Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Ajockalypse Noo! The backlash starts

Scotland's politicians may think they've got the upper hand but obviously the country's tourist industry thinks otherwise.
On the day Nicola's tartan army descended on Westminster in their stupidly-named aeroplane (Gael Force One - ha!), the Scottish tourist board felt the need to take out a two-page advertisement in the London Evening Standard extolling the virtues of the haggis-munchers' homeland.
No doubt paid for thanks to huge subsidies doled out year after year by the English taxpayer.

Tuesday, May 05, 2015


I met a traveller from an antique land
Who said: Two vast and trunkless legs of stone
Stand in the desert. Near them on the sand,
Half sunk, a shatter'd visage lies, whose frown
And wrinkled lip and sneer of cold command
Tell that its sculptor well those passions read
Which yet survive, stamp'd on these lifeless things,
The hand that mock'd them and the heart that fed.
And on the pedestal these words appear:
"My name is Ozymandias, king of kings:
Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!"
Nothing beside remains: round the decay
Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare,
The lone and level sands stretch far away.

Sunday, April 26, 2015

How Boris could be PM by Christmas

I wrote this last December for the Express & Star. Though UKIP will get fewer seats, the Lib Dems more and we probably won't win the Ashes or the World Cup, you never know....

Looking back on 2014 is all very well but what about looking back on 2015? As Charles Dickens might have said: ‘2015? It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.’
England winning the rugby world cup and regaining the Ashes were, without a doubt, the highlights of a year when the country’s past glories were proudly displayed for all to see.
Unfortunately, though, both the 200th anniversary of the Battle of Waterloo and the 800th anniversary of the signing of Magna Carta reminded us of what we have lost.
Waterloo was a famous victory over the French – the very people who, for most of 2015, were making life as difficult as possible for our various Governments to re-negotiate a deal on membership of the European Union.
And Magna Carta, the basis of our civil liberties and freedoms, was also the basis of our democracy. But what a terrible year for democracy it has been.
With no work to do, our MPs spent the first four months of 2015 going round the country ‘stirring up apathy’, as ex-Home Secretary Lord Whitelaw once said.
Most of us were bored to death of the General Election long before polling day yet, as predictions of the outcome grew more and more uncertain, the manic politicking of all the parties grew more intense by the day.
Finally polling day arrived. UKIP did not do as well as some people expected but still picked up 10 seats. Nigel Farage became an MP. The Lib-Dems did as badly as everyone hoped and were reduced to 14 MPs while the Greens gained three.
Most shocking of all was that the Scottish Nationalists won 45 seats, compared with just six in 2010.
After days of uncertainty, excitement in the ‘Westminster village’ and a certain detached curiosity among the rest of the country, the SNP leader Alex Salmond emerged as the power-broker.
After some bad-tempered negotiations with Ed Balls, Mr Salmond agreed the SNP would prop up a minority Labour Government.
He became Deputy Prime Minister and Ed Miliband tried to form a Government.
Labour’s leader did make it through the doors of Number Ten but his triumph didn’t last long.
Though Labour was shored up by the SNP and the three Green MPs, the new coalition was struggling from Day One.
Collapse was inevitable. And though this had been central to the SNP’s demands, Mr Miliband discovered his backbone and refused to allow Mr Salmond to hold a new in-out referendum on Scottish independence.
So the Queen – who this year became Britain’s longest-serving Monarch, beating Queen Victoria’s record – was forced to intervene. She asked new Tory leader Boris Johnson to try to form a Government.
He immediately abandoned David Cameron’s election pledge to hold an EU referendum – ‘the time is not right,’ he said – and persuaded new Lib-Dem leader Danny Alexander to form another Tory coalition.
UKIP at first refused to join but then Boris made Nigel Farage Minister for Europe so he pledged to vote in support of Mr Johnson’s Government.
The Unionist parties from Northern Ireland also signed up on condition there was more money for Ulster.
This uneasy and fragmented arrangement only lasted until the party conference season when it became clear supporters of both the Lib-Dems and UKIP were outraged by the turn of events.
Yet there was no easy way to call another General Election, thanks to ex-MP Nick Clegg’s introduction of fixed-term, five-year parliaments when he was Deputy PM.
The rules said there had to be a vote in the Commons requiring two-thirds of all MPs to support calling an election. At the first attempt, there was chaos as the Conservatives, with 251 MPs, refused to vote to dissolve Parliament.
This condemned Boris Johnson to struggling on without a majority and when MPs rejected his much-delayed Budget in November, there was a motion of no-confidence passed in the Government which, 14 days later, triggered the General Election.
Even that was controversial. Britain’s politicians went into Christmas 2015 in a state of high anxiety. The next election is due to be held on Thursday, January 7, 2016.
As a result, politicians are spending the entire festive period campaigning for votes.
Everyone who hopes to get away from all that political unpleasantness for a couple of weeks over the Christmas and New Year period has been disappointed.
Some MPs were even out knocking on people’s doors on Christmas Day itself. One Labour MP was mistaken for Father Christmas though she later denied she was as fat as all that and said her beard was actually a scarf.
As we look forward to 2016, we can at least comfort ourselves with the knowledge that, while one way or another we have not had an effective Government for the whole 12 months, life carries on as normal.
Perhaps the best thing to say about 2015 is that we never really had a Government at all – and nobody noticed.

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Je ne suis pas Charlie

Let’s stop fooling ourselves. The poor victims of the Charlie Hebdo massacre are not martyrs to the Western belief in freedom of speech and open democracy.
They are, certainly, victims of hate and the fascist intolerance – not to mention brutal stupidity – of militant Islamists.
But for all Charlie Hebdo’s satirical stance against that religion and, as far as one can tell, against all others as well, they can’t be described as dying for the cause of Liberty.
That’s because Liberty and freedom of speech do not exist.
We pay tribute to these empty ideas and pretend they represent the cornerstone of Western democracy.
But we are wrong to place faith in such a tarnished concept.
It’s simply not true to say we enjoy freedom of speech, whether you are looking at France, Britain, the United States or anywhere else in the so-called free world.
Our freedoms are hemmed in on all sides. We are not free to say or write whatever we want.
In France, for instance, it was for decades unacceptable to reveal details of the private lives of public figures.
That’s why President Mitterrand could have a child by his mistress and nobody noticed. It’s why Dominique Strauss-Kahn, a potential President, could enjoy the kind of sex life Italy’s Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi thrived on and get away with it until he tried it on with an American chambermaid.
Most British journalists know stories about the great and good which have never seen the light of day.
Some of these stories would – quite rightly – destroy careers if they ever saw the light of day. But the laws of defamation make it very difficult to ‘tell the truth’ about people in powerful positions unless you have absolute proof of their alleged wrongdoing.
Fair enough, you might say. But sometimes that much evidence isn't readily available. It explains why Jimmy Savile and other paedophiles got away with it for years – publishing rumour and gossip is dangerous. You can't get away with it. You’d be sued and bankrupted –even if you’re telling the truth.
As for attacking Islam, well, since Salman Rushdie became subject to a fatwa for his really rather dull novel ’The Satanic Verses’, our great liberal elite has shied away from conflict with Muslims.
It’s still perfectly acceptable to attack Christianity – after all, Christians are likely to turn the other cheek rather than resort to the Kalashnikov. But other faiths – not just Islam – are much less likely to come in for scrutiny let alone satire.
Self-censorship ensures we tiptoe around the Jewish faith, for instance. It is acceptable to attack Israel for its political machinations but it would be beyond the pale to comment adversely on the faith itself or some its own fundamentalist fringe.
We cannot say what we might think on a variety of subjects. Never forget, we now have ‘hate crimes’ which mean that if, for whatever reason, we genuinely and truly loathe a particular faith, race or lifestyle, it is actually illegal to say so.
It may be morally wrong even to harbour such thoughts but the law is now so sensitive to the possibility that someone might be offended that it cracks down on anyone foolish enough to step out of line by saying something controversial.
For example, until the 1960s homosexuality was illegal. Many people still remember when same-sex relationships were simply unacceptable to the vast majority of the population.
Today we have no choice but to accept and, as it were, embrace homosexuality. Personally I couldn't care less but many people still find the whole idea of gay relationships wrong.
Even though not so long ago that would have been a mainstream view, they now have to be very careful what they say. The world has changed and sometimes people are reluctant to change with it.
So what was once mainstream opinion is not simply marginalised, it becomes illegal to express. This is bizarre in a society which prides itself on its freedom.
Meanwhile the Government wants to impose State control on the media following the Leveson inquiry. If politicians had their way, nobody would be able to express any opinion without a licence from the State.
This is mainly to protect actors and comedians from revelations about their sex-and-drugs lifestyles and politicians from disclosures about their financial affairs.
Yet we pride ourselves on our freedom.
Militant Islam is certainly a monstrous enemy. We must root it out and protect ourselves from madmen. We must cherish the freedom we’ve still got and protect it as much as possible from the ultimate silencer.
That includes resisting security service attempts to limit our freedoms even further.
But terrorists have already scored some crushing victories. Few people will risk their lives for the sake of a satirical cartoon. Censorship by Kalashnikov is even more successful than censorship by law.
But the truth is that freedom of speech is dying anyway. ‘Je suis Charlie’?
Non, nous ne sommes pas Charlie.