Brexit remains mired in political incompetence

June 6, 2018

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After my recent visit to The State University of Moscow I return to find Brexit still mired in a morass of political incompetence.

Theresa Villiers as Northern Ireland Secretary in the run up to the referendum insisted nothing would change after a Brexit. Nearly two years later, The Government persists in its public assertions of unity over the vital importance of a granite-hard Brexit.

On the Daily Politics programme, I witness the unedifying sight Jacob Rees-Mogg reading ‘evidence’ from his smartphone (surely a blow against his carefully crafted victorian undertaker image) against reasoned arguments from a distinguished Cambridge lawyer. “Experts” he sniffed “I had to listen to nonsense from an expert just last week”.

The Daily Mail continues its hysterical headlines, adding to its list of traitors, which now includes High Court judges, unelected peers trousering their daily expenses for blocking the will of the people, communist agitators led by the evil Corbyn and the Svengali figures of McDonnell.

I retain a hope that I might be elevated to that band of brothers and sisters, maybe by drawing their attention to my role as, at best a useful idiot, and at worse a sleeper preparing for my defection to Moscow.

For what it is worth, I have no valuable insights into ‘the evil empire’ (copyright, America’s last celebrity president Ronald Reagan. Nor have I returned with a message “I have seen the future and it works.” Unless the future I have glimpsed is one in which it becomes widely realised that Brexit as it is being defined is ta fantasy, a Unicorn, an uncreative idea unconnected with any assessment of its feasibility, or if achieved its consequences.


Deconstructing Wen Jiabao and The Daily Mail

June 28, 2011

The visit of China’s premier Wen Jiabao to England provides an opportunity to explore a clash of cultures. A Daily Mail article is chosen to represent the style and content of reporting in a popular British newspaper

Thanks to the freedom of the press in England we have numerous opportunities to explore the cultural beliefs they purvey. These reveal themselves particularly when a story can be written about a different culture.

The Daily Mail

The Daily Mail is, perhaps, as alien to Chinese culture as Mr Wen’s Culture is to most of the two million Mail readers. A study of The Mail’s history reveals a consistent pattern of robust and independent reporting which should not be mistaken as coming from a state-controlled institution. Left-wing commentators see it as the voice of Little Britain, popularist, and provocatively opposed to social reform. Yet it has never been an obliging supporter of Conservative policies when it considers them to be weak on issues such as immigration, ‘Europe’, or crime.

Its founders in the 1890s, were innovators whose energy and ideas helped create the so-called tabloid press style in England which has echoes in today’s NewsCorp of Rupert Murdoch. (Tabloid: smaller format newspapers with more higher entertainment to news ratios than the ‘serious’ papers such as The Times, Guardian, and Daily Telegraph).

Nostalgia

The style is part nostalgia for a lost glory of Empire, part anger at frustration with post-imperial Britannia. It writes a lot about the BBC (which it sees as irredeemably biased to the political and social left), immigrants as a social evil, homosexuality, welfare scoundrels, and the restrictions to free speech imposed by what readers have come to call political correctness and the Nanny State. Foreigners tend to be written about as strange and often funny. The style is always lively, full of energy, and creativity, with a cheerful mix of opinion, invention, mischief and sometimes factual evidence.

Its journalists survive by being able to capture outrage and frustration for a proportion of the population of the United Kingdom which prefers news served up in this format. Part of the offering is its predictability of beliefs together with originality of the writing

Quentin Watts

The visit of Chinese Premier Wen Jaibao was described by the paper’s political sketch writer Quentin Watts. Mr Watts has written extensively about the decline of standards in England. Extracts from his recent book were recycled as Mail articles. One claimed, for example, that

You see them clack-clacking along the pavement, fat-faced British girls with goose-pimpled thighs en route to the disco. In the third blast from his new book on the dumbing down of Britain, Quentin Letts holds Germaine Greer [celebrity feminist scholar] responsible for at least some of this destruction of feminine modesty and decency and the rise of (his terms) ‘an entire generation of loose knickered lady louts’

Quentin sizes up Wen Jiabao

Watts begins his sketch with the visual impression of the scene:

Tidy little chap, Wen, size of a retired jockey. He spoke at rare length but gave away little. It was a bit like watching Geoffrey Boycott [boring Cricketer turned celebrity commentator] bat. He stood on the podium largely hidden by his lectern. All we could see was a neat, inky hairdo, metal-rimmed spectacles and an immobile upper lip.

The article continues:

Mr Cameron, standing at an identical lectern a few feet away, towered over Mr Wen physically – and yet it was plainly the Peking premier who was the senior partner. Mr Cameron, looking a little careworn, did his usual range of facial expressions. He gave us variations of timbre, smiles, frowns, glances to the horizon, etc. Mr Wen, by contrast, just stood there like an off-duty washing machine awaiting its next load of smalls.

You Funny Little Chaps

Mr Watts is paid to write amusingly about politicians. The humour here is laced with nostalgia. Mr Cameron towers over Mr Wen (Our people are tall and powerful; you funny little chaps are small and weak). And yet, “it was plainly the Peking premier who was the senior partner”.

It is a kind of humour that was once applied to another funny little chap known as Adolph Hitler. This came to mind not because the article intended to liken the Chinese Premier with Hitler. It was because humour reveals a lot. It reminded me (thanks to Wikipedia) that The Mail’s founder Lord Rothermere was a supporter of Benito Mussolini and Adolf Hitler and for a time sympathetic to the ideas of Oswald Mosley and the British Union of Fascists, during the 1930s.

Funny thing, culture

It’s a funny thing culture, too. I suspect it to be one of The Mail’s less favoured words, suggesting pointless initiatives peddled as University courses. But maybe there is much to be learned from reactions when cultures clash.


The Mail offers testable predictions for a new leader’s prospects

September 27, 2010

Andrew Pierce writing in the Daily Mail reveals his deep admiration for the leadership qualities of David Miliband, and predicts the further decline of the Labour party under the younger Brother Ed. The article provides some testable predictions

The Daily Mail remains one of the Conservative party’s staunchest allies, and custodian of various values which may be threatened by the Government’s coalition with the Liberal democrats. So it comes as little suprise that The Mail is less than impressed with the election of Ed Miliband as leader of the opposition [September 2010].

Only minutes after the applause had died down on Gordon Brown’s valedictory address, [David Miliband intended to] savage Brown’s record as Chancellor and Prime Minister. He [would have] mocked the claim that Labour had ended the cycle of boom and bust. [and would have] warned that they had to stop burying their head in the sand over the need for swingeing spending cuts.

There was probably a leak somewhere, although the Mail report may be based on an act of journalistic creativity. Whatever, it was a good journalistic effort to discover the contents of a politician’s undelivered speech. Perhaps it was intended, as Mr Pierce suggests, to distance David Miliband from Labour policies associated with Gordon Brown.  That is a plausible suggestion (although the acceptance speech would have been delivered more in Conferencespeak than in Mailspeak).

The article went on to make the case for Labour having elected the wrong Miliband, wrong for the country and Labour’s electability under Ed Miliband.

Ed, whose speech when it did come was rather more measured, is already preparing to rip up the Party’s agreed pledge to cut the deficit by half in four years. The swaggering trade unionists who got him elected are all over the conference and the airwaves demanding no cuts in spending whatsoever. Ed will defy them at his peril. (Unite, Britain’s largest trade union, gave him £100,000 and will demand a healthy return on that investment.) As for David Miliband, his closest confidants say he is so wounded by his younger brother’s betrayal in standing against him that he may walk away from politics altogether by the next election. Their relationship will never fully recover — just like Labour’s standing in the polls under Ed.

Testable

Let’s do a little map-testing. There are various testable predictions here:

[1] Ed is already preparing to rip up the Party’s agreed pledge to cut the deficit by half in four years.

[2] ‘Swaggering’ trade-unionists got Ed elected

[3] Above mentioned swaggering trade-unionists are demanding no cuts whatsover

[4] Ed will defy them at his peril

[5/6] David’s closest confidants believe he has been “so wounded by his younger brother’s betrayal in standing against him that he may walk away from politics altogether by the next election.”

[7/8] “Their relationship will never fully recover — just like Labour’s standing in the polls under Ed.”

The argument is clearly put: Labour has elected the wrong leader. The election process was Machiavellian. The new leader will be in thrall to the Unions. The Milband siblings will be unable to work together. The Labour Party will never fully recover in the polls.

Some of the reasoning is based on attributed beliefs of unnamed sources close to the defeated Miliband.  However, the thrust of the argument has the merit of testability over the coming months and maybe years.