Wednesday, April 18, 2018

Four speeches

From the back benches. Parliamentary representation as it should be:

David Lammy on the Windrush scandal



And three on anti-Semitism:

Luciana Berger


Ruth Smeeth

 

John Mann

 

All of these ask a question. What have we become? The temptation to appeal to racism is always there. The populist impulse insists that there are votes in both the silent dog whistle and the clarion call. Convenient allies whisper sophistries. There is only one truth, however. Racism is racism, whoever it is aimed at and by whomever it is expressed. It is indivisible and destructive. To try and appease it or co-opt it only encourages racists to greater extremes. It allows the more insidious version ('there are just too many,' 'straining local services,' 'lowering wages,' etc) with its faux reasonableness to slip through into mainstream debate, while the extremes become more explicit in their hatred and conspiracy theories. It's brought us Brexit; it's brought death to the streets of Paris. And it has made Britain an uglier place.

Sunday, April 15, 2018

Commemoration

The BBC has decided to commemorate the fiftieth anniversary of Enoch Powell's Rivers of Blood Speech with a dramatised reading. It's a curious decision. The speech's main claim to significance is that it initiated a political discourse that conflated immigration with racism, though that probably wasn't Powell's aim. The speech ended his hopes of office. What is more, it was wrong. Not just morally, but in its predictive powers. It is an historical curiosity, a testament of failure.

It is claimed by some that the speech was not racist. I find that unconvincing. It used the tropes and language that we would easily identify today as central to much racist ideology. But was that Powell's intention? That is a different question. Powell was not expressing a philosophy of racial superiority, instead he was coming from his theory of the state. If there is one consistent strand in his thought, it is the sense that Britain should be a unitary sovereign state under the Crown. He took this further to see it as essentially an ethnically homogenous nation - white and Protestant. He found his final political home as an Ulster Unionist.

Powell argued that if the state embodied the nation, immigration undermined its essence. Powell was first and foremost a nationalist, with an idealist concept of the state that is perilously close to that of Giovanni Gentile, though he rejected corporatism in favour of the free market. And so he vigorously opposed any constraint on state sovereignty, especially through membership of the European Union. In that sense, he should be remembered as one of the fathers of Brexit, more than as the legitimiser of racism.

Powell always opposed entry into what was then the EEC. When the referendum of 1975 confirmed Britain's membership with a two thirds majority, he refused to accept the legitimacy of the result and immediately began to campaign for the UK's exit. He was joined in an unlikely alliance by the Bennite left, who were then taking the lead in the Eurosceptic movement and who held similar views on sovereignty (though for different purposes). After mouthing a few pieties towards the 'people having spoken,' they started to agitate for withdrawal and finally got it adopted as Labour Party policy in the 1983 election manifesto. (I find it hugely ironic that today's leavers insist that everyone should 'respect the referendum result' regardless.)

After Labour's defeat in 1983, the marginalisation of the Eurosceptics in the party was completed by the EU's adoption of social democratic rights in the Social Chapter of the Maastrict Treaty. With Labour firmly pro-European, anti-EU agitation was led by the right of the Conservative Party. Though Powell was now outside the Party, it was Powellism that informed the campaign that undermined successive leaderships and that Cameron thought he could silence with a referendum. It was a disastrous mistake. The focus on sovereignty and immigration was critical to the narrow victory by Leave.

I find nothing attractive, or even anything much interesting, in Powell's ideology. He was a formidable classical scholar, but a failed politician. If you must honour him, it shouldn't be for the "Rivers of Blood" speech, but for the disaster of Brexit. It would also be appropriate to use Latin.  

Si monumentum requiris, circumspice. It's Christopher Wren's epitaph in St Paul's Cathedral. If you seek a monument, look around you. Look around at today's shambles and you will see the product of the life of an erudite classicist and political mediocrity.

Stoppers

Idrees Ahmad posted this on Facebook two days ago. I have nothing to add.
A note to otherwise well-meaning people:

If you participate in any 'Stop the War' event on Syria, you are an enemy of the Syrian people.

Before I explain, see the two images below, which are from today's protest in London. This is supposedly an event to 'stop war'. Yet, the protestors are carrying the Russian flag and the flag of Syria's fascist regime. Between them, the regime and Russia are responsible for nearly 94% of all civilian deaths in Syria.

So this isn't an 'antiwar' march. It is a pro-war rally that wants Assad and Putin to continue their rampage with impunity.

But there are also other factors. In Syrian the regime and Russia have deliberately targeted civilian neighbourhoods, refugee camps, schools, hospitals and bomb shelters. The regime has shot, gassed, tortured, incarcerated and disappeared civilians. The regime has forced over half the country's population from its homes.

Yet 'Stop the War' protested none of that. Indeed, in 2013 when Assad gassed over a thousand civilians, Stop the War didn't condemn Assad, it held rallies to protect Assad from western retaliation. After Obama stood down, it organised a victory rally and invited a regime representative as its keynote speaker.

Since then, 'Stop the War' has banned Syrians from its platforms. Meanwhile, it has hosted people who have openly advocated for the regime. It's co-chair actually called on the British government to support Assad militarily.

Last week Assad launched his latest chemical attack in Syria. But there were no protests against that. It is clear that for 'Stop the War', Syrian life has no value. But there is one Syrian life for which it is deeply concerned: Bashar al Assad's. Because as soon there was some rumbling in the west and some vague threats, 'Stop the War' immediately sprung into action.

So, if you are participating in any 'Stop the War' event, the best thing that can be said about you is that you are naive and ignorant. But if you are participating knowingly, then you likely have fascist sympathies and you are an enemy of the Syrian people.



Image may contain: 2 people, people standing and shoesImage may contain: 2 people, people standing, sky, hat and outdoor

Saturday, April 14, 2018

Red tape

Here are two good pieces that show that Brexit will increase both bureaucracy and costs. There are many more out there. Contrary to popular belief, EU membership actually cuts bureaucracy. Leaving increases it. This article gives a clear and simple explanation of the complications involved in rules-of-origin if we leave the single market. Peter Crosskey wrote about large-scale trade in foodstuffs, however the second link is more personal.

Natalie Milton writes about her own small specialist sports equipment business, exporting in small quantities across the world, but mainly to Europe. It was built from nothing, has a modest turnover, and employs ten staff. It cannot survive any form of Brexit, including the softest:
To conclude – Brexit will finish us because we will lose our smaller value orders due to the increased customs costs: even with Norway style deal an extra £25 on £50 or £100 order is a deal breaker.
She gives all the details of the additional costs and how they will arise. There is no maybe, she knows that if Brexit happens her business will close. There are no doubts.

People who voted for Brexit didn't know any of this, but, even so, voting leave meant voting to ruin her.

These complicated details are often ignored in favour of broad brush abstractions. This is one reason why the referendum debate was so poor. It isn't all about businesses either. Last weekend was Greek Easter. At the party we attended, the British guests tried to avoid talking about Brexit at first, but it couldn't last. They had built their lives, livelihoods, and families on the seemingly unshakeable rights offered by EU citizenship that are going to be taken from them. They are now in limbo. It's the uncertainty that gets to them, but however their status will be resolved, life will be more difficult and complicated. So too will the lives of the three million or so EU citizens permanently resident in the UK - people who were denied a vote on their future, even though they can vote in the upcoming local elections. They too are uncertain, anxious and feeling betrayed.

It's the human cost that really gets to me. It is not on anything like the scale of suffering as the unspeakable tragedy of Syria, but it is real enough and utterly unnecessary. As for benefits, I can see none.