Monthly Archives: May 2016

Online ‘hide and seek’ – the politics of the internet

I was exercised by the contradictory claims that link the internet to radicalism even before I read Evan Roth talking about White Glove Tracking – perhaps the most spurious claim to a radical practice I’ve ever come across. Recently my son Oliver has revived my puzzlement as to just how we sort out the contradictions, the games of hide and seek, involved in such claims.
A response to ‘The Suicide of Venezuela’; Or what happens when you find out a little bit about the author of something you read on the internet is a post in which he unpicks the claims made by a ‘playwright’ commenting on politics – who turns out to be anything but a playwright – and is well worth reading, both for what it tells us about online political comment and, indeed, the situation in Venezuela.

Now that lying is an openly accepted form of politic al ‘spin’ – Donald Trump and Boris Johnson exemplify this, although they’re by no means alone – it seems we will be forced to spend more and more time doing what Oliver did if we want to find out what is really going on.




The EU and ‘toxic’ Johnson – a supplement to yesterday’s post

Yesterday I linked the rhetoric of individuals like Boris Johnson – who had just likened the EU to Hitler – with that of Enoch Powell.

Today it’s been revealed that, as mayor of London, he failed to publish a damning report on nitrogen dioxide pollution. This means that he effectively suppressed the fact that, in defiance of EU limits, he allowed the inhabitants of the poorer areas of London to be slowly poisoned rather than address the causes – ultimately economic – of that pollution. That is, in my view, a clear indication of just where his priorities – and those of other senior Tory politicians who would take us out of the EU rather than build on its strengths to reform it – really lie.

If people want to make comparisons with Hitler – and I’m not at all convinced this is either productive or even ethically justifiable – surely they should look at actions like this? In my view, however, to compare Johnson’s wilful suppression of information on the slow poisoning by pollution of London’s poor with Hitler’s gassing of communists, gay people, the disabled, Romany people and Jews, is to stretch the comparative nature of those two activities out of all reasonable proportion. Even if, of course, this is just the rhetorical approach in which Boris Johnson himself specialises.

There are in my view very good political and social reasons for avoiding this kind of exaggerated rhetoric, as the example of Enoch Powell makes very clear. However, it does remains the case that, if such comparisons are going to be made,  then they are in fact more applicable to Johnson himself than to the EU, which established the scientific and humanitarian limits to ‘acceptable'(!) pollution that Johnson as mayor chose first to ignore and then to suppress the evidence.

Over-weaning egoism and the bitter politics of fear

Today the Guardian ran a front-page article (16.05.2016) on Natalie Bennett’s announcement that she is standing down as leader of the British Green Party. Two of her observations are extraordinarily revealing with regard to our current situation as what should properly be called a “pseudo-democracy”, at least until we get proportional representation. The notion – implicit in the first of these observations – that to be a successful party leader somebody must be a “spin-trained, lifelong politician” speaks volumes about the current parlous state of pseudo-democracy in the UK. Politics, it implies, is now first and foremost about colluding with the media – and so with the interests of those upon whose advertising revenue it largely depends – to work on the electorate by “spinning” whatever simple-minded concept that most advances one’s personal ambition – “America’s greatness”, say, or “British sovereignty”. A politics based on fear, ignorance and lying that leads to the second of Natalie Bennett’s telling observations: “It’s both my strength and my weakness that I answer the question”.

All of which leads me to wonder, one among a great many other thoughts, whether that strange hydra-headed entity – Damian Hurst/Charles Saatchi – may come to be seen as the last significant manifestation of “the artist” as the ultimate personification of the culture of possessive individualism? That once largely symbolic role has now clearly been taken up in earnest by the likes of Boris Johnson and Donald Trump – men whose over-weaning arrogance and self-absorption allows them to revel in the most blatant and extreme forms of popularist demagogy and lying as a basis for indulging in a pathological desire for self-aggrandizement.

As Natalie Bennett also implies, this is why the Green Party is: “having to work against the grain, they’re having to fight all the way, without support from the law, the framework, the funding that should be supporting them”. One of the more hopeful signs emerging from the British referendum debate about Europe is that the Greens and the Labour Party have so much in common on many of the key issue – the EU’s role in protecting and enhancing social justice, individual’s rights, the environment, peace, and so on. Given the deeply conservative framing of British politics – whether viewed from a Tory or Labour perspective – I think the referendum will be a “make or brake” moment. If we leave, our pseudo-democracy will become even more benighted, a situation that will benefit nobody but politicians like Boris Johnson, Nigel Farage, and Michael Gove whose “Little England” rhetoric echoes that of Enoch Powell. Powell was the quintessential right-wing popularist British politician before the age of stand-up comedy offered politicians a new role model. A classical scholar, linguist, poet, first Conservative then Ulster Unionist Party MP, Powell was the unlikely mouthpiece for a white – often working-class – xenophobia and racism that allowed people to believe that the ultimate treat to their well-being was ordinary people like themselves from a different ethnic or racial background, rather than the toxic marriage of possessive individualism (formally justified by imperialism) and a rampant capitalist economics.

Powell is infamous for his “rivers of blood” speech of 1968. His starting point for this racist tirade was, so he claimed, a constituent’s belief that: “In this country in 15 or 20 years’ time the black man will have the whip hand over the white man.” Wishing to add the status of prophet to that of politician, Powell went on to say of the Race Relations Bill:

“Here is the means of showing that the immigrant communities can organise to consolidate their members, to agitate and campaign against their fellow citizens, and to overawe and dominate the rest with the legal weapons which the ignorant and the ill-informed have provided. As I look ahead, I am filled with foreboding; like the Roman, I seem to see “the River Tiber foaming with much blood.”

This is essentially the same rhetoric being used by those who would take the UK out of Europe. We now know – as many at the time already believed – that Powell was utterly wrong; that his speech was nothing more than a reflection of racial fear magnified in a distorting mirror that used a classical education to justify the resentful egoism of a failed imperialism.

By voting to leave the EU in the name of “British sovereignty”, this is the mentality that the British electorate would be tacitly – or not so tacitly – embracing. I can only hope more people realise this and vote to keep us in the conversation that is Europe. Not simply for our own good, but for the good of that community, however fractious, as a whole.

Staying in Europe

Natalie and I spent two hours of this beautiful sunny afternoon we’ve just had at an event organised by the Labour Party and Greens to discuss why we should stay in Europe. And despite missing out on the sunshine, I’m very glad we did.

I was sure that we needed to stay in the EU before I went, but worried about issues I didn’t fully understand like the whole issue of TTIP and the problem of curbing top-down EU governance as instigated by a largely unelected body. Fortunately the three speakers were very clear on these and other issues. Nobody offered unqualified support for the EU as it is, but almost everyone attending agreed that, for a whole raft of reasons, we would be in a lot worse situation – as indeed would Europe as a whole – if the UK leaves. The Tory Government would push TTIP though anyway – it has raised fewer issues about its proposed implementation than any other major European state.

Two trades unionists made it abundantly clear that without EU legislation British workers would have lost almost all such rights as they still currently enjoy, and that’s before taking into account health and safety regulations, environmental protection, etc. , etc. What is also increasingly clear y=to me is the extent to which National Governments use the EU as a scapegoat for their own failings. They have a great deal of discretion in how they interpret EU legislation but, as in the case of peat cutting in Ireland, often fail to use it and then, when there is a public outcry, blame the EU.

My view in the end is that we need more and more effective and informed democracy at the local, regional, national and international levels – and that we have an infinitely better chance of getting this from inside the EU than outside in Boris Johnson and Michael Gove’s version of “Little Britain”.