Archive for the ‘politics’ Category

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.

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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.

As I write this, it’s the afternoon of 1st December. This means we’re now a few hours short of exactly one month to 2017… just short of one month until we can say farewell to this arsewipe of a year, just short of one month until we all can say farewell to “2017 minus…” blogs. And let’s be fair: that is the most important things, after all. 

But not yet, folks. Not quite yet.

Onwards.

Of the hundreds of fast fictions I’ve written, there are few I remember writing the opening line of, stopping, rereading it, and then going “oh yes”. 

One of them, written almost exactly ten years ago, though… well, the opening line always stuck with me:

Ever since armies had been embedded with news organisation rather than the reverse, the reporters had been waiting for the first attempted coup.

I’ll come back to that in a minute.

There’s not much I’ve found ‘interesting’ about US politics during the past three weeks. There’s been lots that’s scared me, plenty that’s worried me, some stuff that’s concerned me, but very little that I’ve found merely ‘interesting’. 

One of the few things that I guess would have to be included in that category would be the historical precedents. No, that’s not exactly right because there have been precious few precedents for anything that’s happened since November 8th. What I’ve found interesting has been the contrasts to precedents, and because of those precedents, I’ve been relearning and rediscovering a lot of history; the history of how things are usually done.

I’ve learned more about ‘transition’ and how it normally operates. I knew quite a bit, to be honest; US politics and Presidential politics has been a hobby horse of mine ever since my sixth form lecturer John ramm introduced me to the subject. But in the past few weeks, I’ve been reminded of much, and learned even more. I’ve learned what the traditional methods, ways of doing things, are… and have discovered how they have been tweaked previously for specific presidential transitions. 

As I say, much of it I knew before, kind of, but I’m not sure I realised how this bit connects to that bit, how the fact that this thing occurred meant that that thing happened next time. From the huge to the middling. I relearned how and why the inauguration was changed from March to January, and how and why Ronald Reagan was the first to have the inauguration on the West Front of the United States Capitol Building, rather than the East).

I’ve learned how and when security briefings started for a President-elect. I’ve learned about post-election press conferences. I’ve learned about the creation of the National Security Council, and that of the position of National Security Advisor. 

I’ve learned about the negotiations that take place when appointing a cabinet, and how traditionally, people don’t publicly lobby for a specific job. I’ve learned and discovered and relearned and rediscovered the traditional way of doing things.

All of this because pundits and commentators have fallen over themselves to stress that the traditional way of doing things is most definitely not what President-elect Trump is interested in.

Doing something merely ‘because that’s the way things are done’ is never a good reason for doing it. Doing it because it’s a time tested, sensible, rational way of doing things and that doing it another way causes problems all around? Yeah, that’s a better reason. 

In some ways, Trump is of course entirely traditional. He lied to his base in order to get elected for a start. That’s hardly groundbreaking in US politics. OK, the way he lied, the brazen nature and astonishing frequency of his lies may have been, but that he lied is not that unusual, let’s be fair. He’s appointed people to his team, either senior White House aides or cabinet nominees people

  • he owes favours to, or 
  • he thinks – for whatever reason – can do the job, or 
  • entirely traditional right wing

What’s struck me – and others – is how many of the appointees/nominees are or have been correspondents or pundits or have presented shows on Fox News. At least two nominees for cabinet secretaries, his pick for deputy national Security Advisor and others. It’s the Fox Newsification of the Executive Branch.

My friend Mitch Benn years ago said that instead of Fox News being the public arm of the republican Party (as had been the case for years),the Republican Party slowly became the political arm of Fox News.

And now you see the relevance of the quite at the start of this piece:

Ever since armies had been embedded with news organisation rather than the reverse, the reporters had been waiting for the first attempted coup.

Fox News has been embedded within the Republican Party for more than two decades; a little over ten year ago, the Republicans in Congress became actually, if not formally, embedded within Fox News. And now it looks like so is the Presidency.

I wonder when the first coup will occur.


See you tomorrow, with something else. 

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.

I’m a sucker for political dramas, and even more so for political dramas based on real events. I’ve mentioned serial drama before, and I’m covering some shows elsewhere, but I’m concentrating today on one-offs today, movies and televised single dramas. 

I’m not sure which were the first I remember watching, but by the time I was a teenager, I was hooked on them. Reconstructions, or biopics*, or just plain drama. I sucked them up, absorbed them and loved them. I prefered the ‘based on a true story’ types to the obviously fictional, but yeah, any political drama, particularly about American politics, I’d watch. I loved Seven Days In May, I adored All The President’s Men. I must have watched Fail Safe a dozen times by my mid-20s. 

(*biopics is one of those words I came across in print long before I heard the word. For years I pronounced it “bye-opics” rather than as bio-pics. I’m still not convinced I was entirely wrong to do do.)

But never have I mistaken fiction for reality. I’ve always understood that even the best, most faithful recreation of events are nudged to be more dramatic. As many have mentioned in biographies and memoirs, most governing is hard, boring work; the genuine drama is the exception not the rule. And as for portrayals of that, no matter how good the portrayal, I know the actor is the actor and not the politician, not the reporter, not the political operative.

I’ve seen Recount, the movie about the 2000 US Presidential election, more than a few times and the performances of the actors never fail to amaze me. The cast is stellar, the writing spectacular and the performances from Kevin Spacey, from Laura Dern, Bruce McGill, from Denis Leary… stunning. 

I’ve no idea how true to life the portrayals are, of course, although various sources online suggest that not everyone was delighted with how they appeared on screen. In particular, both James Brady and Warren Christopher have suggested that the latter is portrayed as too conciliatory, that Christopher knew it would be a down and dirty fight from the off. AndMichael  Whouley is insistent that he didn’t swear quite as much as Denis Leary’s performance as him suggests. By the way, I do hope that in 2020, some producer has the nous to get as many of the people concerned in a room and discuss the battle, two decades on.

Part of the reason I like Recount so much is because it shows just enough of the ‘person’ to make the ‘operative’ seem… real. But Recount has another reason for mention today, now that the 2016 Presidential election is over, and it’s nothing to do with the result, nor the surprise of it. It’s about one of the characters portrayed in the movie, an important one, but not one of the leads.

Thing is, I’ve watched lots of these things, ‘based on true events’ reconstructions. The Deal by Peter Morgan, starring Michael Sheen (for the first time) as Tony Blair and David Morrison as Gordon Brown, is excellent, and to an outsider perfectly captures Labour politics in the aftermath of John Smith’s death. But at no point do I now see Blair and think “huh, he doesn’t look enough like Michael Sheen”. While Helen Mirren is superb as Queen Elizabeth in The Queen, also written by Morgan, I don’t see QEII and think “she’s not enough like Mirren.”  Nor did I see Maggie Thatcher at any point and think “She’s not actually like Patricia Hodge’s performance in the Falklands Play”. 

I never do that. Now, fair enough, almost certainly that’s because I’ve seen the ‘real’ people so often I ‘know’ it’s just a portrayal.

But no. I saw plenty of other, minor characters, played by actors in all of the above, and when I saw the real person, I was never thinking “they don’t look like… and they should do.” So why with Recount, with that one character? I don’t know.

It’s not with every portrayal. In fact with every performance bar the exception, I don’t do it. I see James Baker on something and don’t think “huh, he looks wrong; he should look like Tom Wilkinson did in Recount“. 

There’s one character I definitely do that with though. And I’ve no idea why.

The political operative and lawyer Ben Ginsburg has been a fixture of Republican politics for more than a few years. He served as counsel to the Republican National Committee, the National Republican Senatorial Committee and the National Republican Congressional Committee. And in 2000 and 2004, he was national counsel to the Bush/Cheney presidential campaigns. And in 2008 and 2012, he served in the same role for Mitt Romney’s campaigns.

On the left is what he looks like, and on the right, his portrayal by Bob Balaban.

For the past few years, he’s been an MSNBC political pundit and during the election, he appeared on a few shows, well more than a few shows. At one point, it seemed he was on every other day. Ginsberg that is, not Balaban. And every time – every time – he appears on screen, I am disappointed. “But he should look like Bob Balaban. He doesn’t look like Bob Balaban.” Every bloody time. 

I wish I knew why.

Ginsberg’s take on the movie is here, by the way. It’s an entertaining read. I just wish I didn’t imagine Bob Balaban wrote it.


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.