Monday, July 27, 2015

Good Morning The People Of Scotland

Presenter:  ...Derek McSmug is the SNP spokesperson for Really Complaining About Things.  Derek, thanks for joining us on the show.

Derek McSmug:  Thank you, Gary.

Presenter:  Derek, you said yesterday that a second Scottish independence referendum is "terrifyingly inevitable".  Does your party intend to bring forward plans for another referendum in the near future?

Derek McSmug:  Well Gary, I think it's no secret that we're in favour of Scottish independence!  (Laughs)  But no, we have no plans to hold a second referendum in the foreseeable future.  We're focusing on standing up for the people of Scotland against the Tories' swingeing cuts to public services, which the Labour Party is fully -

Presenter:  Well, if you're focusing on standing up to the Tories, why do you keep talking about a second referendum?  Why not move past that and focus on your work at Westminster, or on governing here in Scotland?

Derek McSmug:  Frankly Gary, I'm shocked and disappointed that you've said that.  You know that it's for the people of Scotland to decide whether there should be a second referendum and I don't think it's for the media to tell the people of Scotland that they mustn't discuss their constitutional future.

Presenter:  With respect Derek, it's you that keeps talking up a referendum, not the people of Scotland.

Derek McSmug:  Yes, and I think we had a General Election only a few months ago, in which - as you'll recall! - my party did rather well with the people of Scotland!  (Laughs)  But really, we're focusing on resisisting the Tories' swingeing cuts to public services, cuts which the Labour Party -

Presenter:  Okay, can you tell us exactly what it is that you're doing to protect Scotland from Tory cuts?  Because you seem to spend quite a lot of time appearing in the papers and talking about referendums, and monkeying about sitting in the other parties' seats, but not a lot else.

Derek McSmug:  Gary, we represent the interests of the people of Scotland at Westminster and I can assure you that the people of Scotland absolutely do not think that resisting the Tories' swingeing cuts to public services is worthless.  We just had a General Election that proved that, as you'll recall, in which my party did very well.

Presenter:  Yes, but -

Derek McSmug:  ...But on the subject of a second referendum, I do think that a second referendum is inevitable, but we're focusing on fighting the Tory - 

Presenter:  Well, if you're so focused on fighting the Tory cuts, why do you keep talking about a second referendum?  Why not just keep quiet about a referendum?

Derek McSmug:  Gary, I'm really saddened by your tone and so too, I'm sure, are the people of Scotland.  They don't want to be told to shut up about their constitutional future by the media and frankly, this is just the kind of distraction and smear tactics that we're so keen to get away from, so that we can focus on fighting the Tories' swingeing cuts.

Presenter:  But you don't seem to be doing anything to fight the Tory cuts.  You just keep appearing on TV shows talking about referendums and complaining all the time, without - if you'll forgive me - appearing to do anything useful.  Can you tell us about anything that you're actually doing?

Derek McSmug:  Well, I think that's typical of this broadcaster's condescending attitude towards the democratic will of the Scottish people, frankly.  The people of Scotland made their opinions clear on the matter at the General Election which, as you'll recall, my party did rather well in.  They want us to fight the Tories' swingeing cuts -

Presenter:  But you're not fighting anything, are you?  You're all just standing around making grand speeches, blethering about referendums and ensuring that you get your faces in the paper as often as possible! 

Derek McSmug:  Gary, I have explained this to you again and again, and it's just not sinking in.  We represent the interests of the people of Scotland.  They elected us - and my party did very well, as you'll recall - to resist the swingeing Tory cuts and, as for the prospect of a second referendum, that is up to the people of Scotland to decide.

Presenter:  But -

Derek McSmug:  And it's terrifyingly inevitable.

Presenter(Sighs)  Derek McSmug, that's all we have time for.  Thank you for joining us this morning...

Derek McSmug:  Thank you, Gary.


(For anyone who's mystified: this is a fictionalised and satirical version of interviews that play out on Scottish politics shows on radio and TV most days of the week.  It doesn't matter whether the topic is another referendum or the NHS or agriculture and, if anything, I'm being considerably harsher on the interviewer than on the interviewees).   

Thursday, July 23, 2015


...Seems to be the word upon the Sensible pundits' lips this week.

Why would Labour Party members want to vote for Jeremy Corbyn, the least electable candidate on their list of prospective leaders?

The question is apparently baffling to Westminster and to the nation's media powerhouses, with  current theories running from "The party is indulging in a hard-left purity uprising" to "It's gone mental"

Looking at the situation from the outside however, both of these responses look to be wildly off the mark.  I find it hard to believe that a party membership that sat on its hands through two decades of Third Way horseshit and war would suddenly launch a Trotskyite assault on central office, and if rejection of the Labour leadership is insanity, then it's a form of madness that's broken out all over Scotland, northern England and within Labour itself.

Me, I think it's unlikely that a party that barely raised a single objection of consequence during the Blair/Brown years is about to appoint a beardy old socialist Geography teacher with little chance of electoral success as leader.  I think they'll tease themselves a little, and then elect another Party HQ replicant, so I'll wait until I see the red flag flying over Brewer's Green before I freak out.

Nonetheless, let's assume for the sake of argument that Corbyn will win.  Why would anyone vote for such a result?

Well, imagine that you're a long-term Labour Party member.  Over the last twenty years, you've watched the leadership tear chunks out of the party's constitution; cuddle up to the fantastically rich;  literally sleep with the enemy; enthusiastically join in the national pee-pee dance about immigrants and benefit claimants; pimp for ruinously destructive wars, and then serially shit all over any of their supporters who had the temerity to object.   

This is the kind of behaviour that politicians can get away with only as long as they're winning.  For a while, Tony and Gordon could do whatever they liked but politics shares certain characteristics with football...  As soon the championship medals dry up and the club is facing relegation, that's when fights break out on the terraces and there's ruckus in the dressing room.  And make no mistake - this is a relegation battle, alright. 

So, the party's beshitted reputation and woeful performances have now resulted in two lost elections.  Their brazen misbehaviour has cost the party Scotland, its most reliable power base, with northern England slipping away day by day.

Every statement and signal makes it painfully clear that they're absolutely terrified of being perceived as less vindictive and cruel than their foes, and they're also contemptuously dismissive of any helpful suggestions that don't involve more pandering.

Up against this woeful record, they offer the fact that they once created a lot of good and worthy legislation - they did it about fifteen years ago, but still - and then deploy the heaviest emotional blackmail they can muster about all the evils that the Tories will inflict upon the nation.

And so they offer you a choice of three sexless Political Product androids, with the promise of one more big hit of power if only you're willing to help them to triangulate the Tories' plan to deliberately immiserate the working poor for maximal political benefit.

To use the domestic finances/politics analogy that's so popular these days - they've sold the ideological TV and pawned granny's rings; they've maxed out the credit cards of your indulgence and now, their big idea for getting back on an even keel is to put the kids on the game.

All this, and some folk are seriously claiming to be surprised that so much of the membership is unmoved by a Burnham or a Kendall?

This is the astonishment of ITV Champions League commentators who can't quite believe that any Englishman would root for e.g. Barcelona against Chelsea.  What, don't you want the country to bask in Chelsea's reflected success?  What's wrong with you?

All this is why so many members are voting for somebody else, I'd say.  Anyone else, in fact - a balloon with a face drawn on it will do, for Christ's sake.

And I suppose that you could accept everything I'm saying here, and still consider Corbyn's popularity to be insane and destructive behaviour, and you might even be right.

Nonetheless, the fact remains that even after the wipe-out in Scotland, even as their own party rejects them, the royal Labourites remain serenely confident that whatever the problem is, it certainly isn't anything to do with them.

I can think of nothing that's more likely to bring a pitchfork-wielding mob to their door than that.


(Many, many footnotes follow - this is basically about eight posts rolled into one, so feel free not to read if I'm trying your patience).

- On the supposed insanity of Corbyn supporters - let's observe that similar forms of mass insanity have broken out across large tracts of the country and remind ourselves that, if you're reduced to complaining that everyone has gone mental except for you, it may not be them that has actually gone mental.

- And on the SNP sweeping Labour out of Scotland, it's worth remembering that the Nats aren't dangerous socialist ideologues - everything left wing in their manifesto was shamelessly stolen from the Miliband policy drawer.  At the last election, Labour somehow managed to be outflanked to their left and crushed utterly by a party that is in fact well to its right.

- This "We must obey the will of the electorate" stuff is the party obeying the instructions of the right wing press without a moment's thought, by the way.  When e.g. the Times refers to the electorate's "will", it's talking about its own clammily sexual enthusiasms.  

If the electorate were so shit hot for a government that would fuck the poor unopposed, the people should've given it a larger majority than twelve votes.  In reality, the electorate plumped for a government with a tiny majority that could be defeated on any particularly wacky legislation, with enough effort.  That speaks for itself, I'd say.   

There's also the small issue of the millions of people who voted for Labour precisely to not e.g.  intentionally fuck the poor, but since when did Labour care about what those people think?

- And note here, it doesn't really matter whether Labour's Welfare Bill strategy is actually an unrecognised and brilliant piece of political chess-wizardry.  Perhaps they are thinking seven moves ahead here, but it's now irrelevant because nobody understands what they're trying to achieve by their abstention.

Labour are not blushing political ingenues, nervous and tipsy around that dashing-but-dastardly Mr Osborne.   They are professional communicators, and well-rewarded ones at that.  If they can't get their message across - assuming that they had one - then that's nobody's fault but their own. 

If Labour had some kind of grand strategy for resisting the most foul parts of the Welfare Bill, they've utterly fucked the execution so badly that really, they might as well have voted in favour of it. 

- On the John-Rentoulish idea that Ed Miliband is to blame for Labour's woes, let me just say this - Ed may have been a funny-looking twerp with his heart in the right place and his head partially up his arse, but by comparison with Kendall, Cooper and Burnham, he now looks like a political genius and a goddamned sexual tyrannosaurus.

- And I love how, after an election campaign full of painful whining about the right wing press depicting them as unsmiling Marxist revolutionaries with red-under-the-bed parentage...  

....Labour hacks actually have the titanium testicles required to denounce Corbyn's supporters as if they were all deranged communist insurgents, just gasping to root wailing families out of their Hobbit-holes in the dead of night and ransack bedrooms for hidden silver!

Great stuff.

- But really, the Iraq War should've prompted this kind of rejection of New Labour many, many years ago.

One of the most distasteful sights this week has been people bemoaning the fact that the Iraq catastrophe has besmirched Tony Blair's otherwise glorious legislative and electoral record.  Iraq was one huge can of red spray-paint, wiping out every other credit and merit to Tony's name, shameful and irredeemable.

Lots of people disagree with me on this, but for real - any attempt to redeem Tony's sodden reputation amounts to an elaborate barter of human lives against incremental gains.  Try to balance it out, if you can - how many thousand dead people are equal to a rise in the UK minimum wage?  How many power-drilled Iraqis are equivalent to one Human Rights Act?

- And finally - it's telling, just how little work the Tories had to put into their supposed detoxification as the Nasty Party, isn't it.

As far as I can tell, the long years of alleged Tory soul-searching and modernisation consisted of a) deciding that homosexuals are actually people, and worthy of basic respect; b) coming up with new codewords as pisspoor camouflage for attacks on single mothers and the unemployed and c) waiting for the worst of their evil-minded, wrinkly old scrotum contingent to die off.

Yet even I'm taken aback by the gusto with which the Tories immediately attacked human rights, the working poor, the unemployed, trades unions and the BBC.  The really notable thing about most of their cretinous schemes is that few of them will achieve anything more useful than simply being cunts for the sake of it.  I suspect that in the end, "being cunts for the sake of it" is the whole point.

I suppose we could just see it as one of those constants of life: A dog in a car will stick its head out of the window; if you hand an eight-year-old a dictionary, he'll immediately look up the word "fuck".  If you give the Tories a solid power base, they'll immediately use it to attack our worst-off citizens, organised labour and the state broadcaster.

Plus ca change, and all that. 

Saturday, July 18, 2015

This Week In Political Bullshit, Part Bajillion-And-One

An instructive lesson in the art of political bullshit this week, as the SNP manage to parlay the sight of half the nation dropping to its knees to blow their latest star performer, into yet another tedious assault upon BBC Scotland.

The short version:

Mhairi Black is the Nationalists' rising star, a 20-year-old Paisley politics graduate already famed for booting Douglas Alexander's pudgy arse out of the constituency.  She gave a cracking first speech to Parliament this week, assailing the government with wit and vigour, digging in her heels on social justice.

Our press and parliament, being what they are, immediately launched a spectacular round of hosannas and swoons, lauding her oratical genius to the rafters in tones that frequently shaded into outright patronisation. 

Now, most political types would just bank this type of fawning praise.  While Black's speech was all good, barnstorming stuff, it wasn't quite the Gettysburg Address.  Expressions of intent are grand but ultimately, this was just another example of an SNP politician making a tremendous song and dance about how left wing and populist she is, without actually doing anything more left wing and populist than just bumping her gums, or in fact achieving anything at all beyond gathering some positive headlines*.

And that's fine, as far as it goes - it's what politicians all over the world do.  You'd think that, with all that lovely publicity, all those Youtube hits and smooches for doing nothing more than repeating the same things you've said in your stump speech a thousand times, most politics fans would see this as a great success.

Not this lot however - you can never fault the Nationalists for taking their eyes off the prize.  Within hours, mobs of their supporters were yet again battering BBC Scotland with a gusto that would shame the fiercest Tory partisan...

This outcome tells us some useful things, I'd say.

1)  You'll notice that the angry Nationalists have somehow failed to spot that the story that they're talking about - "Politician repeats stump speech that she has given repeatedly, but in Parliament this time" - is not news.

There's nothing new or even all that interesting about this story, beyond human interest.  The only reason that it's of vague relevance is that there was a huge social media response but - ironically - that fact alone places it squarely in the "And finally..." section of any news broadcast, along with the hamster that was given a bus pass and the crisp-eating seagull.

2) And you'd think that if there was any offence to be taken here, it'd be at the patronising tone that much of Black's adulation took.

Certainly, the astonishment many displayed that a working class Scottish woman could be politically savvy and articulate is considerably more offensive than anything the Beeb could say.  Beneath much of the back-slapping lay some seriously whiffy assumptions, and there were more than a few reactions that sounded much like a gorilla had come charging out of the undergrowth and presented parliament with a finger-painted rendering of the Mona Lisa.  I've encountered this type of attitude myself on numerous occasions, and it's never welcome.

Let's be clear about the motives here, though - there's no political gain to be made by complaining about any of that, but there's plenty of mileage in harrassing the BBC**.

3)  But let's not beat about the bush.  Scotland is now the type of country where thousands of people collapse in hysterics and outrage if the press fails to applaud the ruling political party with sufficient enthusiasm.  I imagine that other media outlets won't miss the stark lesson here, or in any of the other bullshit outrages that have sent mobs of flag-waving twats to the BBC's front door - salute, or else.

This is just who we are now, so I think it's about time we started to reassess our chummy national story about how friendly, laidback and lovely we all are.

In the end though, this entire rammy is just the state of modern Scottish politics in microcosm - a politician throws a few vaguely left wing poses at no personal expense; her supporters use it as an excuse to attack their media enemies for failing to applaud convincingly enough; the party emerges with more credit, rather than less, and absolutely nothing of substance changes.

As the old saying goes, democracy hands the public the ruling class that they deserve, and we're proving that we're no exception week in, week out.

*An important point that's often missed by locals and outsiders - the SNP never, ever have to actually do anything left wing to convince their fans.  The act of just saying that they are is more than enough for half the country to believe that they are, and any attempt to point out their lack of enthusiasm for e.g. basic redistribution is doomed to indifference at best and outright hostility at worst.  

This is what the other political parties are up against in Scotland, and I can't say that I envy the job they have on their hands trying to tackle it.

**The BBC is a particular bugbear for two reasons - the sticking points are 1) the word "British", rather than "Broadcasting Corporation" and 2) Unlike the Murdoch empire, an institution that the SNP generally dons kneepads to address, the BBC can't be bought.

Wednesday, July 08, 2015

Us vs Them, And Them As Well

I wasn't sure whether the ten-year anniversary of the 7th July London bombings is the appropriate time to be posting this kind of thing but, since it was apparently a good enough excuse for Tony Blair to once more ride his personal hobby-horses back into battle, I think it's probably enough for me.

Back then, I remember there being a lot of chat about the bravery of ordinary Londoners in just going about their business under the threat of attack, and it's certainly true that horrific bomb blasts targeting commuters is extremely intimidating stuff. 

There were a lot of loud declarations of collective courage on social media yesterday and if that's really how people feel, it's pretty admirable.  I don't even live in London and yet, idiots blowing up buses and trains is certainly the kind of thing that frightens me.  I don't mind admitting it, even though I'm aware that I'm highly unlikely to be blown up myself.

Nonetheless, I'm reminded that the decision to just get on with it in the face of threats isn't exactly an agonising personal choice.  Your boss isn't going to pay you to take a month off to get over your understandable anxiety, because the only two available options are - work, or starve.

I don't recall hearing that point made once at the time, although it could be that I've just forgotten.

Who knows, maybe the sight of officials proclaiming variations upon "we all stand together" following these types of terrorist outrages gladdens the hearts of the public.  Perhaps it fosters unity and steels people's resolve that We will not be defeated by Them.

For me though, watching Tony yet again declaring that he knows better than the bombers why they did the terrible things that they did, and calling for us to gird our loins and blow more shit up, reminds me now of what I thought then - that none of us had any choice other than to get on with it in the face of the bombers' murderous cruelty, and the then-Prime Minister's worrying lunacy. 

Assuming that I'm right about that, then it didn't feel much like Us vs Them, so much as it was Us vs Them, And Them As Well.  Certainly, you get the feeling that both believed in their own crazy way that they were doing God's work, and both seem to have been entirely impervious to reason or humility*.

*Addendum - In writing this, I went back to the Quail-In-Terror-Mortals video made by one of the bombers, in which he announces that the attacks were some kind of dip-shitted revenge for the occupation of Iraq.  Ignoring for now the utter idiocy of this idea - murdering these innocent civilians, to make up for the killing of those = profit - what strikes me now is how utterly childish the standard Jihadi clamour for public notoriety is.  

Khan's finger-waggy lecture was meant to intimidate, and no doubt succeeded to a certain extent, but it's notable that it resembles nothing more than it does an audition video for Britain's Got Talent - like a teenager singing a Katy Perry song into a hairbrush, or something.  

Here, we have a man yapping into a camera in the firm belief that he is striking a blow against the enemies of God, entirely oblivious to his own chihuahuan ridiculousness.  He says he wants justice, when it looks to me like what he wants is to get his stupid face on the front page of the Sun.  And he certainly got that.

Truly, a viciously stupid, boring little twat of the first water.

Saturday, June 27, 2015

On Delisting

So the BBC has published a list of all its articles that have been delisted by Google - meaning, articles that people have paid* Google to keep out of web searches.

Publishing these links is an excellent thing to do, as it allows us to take a punt at guessing who requests delisting and why.  As you might expect, most of the delistings relate to court proceedings and criminal offences.

Whenever this topic arises, it's the subject of loud and long lamentation, and for good reason in many cases.  That's quite justified in instances where articles are delisted because they reference

1) People who have committed serious crimes 

Quite a few of these articles relate to terrible crimes, and I think it's fair for people to be concerned about this.  I'm not particularly pleased to see that e.g. rapists could have all mention of their crimes effectively expunged from the record by simply forking over a bit of cash to Google, and you can probably imagine how that ability is very useful for various bad people and organisations.

Note here that I'm assuming that it's the perpetrator or one of his/her relations that has asked for the article to be delisted, rather than the victim.  The latter seems less likely, but it's hardly impossible.

There are far more examples of delisted articles involving  

2) People who have committed minor crimes 

I'm a lot less worried about this.  I have no problem with the idea of people who e.g. get drunk and get into a fight being able to sweep the matter under the carpet.  All of us are human and we can all be terrible shits to each other and make awful errors, and I don't think it's wise or just to keep people on the hook for this in perpetuity.

By "on the hook", I mean the likelihood that any Google search for your name is likely to return an article about you e.g. shoplifting or getting busted for minor drug possession when you were a teenager.  If you've been tried, sentenced and have paid for a minor offence, it seems a bit harsh to me that any future employer, partner or aquaintance is only a web search away from hearing all about it.**

And it's worth noting here the unequal nature of Google searches for individuals, too.  If your name is e.g. "John Smith", "Ann Brown" or "Muhammad Ali", people will most likely have to upend the entire internet to find any online material that references you, rather than the million other "John Smiths" in the UK.   If you're called Trevor Jigglytits De Souza, then a lot of the daft/unpleasant things that you've unwisely said or done will be instantly available.  

Obviously, this level of forgiveness doesn't apply to all crimes and indiscretions, in all situations - I can imagine why a company might want to know if a potential employee isn't mentioning his previous embezzlement convictions, to pick a random example - but it remains a less concerning issue than serious offenders expunging their records.

Another category of delisting relates to

3) People who have said or done embarrassing things 

Quite a few of the delisted articles are about people who have gone missing, for whatever reason.  I can imagine why people might not want the first thing that people can learn about them to be that they did a sudden Stephen Fry act and buggered off to Belgium in the huff for a fortnight in 2004.

There's also a lot of seemingly innocuous articles about TV shows and the like, and I'd suggest that it's not the article itself that somebody wants rid of, but one of the comments underneath it.  Again, if your name is Fuckface McGhee the Third and you once spent a drunken evening typing overwrought comments about e.g. Him Off Big Brother, then your boozy ramblings are likely to be the first thing that people will find on the internet relating to you.

Once more, my sympathy doesn't apply in all cases.  If you're running as an MP and have previously announced that you think Hitler had a point, it's probably in the public interest for that fact to remain on your record.

Nonetheless, I think it's important that we draw a distinction between people who have, on the one hand, made tits of themselves in public, and certain multinational corporations who have accidentally poisoned several thousand Indians to death.  One of these issues is a bit more serious than the other, and it's wrong-headed to treat them both as if they were the same thing.

My generation is lucky in that we're the last that grew up in relative obscurity.  There are, thankfully, no photos of me with that horrible haircut in 1996 floating around the internet, nor are there any snaps of me passed out pissed around a toilet bowl, and there's no public record of that night that I went off on one and made an utter exhibition of myself in that pub in Dundee.  This is a bit of a blessing, and it's not one that people who go out and make arses of themselves this evening will be able to count upon.

It's also fortunate for me that the internet really went big when I was in my early twenties, as anyone who has ever found an example of their angst-ridden teenage poetry at the back of a drawer will attest.  It's a lot easier to put an old bit of paper in the bin than it is to delete it from somebody else's Facebook account, isn't it?

Anyway, none of this should be read as saying that there's no problem with Google offering a delisting service.  There are many reasons why this should be seen as A Bad Thing, helping nasty people and organisations to shuck off the consequences of their own nastiness.

Nonetheless, it doesn't hurt to look at the issue with just a little bit of compassion and human empathy, I think.

*I'm just assuming that you have to pay for a delisting here, but I may be wrong.

**Enthusiastic law 'n' order types tend to disagree on this point but in my experience, even the most unforgiving of hardline justice types suddenly changes their tune on the matter when it's them or their family member that's been arrested for shoving a traffic warden or some such. 

Saturday, June 20, 2015


Q:  If the army of Madeupistan overthrew its elected government, machine-gunned hundreds of protesters in the streets, hurled its opponents into prison and issued mass death warrants, would the UK Government a) denounce the army or b) welcome its leader to Downing Street for tea and biscuits?

A:  It depends on whether the leader of Madeupistan is our bastard, or theirs.

This question is prompted by the leader in yesterday's Times - the full text of it is in comments below, since it's paywalled on their website.

It's a barnstormer of an article really, filled with compensatory coughs and mumbles about human rights and democracy, while in fact pushing precisely the kind of self-important Realpolitik that made Dr Kissinger the beloved figure that he is today.

And to a certain extent, this is fine - I can entirely get down with sentiments like "(we) need to work with the political order as it exists in the Arab world and not as (we) wish it to be", since this is exactly the kind of thing that I've been saying about e.g. Iraq and Syria for years*.  It's hilariously obvious that this form of peace, love and understanding is extended only to allied nations of course, but let's accept that statement as a mild outbreak of common sense for now.

Nonetheless, let's also note that the main message of the piece is - let's suck up to this particular blood-soaked killer, because he can give us lots of things that we want.  This, to put it mildly, is not the message that either the Times or many of the nation's titans of morality in foreign policy typically push.

Let me pluck out a few sentences, just for pointing-and-booing purposes:

"There is no more apt time for David Cameron to press Mr Sisi to respect human rights than in a meeting, face to face.  It is essential that the prime minister do so, lest reformers in Egypt and the wider Arab world infer that they are on their own".

Now, I can think of a few reasons why "reformers in Egypt and the wider Arab world infer that they are on their own" - the recent UK-Egypt investment figures alone suggest that we're entirely happy as a nation for the Egyptian military to crush democratic movements in perpetuity, I think.  The fact that our major political figures have made next to no attempt to restrain the Egyptian dictatorship sends a far stronger message than anything that Cameron is likely to say.

Nor do I believe that a Cameron-Sisi photo-op, with all of the diplomatic kissy-face and joint statements on common interests and co-operation that such things entail, is going to convince "Arab reformers" that the prime minister is just hurting like a motherfucker for their trampled rights.

"If Britain does not have a strategic relationship with Mr Sisi, it will forgo any opportunity to put pressure on him to restore democracy".  

You'll notice that this too departs from the paper's traditional attitude towards engagement with despotic regimes.  The pretence that Sisi might have a passing interest in "restoring democracy", or that David Cameron might put him in a chokehold until he develops one, strikes me as fairly insulting to the public's intelligence. 

Other highlights include boos and hisses for the elected government that Sisi deposed and is now having executed:

"...He unquestionably (deposed an elected leader) with immense popular support against a regime that had abused its authority and driven Egypt close to collapse."

Now, Ayatollah Khomeini's insane medieval revolution overthrew a nasty regime, but you'll seldom hear similar citations of its immense popularity, nor criticisms of the Shah's democratic failings, and for good reason.

We can also note that e.g. Bad Vladimir Putin is very popular indeed domestically, but you don't often hear it said in Times editorials, and you'll never hear that fact used as justification for positive engagement.  Hugo Chavez's party have won election after election for more than a decade in Venezuela, but their proven popularity doesn't discourage the Times from regularly addressing them as if they were a political amalgamation of the great train robbers and the Khmer Rouge. 

"Mohammed Morsi, or the Muslim Brotherhood, won a narrow victory in presidential elections...  (he) should have negotiated a compromise or called fresh elections.  Amid discontent and huge protests, Mr Sisi and the army deposed a plainly failing government...  Large sections of Egyptian society believe that Mr Sisi has preserved the country from civil war and theocratic oppression". 

...Which is an idiosyncratic take on the concept of democracy, and one that would have interesting results if it were applied more broadly around the globe: God help any political party that has the temerity to "win a narrow victory", for example.  I also look forward to the Times' take on future anti-government protestors in the UK and elsewhere, since it tends to treat anyone who so much as waves a placard at Westminster like they're the blackshirts reborn.

Anyway, you get the gist.  I raise this mainly to note - yet again - the bizarre situation whereby any minor celebrity or unknown political activist who so much as sneezes in the direction of unpleasant foreign autocrats or political movements can expect to be pilloried now and for all time for it, but it's perfectly fine and even sensible for the President of the United States to publicly blow the King of Saudi Arabia's corpse.  

We might think of this as the Tony Blair principle - that is, it's actually laudible for Tony Blair to hug Colonel Gaddafi, but any other human being caught making a favourable comment about the mad colonel's haircut will have the offending quote splashed all over any article that mentions their name forever more, including in their eventual obituary.

Well, I know that I have a bit of an obsession with bitching at the Times, but I'd say there's an important distinction to be made here.  Whenever, say, a minor Guardian writer makes some horrifying statement along the lines of "Any final negotiation between Israel and the Palestinians is probably going to have to involve Hamas, since they're a major combatant party", the wails and screams of terror and outrage shake your windows and rattle your walls for weeks...

...But the Guardian and all who sail in her are, at best, speaking on behalf of the nation's cultural elite and for the dying rump of middle class British socialism.

The Times, on the other hand, is effectively the UK's ruling class addressing itself.  If it has a purpose, its role is to clarify and reinforce the views of the government of the day.  If it has any criticism of government policy, it'll always be restricted to encouraging the Prime Minister to just keep doing whatever he's doing, to either a slightly greater or lesser extent.

I'd say that Sisi and his lieutenants are considerably worse human beings than any of the bogeymen who traditionally bedevil the nightmares of Times writers - Chavez, Gerry Adams, Che Guevara and so on.  And here's the nation's paper of record, wagging a finger at us for daring to consider the possibility of giving the Egyptian dictator the cold shoulder.  You can take that as the official position of the British Government, because it is**.

But as with our nation's relationship with Saudi Arabia, you'll wait a long, long time for any of this to provoke the kind of enraged condemnations that we generally reserve for comedians and authors who are incautious enough to use an overwrought metaphor or to back the wrong boycott.


*Although unlike the Times, I've been saying it to discourage further idiotic bombing campaigns and occupations.  

**Again, the simplest solution here isn't so much for Cameron to give Sisi the bum's rush, although I wouldn't weep if he did.  

The easiest and most honest tactic would be for statesmen to drop all pretence that their foreign policies are motivated by morality, human rights or love of democracy, and to admit once and for all that they're moved instead by ignoble expediency at best and rampant, cynical greed at worst.

Sunday, June 07, 2015

More Dispatches From The Trenches Of The Free Speech War

Is it necessary to once again address our Nick and his many manias?  Well, probably not, but I suppose that that's never stopped me before.

This week, the purported topic is Tony Blair's desire to criminalise Holocaust-denial, with swipes at David Cameron's policies on anti-extremism, although as ever it's largely about how much Nick doesn't like students, unnamed liberals and anonymous leftists. Thus, do we end up with the bizarre assertion that Tony's desire to drop the legal banhammer on motherfuckers means that he has now become similar to "the average British or American university".  

Now, we might note that students don't often imprison people that they disagree with; that there's a non-trivial difference between jailing people and just disinviting them from your organised chinwag, and that there's something of a power-and-influence gap between said students, and Tony and his pals.  I myself am somewhat more concerned about David Cameron's thoughts on free speech, than I am about what a nebulous shower of non-specific citizens think about it, since the former has the ability to act upon his threats, and the latter don't.

Sharp-eyed observers will also note that Tony's ASBO-pumping, banning-and-jailing behaviour peaked in roughly 2006 while he was Prime Minister of the nation, which suggests that even if we assume that there's a similarity, it'd be the students who are becoming more like Tony, rather than the other way around*.

And perhaps it's only me, but I also get the feeling that Nick's trying to say that Tony's behaviour is new and in some way unexpected, much like it was back when Nick was previously astounded to discover that Tony is willing to turn a blind eye to tyranny, if it's in his interest to do so.  It's unfortunate because, if Nick hadn't found Tony's behaviour so surprising, he might have noticed that this is hardly the first time that Blair has taken a position at a supposedly progressive organisation, and then used it to push for dafter and more authoritarian policies**.

Anyway, Nick is correct on the broad strokes, and hilariously off-target in the fine detail, as is so often the case.  I suppose that I could go into greater detail on stuff like this:

(Governments) will not let you defend the values of Charlie Hebdo and the shoppers at the Hypercacher at the same time and for the same reasons. You must betray one or the other.

...By noting that Nick has not actually been hauled off to the Gulag for defending anyone's values, and neither have any of his pals.  Until the day dawns when there's a reasonable prospect of Nick being clapped in irons for saying that he doesn't much like the Islamists, we could probably dial down the hyperbole a tad. 

And it's worth noting that while Nick is busy portraying himself as a kind of blobby Cassandra, Scotland is literally jailing idiots for singing offensive songs, seemingly without Nick or his pals noticing.  Were I to do as Nick does, I'd use this as an excuse to claim that Nick and his middle-class, metropolitan liberal pals do not defend free speech in their own country because they are obsessed with attacking convenient targets that do not challenge their smug certainties, and so on.  Since I try not to be a prick unnecessarily however, I won't make a big song and dance about it.

So let's just note once more that Nick's Free-Speech-Hooray!  Drastic-Clampdowns-Boo! stance is correct, and ask yet again - exactly how helpful is it that our most prominent free speech campaigners can't say bluntly that we shouldn't criminalise hateful rhetoric, without also stuffing their statements with irrelevant burble aimed at all of the unnamed badthinkers whom they've always hated anyway?

If Nick's keen to attract support for a key democratic principle that's under attack, maybe it'd be more effective to focus on the people leading the assault, rather than muddying the issue up by bleating about how much you dislike some people who are very much like you, but a bit less pissy about everything.

*Another example of these hilariously arse-over-tit priorities from the World of Decency this week - a Martian who knew nothing at all of human ways and read this HP Sauce post, would have to conclude that Tariq Aziz, Saddam's former deputy prime minister, was primarily a terrible person because he was mates with George Galloway. 

**I suspect that this framing is necessary due to Nick's former endorsement of Tony's idiotic wars, which he addresses in his piece with only the following statement: 

Blair’s recommendation that Holocaust-denial become a crime duly produced the expected mixture of “how dare he even speak after Iraq” reactions.

...Which is certainly an odd way of putting it, implying as it does that an instinctive dislike of people who bomb, invade and occupy other countries is some kind of frightful prejudice. Yes, it truly is terrible that a man can't even make war on other nations for no sane reason, without people holding it against him.