Tag Archives: england

England toilet paper

Have we reached peak flag?

There are some days when I couldn’t feel more alienated from UK politics, and today is one of them. While we are still struggling to comprehend why the people of Rochester and Strood just re-elected an MP who is a virtual caricature of every worst Westminster character trait imaginable in what they seem to think is a defiant anti-Westminster rebuff, Labour opted to lose it completely. They sacked Emily Thornberry from the front bench for posting a picture of a house with three England flags in the window alongside in a way that might be construed as mildly passive-aggressive. Sacked immediately by an apparently furious Ed Miliband, we’ve been bombarded today by pictures of the house’s occupant, nicknamed “White Van Dan” riding around Islington in his van, which has now been covered by Sun newspaper stickers. Meanwhile, asked what he thinks whenever he sees a white van, Ed Miliband came up with the ultimate Thick-Of-It-ism by replying “respect“.

Hanging over all this is the spectre of Gillian Duffy, the pensioner from Rochdale who Gordon Brown unwisely called a bigoted woman while wearing a live microphone during the 2010 general election campaign. In both cases, the response has seemed as out of touch if less authentic than the original offence. In fact, the only thing less authentic is the manufactured outrage whipped up by the media and Labour’s rivals which caused the apologies in the first place.

Labour aren’t just the victims of this. Just yesterday, Labour’s new anti-Green unit had managed to get the Evening Standard to publish a story attacking Green Party leader Natalie Bennett for the apparently egregious offence of travelling across Europe in a comfortable train instead of the indignity of squatting in one of those flying toilets that passes for a RyanAir plane. As someone who did something rather similar last month, albeit mostly out of a desire for comfort rather than wanting to minimise carbon emissions, I struggle to understand what the fuss is about. I certainly struggle to understand why Labour thinks this is going to alienate potential voters from the Green Party.

Much of what I wrote about Norman Baker’s treatment following his resignation earlier this month also applies to this latest debacle. I’m growing increasingly despairing of politicians’ craven need to indulge every reactionary twinge, as long as it emerges from a housing estate. Don’t be fooled into thinking this is genuine concern for the poor and marginalised in society however; I have no idea if White Van Dan receives benefits or not, but under different circumstances he is exactly the kind of bloke that the Sun typically vilifies for being a scrounger, with Labour cheerleading behind it. If you’re poor, the political class hate you; yet if you say something like “it’s not racist to want to kick brown people out of the country”, you are fêted and patronised as the authentic voice of the working classes. Meanwhile, the under-25s are looking at having their benefits slashed regardless of whether Labour or the Tories win a plurality at the next general election. And despite housing being one of the biggest single causes of poverty and social immobility, none of the parties appear to be interest in doing much about it.

The thing is, as a strategy for marginalising the far right, it doesn’t work, at all, as Ukip’s surge in recent years and the BNP’s upswing before that has repeatedly demonstrated. We are fortunate in this country in that most of our far right parties are so venal that they tend to turn in on themselves as soon as they get a whiff of success (helped along by organisations like Hope Not Hate). The BNP and English Defence League both spectacularly self-destructed, as indeed did Ukip 10 years ago following Robert Kilroy Silk’s attempts at a takeover. And looking at the oddballs which Ukip got elected as MEPs this year, there’s a good chance they will self-destruct again.

But by not challenging the very thing they stand for, all the main parties have achieved is to grow the reactionary core vote. As parties collapse, new ones rise up and quickly take their place. If Nigel Farage does self-immolate at some point, you can bet that there’s another smooth talking, slimy public former public schoolboy ready to take his place.

As it is, when people say idiotic things like immigration is a taboo subject in British politics, the main parties all nod their heads sagely, despite knowing that it’s all they ever talk about. I’m hardly the first person to notice that “Ukip are right, don’t vote for them” has spectacularly failed as a political message. And while politicians are falling over themselves to come up with ever harsher anti-immigration policies, whilst straining to appear non-racist, immigrants themselves meanwhile are shoring up the NHS, the treasury and our cultural life.

With the vast majority of the public not willing to even consider voting Ukip, is it really that inconceivable to actually challenge their bullshit? I don’t mean in a mealy mouthed, apologetic way as Labour currently practices, but in a robust and pro-active way. It did not, admittedly, work particularly well for the Lib Dems during the last European elections, but their credibility has been shot to pieces. Imagine if Ed Miliband had decided to take Ukip to task at his party conference this September, instead of spending the last couple of months indulging them? He certainly wouldn’t be in a worse position than he is at the moment. I suspect that his failure to do so has more to do with the rise in Green Party popularity than any newfound concern for the environment.

I’m not a fan of nationalism, but I will confess that some people seem to be capable of practising genuine civic nationalism, and I respect them for it. In the run up and aftermath of the Scottish independence referendum, I came across dozens of examples of it campaigning for Yes. As someone who has always been quite dismissive of SNP claims to be this generous form of nationalism, as opposed to the defensive, hateful kind, this has represented something of a challenge for me (for the avoidance of doubt, I’m not suggesting that all SNP supporters are twinkly civic nationalists; far from it).

The Anglo-British political class however seem to be reacting to the nationalist challenge by adopting an equally reactionary form of nationalism. Throughout the Scottish independence referendum campaign, my twitterfeed seemed to be dominated by No campaigners and English politicos talking about how a Yes vote would force them to erect a border between Scotland and England – not to keep the nationalists out, you understand, but all the dreadful immigrants that the SNP was going to be willing to accept into the country. Self-defined lefties, progressives and Europhiles were talking about Schengen in increasingly shrill tones. This seems to be all that British nationalism has to offer; togevverness in the face of the awful outside world, and nothing but spite for Scotland if it chose to go its own way. As someone who simply doesn’t understand why I should treat Scots as any more or less comradely than the French or Danes – or Liberians for that matter, I found it weirdly alienating.

The Ango-British are really bad at nationalism, not least of all because no-one seems to be able to decide whether to wrap themselves in the English or British flag. I don’t doubt the integrity of people like Billy Bragg wanting an English civic nationalism, but even he isn’t very good at articulating it, and no-one is really listening to him in any case. Instead of trying to invent something that isn’t there, the progressive, civic nationalist thing to do is to simply not worry too much about it, and instead focus on values such as mutual respect and solidarity. Those ought to be our starting points, not a concern about alienating people who have become intoxicated with nationalist lies.

There’s a possibility that Labour might actually realise this over the next couple of months and respond accordingly, but I’m not going to be holding my breath. If they don’t however, I suspect that all we’ll see is a further fragmentation of the Labour vote as haemorrhages between the Greens and Ukip. In many ways, this isn’t a bad thing – the collapse of the established political order is looking increasingly inevitable. But while it might be a positive thing in the long term, in the short term we are likely to just see British politics adrift on a tide of racist and hateful effluent.

The Conservative Party: a better class of bonkers

It’s the 30th, so it must be the Tory conference in Blackpool and thankfully the final leg of the annual Party Conference Odyssey. Thus far, I’ve been pleasantly surprised by the relative niceness of our B&B (believe me, I’ve been in much worse in this town) and am slowly getting my lay of the land with regards to the culture. Thus far, it all seems to boil down to hats. You don’t see Lib Dems or Labour wearing fedoras or something that wouldn’t look out of place at Ladies Day at Ascot. Having spent much of this afternoon handing out free magazines, I can also attest that I’ve been dead-eyed by more delegates than either of the other two conferences put together. This is also the first time I’ve come across delegates informing me that they don’t want to be a citizen, “I want to be a subject of the crown!” Fair enough.

Whereas last week I could wander about in relative anonymity, here my blogging and regular appearances on 18 Doughty Street get me recognised everywhere. It was nice to finally meet Peter Cuthbertson last night after all these years, although being mid-fever and encountering a particularly tricky madras meant that I wasn’t exactly at my best. I also understand that Croydonian is about to out me on the basis that I’m wearing a Conservative lanyard.

One thing that is particularly distinctive at Tory conference is the rich seam of loons. That isn’t to say the other parties don’t have them as well; we sure do. But the Tories take this one step further. The Free Society and Forest are having a reception stuffed full of delegates behind me as I type in which they are giving out a CD containing “songs for swinging smokers” – even DELGA has struggled to make free love a mainstream issue in the way that seems to be taken for granted here (the reception certainly isn’t about smoking as I’ve just seen a couple of people get ejected for the temerity of lighting up).

And then there is the UK Column (incorporating the Plymouth and Devonport Column), a newspaper which has been handed out all day today. For more information about where they are coming from, see the accompanying website eutruth.org.uk and this YouTube video with their editor David Noakes. I hasten to add that this newspaper is in no way affiliated with the Conservative Party, but it was clearly decided that the Lib Dem and Labour conferences would be much less fertile ground.

This paper is fantastic, bonkers stuff on the extreme end of the Euro-nihilist fringe. Pretty much everyone is listed as EU collaborators involved in a grand conspiracy to foist an EU Police State on the British people, including Cameron, John Redwood, Francis “pornographer” Maude (I bet he’s a smokin’ swinger!), UKIP and Thames Valley Police. As for the mainstream parties:

“The ruling EU marxist cliques in the Labour, Lib-Dem and Conservative parties are heavily into sexual practices which most of us would not regard as normal, with a significant amount of paedophilia amongst them, both nationally and locally.”

The Grand Conspiracy has apparently been orchestrated behind the scenes by the Bilderburg Group, German Intellegence, Freemasons, the Legal Profession and the sinister sounding Common Purpose. They have surprisingly accurate seeming percentages for how much each organisation is dominated by The Conspiracy. We therefore are to understand, for example that the Lib Dems and Labour are 60% dominated (some hope for us then) while the Tories are overwhelmed by a 75% dominance of conspirators. Surprisingly, 4% of the Bilderberg Group, we are to understand, are not in on the conspiracy. How Jewish Bankers, the Catholic Church and Zeta Reticulans fit in in all this is sadly left unexplained.

One thing that might confuse the casual reader of this august organ is that despite being called the UK Column, they have what appears to be a flag of St George as part of their logo. Surely that is English imperialism of the worst kind? Apparently not.

It is explained that it is in fact the flag of Arviragus (Arthur?), a Cornish Prince who was friends with Joseph of Arimathea and who kicked the Roman’s arses the last time those dirty continentals invaded. So it isn’t English imperialism at all; it’s Cornish imperialism. So that’s all right then.

And how is this paper funded in the face of such a grand conspiracy? Through local advertising. All well and good, but my humble suggestion to the customers of BDL Denture Clinics, based in Plymouth and Bodmin, is to look very carefully into their credentials. Just a suggestion.

Oh, and there’s a rumour going round that Zac Goldsmith is about to defect to the Lib Dems. I don’t personally believe it for a minute, but then again I don’t really understand what he’s doing here either. And it doesn’t look as if he’s going to be having a very good week.

Bernard Manning: an apology

Earlier today I compared Gareth Young in unfavourable terms to Bernard Manning. In light of Gareth’s subsequent comments, I now accept this was entirely unfair. Bernard Manning was at least honest with himself about what he believed in and never took himself too seriously. It is clear that no-one could ever accuse Gareth of either.

My favourite line is this:

James’ idea that all decisions that affect England are best handled at a UK or local level are a mechanical, almost fascist (sic), idea of democracy; it’s not about what form of government the people would want, but rather what form of government we think is best.

Seriously: support for local government and self-determination is fascist? I’ve never disputed that if the English want an English Parliament, they are welcome to one. My argument is that if someone is offered steak (real self-determination and genuine decentralisation), why would you settle for meatloaf (a centralised English Parliament)? I’ve never said anything different. The fact that this challenges and threatens the English nats’ sense of security so much is a constant source of amusement for me.

Salmond proposes an independence loop-de-loop

You may have noticed I gave myself a miliband or two of wriggle room when I said that my Friday post on Scotland was ‘possibly’ my last one.

Euan Ferguson’s hagiographic, and appallingly badly written, article about Alex Salmond in the Observer today got me hopping:

The border, slow epoxy, is setting. Every indication, every poll, not least that revealed in today’s Observer, is that the SNP has a convincing, unassailable lead, and that on Friday Salmond will form a coalition with Nicol Stephen’s Lib Dems, and become First Minister: and, in 2010, in keeping with his manifesto, will take the country into a referendum vote for independence.

Really? Nicol Stephen is currently ruling out a coalition unless the SNP block their plans for an independence referendum. And the latest, largest, poll, puts an SNP-Lib Dem coalition at having a majority of 1. Hardly a strong administration then – that suggests that for the Lib Dems to agree to it, their price would have to be rather high indeed.

But the biggest nonsense today has to be Salmond’s claim that independence was “not a one-way street“. The Scots can suck it and see – if they don’t like it, then they can run back to Mama England’s ever-loving arms.

At what point are the English going to be given a way on all this I wonder? Pretty much everything the SNP have been asserting assumes the good will of the English – a good will which is likely to be in rather short supply during the divorce proceedings. Why, for example, should we accept this “Union of Crowns” idea? If a referendum were held, would the English go along with it?

But the fact that Salmond is now saying this suggests that he now recognises that the independence issue is growing increasingly toxic for the SNP. He’s trying to shut down the debate – he has to still pay lip service to independence, but with so many platitudes as to render it almost meaningless.

Fork an Iguana for Queen and Country!

Respect is due to Hot Ginger And Dynamite’s post rant about St George’s Day.

For the record, I’d love it to be a bank holiday as we don’t have nearly enough of them compared to the continentals. But that doesn’t mean I’m going to start waving a bloody flag all of a sudden, just as I don’t wear stupid bloody leprechaun hats on Paddy’s Day.

If you want to read lots of bleating and moaning about how people are being prevented from celebrating their patron saints day, go here.

Crowns of Thorns

Geoffrey Wheatcroft’s article yesterday about what to do about a problem like Scotland, got Lib Dem bloggers in a lather for wrongly accrediting the West Dunfermline By-election victory to the SNP, but what they should have noticed is that the rest of the article is even more nonsense.

His proposed ‘solution’ is a Union of Crowns – both Scotland and England would have their own sovereign and distinct parliaments, but would be united as a dual monarchic union. He cites the example of Austria-Hungary.

There are two main problems with this idea: one anecdotal, the other rather more fundamental. Firstly, it is an inconvenient fact to this argument that Austria-Hungary was a dismal failure. It lasted 50 years, ended up splitting during one of the biggest bloodbaths the world has ever known, and if the Austrians and Hungarians I’ve spoken to about it are anything to go by, continues to poison relations between the countries to this day. It was the last hurrah of an already defunct empire. What’s more, with England 10 times larger than Scotland, it isn’t even a particularly useful comparison.

The other, more fundamental problem is where this leaves that other constituent parts of the United Kingdom, which Wheatcroft does not even name check in his article. Does Wales suddenly become part of England? I’m sure they’ll love that. And what about Northern Ireland?

The latter is an issue that I feel the SNP need to address as well. Most Northern Irish protestants are Ulster Scots and have more in cultural ties with Scotland than England. Indeed, the Unionists that I’ve known have generally been not so much pro-Union as anti-Ireland. Several have told me that they not only support Scottish Independence, but would want Northern Ireland to have some form of political union with the Scots under such a circumstance as well.

I can’t help but think that Scottish Independence is going to cause Northern Ireland some difficulty down the line. Will they be content with remaining in the UK, or will a movement for Ulster-Scots unity emerge? Or will they simply feel abandoned? Scottish Independence would potentially upset the delicate balance laid out in the Belfast Agreement. Presumably Scotland would remain in the Council of the Isles, but I would be amazed if it didn’t raise the question of whether it should have a wider role. This is a can of worms Northern Ireland could do without.

Scottish Nationalists like to wrap themselves in history, but I can’t help but feel that their self-obsessed crusade for independence means turning their back on a lot of history which is little too complicated and doesn’t fit neatly into an England versus Scotland narrative. I can’t see a United Kingdom really working without Scotland, but it does rather leave Wales and Northern Ireland in the soup.

UPDATE: Peter Pigeon has more on this and Wheatcroft gets a kicking in the Guardian letters column, including from Neil Ascherson, whose article Wheatcroft uses as the basis for his.

Poo to nationalism

A couple of weeks ago, I was castigated for saying that nationalism was an ugly thing, citing the example of “Scottish Nationalists chucking faeces through English people’s letterboxes“. I later apologised for capitalising the en in Nationalist (I never meant to imply I thought it was SNP policy), but insisted (and insist) that it is the sort of nasty thing that nationalism leads people to conclude it is acceptable to do.

Via the English Democrats, I now learn of a Scottish website encouraging Scots to do exactly this to their English neighbours as the ‘ultimate revenge’. Only it is plastic. And meant as a ‘practical joke’. Ho ho ho.

Of course, the English Democrats have gone off on one, suggesting it is possibly an offence. I’m in the very uncomfortable position of actually agreeing with them for once.

So, all my SNP friends who have declined to condemn their party for accepting half-a-million poonds from Scotland’s most famous homophobe and then failing to vote for legislation designed to outlaw discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation, will you condemn this?

Just add your denunciation in the comments box below.

UPDATE: postapoo has gone down, but their jape has resulted in the first bit of publicity for the English Democrats in years. Sky News. Metro.

“Thanks – you’ve been a great audience. I’ll be here all week. Try the veal.”

Once again my allergic reaction to nationalism has resulted in my blog coming out in a nasty rash. The nats are swarming, clogging up my comments and while, to tell the truth, they aren’t causing me too much discomfort, they are certainly causing me some embarrassment. So I thought it was time I stopped dabbing on a few bits of creme here and there and try to get to the root of the problem (and if that isn’t a contorted metaphor, I don’t know what is).

So, first of all, a mea culpa (yes, I am capable of them from time to time). I shouldn’t have capitalised the Ens in “Scottish nationalist” and “Cornish nationalist” in my post on nationalism yesterday. It’s clearly caused some confusion, so let’s clear that up straight away. It wasn’t my intention to suggest that the SNP resort to such practices, merely that such practices do exist and are documented. Nor are members of other political parties immune to stupid nationalistic behaviour.

Secondly, the SNP launched their 2005 election campaign in Dundee, not Stirling, and the memorable claymore wielding incident took place beside a rather anonymous actor playing Robert the Bruce, rather than a statue of a famous anti-semite playing William Wallace. Other than that, though, the incident is true. It took place on 6 April, which was both the anniversary of the Declaration of Arbroath and the day in which the SNP launched their campaign. My point that it was a deliberate press stunt designed to send a specific message, along with a specific subtext, remains (frustratingly, I can’t find an online photo of this incident, but there is a lovely one of Salmond gazing adoringly at his mighty weapon available on Empics if you have access, ref EMP.2319661). I will be interesting to see what he does to mark 6 April 2007.

What Scots need to appreciate is that it isn’t Scottish nationalism I have a problem with, it’s nationalism. Various commentators have sought to distinguish between civic nationalism and ethnic nationalism, and I assure you I do understand the difference. My position is however that all too often the former strays into the territory of the latter.

Nationalism is a bit like the mogwai in 80s classic Gremlins. It comes in two types: cute and cuddly civic nationalism, and the nasty, violent, murderous ethnic version. To prevent the one from transforming into the other, you have to rigidly obey certain specific rules. There are no grey areas here; you can’t feed Gizmo at 00.01 and expect everything to be fine. Break the rules and, after a gestation period, all hell breaks loose.

That is why I am so intolerant of that claymore incident. It simply isn’t good enough to employ that sort of violent, backward-looking, ethno-centric imagery when launching an election campaign. The fact that so many Scots Nats commenting here simply do not see it as a problem, speaks volumes to me. This is tantamount to watching the mogwai being chucked into a swimming pool with a shrug of the shoulders.

I’ve spent much of the past two years working in SE Europe and with SE Europeans. I’ve seen what happens when people allow their sense of proportion slip when it comes to nationalism and it ain’t pretty.

People here have rightly alluded to incidents by other party politicians. I should disabuse new readers who may be under the impression that I’m some kind of blind party loyalist. I absolutely condemn the Lib Dems in Burnley for flirting with the BNP. Ross Finnie was incredibly foolish to call Digby Jones an ‘English Prat’. I also don’t agree with the Scot Lib Dem line on independence (personally I think they should neutralise the SNP by pledging to introduce a general system of citizens initiative and referendum) or, for example, local income tax (a policy which the SNP foolishly share).

All I’m really looking for is an acknowledgement that when dealing with issues over national identity, you have to be doubly careful about not pandering to racists and ethno-centrists. But all I’ve had over the past 24 hours is, at best, shrill displacement activity.

The bottom line is this: English Nationalists, still small in number, are on the march, and while they too like to call themselves civic nationalists, they’re obsessions are invariably national anthems, flags, immigration, Witangemots and Perfidious Alba. It’s on the rise partly because certain politicians in England are indulging them, while others are resisting the very real need for greater decentralisation and self-determination. The question I would ask the SNP is this: is your sense of civic nationalism so robust that it won’t begin to crack if a nasty strain of English Nationalism starts to cause a stink south of the border? I have my doubts.

A wee bit of pedantry

It’s always very annoying when you read an article which you agree with the overall thrust of, but the author includes in it some complete howlers that undermine their case.

Iain MacWhirter’s piece about an English Parliament in the Herald today is a case in point. Less importantly, but still annoying because it is in the first paragraph:

So what would an English parliament actually look like, if those 61% of English voters, in last night’s Newsnight poll, who say they want one, get their way. Well, I’m tempted to say that an English parliament would be a bit like day one of a Liberal Democrat party conference. The LibDems already have a federal structure and delegates from England sit, in splendid isolation, at their annual conference to talk about English affairs.

Er, no we don’t. In fact, the first day of conference is normally reserved for business motions and receiving reports, all of which are federal, as anyone who glanced at the agenda would know.

More significantly though is this:

Scots MPs voted, famously, on the 2004 Higher Education Bill, which introduced top-up fees in England, but that didn’t stop it becoming law.

The point, Mr MacWhirter, is that Labour Scots MPs voted FOR the Higher Education Bill, thus imposing top up fees in England that would otherwise have fallen, despite the fact that Labour supported the abolition of tuition fees in Scotland. Now, I would happily accept the argument put forward by many constitutionalists that they should not necessarily have been prevented from voting in that debate, as it is undeniable that the Higher Education Bill had implications for Scotland, but that is a different point to the one that Iain MacWhirter is making here.

Generally however, this is quite a good article which nails some of the sillier aspects of the English Parliament campaigners’ arguments.

On a related note, this ranks as my favourite Act of Union story.

The English Question: I agree with a Tory shocker!

Prospect has an excellent quartet of articles on the subject of the “English Question” this month.  The four authors have very different perspectives, but they all agree that breaking up the union would be bad and the Tory’s “English Votes on English Matters” proposal is no solution.

Malcolm Rifkind’s proposal for an English Grand Committee, for me, is an excellent fudge and one that Lib Dems ought to very much be pushing for.  It allows a degree of nuance that EVoEM does not, which in turn means that Parliament will be the ultimate arbiters and not the courts.

Chris Huhne is right as well to point out that PR would be a very important mitigating factor.  For me, both proposals would complement each other very well.

To summarise, my (continually evolving) approach to the problem would be:

  • A sustained agenda for radical devolution to local authorities;
  • Proportional representation to remove the exaggerated problems caused by FPTP;
  • Rifkind-style English Grand Committee;
  • A Spanish-style constitutional settlement allowing any geographical part of the UK (including England, but also including parts of England) to call for further devolution and autonomy, handled through a citizen’s initiative system.

This is an area that liberal unionists should be taking a keen interest in: so far the nationalists, including the Tories, have been doing all the running.  The Lib Dems desperately need a position instead of burying their heads in the sand.