Harry Dunn was the teenager killed by an American woman driving on the wrong side of the road near RAF Croughton, in Northamptonshire. His parents went to the US to try to put pressure on the US government to compel the woman responsible, despite diplomatic immunity, to return to the UK to help with enquiries. Three successive headlines from The Guardian spell out the political capital which has been made out of this situation. 1. WHITE HOUSE ASKS TO MEET PARENTS OF TEENAGER HARRY DUNN (16.10.19) 2. TRUMP: PM ASKED ME TO SET UP MEETING WITH DUNN FAMILY (17..10.19) 3. PM “NOT AWARE” OF TRUMP’S PLAN FOR HARRY DUNN FAMILY MEETING. (18.10.19) .If it wasn’t serious it would be funny. Trump gets the parents to the White House and then says “I’ve got her next door. Want to meet her?” He’s not the President; he’s a game show host. Very reasonably, they refuse. It’s looking a bit tacky. so he says it was Johnson’s idea. Johnson says he knew nothing about it. When two famous liars disagree it’s really hard to be sure about the truth, but this is what rule by celebrity looks like, and it’s not a pretty sight. .
It was obvious in the early heady days, before Parliament convened, that Boris Johnson and Dominic Cummings were making most of the running on their own. Cabinet members were only sworn in on the understanding that they backed the Boris plan, even if that included no deal. And when Amber Rudd had had enough, and came out of cabinet in support of fellow MPs sacked from the party for not following the party line, she confirmed that within cabinet there was very little opportunity for ministers to have an effect, or contribute to the formulation of policy. So it was a bit of a shock to hear Michael Gove on Peston last week, testifying to Johnson’s “collegiate” style. Really? Boris Johnson? And now we know. After Johnson’s crunch phone call with Angela Merkel, the No. 10 spin machine was busy insisting that her intransigence had kyboshed all hope of any deal ever. And yet when Cabinet met soon after, Johnson gave them no account of this historic encounter. They are window dressing for party conference, puppets to announce incredible spending plans, but so far as active colleagues are concerned - forget it. Yet again, he’s doing his own thing and daring the grown-ups to stop him. do we have any grown-ups in the house?
A telling litlle nugget on last night’s news. An irate Labour MP, having received a threat, reproaches Dominic Cummings for the tone of his campaign. He doesn’t offer sympathy or regret, or deny what he’s been doing. “Deliver Brexit” is all he says. It’s simple. Get it done, and this’ll stop, because to Cummings that’s all it is, a temporary expedient to get the result he wants. But he isn’t, to coin a phrase, in control.The nastiness will spread and go on, way beyond Brexit. Cummings may have no use for it, but it will develop a life of its own, just like the Brexit campaign. Farage and Banks didn’t plan for Jo Cox to be killed - it was just an incidental side effect of the xenophobia they encouraged to help them win the vote. All the estimates I’ve seen of what’s likely to follow a no-deal Brexit suggests that things will get much, much worse before they get better, but to Cummings that means nothing at all. Just get it done.
Every time I say that I devour The Guardian every day somebody suggests that this is a limited taste, and maybe I should look at the alternatives. I do, occasionally. Knowing the Supreme court decision on Tuesday was going to be explosive, I picked up copies next day of the Sun, the Mail and the Express. Hale had said that Johnson’s prorogation of Parliament was “not lawful.” so, they play around with the word “lawful” and come up with this: “What’s lawful about denying 17.4 million Brexit?” (EXPRESS)), or, if you want the cheeky version “ooh, you are lawfukl…but we don’t like you!” Lady Hale was “the ex-barmaid with a spider brooch…the Beyonce of the legal world.” (MAIL) “but it does not change the arithmetic in the Commons” (EXPRESS).
There was a big stress on Johnson’s determination - “My pal Johnson will make great progress claims Trump” (EXPRESS),. “Defiant Boris hits out at Supreme Court ruling…We’ll deliver the will of the people”, but hardly any recognition that he’s behaving like no other Prime Minister has ever behaved before, and that many Tories regard this judgement as a huge embarrassment to their party. Brexit is all that counts; the rest is treachery.
We often get to see news as it happens these days, but it’s not often good. Today, I had the beautiful experience of watching something important happen, before my eyes, exactly as other people saw it for the first time. the 24 hour news coverage of the Supreme Court verdict started with total suspense - Lady Hale was talking, but we couldn’t hear a thing. Luckily, they sorted the problem, and in seconds we were with her, following that careful, patient trail, of an intelligent brain tracing out a complex argument. For once, we hadn’t had advance leaks, wise experts telling us what was about to be said. and none of the wise experts had predicted that it would be this tough, this damning, this unanimous. Obviously, the judges knew thatthis would be controversial, would be disputed, insulted, like everything else so they were very careful to make it considered and responsible - which is a rare treat these days. I’m sure some what happens next will be nasty, but I don’#t care. I’ll treasure this morning all my life.
Kamila Shamsie, one of my favourite novelists, has been awarded the Nelly Sachs prize - and then had it withdrawn. The reason is that she’s expressed support for the BDS (Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions) movement against Israel. Explaining their decision, the judges say “This contrasts with the claim of the Nelly Sachs prize to proclaim and exemplify reconciliation among peoples and cultures.”
Back in May, the German parliament labelled the BDS movement as anti-semitic, “reiminiscent of the most terrible chapter in German history.” Their decision was criticised by 60 Jewish and Israeli academics, seeing it a part of a trend. There’s certainly a rise in anti-semitism, but there’s also a massive push by the Jewish lobby to label any opposition to Israeli policies as intrinsically anti—semitic. In her defence, Shamsie refers to Netanyahu’s annexation plans (see my post of Sept 12), and states that “the jury has chosen to withdraw the award from me on the basis of my support for a non-violent campaign to bring pressure on the Israeli government.” The Dortmund authorities refused to release her statement with their own account of what happened.
It’s fraught territory, and giving in may look like playing safe, but it’s a sad abdication of judgement, and a discouragement to writers who want to take on serious issues of human rights.
I know his delivery drives some people mad, but Robert Peston does get good information, and attract interesting characters on to his show. It’s usually scrambled and running ouyt of time, and if I were one of his guests I’d feel cheated that I hadn’t got the chance to say all that I wanted, but as a viewer I usually come away wiser than I started. This week it was, of all people, Nigel Farage. Peston treats him politely, treading a canny line which avoids blustering disapproval and obsequious abdication (which is rare, if you watch others attempting the same trick). But without any melodramatic nonsense, what comes over is massively revealing. First, Farage knows, just knows, that the 17 million people voting for Brexit wanted no deal. Really? It was never around in the campaign, and there must be tons of people out there who voted Leave thinking “Not that. That wasn’t what I voted for.” Second, Farage maintains the “Project Fear” dismissal about predictions, even when they come from an official information source, working for Johnson’s government. not, not a problem, says Nigel. How does he know? He used to be involved in trading for twenty years. There’s lots of ports, tons of opportunity - no problem. I don’t suppose many of his supporters are tuning into Peston to check on the latest arguments, but I for one was not impressed. This whole thing is all about fantasy, and the sooner we wake up the better.
Netanyahu, facing corruption charges, is desperately fighting for his political life, and if he can win this election that should keep him out of prison. so what’s the surefire way to ramp up the vote? more land. Take over more territory which used to belong to the Palestinians. that ought to do it.
And the trouble is, it will. Who’s going to stop it? there was a time when a UN resolution might have made a difference, but that’s long gone. Israel has trampled over endless UN resolutions, and held on to everything it’s grabbed. Occasionally, with Carter or Obama, there seemed to be hints that the US might exert some pressure in the direction of justice, but not any more. Trump has decided that he’s for Israel, and they know that anything they do will get his support. so much for “the deal of the century”.
If the Palestinians conclude that they’re on their own and might as well do as much damage as they can before they go down, who could blame them? The rest of us have watched and wrung our hands, but not with any effect.
we’ve had a month of Johnson prancing across our screens, shaking hands, making promises, reassuring us that all ifs well. He’s confident that he can unite the country, but for a start he’s worked wonders on the House of commons. suddenly, this shambling collection of disparate forces has acquired an energy, focus and unity nobody dreamed that they possessed. And why? Because Johnson prorogued Parliament, and lied about why he had done so. Because he pretended to negotiate, but offered nothing. Because he tried to bully his members with the threat of expulsion from the party. All cunning master strokes from the Dominic Cummings playbook, and uniformly counterproductive. For the first time in months we have some positive news, and it’s all down to Boris Johnson. Who’d a thunk it?
Dominic Cummings keeps being referred to as “the architect of Brexit” because be recognised the importance of targetted online advertising, and threw huge amounts of money into it during the last week of the campaign for Vote Leave. And so did Arron Banks, for leave.eu But if you add their combined efforts together, it’s still less than what the Russians were doing. So who really swung the result? This doesn’t come from an obscure radical website. It’s in the report of a Commons select committee, and why more people aren’t talking about it I cannot understand. If you want a fuller picture, read Putin’s Brexit elsewhere on this website - there’s a link on the Home page.
it’s a world crisis, in which the Amazon rainforest, the lungs of the world, is being destroyed by a series of raging fires. Bolsonaro, the Brazilian president, who has been openly encouraging deforestation in the name of economic development, blames the fires on the ecologists who oppose his policy. Your first thought is, he’s stupid. He assumes that everyone has the same amorality as he does, because it’s obvious that anyone who seriously cares for the condition of the forest wouldn’t set fire to it. But your second, grimmer thought, is no. He doesn’t believe that. He’s just saying it, knowing it isn’t true, because it doesn’t matter what he says, or what anyone else says. words don’t matter, they simply fill the space. That’s how Putin operates. That’s how Trump operates. Why should he be any different, just because he’s not a superpower? Welcome to the world of 2019.
when Boris johnson was campaigning to become PM, his team were very clear - tell them you saved London, but DON’T MENTION THE FOREIGN OFFICE. They knew that his time as Foreign Secretary was a total disaster, and that his best chance of winning was to hope that nobody remembered that. But now he’s in charge, we get an immediate reminder. In the first few days of his premiership, he made token trips to Scotland, Ireland, Wales. Wasn’t always welcome, didn’t make any progress, but at least he flew the flag. but in Europe, nothing. Despite claiming that he would attempt to make a new deal, he’s had no contact with senior EU figures, and is clearly terrified of being filmed talking to them, and then coming back with nothing. That’s Theresa May territory, and he’s steering clear.
But all the Brexit theory says that once we’re out, we’ll make exciting new deals with our partners. Oh no we won’t, not if we treat them like dirt. Whatever he says, Johnson is the ultimate entitled Englishman, convinced of his own superiority, and totally unable to see how he looks to other people. Which would be fine, if he were an isolated lunatic. as our Prime Minister, he’s going to make us pay, for a long time.
Just as we’re consigning Cambridge Analytica to history, here comes another treat from Netflix - The Great Hack. This does a wonderful education job in explaining exactly how digital advertising was targetted during the Brexit campaign, aimed at a small number of undecided voters with impressively precise effect. But it also sets the context of CA’s work - the links with military spending, the gun for hire mentality which means that they were happy to go all over the globe, delivering election results for various dictators, often through dirty tricks, bribery and persuading people that it wasn’t worth their while to vote. They have a CA guy who speaks rather sadly about how unlucky it was that CA happened to be the firm that got caught, but when you look in detail at what they were doing (and at what they tried to hide) it’s very clear that this is a powerful effective way of twisting democracy, and we don’t have anything like the machinery we need to control it. So, just when you thought you had quite enough already, there’s another reason to be gloomy…
When we saw the announcement of Boris Johnson’s success in the leadership election, he and Hunt turned to congratulate each other, and Johnson made a joke about Hunt’s good ideas, which he’d now proceed to pinch. Good mates, we thought, and although Hunt has reservations about Johnson he’ll do what many cabinet colleagues have done, and stifle his misgivings in return for a place in the cabinet.
Oh no he won’t. Because Johnson won’t be offering him a place in the cabinet that he’ll want to accept. There’s no notion of keeping the party together, healing woulds, representing different factions. It’s the hard Brexit dream team, with nobody there who might get in the way. Maybe the most extreme move is having Dominic Cummings as a senior adviser. To most people he’s the guru on the Brexit election, the maverick mastermind who gloried in the poisonous anarchy of that campaign, and by force of personality imposed a ferocious discipline on his part of the Leave campaign. His tactics, his slogan, his focus on targetted digital advertising were all crucial, and without him they wouldn’t have won.
But my memories of Cummings go further back, to his time in education. He was similarly rude and disruptive then, making a lot of enemies and steering through the Gove reforms, but that’s not an achievement to be proud of. The sustained insults to people working in education, and the abstract nature of the changes envisaged, ensure that there’s no positive legacy - just a record of damage and possibilities missed. Cummings might win Johnson the election for which he’s heading, but he won’t do anything for the lasting benefit of the country.
I’ve written a sonnet about Trump entitled Teen, and that’s not just me being abusive. that’s what he reminds me of, insecure teenagers I taught, covering up with bluster and over-confience. A couple of recent examples. He wants the Us to withdraw from Afghanistan, and he wants Pakistan to take up some of the slack to allow them to do that. Not nonsensical in itself, but he feels the need to justify it by claiming that he could destroy Afghanistan in a week, but doesn’t want to, because it will kill 10 million people. My soldiers are better than your soldiers, and if I wanted I could blow up the world. No sense that this military might is not actually there for his pleasure, but for the service of the country as a whole.
And now it’s India. He’s claiming that India asked him to solve the Kashmir dispute. the only snag is, India say they did no such thing. Of course they didn’t. No-one in their right minds would let Trump anywhere hear a complex negotiation. and deep down he probably knows that, and hates it, so he’s going to claim they asked him anyway, even though they didn’t. If we were just talking about him on his own it would be sad, but the consequences for the rest of the world could be disastrous.
It may well be that Netflix has a lot to answer for, so far as its impact on film-making is concerned, but short-term it delivers some wonderful stuff. There’s a moving documentary at the moment called Knock Down the House, about young Democratic candidates seeking to resist the Trump avalanche by standing as candidates for Congress. They’re not rich or respectable, and many of them don’t have a long political track record - but that’s the point. They’re at the sharp end, thinking “if I don’t do this, who will?” and watching them support and energise each other is really powerful. If you’ve ever been involved in a grass roots campaign of self-defence, you’ll recognise so much of this. The film moves between four candidates, all of them standing against the odds, but the triumph is the election of Alexandria Ocasia-Cortez, now famous as one of the squad. That she got to Congress is totally stunning. Now there’s the battle/tension/debate, between her and young, radical oppionenets of Trump, and the Nancy Pelosi generation, hardened veterans who see the dangers of going too far left, the way that feeds the Trump machine. There aren’t simple answers, but it’s still heartening to see that energy and passion actually record a win for once.
Maybe I shouldn’t have watched. I’ve thought and read about this, so I wasn’t expecting to learn anything new, but Thursday’s documentary review of the Brexit negotiations was still hugely depressing. All it did was spell out in remorseless detail, again and again, how incompetent we had been at every stage. European partners, who had thought of us as intelligent and responsible operators, looked on in disbelief, as it slowly dawned on them - “No, they haven’t got a clue. They don’t what they want. They don’t know where they’re going.” Every one who spoke from Europe, and especially from Ireland, was thoughtful, perceptive and illuminating, while the Brits were just floundering around,striking poses and looking at themselves in the mirror.
There was one brief, striking moment of illumination. Theresa May, visiting Northern Ireland, glot a close-up look at what “no deal” would mean to particular people and businesses there - and it cured her of the “no deal is better than a bad deal” nonsense, which she no longer spouted after that particular epiphany. But such wisdom was occasional and late, and we are surely screwed.
i’m not that bothered about cricket. My wife and son are both a lot keener than I am, but he’d been at Edgbaston to see England thrash Australia in the semi-final, so I was having a leisurely day and thought I might as well check in to see if cricket was finally “coming home”, as the wistful patriots love to sing. Oh boy,.what a game. I suppose I started with a “Can we please do it? Just for once?” kind of feeling, but ended up totally gutted for New Zealand. all the luck there was went against them. Yes, both teams ended up with the same total in normal play, but 12 of England’s was from two freak sixes - a catch where the fielder trod on the boundary board a nanosecond before he passed it to someone else, and then then ludicrous 2 plus 4 contrived by the ball hitting Stoke’s bat as he charged into the crease, diverting it for an extra four runs. Before that the New Zealanders had been incredibly impressive, defending what looked like a puny total with tigerish teamwork. Joe Root, an impressive and attractive run-maker throughout the competition, was reduced to a wildly belligerent schoolboy, determined to get himself out through sheer frustration. Watching Kane Williamson do the magic captain thing, organising and encouraging his team, was really impressive - as was the dignity with which he coped with an outrageous conclusion to the match,. Now that;’s sportsmanship.
I really didn’t want to watch this. I hated the whole hassle about adopting or not adopting various definitions of anti-semitism, and i’m sure that the Israeli lobby exerts a powerful force on such debates, but I didn’t know enough what had been going on in the Labour Party, so I thought I’d educate myself.
Oh boy. To start with what seems definite. The change in Labour Party membership has led to a change in tone, an increased willingness to resort to “Zionist” as a term of abuse. The programme gathered together a series of young Jewish members, and - even more crucially - a succession of young campaigners who were seriously committed to the grinding business of exploring allegations of anti-semitism, and of ensuring that they were thoroughly investigated. As a group, I thought they were admirable and convincing, and I believed their cumulative account of a party leadership that had regularly intervened to stop them doing their job. And who, in the process, imposed pressures on them which led to resignation and mental illness.
But the most depressing aspect of this is the leadership’s response. No, they weren’t coming on the programme.( One innocent lower flunky did appear, but only to insist in the vaguest possible terms about how totally he and Jeremy were opposed to anything nasty). The allegations came from disappointed Blairites, disaffected members who had never fully believed in Jeremy - and Jeremy, as we all know, has always been a beacon of hope and light. He may not be personally anti-semitic, but he is a crap manager of people, and if he’s allowed his immediate entourage to infect party procedures in the way this programme describes, then he deserves everything he gets. Not great news for the rest of us, or for any hopes of an alternative government, but here you go. They never said it would be easy.