Wednesday, December 23, 2015

A National Outrage

Some fairly long-winded thoughts on that whole Cecil Rhodes statue-removal thing, here:

First, a bit of context - and I apologise if this turns out to be insultingly simplistic, since I'm nothing if not insulting and simple.

Throughout history, tribes of people who got their shit together and could raise and support armies, would invade lands belonging to their neighbours, kill everyone who took up arms in defence against them, and then make off with everything valuable that could be strapped to the back of a cart.

And so it was, for thousands of years, and everyone understood the rules - the strong did what they could, and the weak suffered what they must.  This rocked if you were strong, and it sucked quite a bit if you were weak.

Anyway, let me cut this short.  Matters came to a head in two shattering World Wars in the twentieth century, the latter of which was such an epic, globe-spanning catastrophe - a megadeath slaughter filled with almost incomprehensible destruction and suffering, like Independence Day, but real - that it spoiled war and empire for almost everyone, forever.

World War II was pretty much our darkest moment as a species, the nadir of human stupidity and cruelty.  Still, one good thing came out of it - it tainted for all time the idea that invading other countries, taking over their governments and stealing all of the locals' stuff, was acceptable behaviour.    

Now, it's fair to say that the politicians and intellectuals who agreed upon this idea hadn't thought through the full implications of such a huge philosophical shift.  There were a few glorious postwar years where everyone agreed that Hitler and the Nazis could only have risen to power in the specific circumstances of 1930s Germany, what with the "natural obedience of the German people" and so on.  And then, the real trouble started.

The difficulty was that, the more closely that people looked at National Socialism, the more apparent it became that something akin to Nazism could've happened almost anywhere*, and that it shared so many characteristics with good old-fashioned imperialism, that it somehow began to retrospectively taint all the good old-fashioned imperialism too.

Suddenly, nations all over the world looked at their own ancestors and national heroes, and they started to pick up a whiff of jackboots and racial supremacy.

Which created a whole load of problems.  Nobody who looked at e.g. Rhodes exploiting fuck out of Africa and the Africans, or Churchill yammering on about gassing uncivilised tribes or whatever, wanted to think of these lovable old coots as Anglicised versions of certain nattily-uniformed German speakers.

Nonetheless, the problem remained - most of our great warriors' and politicians' behaviour now looked a tad questionable, in retrospect.  It might theoretically be possible to invade other countries, install colonial rulers and steal all your new subjects' shit over several decades, while operating a racially-based caste system, without also being a bit of a grasping, thieving, murderous, racial-supremacist bastard.  I can't think how, but it might be possible.

Still, this created a singular problem for most of the industrial nations on Earth.  If your most visible successes were built on murder, repression and theft, how are you supposed to retain that pompous air of self-righteous moral superiority that leaders all over the world so love to project?  And if your great heroes were mostly bastards and killers, how are you supposed to bask in their reflected greatness?

Well, the answer was this - you get incredibly butthurt about it all, and start accusing everyone who speaks negatively about your national icons of terrible personal failings.

And so it is that any public figure in pretty much any country who talks smack about the crimes of their ancestors can expect to be deluged in finger-waggy, tut-tutty bullshit, or much worse.  Historians in Ankara who try to speak forthrightly about Kemal Ataturk will be angrily shouted down.  Japanese and Russian scholars who focus too closely on their own forebears' war crimes can expect villification.  In Britain, you get sneery put-downs in the pages of the Telegraph and the Times and a lot of boo-hoo whingeing about political correctness.  

A lot of other countries are much like ours in this regard, and many are significantly worse.  Still, this is why the Argentinian President can issue lengthy diatribes about British colonialism, without too many of her countrymen guffawing and asking how come there are so many Spaniards knocking about the pampas, thousands of miles away from Spain.

Anyway, back to Rhodes.  A couple of things to note about this big Rhodes statue kerfuffle:

- Notice how most of the public figures making whiny statements about the Rhodes statue row keep saying that okay, maybe Rhodes was a racist, but everyone was a racist in those days, so it's no biggie.

Of the imperialists of yore, I'd say that being racist was one of their lesser offences.  I mean, say what you like about e.g. the Roman Empire or the Mongol Horde - they both displayed plenty of moral flaws, but I think that being a bit sniffy about the inferiority of foreigners was one of their less problematic behaviours.

When the entire row is repeatedly reduced to, like, some folk being a bit thin-skinned and unreasonable about so-called "racism", you should probably smell a rat.

It's also worth pointing out that saying "Everyone was racist, so who gives a shit" is probably fine if you're talking about a Conrad or a Twain, people who brought considerable joy to the world.  It's less appropriate for defending vast, aggressively expansionist empires and their individual plenipotentiaries.

- The Rhodes statue dislikers are also accused of "doing-down Britain", of focusing on the crimes of the Empire to the exclusion of the equal misdeeds of other great powers.  This point is every bit as valid as it is when it's deployed against Mexican historians who show an interest in where all the Aztecs went, rather than in the countless crimes and affronts perpetrated by the Gringos.  Israeli or Palestinian scholars who look too closely at their own histories can expect to be equally unpopular with students and politicians alike.

In addition, I'd note that for all the complaints about "doing-down Britain", popular history in the UK can be boiled down to 1) Us whipping Napoleon and 2) Us boxing Hitler's ears, and that the main UK history channels show little but World War II documentaries.

And as an aside - the only time that the average Briton is likely to encounter the Empire in popular entertainment is in a reshowing of Zulu - a cracking film, but one that portrays a plucky band of hopelessly outnumbered Brits fending off a massively superior force of Africans.  Which isn't exactly representative of the era, to say the least. 

---- 

But anyway, the great fear that incidents like the Rhodes statue one create is usually summarised thusly - if we're saying that Mr Rhodes was an appalling shit of a man, then what are we to say of Winston Churchill, or of Queen Victoria?  Are we to say that they too were appalling shits?

To which the logical answer is, well, yes.

You don't have to tear down their statues or rename the pub in Eastenders or anything, but that's the good thing about honesty - it may hurt some feelings but ultimately, it helps us to understand ourselves a little better, it prevents us from looking quite so much like raging hypocrites, and it costs us nothing.  Nothing tangible, at any rate.

All you have to do is be a bit more honest about your country's past.  You don't have to pay anyone a penny, and nobody goes to jail.

Really, the only expense involved is that you have to let go of some pleasing myths about your collective virtue, and you won't be able to get up on your high horse to bullshit people quite as readily.

And there, I think, we see why the Rhodes statue - a pretty small issue - is being treated like a national outrage, and why similar occurrences would be treated as such in half of the countries on Earth.


UpdateA reader points out that Churchill's infamous comment about using poisonous gas on angry natives was a reference to tear gas, in preference to the more murderous mustard variety, which is entirely fair enough.  Consider that comment retracted. 

*A caveat here - maybe not with the precise racial fixations and military paranoias and so on, which did owe a lot to the specific context, but definitely with the invading and the killing and the totalitarianism and so on.

Who's Who On... The Bus?

We all love the bus - it's the nation's favourite mode of transport/24-hour stabbing-wagon.

But the bus is more than just a mobile day-care centre for young offenders and the mildly psychotic.  It's where the community comes together every day, in a spirit of mutual resentment, anxiety and barely-restrained violence.

So what will you find, the next time that you get on the number 37?  Who will be waiting to greet you with a friendly smile and a belligerent demeanour?

See below for a cheering festive list of the chummy characters that can be found on any bus, anywhere in the country, on any given day:

- Helpful young man offering advice to driver on how to speed up the journey, by shouting "Fuck's sake, man!" and "Fucking come on!" whenever bus stops at a traffic light;

- Sharp-elbowed pensioners shoving their way to the front of the bus queue, daring anyone to comment;

- Gentleman being either friendly in a very aggressive way, or aggressive in a very friendly way;

- Disinterested mother gazing vacantly out of window while unattended toddler throws screeching, 15-minute tantrum;

- Driver's state of not-giving-a-shit now so elevated, he's stopped so much as braking for pedestrian crossings;

- Woman entertaining entire deck of passengers with loud phone conversation, listing dietary preferences, personal grudges, alcohol-fuelled misunderstandings and graphically-detailed sexual anecdotes;

- Young offender repeatedly misidentifying driver's race, religion and nationality during heated conversation;

- Furiously angry young man punching driver's booth window, demanding to be let off bus into path of speeding cars;

- Delightful young debutante informing friends of the love rivals that she would like to stab;

- Sinister, muttering gentleman shifting further and further across the seat towards you with hand thrust very deep into pocket; 

- Woman trying just to read book in peace, for Christ's sake, while self-styled comic genius regales her with unsolicited tales of whimsy and derring-do;

- Students staring determinedly at iPhones while very drunk man aggressively wishes them a "merry fucking Christmas".

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Courage

"Every man should aspire to having the courage to betray his party. Especially every opinion journalist", says Alex Massie, in response to complaints that the press aren't giving Her Majesty's Most Loyal Opposition a fair hearing.

It's a reasonable point and one that I happen to agree with.  Alex is certainly well-placed to make it, since he criticises the Tories at least as often as he does anyone else and he actually voted Labour last time out, because the SNP were going to win the seat.

Nonetheless, let's note that if having a go at Corbyn and McDonnell isn't just a day at the office and is actually courageous then truly, we live in an age of titans.  If scribbling snippy comments about the great colossus that is Stop The War is brave, then what lionhearted heroes walk unsuspected in our midst, their gallant deeds unrecognised by lesser men?

If you know any war veterans, you might now like to reconsider their supposed valour.  After all, as Alex notes, even leftish types who work for the Spectator are willing to ride forth to lance the Labour leadership through its fat black heart.

Compared with such daring, the mere act of e.g. charging a machine gun nest smacks of cowardice.

Snark aside though, this is yet another outing for a definition of "courage" that you'll only ever see deployed in reference to pundits.  You may recognise it from such great hits as

"Why, I thought it was very brave of Hitchens to appear on American television to say that President Bush is totally right about the war" or  

"Well, I think Melanie is quite courageous to say the things that she does in her Times column".

It's an odd kind of courage that essentially amounts to a willingness to offend your mates, especially when deliberately offending your mates in the correct way appears to be considerably more lucrative* than it would be to e.g. say things that might actually cost you your regular gig**.

Anyway, the main point of Alex's piece appears to be that all is fair in love and war, and that if Labour members didn't want to be faced with a hundred-foot-tall solid wall of wild-eyed hacks, rending their garments and screeching in fake terror every time their party's leader opens his mouth, then they probably shouldn't have elected the chair of Stop The War.  And it's a fair point, cogently made.

Nonetheless, I do have to point out that the Get-Corbyn campaign has been just a tad over-the-top; that none of the participants are risking so much as a terse finger-wagging from their editors, and that e.g. Boris Johnson's political career would be unlikely to survive similar treatment, at even a tenth of the intensity.

Hell, if any current cabinet member had to put up with a couple of months of the graphic daily molestation that was repeatedly pummelled into Nick Clegg, they'd be begging to be allowed to resign.

Anyway, I guess that the point I'm making here is that punditry is a job, and that pretty much everyone in the business spends their days shovelling coal for Satan just as furiously as you or I have to.

Some of them are sharper than others and some get more leeway but ultimately, it's a business.  And in this business, there's currently a lot more money to be made by screaming in horror at the opposition benches than there is in taking potshots at the Tories.

It isn't like political punditry can't be done honourably but for real, let's not kid ourselves that anyone is throwing themselves under an oncoming train here.


*I know the hacks hate it when people refer to the fact that they get paid to write articles, but there it is.  They do.  Really, there's no getting away from it. 

**The only pundit I can think of who's done this recently - Peter Oborne, who very publicly told his bosses at the Telegraph where to stick it, and rightly so.  And let's face it, most of the other pundits don't much like the guy. 

Sunday, December 13, 2015

Trumpet

Another Sunday, another dire column by Nick.  Before I start whingeing about it though, an anecdote:

Many moons ago, I used to write another blog, about the many follies of the belligerent, evangelical democratic centrism that was quite popular at the time.  If you want a simple image to describe the phenomenon that I was talking about, think of that recent Hilary Benn speech, but with the Iraq war rather than Syria, and with the words "And fuck everyone who disagrees with me, for they are basically Nazis" appended to the end of every sentence.

In order to write it, I had to read endless amounts of nonsense written by people who had lots of axes to grind.  You might imagine that this kind of thing isn't good for your mental well-being, and so it proved to be.  After a while, I started to notice what I took to be particular trends and modes of thinking in the articles and blog posts that I was reading.  I then found myself catching whiffs of these phenomena everywhere, in the most unlikely places.

It became apparent quite quickly that my focus on a small group of particularly vitriolic writers and politicians was distorting my thinking on more than just politics.  This caused me to make some fairly silly pronouncements, and to get into needlessly pissy arguments with people who, I later realised, were basically correct and rational.  I began to make grand, false assumptions about people of whom I knew nothing, leading to a couple of embarrassing incidents.

This didn't last long, because I realised that I was making enough basic errors to suggest that my fundamental assumptions could only be wrong.  Worse than just acting like a dickhead, I was a dickhead - clearly wrong, and being very arsey about it indeed.

As I realised then: if you find that you're routinely surprised by events, or that you're regularly coming to conclusions that are obviously incorrect or nonsensical, then it's time to reconsider your thinking.

And with that, let's go back to Nick, who today observes the rise of aggressive nativist politics in Donald Trump and Marine Le Pen, and concludes that

a) He doesn't like Jeremy Corbyn, and that

b) The success of Trump and Le Pen is primarily the fault of the librulz, for restricting free speech by e.g. organising petitions to ban Trump from Britain via Facebook and by calling people racists.

Let's quickly observe that Nick probably wouldn't much humour suggestions that e.g. the Nazi Party owed much of its success to the punitive terms of the Treaty of Versailles.  Nor do I think that he would be much more receptive to any musings on the failings of the Weimar Republic.  He'd blame the Nazis and those who enabled them for their own malicious actions.

If I started a long consideration of the rise of ISIS by grousing about the radicalising effect of the Iraq War, I'd expect denunciation in the strongest possible terms.   I'd most likely be told that any such suggestion amounted to absolving ISIS of their brutality.

And yet, faced with the reality of actual racist right-wing xenophobes kicking arses in the polls, Nick concludes that their success is mainly the fault of his librul neighbours, not least because of, like, this Facebook petition.

Now if I had to explain the rise of fucknut xenophobia in mainstream politics, I'd be more inclined to lay blame upon mainstream political figures who wanted to reap all of the economic benefits of mass immigration, but also wanted to claim the electoral rewards that foreigner-bashing reliably brings.  I'd also place a chunk of culpability on public figures who have spent years using immigration as a stick to beat their political foes, painting their enemies as soft on crime and so on, thus riling up their readers to the point where nothing but the most roaring race-baiting nonsense will get them hard any more.

I'm aware that this conveniently places blame on people that I didn't much like in the first place, and far from my own front door.  Nonetheless, I think it makes a lot more sense, since it locates culpability for the rise of racist lunacy with the few people who have the power and influence required to achieve it.

Perhaps the key point worth noting here however is this - the public can raise all the Ban-Trump petitions that they like; they can write to their MPs and newspapers, they can even take to the streets and protest, if they want.

But nothing - not so much as a parliamentary expression of disapproval - will get done about banning Trump, or any other campaign raised by members of the public, unless it suits some key people in positions of power and authority to do so.

With that in mind, the idea that Trumpism is the result of anything that the bloody Guardian readers do or say, strikes me as especially ridiculous. That Nick seems to think otherwise, suggests to me that something is fundamentally wrong with his thinking, and that he needs to reassess his assumptions.

I don't intend to hold my breath until that happens, though.

Sunday, December 06, 2015

All Those Bloody Campus Radicals

Nick Barlow is absolutely right about the relative importance of student politics here.  The short version - student politics rarely even seem relevant to students, let alone to wider society.

I'd add a bit of context by noting that outbursts of political silliness in academia in the USA have been exploited to build attacks on the Democratic Party since the late sixties at least*.  For decades, hackish Republicans who have struggled to lay a glove on their opponents have successfully mined the campus for useful outrage.

Why would they do such a thing?  Well, mainly because it's very difficult to imagine e.g. Jimmy Carter demanding that people sign pre-shag consent contracts, or to envision Bill Clinton denouncing a Japanese-themed club night for cultural appropriation**.  Barack Obama probably doesn't much care whether arsey comments are "micro-aggressions" or not.

On the other hand, it's very, very easy to pick up any particular piece of well-intentioned PC knuckle-fuckery by a small gaggle of earnest twenty-year-olds at Berkely, and to then use it as an excuse to wail and scream about how this is incredibly revealing about The Totalitarian Mindset Of The Left, or whatever.  Watch in awe, as we defend you from the threat of these pointy-headed traitors!   

All of this is about keeping your own constituency riled up and furious - vote for our very sensible, level-headed candidates, or These People will get in, with their dictatorial culturally-appropriate speech-codes and what-have-you.  It usually has very little to do with the actual topic under discussion.

And yet, for all these wails and screams, the world has continued to turn almost entirely unaffected.  This is because student politics just aren't very important, and most of the people involved will sooner or later grow out of whatever faddish nonsense they were peddling when they were twenty.

If this wasn't the case - if student politics really does wield a major influence over society - then capitalism and war have done remarkably well to have survived this fifty-year academic onslaught unscathed. 

You can see this playing out in America right now, where every cough and fart on campus is pounced upon as evidence of... whatever.  And yet, while students may be a bunch of censorious privilege-checkers, a presidential candidate can still call the Mexicans rape-happy savages and be rewarded for it with rocketing poll numbers.

The same applies here, where student foolishness is frequently the subject of major social media outrage.  I don't doubt that there are people who are genuinely concerned when some student union somewhere disinvites a perfectly reasonable speaker for Thought-Crime.  I'm also sure that the various outbreaks of ideological mania can be very distressing for people caught up in them.

Nonetheless, I think the never-ending fury at the students from people who are usually decades older than them springs from the idea that, because a particular topic under discussion is very important, any statements about it from fourteen kids at the University of Barking-Twatbridge must be very important also.

Well, it usually isn't.  Quite the opposite, in fact.

And, as in America, there are quite a lot of people in the UK currently using student politics as a useful stick with which to beat their actual political foes.  Look, they say, isn't this campus nonsense incredibly revealing about The Totalitarian Mindset of the Left?  Why, speaking as a sensible, level-headed person, watch as I strike a mighty blow for intellectual freedom etc. and so on.

It's just as much about keeping your constituency riled up and furious, as it is when the worst Republican hacks do it.  Ultimately, the endless rounds of hysteria about campus shenanigans are best understood not as any kind of struggle for free enquiry, but as a sales pitch for a particularly belligerent form of politics.

Anyway.  As I usually say when student controversies come up, it's always worth remembering that people who are old enough to know better, but still spend an inordinate amount of time fretting about student politics, are usually telling you far more about themselves than they are about student politics.

And yes, this almost certainly applies to me, as well. 

*Rick Perlstein's recent work on Nixon and Reagan, particularly useful here for noting how for much of the decade, the main problem with the Vietnam War was not all the needlessly dead people, but the unpatriotic behaviour of all those bloody campus radicals.

**It's probably less difficult to imagine those events happening if the roles were reversed, mind.

Thursday, December 03, 2015

That Catch-All War Vote Speech

Thank you, Mr Speaker.  I would like to begin by noting that the decision whether to commit our nation to war is one of the most grave that any Member of this House can take.  I know this better than most, because I have voted in favour of about six or seven wars myself in the past fifteen years.

[LAUGHTER; SHOUTS OF "EIGHT"; "NO, NINE"]

I do not wish to make light of our rampant promiscuity in aggressive warfare, but seriously, are we getting Nectar Points for all these wars, or what?  I must surely be due a free Tassimo machine by now, at least.

I am sure that each of us has agonised long and hard over the decision of whether to betray our allies and submit in craven terror to fascists by voting against this motion, or to stand manly, strong and erect by voting in favour of it.

Yesterday, I set out five key questions on our proposed military action that the Prime Minister must at least attempt to answer before he would have my backing.  Having listened to his vague, hand-waving responses, I am now convinced that he has thought fairly hard about our military strategy.   I believe that he has now presented this House with a sort-of convincing case for war.  That being so, I intend to vote as I had always intended to do in the first place.

[CHEERS]

Additionally, I am now quite convinced that, should this military action end badly, I will be able to avoid criticism by laying all of the blame for it upon him personally.

[HEAR HEAR]

Nobody can doubt the seriousness of the threat that we face.  Every day, each of us faces the very real possibility that domestic extremists will be very rude to us on social media.

Also, our enemies have murdered or enslaved tens of thousands of innocent civilians, and they threaten this nation with terrorist attacks on an unimaginable scale.  It is barbarity and cruelty beyond description, a medieval savagery that can only belong in the Dark Ages, a few hundred miles south, with our close friends and business partners in Saudi Arabia.

Our allies have called for our aid.  Are we to abandon them in their hour of need, simply because they are not actually in need, or because they have enormous military capabilities that far outstrip our own?  Are we to stand aside simply because they are quite capable of fucking up this entire operation all of their own accord, without any assistance at all from Great Britain?

I have heard much of the risk, of the danger of repeating the mistakes of the past.  I can assure this House that I stay up reasonably late at night worrying about the mayhem and destruction that our previous military actions have inadvertently caused through absolutely no fault of our own.

I have given great consideration to the possibilty that this action may cause as much chaos and disorder as in Iraq or Libya, and I have concluded, fuck it.  What is the worst that can happen?

We have heard much of the cost of taking action but I would remind you that inaction has costs too.  If we were to shrink from this challenge, the American government would surely stop pretending to care what we think about anything.  Also, the French would be somewhat more dismissive and condescending towards us than they currently are.  I am sure that you are just as concerned about the good opinion of the French government as I am.

[SILENCE; COUGHING]

The United Nations has called upon us to do something.  It is asking us to act.  I say that we must uphold the settled will of the UN when it is politically expedient to do so, just as aggressively as we have previously dicked it off when it asked us to please calm down and think about things for a minute.

I say that this threat is now so urgent that there is no time to think about anything.  It is now time for action. We must stop thinking immediately.

[HEAR HEAR]

I do not pretend that this will be a simple matter.  I am however pretending that it is simple enough to commit ourselves to an open-ended war on the other side of the planet, on the basis that if we don't, people might think that we are all a bunch of big jessies who can't even handle a bit of bombing.

[SCREECHES; ROARS; CRIES OF "NEVER"]

Our enemies hold us in contempt.  They hold our values in contempt.  They hold our democracy in contempt.  They keep saying that they want a massive war of all of us versus all of them and I believe that it would be rather rude not to give them one.

I am an internationalist, in the grand tradition of my party.  Internationalism means that we will not walk by on the other side of the road while our fellow man is brutalised.  It means that we will cross the road and shoot everything we see until our pistols go click, and then blame any and all accidental deaths upon somebody else.

We must heed the lessons of history, or at least some of them.  Perhaps we could skip a few of the more recent lessons of history, and on military history in this part of the world in particular, but we must definitely heed the redacted, heavily-edited lesson of history.   

The lesson is this - the enemy that we face is fascism, a barbarity from a bygone age.  Fascism must be defeated wherever it arises.  This House stood resolute against Hitler and Mussolini.  We are all now Churchill in the International Brigades, getting shot through the throat while facing down Franco at El-Alamein.  Our balls are truly massive.

That is why I ask my colleagues to vote for the motion tonight.

[CHEERS, GUNFIRE]

Tuesday, December 01, 2015

What's Going On


This one, from last night, wondering why the decision whether or not to bomb Syria has turned into a bizarre nationwide pile-on to the leader of the opposition when it was the Prime Minister's idea in the first place, and not even he has made much of an effort to justify it.

Well, I'd suggest that the crazed Labour Party pissfights signify this - we're witnessing the UK's anti-war movement at the absolute zenith of its power and influence.  

Even now, when anti-war politicians have access to far greater resources and publicity than ever, the very idea that it's permissible to oppose war generally, or any war in particular, couldn't really be further from political acceptability.

This, I'd argue, is because there's simply no level of actually effective anti-war sentiment that's admissible to mainstream British politics.  Barring a very few and peculiar set of exceptions, it's just not possible for a high-profile public figure to consistently oppose the UK's wars without being showered in opprobrium. 

Note that I'm not even talking about some kind of grand Gandhian Satyagraha here, nor a Christlike national turning of the other cheek.  A visible public figure consistently noting that our wars backfire catastrophically, and then concluding that we shouldn't engage in any more until this massive defect is sorted, is usually enough to provoke the kind of clamorous condemnation on display above.

You might think that given recent events, this kind of fire-breathing hate-fest is all about Jeremy Corbyn but really, this misses the point.

Consider this - which anti-war politician or pundit can confidently expect a fair hearing in the UK, right now or at any point in the last two decades?  Can you think of any that could consistently criticise our endless wars, without being instantly dismissed, at best?*

I can think of maybe a couple - Peter Hitchens and Matthew Parris spring to mind, although only because they're tolerated as cranky eccentrics, like mad uncles ripping into the whisky at a wedding.  Their complaints are indulged because it's understood that they pose no threat to anyone.  They also allow the major papers to feign a kind of even-handedness - look, we might have filled the front eight pages with ecstatic wargasms and fearsome red-baiting, but Hitchens said the Prime Minister is a vainglorious fool, so it all evens out.

Otherwise, it's a bust**.  Because, contrary to our self-image, we are a warlike people.  All of our relevant institutions are bent towards it and every proposed war is automatically assumed to be the wisest course of action.  This being the case, the only chance of avoiding any particular war is an unexpected 2011-style, incompetence-based parliamentary fuck-up.

I note this not even to lament it, really - it just is.

The point worth remembering though is that this is probably it, the high-water mark of modern British anti-war politics.  And it amounts to every newspaper in the land queueing up to denounce dissenters as traitors or lunatics, and to back yet another deranged war to the hilt.

I put it to you that in this context, perhaps leadership squabbles within the Labour Party are the very least of our worries.

*The best I could come up with was Kurt Vonnegut, and he's dead.  It's also worth noting that half of the Times obituary for Vonnegut was devoted to painting him as a dupe of neo-Nazis at best, if not an outright sympathiser himself.  Wonderful people at the Times.

**There's also the regional parties, where it's widely understood that anti-war sentiment is an electoral gambit, open to reversal at the first sign that there might be votes in it.  And even then, nobody much cares what they have to say, outside of actual elections.