Swedish gripe

 

The Swedish group Abba have just performed again for the first time in 30 years, and today the Swedish Foreign Minister, wearing glasses no doubt to give an air of authority to her statement, added her own voice to the Referendum debate. Maybe she is the first of many such interventions. But it is all a bit late. The time to have pleaded about the “domino effect” was when David Cameron was jetting around the capitals of Europe trying to secure a better deal. But the effective dictatorship of Merkel held the day and we entered the Referendum at a disadvantage.

margot

Now, Ms Wallstrom whines, “everyone might want one”. Absolutely. And what is wrong with that? A series of referenda to determine the future of the Continent- democracy in action might actually re-invigotate this EU project. Because Europe is failing because it has been hijacked by largely unaccountable political ideologists who forget that the two primary functions of the EU are to bolster trade and preserve unity. Instead, a number of political obsessions have been allowed to take over- it was politics, in other words, not economics that dictated the spread of the EURO and, similarly, the punishment of Greece. But it is the creed of ever closer union that has most seriously damaged the overall project.

While I think her intervention is late and slightly patronising, I am afraid she is right (for once- because she was wrong about the arms deal with Saudi Arabia and that one blew up rather spectacularly in her face), but what she says in itself is not a good enough reason for us to vote to remain in the EU. The only reason to vote against BREXIT is to sort out the mess Europe has got into (and it is people like Wallstrom whose background in the EU Commission was put to the test and found wanting in her spat with Riyadh). We cannot afford to have this EU monster of such mindlessness and arrogance growing on our doorstep.

If we left Europe and it collapsed in our wake, the pressing political need to set up a new “EU” would be paramount for the very reasons the EU was established in the first place to provide trade, unity and security. Better, then, to repair the old one, waste less time and money and cement our common alliances. The measure of our success will be not only the prosperity of Greece but also our own security.

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Ubiquitous Mann

A few weeks’ ago, I wrote about the appalling Ken Livingstone’s rewrite of history and the failure of the BBC to correct the faulty facts. The BBC is unrepentant but Livingstone looks set to explore the wilderness at last. The man behind the exposure was John Mann, who called Livingstone a “nazi apologist”, and who had also attacked Livingstone earlier as a “bigot” when the ex-Mayor had pointed out that he thought the shadow Defence Minister Kevan Jones might “need psychiatric help”. This is what Livingstone said, “I think he might need some psychiatric help. He’s obviously very depressed and disturbed … He should pop off and see his GP before he makes these offensive comments.” It is very much a Livingstone put-down. Livingstone suggested that his spat with Mann, however, went back to his failure to campaign for Mann in Oldham during the general election. Another typical swipe. But well done, Mann!

It all seems a bit personal, of course. When the two of them were on the radio, Livingstone said, “You’re on the radio and TV all the time, criticising what this party leadership is doing. All the time.” mm. It is an Edward Lear instance of the pot bashing the kettle.

And in response, Mann said this,

“You are a bully attacking Kevan Jones. Your language is appalling. You’re a bigot. You’ve failed to apologise … Even today, you’re failing to do so.” whereupon David Mellor butted in and added, “Can listeners kindly be reminded that these are two members of the Labour party who’ve been discussing their love for one another.”

However, Livingstone has a point. Whenever he knocks him down, Mr Mann keeps popping up like some sort of puppet- but the issues are so much bigger than a punch and judy booth.

john Mann

I think Mann looks alot like Neil Morrissey of “Men Behaving Badly” fame.

Mr Mann is also the MP who blew the whistle on abuse in Westminster, amid lurid tales of child strangulation in the 1980s. This, in turn, led to the hounding of Leon Brittan and Edward Heath. Unfortunate: stories have been leaking for years about the former PM but I think the idea that such an introverted man was involved in any groups is absurd, lurid and foundless. De Mortuis nil nisi bonum. Today, Mr Mann has announced that he is voting against his party for Brexit. I suppose that says rather more about Mr Corbyn’s lacklustre leadership than it says about Mr Mann’s ability to grab headlines.

It pains me to say

Much of what Farage says here is right, particularly about his reservations and warnings about the Euro- “through massive ambition and hubris, you ploughed on.”

I was in Greece in the run-up to the Millenium and the Euro project there was clearly a disaster hidden beneath a carpet of half-truths. But while Farage thinks we should walk away now the damage has been done, I think we should hang around and clear up the mess.

So much of what Farage says is reasonable, and of course brilliantly done- from a rhetorical point of view, he is a master of the verbal put-down and the jocular aside. But then he does a typically Farage thing and says he is walking out, never to return. But we know Farage from last year, when his resignation then turned out to be just a two week holiday following his unplanned defeat in the elections. Time to lick his wounds perhaps but not time enough to reflect on what the electorate had told him.

While I accept his comments about the hubris of those who drove the Euro, and while I share his concerns about the EU and its future, I hasten to add I have drawn different conclusions, partly because of his failure to eradicate racism in his own party, his endorsement of views that might well be taken to be racist, and his inability to control the thugs in his own backyard.

UKIP is the only party in the UK to embrace a libertarian view, and that is attractive, – more than that, there are excellent people in the party (not least Douglas Carswell, but I hope the option remains for him to return to the fold) – but it is too wide a church and the BPMers who infiltrated its ranks have been both tolerated and advanced to the detriment of others. (What was Sajjid Karim thinking of when he talked about “dealing” with Farage- I hope he was not suggesting violence and I am sure he was not- but no doubt that’s the way Farage would interpret it! We do not want to encourage the thuggery surely!)  If Farage is walking out of the EU, then, thank God, but recent history suggests he is not to be trusted to follow-through with this!

farage

 

Dr Sarah

sarah wollaston

 

Yesterday, Dr Wollaston changed sides. I quite admire people who change their opinions especially in the middle of a race. It is rather noble, I think, to defy the school 400m, turn tail and run backwards to the starting point. It requires guts and self-judgement as well as a fair degree of élan to pull off this sort of manoeuvre successfully.

It is also something that, quite frankly, you can only do once. (I did it so that is the end of that)

In this case, I think Dr Wollaston has actually drawn attention to a disturbing trend in the Referendum campaign. She said that she was not comfortable with the claims being made about the potential money, potentially £350 million a week, available to spend on the NHS (and the simple fact is that she is right). This is what she has said,

“For someone like me who has long campaigned for open and honest data in public life I could not have set foot on a battle bus that has at the heart of its campaign a figure that I know to be untrue.

“If you’re in a position where you can’t hand out a Vote Leave leaflet, you can’t be campaigning for that organisation.”

This is all well and true, however, and I have been saying this for a while, but the problem here is that the claims made about the £350 million were being made quite a few weeks’ ago, so her sudden defection seems a bit tardy. Was it that she did not think the claim mattered as long as it was not plastered over her own bus? The timing of her move is just not quite right.

Dr Wollaston is quite good with warnings – she warned us before the General election about the need for a £15 billion spend on the NHS to avoid the whole system imploding during the present parliament. So prophetic and right again, but late, and she is doing the same here.

We also heard about fraud (£670 million lost last year with 9000,000 Euros lost to dishonest EU staff!) but the figures were drawn from Olaf, the EU fraud office, which presumably is in the process of catching the fraudsters and putting the money back where it belongs.

boris

Boris has made the £350 million claim fairly often-“We send the EU £350 million a week – let’s fund our NHS instead.” -that is 350 million a week going to Brussels (17.8 billion a year), but with the rebate (1984) the actual figure is closer to £240 million and the rebate takes place before any money is sent to the EU so the claims made about Britain sending £350 million a week to Europe are blatantly false.

More than that, the £240 million odd that is sent to Brussels does not include the money spent by the EU on UK projects. Scientific research (in 2013 was £1,4 billion a year), education and the arts all benefit from EU investment and bring the overall net fee to around £130 million a week- still arguably alot of money, but significantly less than the claims made by Boris.

The letter

The UK Statistics Authority wrote rather apologetically to explain to the leave campaign that their figure was wrong, but still the sum is peddled out…

But there are other more serious errors. The first is the simple fact that even if we save £350 million every week, there is no guarantee it will be used in the NHS or can be ring-fenced at all. If a “Leave” result causes the economy to tumble as some predict it will, then much of that savings will be lost anyway and the reality of the post-Brexit negotiations certainly does not guarantee any substantial savings if we follow Norway . So the simple fact remains- if I do not spend money as it is currently spent, that does not automatically mean I have saved it- It may mean I no longer have the money to spend at all.

The Philosophical problem

There are good reasons for voting “Leave”- supporting our declining fishing industry is one of them, and I contributed advertising to that end.

I still think this is an important cause, but on reflection, I am not sure it is enough to see us quit the EU. That alone is not enough- a big negative gesture will not bring about anything positive. Again, back to the Wollaston issue- saving £350 million does not mean we can or would automatically use that money on the NHS.

Here is the mistake of the BREXIT campaign in this instance and it is a serious one: not doing something bad does not mean we are automatically committed to doing something good.

And back to Statistics

But the Remain side has been equally plagued by dodgy statistics, so once again Dr Wollaston’s desire for honesty is compromised. The Osborne claim that families would be £4300 worse off after Leave is again fairly spurious and based on a misreading of Treasury data. Jacob Rees Mogg is someone I respect a great deal and this is his conclusion-

“I care nothing about the bus. I am not concerned about charabancs. That is not at the heart of the debate.

“I have always used the net figure. What is far more shocking is that the Chancellor has been using a figure he knew would be misleading.” Mr Rees-Mogg is in the Brexit camp.

Trump needs a trim

We live in a world dominated by peculiarly dull politicians, so it ought to make sense that those with a little eccentricity get support. Trump, sadly goes too far. He is an engaging speaker but he is not a politician: he is more of a fairground bouncer, a barnum and bailey carousel barker, but the joke has worn thin as I suggest has his hair, and it is time to call time on this playground parody. He needs a trim.

I have issues with The new Mayor, Khan, but I like the way he has responded to Trump’s offer that Khan might be the new Jesse Owens, the single blessed exception to his pernicious anti-Muslim rule. Khan knows the concession validates the underlying rule -and we can never dignify the ravings of a man hiding beneath a bird’s nest. Heaven forbid that he might win- that would be one weird cuckoo taking over the Whitehouse!

trumping

Hair and history

History has often savaged political leaders blessed with a luxuriant mane. Heseltine, Foot and Alexander the Great all tripped up and lost the game when they seemed to be winning, and Boris’s mop may well prove to be his downfall too. The spectre of Samson looms large but we cannot go too far with this imagery because it was undue criticism of Trudeau’s hair that gave him some sort of advantage and La Clinton’s hair barely merits a mention these days which may well usher her back into the Whitehouse.

At the beginning of the current US campaign, the Obama team tried to rubbish Trump’s hair with claims that it was all fake. There has been talk about Trump’s use of an ointment called Rogaine (he handed it out to one of his employees apparently who was suffering hair loss), of his having had a surgical flap (a form of hair transplant) and grafts like some sort of cranial rose. But surely we are beyond that now- can floppy hair ever explain his rudeness, racism and bigotry? can so many wives and girlfriends be combed away so easily? I am with Cameron and Khan in sniffing at his bonce. Can these teflon locks really explain why Trump gets away with the worst excesses of follicular audacity? Is it hair, or does Trump conceal some sort of blond rodent presumably whispering inanities into his hidden ear – a bit like the rat in “Ratatoille” – is he in short, the Davy crocket of the 21st century-  It may not be a hairpiece- it may be an earpiece, or maybe Trump believes it is the word of God. Moses had long hair too, remember?

And is that Trumping racoon dangerous?

The answer regrettably is yes, and if Trump says we need to get out of Europe, there can be only one sane response. We need to stay, but we need to make sure we’ve got a sturdy pair of scissors to hand for all the trimming we will need to do. We have to remember the History of Europe- but we have to be mindful of recent scissoring too. Can we ever forget the haircuts given to Greece? Unless Mrs Merkel wants to present herself as a modern-day Dalilah, a trip to the barber should be a joy, not a punishment.

louis XVI

Roman soldiers had short hair- probably a reason why St Paul promoted haircuts in the New Testament, though, of course, the rabbis might tell a different story- and certainly in Hassidic Judaism, it would be the women (the wig wearers) who shave their hair while the men still grow it in elegant tassles, as indeed do Orthodox monks (the man bun is not just for John Snow). British history, meanwhile, pitches the long-haired Royalists against the sturdy Roundheads, suggesting that short hair means business (Nicola Sturgeon?). But short hair historically has also been associated with slavery and long hair has been tied up with liberation and the urge to rebel (remember the musical “Hair”?).

Moving from politics, there have been some notable long haired men, often scientists- Robert Boyle (as in Boyle’s law), Dmitri Mendeleev, the periodic table man, Carl Linnaeus (the “Gorilla Gorilla” man from Biology), Da Vinci, Ben Franklin, Albert Einstein of course and Isaac Newton, but also artists like Jim Morrison, Bob Marley, Brad Pitt, Johnny Depp, Oscar Wilde, Franz Liszt, Leif Segerstam (who puts me to shame) Stokowski, Jesus, Brian May and so on. But then there is Richard Branson, and immediately we start to think again of Mr Trump and of the desperate need for both a decisive tonsure and a monastic vow of silence.

Whatever nonsense might be in his head, whatever words he utters, the curse of Trump’s excessive hair never really goes away. It has becoming an icon of insanity, whether ours or his I suppose will be decided at the Presidential election.

branson.

Her majesty’s leak

Every other day there seems to be a story emerging from the Palace – private views on Europe, on China and now on Nigeria. Surely there should be a review of the Palace plumbing because this is becoming absurd. It is almost as if there is a secret organisation determined to undermine the dignity of our monarch!

buhari.jpgStill, what Cameron said seems fairly legitimate: Nigeria is demonstrably corrupt. However, what has happened is a home goal because President Buhari’s brilliant, evasive and commendably concise response has had the effect of turning attention from his country’s dodgy dealings to questions about the lingering impact of Empire and the slow progress of restoring money after it is confiscated by the British legal system. More than that, Buhari readily admits his country is certainly corrupt- or rather, as a representative of the new Nigerian Administration, he says this is something he has discovered himself. “He was telling the truth. He was talking about what he knew.” The previous government had stolen an estimated £10 billion through arms trafficking. Buhari is determined to tackle corruption which he calls a “hydra-headed monster”.

I think this requires some comment:

The most obvious assets still held in the UK belonged to Diepreye Alamieyeseifha, who, rather like a recent ISIS fighter, fled in a yashmack, to avoid trial, though his accounts were frozen and assets held. The ISIS man was captured near Cairo, looking rather silly in a skirt. There was also Abdul Aziz Ghazi who rather hypocritically ordered his followers to fight to the death and then crept out of Masjid en travesti. Of course, the desire to cross-dress as part of the escape plan, while it seems to belong to “Carry on” films, “Dad’s army” and “Allo Allo” or, more seriously in films like “Triple Echo”, actually has a very long pedigree. I gather that Ehud Barak dressed up as a woman in a covert operation against the PLO in 1973- that must have been a sight to see, but Amin el-Husseini escaped the British in Palestine in 1937, sliding down a rope from temple mount, and romping off to Lebanon where he started a pro-Nazi cell. Neuri al Said tried the same thing in Iraq in 1958 but was given away by his shoes, and shot. Ignominious end. There was also Mullah Mahmood in Afghanistan and Yassin Omar from the UK, the latter also carrying a brown handbag, so going for accessories as well. Bonnie Prince Charlie did it after the battle of Culloden and of course Achilles did it to prevent his being conscripted into the Trojan war.

Oddly, while alot of attention has been given to France’s decision to ban the veil in public, the Ottomans dealt with this issue in the late 19th century, banning the Burqa (the extreme form of veiling) after a man disguised in a burqa attempted a robbery in 1892.

War-time cross-dressing is better served by women dressing as men, of course, and “the trouser-part”or breeches role, like Cherubino, seems altogether more gallant. From Epipole, to Joan of Arc, Phoebe Hassel and Zoya Smirnow. Though probably the best example today would be Eowyn the white lady of Rohan.

As for literature and theatre- the place is littered with cross-dressers. Indeed, until Rudolph Nureyev butched up male dance in the early 1960’s, ballet had a reputation for fey men- and with good reason – the male role in Coppelia, for example, was actually created by a woman, Eugenie Fiocre, and of course it was only recently that Peter Pan (my own production in Oxford was among the first examples, incidentally) was played by a man. Pantomime continues the music halls’ obsession with cross dressing.

But back to Diepreye Solomon Peter Alamieyeseifha who was the governor of the oil-rich Bayelsa State, and who was accused in London of money laundering in 2005. He was found with nearly £2.5 million and property in excess of £10 million. He jumped bail disguised as a woman and was then sentenced in Nigeria to be later pardoned by Goodluck Jonathan. He died in 2015.

He had to dress like a woman

All these men in frocks! It was Nietzsche who popularised “the Bacchae” and what a play that is! The main character even does a Pantomime turn on stage as he is persuaded by the (disguised) god to try on women’s clothing – “Go on, it suits you. Sir!” and then his head is ripped off by his crazy mother, Queen Argave. the reason for all this? Dionysos demands respect: “Can you, a mortal human, dare to fight a god?” (πρὸς θεὸν γὰρ ὢν ἀνὴρ ἐς μάχην ἐλθεῖν ἐτόλμησε.) This is one side of the equation and the other is the fight many LGBT campaigners have waged so that they can be taken seriously. This is to say nothing about the prohibition in Islam, but then, as we know, terrorists read the sacred texts very selectively when they want to:

عن ابن عباس رضي الله عنهما قال: لعن رسول الله صلى الله عليه و سلم المتشبهين من الرجال بالنساء، والمتشبهات من النساء بالرجال. صحيح البخاري.

This is what President Buhari said, “He (Alamieyeseigha) had to dress like a woman to leave Britain and leave behind his bank account and fixed assets which Britain was prepared to hand over to us. This is what we are asking for. What would I do with an apology? I need something tangible…Our experience has been that repatriation of corrupt proceeds is very tedious, time consuming, costly.” He also thanked Britain for helping in the impeachment process of Alamieyeseifha. But Alamieyeseifha was really just the tip of the iceberg, with Sani Abacha apparently looting more than $5 billion while in power, and huge amounts of oil stolen more recently according to a 2013 report.

The foreign secretary has added,

“The Prime Minister was merely stating a fact. These are both countries (Afghanistan and Nigeria) with serious corruption problems and the leaders of both those countries know they have those problems and are determined to deal with them.”

 

 

Andrew Marr

AndrewMarr.jpg

 

I was horrified by the story that Andrew Marr had been abused in the Daily Mail. Quentin Letts should have known better and it should not have been down to Roy Greenslade to get him to apologise, but that is the world we are living in. We are back to the same discussion we have had before (Jonathan Ross, for instance)- when is a joke no longer funny?

There have been many times when I have drawn something I later decided was too direct or simply did not work. Trying to be topical and humorous can often get us all into trouble, but there are some lines we should never cross. Racism is of course an absolute, but I think also we have to salute those people who are brave enough to stand up in public – Marr is particularly brave, to come back to prime time TV after suffering a stroke. He shows that this is possible. But that wider thought about public life is what makes me pause to admire even those public figures with whom I disagree- I am delighted Sadiq Khan, for example is now the first Muslim Mayor of London: it sends out a tremendous message, though I disapprove of many things Khan and his supporters have said and done (as I hope is clear from previous blogs). Nigel Farage might espouse views I dislike and behave in an appalling way (he still owes me a letter incidentally) but he must be saluted as one of the three great orators in the UK today (the other two are Nicola Sturgeon and Boris Johnson).

Here is the best Farage speech: brilliant, cruel, and probably not something I would say (I balk at the reference to Belgium, for instance) but certainly not poking fun at someone with a disability:

Jeremy Corbyn may not be a man who leads from the front, but I recall on the Andrew Marr show, what a convincing and positive performance he gave. I salute that too, while at the same time bemoaning his inability to control his own cabinet and form a decisive and genuinely loyal opposition. In the absence of real political leadership, we in the conservative party have begun to form our own loyal opposition on our own backbenches! Not good for the Conservatives, not good for Labour and certainly not good for our wider parliamentary democracy.

But praise where praise is due, and frankly, I cannot find a word to say against Andrew Marr. It is fairly shameful that the Daily Mail peddles this sort of filth.