliver tape recordings and other subpoenaed materials to a federal district court. He did so. he followed the Court’s ruling. And sixteen days later, Nixon resigned.

I’ve been wondering, since 2017, what happens when (not if but when) the Supreme Court rules against Trump on something big (‘Watergate 18½ minutes’ big, say) and Trump effectively responds ‘No. Now what are you going to fucking do about it?’

SCOTUS’ authority rests on the other branches respecting its legitimacy and authority.

And Trump doesn’t.

The other week, I went to see Michael Wolff being interviewed by Matthew D’Ancona, the former promoting his new book Siege, covering the second year of Trump’s [first] term in office, after Fire and Fury covered the first year.

 
Genuinely fascinating, and there was a Q&A afterwards; some good questions, some great answers.

So I asked the question above, what would happen if SCOTUS ruled against Trump on something huge, something genuinely important… and Trump effectively said ‘fuck you’ to SCOTUS.

Wolff paused a moment, thought of his answer, and then simply replied “I don’t know. But it’s a scary thought. And, personally, that’s why I think Robert Mueller ‘punted’ in the report, didn’t go as far as he could have, as he should have. Because he didn’t want to provoke, to create, that problem, what would be a genuine constitutional crisis.”
 
I’m not sure I wholly agree that Mueller did punt the report; genuinely think there’s strong arguments on both sides of that one, none of them conclusive.

But it’s certainly not something I wholly disagree with either.

I miss the days when the branches of government at least pretended to respect the authority and legitimacy of the others in public, and mostly did so in private.

Something else tomorrow.

This post is part of a series of blog entries, counting down to my fifty-fifth birthday on 17th August 2019. You can see the other posts in the run by clicking here.


¹my tutor in A Level “Government and Comparative Political Systems”, which I studied at Luton VI Form College (1980-1982)

Advertisements

I’ve been going back and forth on this one. But last night’s Panorama programme about antisemitism inside the Labour Party tipped the balance.

No, I’m not going to write about that today, neither the programme itself nor the details therein, save for one small reference towards the end of this post; maybe soon, but not today.

Some years ago, I wrote a piece about antisemitism in the UK, and how it’s risen, and how it’s not uncommon – some would aver often – for criticism of Israel (used as a metonym for its government, PM, military, laws, politicians) to ‘cross the line’ into overt antisemitism.

Now, whenever this does happen, whenever antisemitic criticism – not criticism itself, but overtly, blatantly, antisemitic criticism – is highlighted, you can guarantee two responses:

  1. “Oh, you just don’t want any criticism of Israel!”, and
  1. “You’re making up false allegations of antisemitism to prevent any criticism of Israel; you always do that!”

How best to respond?

Bollocks. Oh, ok, yeah, that works.

Unfettered, unmitigated, unreserved… bollocks.

(The second of those responses above is known in the UK, among the Jewish community as ‘The Livingstone Formulation’, since it’s been deployed by Kenneth-of-that-Clan for decades.)

I don’t know how often it has to be said but apparently at least once more is necessary even before I read the comments to this piece: criticising Israel [its government/politicians/polices/military] isn’t per se antisemitic. How could it be? It’s no more inherently anti-Jewish to criticise the actions of a Jewish state than it’s anti-Christian to condemn the UK government – of a still formally Christian country – for the ‘Bedroom tax’, or to criticise its Prime Minister, or to criticise the actions of the UK’s military.

BUT… if that criticism is expressed using the same words, the same lies and/or the same imagery, as has been used for literally centuries to demonise Jews, yeah that’s antisemitic, Israel references or no.

So what do I mean, when I say the ‘same imagery?

Do I mean ‘similar’? Nope, I mean the same. The same hooknosed caricatures of ‘zionists’, the same ‘gorging on blood’ images of Netanyahu (a politician I loathe, not that it should make the slightest difference) that have been used to demean, disparage… demonise Jews via the Blood Libel for centuries.

This entry, and some others in the run going forward, is to address the lie, the flat out lie, that using antisemitic imagery – based upon age old antisemitic tropes – is somehow, magically, not antisemitic if you replace “Jews” with “Zionists” or “Israel”.

Because it is [still] antisemitic if you do that.

Yes. It really is.

You want to criticise Israel? Its government, that government’s policies, its actions, its statements?

Go right ahead; I might even agree with you on the criticisms. I might not, but hey, there’s lots of criticisms on any subject with which I agree… and some I don’t.

Seriously, go right ahead and criticise away. One small thing, though: Just don’t do it antisemitically. It’s not a lot to ask, I believe. Just don’t be antisemitic. Don’t express your criticism, your condemnation, by using the same canards, the same myths, the same fabrications, the same images, used to condemn, excoriate, and falsely disparage Jews for hundreds of years in some cases, longer in others.

Don’t do it using a decades’ old, sometimes centuries’ old, antisemitic trope. Don’t do it with classic antisemitic themes, antisemitic imagery or antisemitic canards.

If you’re going to do that, then, yeah, folks – me among them – are going to justifiably say, “yeah, antisemitism”. Note that: justifiably.

So… in some blog entries over the remainder of this run, this place is going to give examples of antisemitism that – in some cases pre-dating Israel’s existence – criticise Jews and then show exactly the same modern criticism, only with “Jews” clumsily replaced by “Zionists” or “Israel”.

Ok then. Let’s get started.


Let’s start with: Cephalopods

I don’t know what antisemites have against cephalopods; I really don’t. They seem pretty harmless to me, although an octopus’s three hearts do really freak me out, I’ll be honest.

But cephalopods (the octopus, the kraken, the squid) have been used as a symbol of “Jewish power” by antisemites for over a century.

It’s used, I guess, to indicate, both the alleged secret way Jews have supposedly infiltrated everything from any established previously ‘clean’ system – the media, banks, the press, democracy – to a named county, to even a planet. (No, you didn’t misread that. Yes, I said a planet.)

And also, I guess again, that Jews somehow cling on to things?

I dunno.

Logic and facts are not two things antisemites are that fond of, I’ve found.

(Someone I know wondered a while back where all the smart, intelligent antisemites were, because they only came across “fucking idiots” online. I have some sympathy with that view, but I think that, dark humour aside, it’s giving the ‘smart’ ones far too much credit.)

But anyway, take a look at the first set of pictures below.

They’re old, really old, and are explicit in their Jew hatred.



Hitler – yeah, be fair; you knew he’d be along sooner or later – made plain his views on Jewish power, metaphorically using… oh, you guessed.

“If our people and our state become the victim of these bloodthirsty and avaricious Jewish tyrants of nations, the whole earth will sink into the snares of this octopus; if Germany frees herself from this embrace, this greatest of dangers to nations may be regarded as broken for the whole world,”- Mein Kampf

The next pic comes from that time….

(Sometimes they start with an octopus and I dunno, figure a spider is better… or they can’t draw tentacles?

But yeah, a hook nosed, caricature of a Jew. (And of course the spider has links to ‘vermin’ and lots-of-people-are-scared-of, which may form another post in the run.)

But the pics above are just half a dozen of literally thousands, if not tens of thousands, of examples in history.

Oh, let me quickly address one apparent confusion among some:

Two pics:

The one on the left (on top if viewing on mobile) is the Israeli Flag. The one underneath (on the right) is the Star of David I wear around my neck, a 21st birthday present. The former is the symbol of The State of Israel. The latter is a symbol associated with Jews and Judaism back to the days of the Bible. In Hebrew, it’s not called a Star of David, but a Magen David (pronounced Moggain Dovid), a Shield of David, because that’s what was painted on the shields of King David.

The two share a six pointed star. The former has details not on the latter: a white background, a specific colour, stripes above and below.

If you use the magen david without all of the above…? Don’t pretend you’re referencing Israel; you’re not. You’re referencing Jews. And you know it.

Here’s another, more recent, picture.

Recognise anything?

Now, those who use, promote and post the pic would almost certainly – do, in fact – insist it’s aimed at Israel (the AIPAC in the background would ostensibly seem to agree.) And it may well be ‘aimed at Israel’… but it’s not only aimed at Israel. Which is the point.

It’s using age old antisemitic imagery used for centuries to attack Jews as well, and the people who created the image and those who promote it, distribute it, send it around, use it on social media, defend it… they know it means Jews.

But surely they don’t always know?

Let me introduce you to Kayla Bibby who posted the attached on social media.

OK, it’s the facehugger from Alien movies, but it’s just the latest iteration. Hey, look, there’s a Star of David… not on a flag, not with a white background, not with stripes above and below.

Huh. How about that?

But did she know that it means ‘Jews’?

Well, for once we have a concrete answer to the question. The image comes from a far right website which was crystal in its clarity that yes indeed it was about Jews. The article it accompanied described Jews – not zionists not Israelis, but Jews – as “parasitic” and said they were to blame for “financial heists of entire nations”.

Ah, but how was Ms Bibb–

She contacted the site and specifically asked permission to use it.

Ah. Yes, ok then.

Ms Bibby actively sought this image out, requested its use… from a site which specifically said it was about Jews.

(By the way, the Labour Party first said that the image wasn’t antisemitic, and that neither was she, and chose to not even suspend her; they merely issued a “reminder of conduct”. Only after outrage at this decision – and her MP, Louise Ellman, raising it at a parliamentary party meeting – was she eventually, over the original protests of the leadership’s office, suspended.)

If you use those images, any images like them, you don’t get to say they’re not antisemitic. You just don’t. Not without lying. Because those who use it know the images are antisemitic.

That’s why they use them.

Two final points to make today.

So how can I criticise Israel without being antisemitic? Glad you asked. There are loads of good sites out there on the subject; I like this one, as it happens: How to Criticise Israel Without Being Anti-Semitic.

Secondly, and following on from the above, it’s so easy to criticise Israel, and its government, ministers, military, etc., without being antisemitic, that when folks do insist on using antisemitic canards, tropes, and imagery…

…one is forced to conclude that it’s the antisemitism that’s important to them, not the criticism.

More images, a different trope, next week.

But something entirely different, however, tomorrow.

This post is part of a series of blog entries, counting down to my fifty-fifth birthday on 17th August 2019. You can see the other posts in the run by clicking here.

21 years

Posted: 9 January 2019 in politics

So, it’s 21 years since Mike died, and as I said last time around, it’s time to celebrate his life whenever I think of Michael, not mourn his death on the anniversary.

Im not sure this post entirely does that; it’s still marking his death, after all. But it’s doing so I hope in a way that at least acknowledges that I’m missing him rather than grieving or mourning.

Towards the end of 2016, as part of my blogging project that was a seventy-five day countdown to 2017, I wrote about what it had been like to have Michael as a big brother. Mike’s birthday was 20th November and I realised that although I wrote something every year on the anniversary of his death, I’d not really written about his life. So I did so, there.

As I wrote in that piece:

I’d be lying if I said that I still think of Mike every day. I don’t. But every couple of days, something will happen and I’ll think of him. Someone will say something and I’ll remember my brother.

Mike was 38 years old when he died, over fifteen years’ younger than I am now. And that’s a thing you never get used to, never. You’re always aware in a low level way that you’re now older, substantially older, than someone who once was older than you.


You’ll hit a birthday, or attend an anniversary event, and somewhere, back of your mind, is always the thought ‘yeah, another milestone that he or she didn’t get to’. My grandparents died in their 60s, and my father died when he was over 80. So, the only experience I have of that feeling is Michael.

Twenty-one years after his death, though, it’s not even really the birthdays themselves that he never reached that strike home, as much is it is experiencing those birthdays; waking up being one more year older. It’s the experiencing of anniversaries, experiencing the life, the years, the culture and changes that he never got to see.

It’s everything, from the age related stuff that he never had – odd aches and pains, annual checkups that you get in your mid-50s – to those cultural and political changes that he never experienced but that he would have been fascinated by and with.

I wonder what Mike would have thought of the current political situation, which movies he’d have liked, which he’d have been disappointed with, which bands he’d like, which tv shows he’d have absolutely loved.

And the long and enjoyable discussions we’d have had about all of it, about life.

And that’s leaving aside that he lost those years – he lost seeing his children grow up, he lost seeing my lad Phil grow up, and that Phil never got the chance to know Mike. Not properly, not as a growing child should get to know someone. Phil was barely two years’ old when Mike died. He’s 23 now and Mike should be someone he could call when he’s pissed off with me or his mum. Mike should be someone who’s there for advice, or for a laugh, or just to chat to. And he should be there for Phil to get pissed off with, if his Uncle Michael happened to agree with me or his mum rather than him.

They’ve both missed that.

Then there are the friends I’ve met, friends I’ve made, over those twenty-one years. Friends I have every confidence would have liked Michael, and he’d have liked them. I can easily see Mitch and Clara and Roger, Neil and Amanda, sharing a laugh with Michael; very easily indeed as a matter of fact, probably at my expense, the way you allow of friends and close ones.

Mike was one of the few people in my life I put on a pedestal; he never did anything that would have forfeited that place, and I celebrate that fact, while curious whether he’d still be up there, or whether the passage of time would have changed that from ‘love and respect’ to ‘love and proper, sibling, friendship’.

Some people take the turn of the year to revisit past decisions, to do a mini audit of where their life has taken them. Some Jewish people do it on Yom Kippur. Other folks do it on their birthday. Me? It shouldn’t come as a huge surprise that I tend to do it today, on the anniversary of Mike’s death.

I can smile, reluctantly at times, at the life experiences and choices I’ve made that would have, at various times, cheered him, made Michael laugh, made him angry, and left him speechless in exasperation. He was my ‘big brother’ and I loved him – what else would you expect?

I said last year that I could almost hear him saying, Twenty years is long enough to mourn me on the day of my death; time to celebrate my life whenever you think of me, Lee. Whenever you think of me.

And that for once, brother, I was listening.

So, twenty-one years…

Thank you, and rest easy, brother.
x


A few years ago, after I posted something similar to the above, I got several emails and messages from people who either didn’t know I’d had a brother, or didn’t know what had happened. Both asked what had happened. Here’s what I put up in response..

Soon after Mike’s death, I was asked to write something about him; And, here’s what I wrote:

Michael Russell Barnett
20th November 1959 to 9th January 1998

“On Thursday, Mum took me shopping. It sounds
harmless if you say it fast enough, doesn’t it?”

– o –

When I was at Manchester Polytechnic, ostensibly studying for a degree, one of the highlights of my time there was getting a letter from Michael. Full of gentle humour, the letters showed a literary side to Michael that can still reduce me to laughter 15 years later. The above line was written as he was recovering from his first heart operation.

Reading through the letters recently, what surprised me wasn’t so much the realisation that Michael was only 23 or 24 when the letters were written, but how much of my own writings have been influenced by Michael’s style.

Michael taught me so much, from how to play backgammon to the skills necessary to cheat at cards better than our younger brother; from how to scan a line when writing a lyric or poem to the proper glass out of which to drink scotch – “one with a hole at one end and no hole at the other.”

I’ve often said that Mike was my hero. And he was. The courage he showed throughout his illnesses and operations, the way he dealt with people and the way he supported me in all I did was everything I could have wished from a brother. We shared a particularly dry sense of humour and it was rare that a few days went by without one of us calling the other to share a joke or to tell the other a particularly funny story or a funny event that had happened to us.

Yet of all the memories that spring to mind about Michael in the 33 years I was privileged to have him as my ‘big bruvver’, four stand out as clear as day…

– o –

“Dear Lee, How are you? I hope you’re getting down
to it. And getting some studying in as well.”

– o –

August 1983
I’d driven up to Harefield to visit Michael before his first op. He was in the ward and when he saw me, he grabbed his dressing gown and we headed for the café. As we were leaving the ward, a nurse rushed past us and went to the bed next to Michael’s. We didn’t think anything of it until another nurse, then a doctor, then another nurse, pushing a trolley pushed past us. Naturally concerned, we headed back into the ward to see them crowding around the bed next to Mike’s. The curtains were quickly drawn and Michael suggested we leave. At that moment, we realised we’d left Michael’s cassette recorder playing.

In the sort of accident of timing that only happens in real life, Michael reached out to turn the cassette recorder off just as the next track started. The song was by a band called Dollar.

The title of the song? “Give Me Back My Heart”

We barely made it out of the ward before doubling up…

– o –

“I’m looking forward to our engagement party. My only problem
is how to ask Jeff for a day off on a Saturday. I suppose on
my knees with my hands clasped together as if in prayer…”

– o –

Wednesday 9th October 1985
Lynne and Michael’s Wedding Day. As their Best Man, I’m theoretically responsible for getting Michael to the shul shaved, showered and sober. Failing that, it’s my job to just get him there. Anyway, Mike has a few things to sort out at their new home, so I tag along and we spend a few hours together. Precious hours that I wouldn’t swap for anything. We tell jokes and pass the time, two brothers out together letting the rest of the world go by.

We get to the shul and get changed into the penguin suits. Flip forward a couple of hours and Lynne and Michael are now married. Mazeltovs still ringing in everyone’s ears, the line-up has ended and we poor fools still in morning suits go to the changing room to, well, to get changed – into evening suit. For whatever reason, Mike and I take the longest to get changed and we’re left alone for five minutes together after everyone else has left.

As a throwaway line, just to ease our nervousness for the forthcoming speeches, I make a comment that I’m sure glad I’ve got everything with me: “Suit, shirt, shoes, speech…” Mike grins and repeats the mantra. “Suit, shirt, shoes…” There’s a horrible pause followed by a word beginning with ‘s’. But it’s not “speech”, it’s a shorter word.

Mike looks at me in horror, and I’m beginning to realise what’s going through his mind. “Don’t tell me you’ve lost your speech,” I tell him.

“I know exactly where it is,” he says, making me very relieved for a moment, before continuing, “it’s in my wardrobe at home.”

After another split-second when we struggled not to crease up at the ridiculousness of the situation, Mike took control in that calm way that he had. He borrowed a pen off of me – the pen that he and Lynne had given me as a thank you for being Best Man – instructed me to get a menu and then stand outside the door and leave him for twenty minutes…

An hour or so later, after I had given my speech, Michael stood up to make his. He started off with a line that fans of Rowan Atkinson would recognise in a moment : “When I left home this morning, I said to myself ‘you know, the very last thing you must do is leave my speech at home’. So sure enough, when I left home this morning, the very last thing I did was… to leave my speech at home.”

As I say, it was a familiar opening to fans of Rowan Atkinson. To everyone else, it was merely a clever start to a speech. To everyone else that is, except our mother. Mum, you see, knew exactly how the speech should have started and there was a classic moment – thankfully caught by the photographer – when she realised that he wasn’t joking – he really had forgotten the speech…

– o –

“Last week I graduated to hair-CUTTING. Next week, if
I’m lucky it’ll be cutting the hair on someone’s head…”

– o –

July 1997
After Mike’s second heart operation, Laura and I took our then 20 month old son to see him. Michael had often told me that being a parent was a mixture of joy and heartache but that he was absolutely revelling in being an uncle. When we got there, he insisted on going outside with us, for Philip’s sake, he said, but I suspect that he wanted to go outside as well, ‘breaking parole’ if you will. He took Philip by the hand and went for a small walk with him.

Looking back, watching Mike and Philip walking together, and a little later, Michael holding Philip on his lap, I remain convinced that it was at that moment that Philip started his adoration of Michael, a feeling that lasted after Michael’s death.

– o –

“Did you go to shul in Manchester. Hmm – is a shul in
Manchester called Manchester United?”

– o –

December 1997
The last big family occasion was on Boxing Day 1997. It had long been a family tradition that the family got together at Lynne and Michael’s on Boxing Day and this year was no different. The last photo I have of my brother is of Michael lifting Philip to the sky, the pair of them laughing out loud.

He looked so well, having regained all the weight that he’d lost through his illness, still with a very slight tan from the holiday he, Lynne and the boys had taken in late 1997.

That’s how I’ll remember my brother, full of life, laughing and surrounded by his family.

The more I think about the Voter ID laws proposed for the UK, the angrier I get.

I use the word “angrier” quite deliberately. This isn’t something that ‘upsets’ me, nor that ‘disappoints’ me. No, it angers me. It angers for me for several reasons that I’ll get to in a moment after a nauseatingly sweet story from more than a decade ago, from April 2004 to be precise, that I related once upon a time in another blog when it happened, but it’s too good not to repeat now.

So, April 2004, I’m reading The Times, and Philip – not even 9 years of age – is reading the headlines, getting me to help him with any hard words. Back then, I was determined that he’d have a decent vocabulary growing up, so we’d regularly read the front page of The Times together. On this particular occasion, he picks up on the story that the then Home Secretary was trying to get ID cards introduced, at first on a voluntary basis, but to be made compulsory in the next ten years or so. 

He’s mildly interested in this story even at 8 years old because he’s just got his first formal ID card: a library ticket with his name and his signature on it (!) He’s very proud of that, and I am as well.

So Philip asks a couple of intelligent questions about why ID is needed at all, and then we play a game about what ID he knows I already have. And then, after having examined my driving licence, he asks why it has a photograph on it. The following conversation takes place:

Philip: But even if you have a photograph, someone can still pretend to be you.
Me: Yes, but a photograph makes it more difficult.
Philip: But if someone really really wanted to, they could still pretend to be you, even with a photograph.
Me: You mean, someone would choose to be as ugly as me?

There’s a slight pause before:

Philip: Yes, you’re right Dad. No one would choose to look like you.

At which point I’m coming to the conclusion that they made a mistake when they stopped us parents sending them up chimneys.

But back to the government’s proposal, which have garnered some publicity the past couple of days since they announced them. Basically, what they’re planning is to trial the Voter ID system for the 2018 council elections (at the 18 councils identified as most open to electoral fraud), and then – if all goes well – introduce it nationwide for the 2020 general election. The piece in that link makes it clear that it’s already been introduced in Northern Ireland and it would be remiss of me not to say that a) I was entirely unaware of that and b) I had no idea how it’s working in practice.

That said, Stephen Bush of The New Statesman has written a piece on Facebook giving his views, and I’m struggling to find anything to object to in it; I’d go further: I don’t disagree with a word of it. If it was on the NS‘s site, I’d just link but since it’s Facebook, here’s the entire piece. It’s short, but worth reading.

The government’s plan to pilot the use of photo ID to cut down on electoral fraud has many on the left worried that the proposal is actually a ruse to decrease the number of Labour voters who are eligible to vote. Are they right?
The first thing to note is that while there is a very small number of electoral malpractice cases – fewer than 100 – some of which count as an electoral fraud, they involve matters unrelated to the wrong people voting at polling stations. The most frequent crime is putting false signatures on nomination papers, after that breaking expenses rules, and lastly making false claims about other candidates.

The most recent high-profile cases of electoral fraud involved false claims about a candidate (Labour’s Phil Woolas against his Liberal Democrat opponent in 2010), postal vote fraud (Birmingham, 2004) and bribery and spiritual influence (Lutfur Rahman, 2014).

In none of the cases would a stronger ID requirement have detected or prevented the crime.
Of course, some people will say “but what about the criminals we don’t catch?” The difficulty there is it is hard to see where this fraud is taking place. In all those cases, the result itself was a sign something was up. If someone is rigging results, they are doing so in a way that produces outcomes entirely in keeping with national swing and demographic behaviour. Other than the thrill of the chase, it’s not clear why someone would do this.

What we do know from the one part of the United Kingdom that has voter registration – Northern Ireland – is that it makes it harder for poorer people to vote as they are less likely to have the required ID. That’s why after their pilot (back in 2002) they introduced a free ID card.

There is, however, a strong argument that elections need to command a high level of public legitimacy, making the case for ID stronger. But there is a wide suite of measures the government could bring in alongside this change that would achieve that while lessening the impact of having an ID. They could, for instance, make it so you are automatically enrolled when you pay council tax, a water bill, a heating bill or any other charge that comes with a fixed abode. They could roll out a free photo ID for elections.

But as they are doing neither, it feels fair to say that at best the government is relaxed about making it harder for supporters of its opponents to vote and at worst is actively seeking to do so.

As I say, I can’t find anything to disagree with in there. The main point – that this is a solution for a problem that doesn’t exist – is made. But the final bit is what makes me angry though, takes me from upset to anger: it feels fair to say that at best the government is relaxed about making it harder for supporters of its opponents to vote and at worst is actively seeking to do so.

It does feel fair to say that; in fact, it feels unfair to look at it any other way. The government has seen how Voter ID laws have been used in the US, to restrict poorer voters from going to the polls and have thought “ooh, that’s a good idea, let’s try that here…”

Two things jump out at me regarding the proposal; well, one thing jumps out and then a consequence that I think is inevitable. But first let me say that I, as an individual, don’t have any huge problem with carrying identification. I already carry around several pieces of ID from choice, from my bank cards, to various forms of ID, including my driving license. And on occasion, when it’s been required, I’ve been more than ok with showing my passport as identification. That’s me. And if it was a purely voluntary identification scheme, with a guarantee that it wouldn’t be made compulsory, I’d sign up for a Voter ID in a heartbeat, as I would with any identification scheme.

But that’s the problem: it wouldn’t remain voluntary. For a start, any compulsory identification scheme should be free of charge to the user at the time of issue and usage. If the government wants voters to have identification, it should, amend must, supply that identifation, free of charge. (Yes, I know it’s not ‘free of charge’; taxpayers pay for it, but I’m quite ok with that. That’s why I said “free of charge to the user at the time of issue and usage”.)

Not only would it not remain free to the user – no government is going to pass up the opportunity to charge cardholders for it, and even the cost of a tenner would raise several hundred million pounds – but the UK government – every UK goverbment – has wanted to introduce ID cards for decades. This would be the first step into making identification cards compulsory for everything; it’s a very short walk from voter ID to prescriptions to claiming benefits to… what? You’d have to show your ID when applying for jobs? For exchanging properties? For renting? 

I’m often disappointed in the UK’s government actions; more often I’m upset by them. This proposal angers and disgusts me. 

This post is part of a series of blog entries, counting down to 1st January 2017. You can see other posts in the run by clicking here.

2017 minus 11: Things past

Posted: 21 December 2016 in 2017 minus, life, politics
Tags:

While jumpstarting my brain writing today’s going cheep, a few things jumped into what I’m pleased to call my mind: things that were so obviously part of my if-not-daily-then-definitely-weekly life that no longer even peripherally impact me.This isn’t going to be a ‘things were better in the old days’; most often, they weren’t, and besides that’s the second most boring of these type of posts. (The most boring, of course, is that things are always better now‘.)

So, here are three…

Screen Savers Whenever happened to screen savers? Yes, I know they’re no longer ‘necessary’, but they persisted for quite some time after they ceased to be necessary. Then, in a quite astonishingly short space of time, they just stopped being a thing. Screen savers, for those younger readers, were A Thing. Not only A Thing, but A Thing about which you had to think quite seriously about. When someone saw your computer (never as many people as you thought might see it, by the way, sorry to demolish your ego), it was important for some reason or other that you had the right screen saver. Whether it was the flying toasters, or the never ending pipe work, or just a star field, you’d spend minutes – when it should have been seconds – choosing which of the screen savers you’d have on your screen. And – and this is true, I swear – if you were limited in the number of choices, I knew people who’d spend time figuring out how to get around the limitations… just so you’d have something on your screen that a) marked the computer as yours, and b) made you smile or at least didn’t piss you off.

One might suggest that it was solely the advent, and ubiquity, of flatscreen technology, and particularly the end of the cathode ray tube screens that ended the screen saver thing. I don’t agree. I instead wonder if what killed screen savers in the end was two things: firstly the rise of the laptop computer, and especially the immediate nature of the sleep/awake functionality. Suddenly, it didn’t take a minute or so to shut down your laptop, and another minute or so to start up, to resume, again. It was pretty much instant. So no need to leave the screen live; you could just shut the laptop and open it when you needed it. Secondly, and more importantly, the use of smartphones, and especially tablets. When batter power suddenly became the most important thing and genuinely instant access to a working screen/CPU meant that screens were never left on for more than a couple of minutes. 

Online psych tests Back in the days of Livejournal, it was a rare week when one of the memes doing the rounds wasn’t a psych test. You’d click on a link, answer anywhere between 30 and 100 questions and you’d receive an instant diagnosis of your mental state. No one took it particularly seriously, and as a consequence, people openly showed their results… because they were treated as a trivial thing, nothing more nor less important, nor more nor less accurate, than the “which Lord of the Rings character are you?” type things. Even if a result showed that someone was seriously ill and in need of medical attention, therapy and/or medications, readers of the results would usually assume that the result was flawed, or that the person doing the test had fucked around with the answers. 

Maybe it’s the lessening of stigma that has allowed people to be genuine about this kind of thing, and as a consequence, online tests seem to be ‘cheapening’ the work of therapists and psychologists and psychiatrists? I don’t know; I do know that I’m pleased it’s happened; the reaction in their presence, I mean, not the work of therapists and psychologists and psychiatrists. (For my my own personal issues with them, they do an important job, and I know many who’ve been=gutted from them.)

The Big Beasts of UK Politics At some point during my adult lifetime, UK politics ceased to have ‘current’ big beasts. Back in the days of Wilson, and Callaghan and even Thatcher, those who sat around the Cabinet table, and those who faced them across the House of Commons chamber, were acknowledged at the time they were doing it as ‘big beasts’, the powerbrokers in the parties, and in the country; people who through either force of personality or of accomplishment deserved to be regarded as such. At some point during Tony Blair’s premiership, that changed. Blair and Brown remained the big beasts but everyone else was a lesser species of politician. The Torres didn’t help matters in that respect by again seeming to reduce anyone who wasn’t leader – and in IDS’s case even then – to some lesser respected and lesser able category of politician. (I almost typed ‘some lesser kind of politician’ but that’s a bit too on the nose where Tory politicians are concerned.)

While this demotion almost certainly helps the leaders of the party, it does nothing beneficial for the country and indeed arguably damages it. While no one wants a cabinet or shadow cabinet riven with disagreement, torn apart by plots for the succession, by allowing the leadership to be seen as the only grown up around the table, it pretty much buggers the succession for years to come. And in the case of Labour now, the only big beast worthy of the name is probably the Shadow Chancellor. Certainly the leader doesn’t deserve the appellation, though he might do in a year’s time. But not yet.

Three things that it always used to be an article of faith that they’d be there. 

Today was “Things past”. Tomorrow “Things present”. You can try and guess what Friday’s will be…

This post is part of a series of blog entries, counting down to 1st January 2017. You can see other posts in the run by clicking here.

Watching the shitstorm covering the United States at the moment, it occurs to me that for anyone under 30, who’s only experienced Dick Cheney and Joe Biden as their Vice Presidents, is in for a hell of a culture shock when Donald Trump is inaugurated. And the only prediction that has any weight to it, as to what kind of VP Pence will be, is – as is so often the case with this President-elect, no one has a fucking clue.

Cheney was probably the most influential VP in my adult lifetime. He gave the lie to all the views of the VP expressed by pundits, politicians and former Vice-Presidents in that he genuinely was involved in many high level decisions and wasn’t merely sent out to do the President’s bidding by promoting his policies, and representing the US at funerals. Cheney never looked like he enjoyed being VP though; he always came over – to me anyway – as someone for whom the VP position was just a job in which he could do stuff. For sheer enjoyment of the role of VP, you have to put Joe Biden at the top of the pile. Never have I seen a person more obviously enjoy not only being VP but everything that a VP does. Damn, I’m going to miss him, almost as much as I’m going to miss President Obama.

The VP has precisely two constitutional duties: to break the tie of the Senate is deadlocked, and to step in if the President is incapable of performing his duties. (Yeah, yeah,  you can make your own jokes up about the fella who’s about to be sworn in.) But that’s it. Some VPs have been more of use to their President than others. Some have regarded it as just a PR role, some have bitterly grown to regret accepting the job. 

Not for nothing did John Nance Gardner (FDR’s VP) describe the job as “not worth a pitcher of warm piss”. (Mind you, I also like his other quote of “You have to do a little bragging on yourself even to your relatives; man doesn’t get anywhere without advertising.”)

Other quotes about this oh so powerful office?

“[The Vice Presidency] is the most insignificant office that ever the invention of man contrived or his imagination conceived.”
–John Adams, 1st Vice President

“”Look at all the Vice Presidents in history. Where are they? They were about as useful as a cow’s fifth teat.”
– Harry S. Truman

“I do not propose to be buried until I am really dead.”
– Daniel Webster, on not accepting the Vice Presidency

That said, there’ve been a number of VPs who’ve died in office, and I’m glad as hell that VP Biden is making it out alive, and well.

All the foregoing being acknowledged, I still think one of the best lines about the Vice Presidency was spoken by the sage of Baltimore, one H L Mencken with his observation that “A vice-president is one who sits in the outer office of the president hoping to hear him sneeze”.

That, as well as other comments about the Vice Presidency comes from Alistair Cooke’s masterful Letter From America on Vice-presidential responsibilites from October 1996… Read and enjoy.

And so, in a few short weeks, we’ll find out what Vice President Mike Pence will be like. Whether he acts as a restraining influence on Trump, or encourages him, or – as Keith Olbermann wants – desposes him via section 4 of the Twenty-Fifth Amendment… either way, looks like we’re cursed to live in interesting times. As, it turns out, is Pence.


This post is part of a series of blog entries, counting down to 1st January 2017. You can see other posts in the run by clicking here.

2017 minus 24: Short memories

Posted: 8 December 2016 in 2017 minus, politics
Tags:

Maybe it’s a combination of both the ever-present news cycle and because so much has happened this year, but I’m starting to wonder whether we’re reaching the end of that time when certain events in a country’s history seem to linger, and take a place in the “group memory” of the population of that country.

Maybe it’s been happening for a long time, that reduction in ‘group memory’; maybe there’s just fewer ‘I’ll always remember what I was doing when I heard about [insert event of choice]”. While Donald Trump’s winning the election is, without doubt, one of the biggest events to happen in the past few decades of American politics – as huge I’d argue as Barack Obama’s first election, but for very different reasons – both pale compared to 9/11 and that day’s attacks on American. Maybe it’s because Obama’s election, while breaking rules of American politics to that point, was still part of the electoral process Americans had been having every four years. Same as Trump; while the shock of his election is still there and raw, it was part of an election, not an armed coup. But 9/11 was different. And it’s still raw, still visceral for some.

For some reason, the 1960s, in the UK at least, is usually held up as the time in history that, well, ‘lingers’ I guess is the word. Whether it’s The Great Train Robbery, or The Moors Murders, or The Profumo Affair, I wonder what events that have taken place within the United Kingdom, say, since 1st January 2000, will still be remembered as landmark events, in fifty years or so.

The obvious pre-2016 examples are, I’d suggest, the London bombings of 7th July 2005 and the London Olympics & Paralympics of 2012. Will they still be remembered and talked about in fifty years? Horrible to say, but no, I don’t think so. In the first, because there were no more and worse ones (in which case they’d have been remembered as ‘the first’) they’ll be a footnote, remembered by those who were in London at the time, something to bore the grandchildren about, but no more.

And as for the Olympics, like any sporting event, they’ll be remembered by some, but for most, they’ll fade to the point hat in thirty years, most will struggle to remember even in what year they took place.

So what will be remembered?

The EU Referendum campaign. Brexit. For good or ill, whatever happens in 2017-2019, the Brexit vote will be remembered. Whether anyone will remember the campaigns is a whole otehr issue; I kind of doubt that they will. I suspect that in a couple fo decades, the lies, the batting, the dog whistles, will have been relegated to faint “oh yesssss” recollections when folks are reminded of them but not until then. But the vite itslef will remain, the scars to the public discourse will linger, the damage will be long lasting.

The date of the vote – June 23rd –  won’t be remembered any more than the date of its predecessor is clearly remembered. No, not the vote on the EC in 1975, but the immediate predecessor: only the second UK-wide  referendum. The one on replacing the electoral system. You remember, the one on Thursday 4th May 2011. The one you’ve thought about so little since then that you missed just now that it didn’t take place on 4th May but in fact on 5th May. 

So, what will be remembered, and in how much detail?


This post is part of a series of blog entries, counting down to 1st January 2017. You can see other posts in the run by clicking here.