Tuesday, 31 January 2017
So there is a petition on the parliament website calling for the Government to revoke its invitation to Donald Trump for his state visit. And this might strike you as being reasonable given what Trump did on Friday. Except of course it isn't. Like it or not, and this blog does not like it, but Trump is the democratically elected President of the United States of America. We have to work with him. It is vital that we do.
This does not mean that we have to go along with all of his words and actions. But the visit is some way off yet. For now it represents leverage. Trump desperately wants to come here and be given the full on treatment accorded to his predecessors, including to Barack Obama about whom he seems to have a very well deserved inferiority complex. The visit will not be until the summer at least. It may not be until the autumn. At the rate he is going he might not even be president by then. But assuming that he is then we have to use the carrot to get concessions as best we can. This is the way that diplomacy works. We have to play nice in public in order to talk more candidly in private. This is what Theresa May did last week and was rightly lauded for doing so. Now suddenly she is being criticised.
As many have pointed out, Britain can be picky about some of the statesmen upon whom we confer the honour of a full state visit. But those we exclude tend to be those who are too small or poor to matter. There is nothing wrong with this. It is just realpolitik in action. We have invited plenty of statesmen who are guilty of much worse than Donald Trump and there has been nothing like so much fuss made. Where was the fuss when Xi Jinping, the president of China, a country with an appalling human rights record, was given a state visit only two years ago?
The actions of the Trump administration are wrong, irrational and idiotic. They won't admit it of course, but they will already be regretting their arrogance and crass stupidity. It rounded off a week in which Trump made a mess of almost everything he went near, confused frenetic activity with good governance and made a fool of himself over his obsession over his inauguration crowds and during a car crash interview. This immigrant ban from the leader of the free world is a sign of his fecklessness.
The protests against him are just a hint of what is to come. He will quickly learn to be more considered and to weigh his decisions more carefully. If he doesn't then he is heading for an ignominious crash landing.
But for now the British Government should keeps its head. Theresa May was right to go and talk to Trump last week and to try and use gentle persuasion rather than try the lofty disdain employed by Angela Merkel and by virtue signallers like Chauncey. Britain has a relationship with America that waxes and wanes according to who is in Downing Street and who in the White House. It may well be the case that the prime minister feels it politic in the coming weeks and months to distance herself and maybe even to withdraw that invitation to enjoy British pomp and circumstance. For now though she should tough it out. Britain needs America much as we needed to play nice with China in 2015. Jaw jaw is better than war as the man whose bust has been restored to the Oval Office once said. That represents our chance to influence President Trump.
We have one other piece of leverage too. Prince Charles wants to talk to Trump and about climate change and confer on him his wholly imaginary expertise on the subject. Why not turn that into a threat if all else fails.
Monday, 30 January 2017
But it is the measures on immigration, refugee status and bans on immigration from certain countries, albeit not an exhaustive or particularly intelligently compiled list, that have caused a sharp intake of breath around the world and in America itself. Of course there will be a large constituency there that will be quietly impressed by this firm action let's be honest. You can be sure that this was ultimately the reason. Trump is the showman. Trump is the PR man. Trump is the snake oil salesman.
Because that is all that this is. America is perfectly entitled to defend itself and its borders. If it were facing an emergency of 9/11 proportions then this action and possibly something even more draconian might be understandable. Instead this looks like the actions of a president who is still playing to the gallery and posturing. Because this will not make America any more secure and may actually make it considerably less so. This is precisely the kind of action that convinces moderate Muslims that there is such a thing as widespread Islamophobia. This is precisely the kind of action that plays into the hands of zealots and firebrands and preachers of hatred.
Refugees to America are not an issue. None of the attacks carried out there have been carried out by refugees. They have been carried out by people in the U.S legally. Recent attacks have been carried out by converts or radicalised US citizens. There is no point Trump looking to the example of Europe as being instructive because the numbers are entirely different and the checks carried out on new entrants are many times more thorough. The central fact is that this kind of discriminatory policy always ends up being counterproductive. And it is already coming undone since nobody bothered to think through all of the ramifications, loopholes, contradictions and difficulties. This is what happens when you have someone who deals in headlines and spin rather than in properly thought out policy. If Trump had asked Theresa May she could have told him about our last 3 prime ministers, not that any of them ever came up with anything as loony as this. Oh apart from the Millennium Dome that is.
On Saturday Trump had what was said to be a productive conversation with Putin in which they agreed to try and work together to counter and defeat ISIL. This is an obsession of Trump's. Yet it's not clear why other than his fondness for getting most of his information, not from the State Department and his security briefing but from Fox News. ISIL is no threat to the United States. It is barely a threat to Europe. It is in headlong retreat and reduced to inspiring feckless, credulous and angry young men to drive trucks into large crowds. Feckless, credulous and angry young men are not in short supply at any time, but those with a beef against the United States may well have their numbers boosted this weekend thanks to Donald Trump. Meantime the feckless, credulous and angry ones who went to Syria to fight for their great caliphate are on the run. Or dead.
Putin doesn't care about ISIL. He will be happy to pretend to care about it though if it means he gets a deal from his new friend Donald, maybe along the lines of having his takeover of Crimea made official, part of Ukraine handed to him on a plate and sanctions lifted. If that is the kind of deal that Donald the dealmaker is contemplating then that will be his worst decision. For now though his posturing on immigration wins the title hands down. He has made his country look blinkered and intolerant. He has given succour to the very enemies he says he wants to defeat. And he has galvanised furious opposition against him at home to the point that even the GOP is distancing itself from him on this issue at least. Quite a weekend's work. Still, at least it will have made the people who wear those Make America Great Again caps happy.
Sunday, 29 January 2017
So now we get to the really controversial part of Leviticus, the parts everyone quotes about sex, nudity, lying with women, lying with men, lying with beasts and not seeing any of them naked.
Chapter 18 starts as so many of these chapters do by saying that God spoke to Moses. They have to start with that prelude just to reiterate that this is all supposedly coming from God. This one also tells the children of Israel however that they are a distinct and discrete group. That they are better than the Egyptians or other tribes. So not for them all of that pagan sex nonsense. They must be purer. He's no fun this God is he. 'I am the Lord,' he keeps saying. Do as I say. It saves actually giving reasons for all of these rules.
And God has a thing about nudity. You must not see other people naked. Not your mother, not your father, not your sister or your brother. Make sure you always pull on a dressing gown when you go to the bathroom for God says it would be an abomination for anyone to see your willy or your bajingo.
Its reckoned that this is actually all about prohibiting incest. You must not see your sister or your father's wife naked lest you jump into bed with one another seems to be the gist of what they were saying. There has been much argument about all of this though. In truth we don't know what the hell they were talking about. Still, it leaves room for interpretation doesn't it. Religion thrives on opaque language after all.
God worries about sex, although in general he is less worried about men having sex than he is about women having sex. Oh and its okay, strictly speaking, for a man and woman, neither of whom are married, to have sex. So that excuses my entire sex life then. Well, nearly all of it anyway.
Then, thrown in amongst all of this stuff about sex, nakedness and incest is this humdinger. Do not under any circumstances sacrifice your children to Molech. Who is Molech? Well, as so often with all of this neo Pagan claptrap, it's not really clear. It seems to be a god of some description worshipped by tribes in the area and indeed by the Israelites themselves. God is clearly jealous of this.
But then we come to the real meat of this chapter, the one that certain halfwits like to quote. Verse 22 says that an Israelite must not lie with a man as he would with a woman. Again it is in opaque language but, as becomes clear in future chapters, a man anally penetrating another man is forbidden and an abomination according to this chapter of this book. There is no mention here of women lying down with women. Perhaps they were like Queen Victoria and simply couldn't imagine such a thing.
What is also made clear is that lying down with an animal is also forbidden. And don't think it's okay if you do it standing up either.
Commit any of these sins and you will be cast out. Indeed, according to God, the land itself will vomit you out, which is an interesting metaphor, if indeed it is intended as a metaphor. God wants his land kept pure and so sex must be between a man and a woman and even then only really if they are married and she is not menstruating. God's land must be pure. And really really boring.
Saturday, 28 January 2017
Friday, 27 January 2017
If you haven't seen Trump's deranged interview with ABC News this week then I post it below for your delectation and delight. I particularly recommend it right at the start when he talks of the tremendous magnitude of his job and the bigness. He is especially entertaining on how utterly brilliant his rambling and incoherent speech to the CIA was last Saturday and how he got a world record standing ovation for it. Or why not enjoy the part when he tells us that he would definitely have won the popular vote had he campaigned for it. Yet at the same time he complains that there are 5 million illegal voters and that this is why Hillary won the popular vote. He has no evidence for this whatever except a report whose author says it does not say what the president claims it says. When confronted by this Trump says that the author is 'grovelling.' Clearly Trump does not know what the word grovelling means. He also claims that he knows that the millions of illegal votes he has no evidence for, none of them went to him. None of them. Yet had he campaigned these illegal voters would have voted for him. No, nor me.
Just to prove that his ridiculous fury over the reports supposedly diminishing the size of the crowds at his inauguration last week was not out of character or an aberration he repeats it and even shows photos he has already had put up. So he has pictures showing what a liar he is in the White House.
All of which should concentrate the minds of the British delegation heading to see the president today. How do they deal with that amount of crazy? Answer: embrace it and go along with it. Crazy people can be dangerous, because they don't realise that they are crazy. We do at least have the consolation that he doesn't drink. But for now the fact that he is utterly doolally works to our advantage. Just flatter the feckless imbecile. Tell him how great he is.
It is fortunate that Theresa May is going to see Trump first because she will be able to be his new best friend now against the rest of the world who might take advantage of this political ingenue and all round cretin. And anyway Trump likes us. He knows we are classy and posh. Trump wants to be classy and posh. He thinks he is already obviously, because he likes lots of gold. But he's never entirely sure what knife and fork to use with his burger and should he stick out and crook his little finger when drinking tea?
The best way to deal with Trump is to flatter him. He is said to want the biggest and best state visit to Britain that there has ever been. Of course he does. So let's give it to him. Let's even allow him to go on to the balcony at Buckingham Palace with Her Maj and wave to the crowds. Since it is Donald there is bound to be a vast crowd there to see it all. And much much bigger than anything anyone has ever seen before. Much bigger than for all of the royal weddings, coronations and VE Day put together. Oh and Churchill was at a couple of those. Make sure you tell him that. Churchill gave lots of famous speeches tell him. He was renowned for them. But none were as good as Trump's at the inauguration or at the CIA. Now, about that trade deal, Donald. Sign here. My what a big signature. And what massive hands you have.
Thursday, 26 January 2017
If, like me, you grew up in the 60s and 70s then you will remember with affection the old Ladybird books that taught us about a range of subjects and also told us tales of Janet and John in more innocent times before John would have been considered a potential rapist and been forced to go on compulsory sexual consent classes. And of course he would likely have been renamed and made more ethnic.
Ladybird books are from a bygone era before the internet rendered them obsolete but have been going through an ironic 21st century renaissance seeking to explain complex subjects to a layman audience in need of expert guidance.
All of which makes one wonder why on earth they chose Prince Charles of all people to write a book about global warming/climate change. Charles considers himself an expert on all manner of subjects when in reality he is just a pub bore with a title. One does not become an expert on a subject simply by being interested in it or by regurgitating uncritically the opinions of other supposed experts. It isn't as if his fellow authors compensate with their expertise either. One is a green activist and the other is a little more expert but in a very narrow field. None of this qualifies them to write of climate change and in particular in the supposed field of extreme weather, a field that is unproven.
The book and the various puff pieces that have been published in toadying newspapers illustrate the depth of Charles's ignorance and credulity. His expertise is entirely a figment of his imagination as he makes a number of statements that are nearly as demonstrably untrue as those of a Donald Trump press spokesman.
He also makes the startling proposition that weather forecasts should in future include information about how extreme weather events were caused by climate change and thus by man. Yet no such evidence exists for this. Recent flooding in various places around the country, including that depicted on the cover of his book, have not been attributed to climate change and indeed can often be attributed to simply geographical factors making areas more prone to flooding when the weather is wet, something that is a regular occurrence on this windswept and damp little island. Flooding has not been more pronounced or extreme in recent years and is by no means unprecedented. This year there hasn't been any and we have had a normal sometimes cold and sometimes mild winter. Summers have in recent years been damp, cool and disappointing. Not much global warming in evidence. And Britain is by no means alone.
Charles clearly feels a passion on this subject but lacks the honesty and intellectual rigour to look into properly. Instead he prefers to trot out the party line and engage in the usual groupthink.
For the record this blog does not and has never claimed that mankind is having no impact on climate. What it has argued consistently is that our impact is minimal, can easily and more cheaply be combated with simple mitigation and adaptation and that temperature increases, even if they can be attributed to our emissions are nothing out of the ordinary or alarming. The whole science of global warming is based on computer simulations. They are not borne out by the actual data on the ground. This is why the alarmists like our next king are reduced to making silly claims about extreme weather, even though it is not extreme, is not unusual and cannot be attributed to anything other than normal weather.
For a full and comprehensive analysis see here
Wednesday, 25 January 2017
At times during 2016 we were exhausted by the sheer quantity of news to digest and write about. 2017 is shaping up the same way. We have the Donald in America issuing executive orders reversing the sacred sacraments of St Obama of smug and dispensing advice on how to count crowds. Theresa is off to see him this week. How does one talk to someone like the Donald? Like a naughty schoolboy or like an undiscovered genius? The worry is that Theresa is not much of a people person. But maybe Donald will do all the talking. He is after all her Ronnie and she his Maggie. Will they get on? Will he grab her by anything and then deny he ever did any such thing and that he has total respect for prime ministers everywhere. And anyway she's not that hot.
We are in the age of fake news and alternative facts. Those crowds were quite small but they were also huge. This is an alternative fact. Other alternative facts are being compiled but they will include the moon landings, the use of vaccines for childhood diseases and Donald's age and hairline.
Meanwhile this week of course there has been the handing down of the thoughts of the Supremes. They want parliament to give permission before the Government can invoke Article 50. Curiously it has all turned out to be a win for the Government and not for those who nominally won their case. The argument has moved on and now it is widely seen that Brexit cannot be stopped. That was the real intent of the case and in that it has failed. The SNP are also fulminating once again that Scotland is being ignored, which of course is patently untrue. How could we ignore their constant whingeing? All of this, said Nicola yesterday, means that another referendum is highly likely. This is now the 17th reason that Nicola and co have said that a referendum is highly likely. Other reasons include insufficient powers and the weather. England gets better and warmer weather than Scotland and they are furious about this. An independent Scotland will force its way uninvited into the EU, will carry on using the pound, will be subsidised by the English and will have better weather and lifestyles by decree. They will have a referendum about it all one day soon don't you worry. They just need to whinge a bit more first.
One of our Trident submarines recently had a test run to ensure it was working correctly. It was. This is an alternative fact. The original fact was that it was fired and went the wrong way towards Florida, possibly in an attempt to stop The Donald before he became president. The Donald has been highly interested by this news. He now controls the world's most powerful military. Could he not occasionally have similar misfirings? After all the missile we sent the wrong way was an American one really. He could order one to be tested and have it hit one of those spontaneous marches through the capitol, the one that had been bigger than his until they alternative fact checked it.
And the Food Agency in the UK has created an alternative fact about toast and roast potatoes. They are lethal. Given that this is a country whose staple diet is roast potatoes, chips and toast you might imagine that the research on this was flawed since it was based on mice and not actual people. Why do you need mice? Just pop down the road and watch real humans eat their breakfast and evening meal.
Chauncey likes the idea of alternative facts. He is ahead in the polls and will win the by elections caused by his MPs going off and abandoning his populist revolution. Chauncey is a populist. He is also very funny. Look at his brilliant joke last week about the irony lady, although he is the one who likes manhole covers. But people just have not yet realised how popular and funny Chauncey is. Much like Donald and his vast crowds.
At the start of the session today the Speaker welcomed the Burmese Speaker who was there to observe the way we do things. Was it my imagination or was Bercow shouting more loudly and generally showing off even more than usual today? There is no clear reason why he has to call the prime minister to get her to her feet to answer a question she has just been asked but he did so in a voice that would have been better suited to a Shakespeare sonnet delivered to the Royal Albert Hall. From space. There is also no reason why he needs to comment about the questions in relation, for instance, to the subsidies our landed gentry receive. He did that too. He was playing to the gallery. Or someone in the gallery.
Anyway Chauncey today, for the second week in succession, wanted to talk about the big issue of the day: toast and roast potatoes. No, not really. Chauncey was in alternative facts mode today. For a start he wrongly offered his condolences to the family of a police officer in Northern Ireland, even though the officer survived being shot and is currently in hospital. One might almost imagine that Chauncey's sympathies lie with those who did the shooting rather than the victim since he was unaware of this basic, none alternative fact. Life and death are difficult to subject to alternative facts.
But it was Brexit he wanted to talk about. The PM wrong footed him from the beginning by telling the House, in response to a question asked by Chris Philp, that the Government will publish a white paper about Brexit, a late decision that seems to have happened overnight but one that is another tactical triumph. Remainers are struggling to know how to object to any of this now.
Chauncey was going to start fulminating about this and confecting anger. Instead he had to do a reverse ferret and get angry about something else instead. As a consequence he had to extemporise. It did not go well. He started by asking when the white paper would be published when he had been ready to ask why there wasn't going to be one. The House rightly laughed at that. The PM, who was on sparkling form, said that he had asked about debates, then votes and now a white paper. All had been granted. Chauncey asks always about process, she said, because his policy on Brexit is all over the place.
Chauncey repeated a question he asked last week about paying for access to the single market. Mrs May responds as she always responds to this by saying we will get the best possible deal. But since we are leaving the single market why would we need to pay for access to it? Access to it is simply trading in the normal way. We would no more pay for this than Canada or the United States do.
Labour's other attack lines on this are that Britain will, as a consequence of leaving the EU, have worse worker rights and become a bargain basement state with low taxes. It sounds great doesn't it. This is an obsession of Chauncey, although for him workers right seem to mostly revolve around unions and their ability to cause misery to commuters. He talks of zero hours contracts and the minimum wage too, but these are peripheral issues and they have occurred whilst we are in the EU which supposedly protects workers rights. So what is he banging on about?
That ultimately was the big question of this session. What are Labour banging on about? The PM pointed out that Sadiq Khan, the Mayor of London, has said that he sees no sign that the Government is planning on reducing workers rights and indeed the existing legislation of the EU will be left intact once we leave. It has nothing to do with the deal that will be done over Brexit but it was all Chauncey could think of to talk about. Mrs May also listed the disagreements within Chauncey's own Shadow Cabinet who keep saying entirely different things about Brexit and even, in the case of Diane Abbott, call Chauncey up at night to tell him to say something else.
Since none of this was really working Chauncey then switched to Donald Trump and complained that the Government is offering America a blank cheque which will see American companies march unhindered to decimate our beloved NHS and make us wear big hats and remove the U from various words beloved of we proper English speakers. He offered no evidence for this assertion of course. It was probably an alternative fact.
What was a real fact was that the PM gave another excellent performance. It has taken her a while to get to grips with PMQs since July but today she was in control and completely bested Chauncey. He was reduced to shouting a lot, but if you listened to what he was saying it made no sense. He offered to the country his various prejudices about workers rights, the United States and tax cuts. But ultimately he had been exposed as unprepared and unable to change when the facts change. Who knows what deal Britain will do with the EU or with America. But simply saying it will inevitably be bad just because Theresa May is a Tory and Donald Trump is American and has said nasty things about women is not really a policy is it.
I'm sure I speak for many Brexiters when I say that I am over the whole Article 50 case and the ruling in the Supreme Court yesterday. In part this is perhaps because we knew the result before it happened and so it was priced in to the equation. But I would say that it is more because the decision, with which I still fundamentally disagree along with the three dissenting Law Lords yesterday, is made sufficiently narrowly to make it a non event anyway. The courts should never have got involved in any event, but as it is they only got involved at the margins.
The politics of the situation will now resume and the politics have not altered however much remainers may have been pinning their hopes on their lordships. Because the politics is that the country voted for Brexit last June and, if anything, the country's view has hardened in that direction. The sky has failed to fall in and the economy is still going great guns. Reality and reason is even starting to dawn in Brussels, especially since the prime minister's well received speech last week laying out her approach. The people of this country are broadly fair minded and they want to see the majority view prevail. That, after all, is democracy.
All of which means that it would be a brave MP or even a peer who seeks to stymie the democratically expressed will of the British people. Britain is leaving the EU. That is our settled will. Parliament has every right to question the government over the deal it does and to demand regular updates about how negotiations are proceeding. It definitively does not have the right to prevent Article 50 being invoked. That was settled by the British people last year.
The Government will bring forward a simple act of parliament to enable it to invoke Article 50. Various amendments will be tabled, not least by the SNP who are desperately trying to play their usual game of grievance to try and shoehorn their way into this matter. They will fail. The matter of Scotland is settled and our membership of the EU is settled too. Scotland cannot have it both ways.
Gina Miller, the lead litigant who won her case yesterday, has sought from the moment she won the initial case to claim that this was about empowering parliament. That has certainly been the outcome of her case but it was not the original intent. That was simply to try and find a way, any way, to delay Brexit in the hope that something turned up. In that she has failed. In fact she has done worse than that. The politics of the situation, the realpolitik, has ensured that MPs will find it difficult to vote against the British public. That is as it should be and is how it was always going to be. For all of the silly talk about referendums being only advisory in the British constitution (which is theoretically true) good luck with telling that to the public and not being howled down. It's always been a nonsense point anyway. I would by no means advocate their regular use in deciding things but on issues of major constitutional importance where a simple yes and no answer can be given then they are an elegant solution. How a general election decided by the electorate choosing between three or more parties and on a range of issues is supposed to decide such matters is a mystery. But then of course that is the preferred method for our political classes. Its how the EU was created and how it manages to maintain the pretence that its institutions command widespread support.
The Government has played its hand cleverly and skilfully. Parliament would be well advised now to vote Article 50 through. There has been enough delay already. Mrs May and her ministers have marshalled their arguments and thinking and are ready to proceed. Now is the time for them to do so.
Tuesday, 24 January 2017
As you will have seen yesterday, I piled in along with most other media organisations and blogs over the idiotic Trump claims about his inauguration attracting the biggest crowds in history. It was demonstrably untrue and the various falsehoods they deployed or asserted were demonstrably untrue too. Some say that this is a deliberate strategy to obfuscate and create distrust of the media. That is a battle they simply cannot win with a strategy of lies or 'alternative facts.'
This is to dignify Trump's team with a strategy that likely does not exist. Trump is quite simply thin skinned and cannot stand the thought that anyone is saying or writing anything about him he considers disobliging. And so he fires back. It is an attitude that will drive him mad if he continues this way. He is the president now. He will receive an awful lot of attention and an awful lot of criticism. Most leaders are kept sheltered from the news media. Trump has to do the same. If he continues the way he has started as president then he will burn out in a matter of weeks.
The whole inauguration debacle was a nonsense anyway. What does it matter? Trump may want the whole world to love him but surely he realises that we don't. Even those who voted for him seem to have done so knowing his flaws and hoping for the best. There were a few die hards who cheered him and thought he could do no wrong. He won the election by an ultra narrow margin. The best he can hope for, at least at this stage, is to be a George W Bush figure.
This is not to say that the shock that the liberal establishment are feeling about Trump's ascendancy is not entertaining. In truth they are just having their own tactics deployed against them. The same people who regularly call those who are sceptical of climate change deniers are in no position to get angry when the president accuses them of writing or broadcasting fake news.
This blog agrees with Trump on many issues: on China, on climate change, on renewables subsidies, on LGBT issues given such ridiculous prominence to name but a few. It will be cheering him on if he slashes US government spending and reins in liberal pet causes such as some of the above. It will cheer him even louder if he follows through on cutting and simplifying taxes. When Theresa May lands in the US later this week it will be a sign that we actually do have a special relationship if they signal a new trading and immigration relationship between our two English speaking countries.
All of which makes it such a terrible shame that Trump started so ingloriously with a confected row over something so inconsequential and demonstrably wrong. It was undignified and absurd. Trump needs to pick his battles and rein in his worst instincts. This blog will cheer him on when appropriate and call him on every bad decision or intemperate press conference. That is fair. Most of the media will be the same, whatever the president thinks.
There are some who say that it was this performance at the White House Correspondents' Dinner in 2011, at which The Donald was present, that convinced Trump to stand for the presidency. Given what we saw last weekend about his tetchiness it is easy to believe.
Monday, 23 January 2017
This was an occasion for a grand vision, a quotable sentence or two, for a speech written by someone who knows what he or she is doing, who understands the rhythm and cadences of great speech writing, who understands how to sell a point, lure in the listener, make hearts fly and cynicism, if not dissipate, at least give him a grudging well done. Instead the ego who has landed in the White House wrote his own speech and it came across as such, like the random jottings of someone who has spent his political career to date shouting at crowds and tweeting. This was a speech that, you felt sure, had an awful lot of exclamation marks in it, at least in the version he read out.
We should probably have expected this really. In truth we feared much worse. The language was simplistic and uninspiring. It was as if it had been written for a tabloid audience, an audience of rednecks. A man who once boasted of knowing lots of big words - he has lots of words - has never seen fit to speak any of them in public. Friday he hadn't seen fit to write any of them down either. But it wasn't just the language, it was what it was expressing. One of the very few large words the new president probably does know is hyperbole, although perhaps he doesn't know how to pronounce it. He uses it though. Constantly. Witness his description of American carnage of drugs, crime and joblessness, a description that is simply not borne out by the data or the facts, although, as Kellyanne Conway asserted at the weekend, this administration will be using alternative facts, including an alternative definition for the word fact. America is a violent land for certain, but not a lawless one. And how will Republican insistence on the right to bear arms help with that anyway? Trump has thus far offered no remedies for these maladies, indeed they seemed during the campaign to be his way of showing he knows what ails people who live in inner cities and who are black given that his experience of such people and places is sketchy at best. It demonstrated his remarkable lack of empathy. It demonstrated his remarkable ignorance of the lives of millions of people he is now promising to return power to. Yet here he was on Friday doubling down on the rhetoric and telling people that they live in carnage.
Yet this is the bombastic, take no prisoners style we can expect of Trump and his administration. Never recant, never apologise, never admit you are wrong. You can understand why he and Putin seem to like each other so much. They are very alike. Putin last week dismissed all of the talk about Trump and prostitutes and even boasted about his country's hookers being the best in the world. It's only a matter of time before they meet in Reykjavik and have a whore off before heading down to luxuriate in the hot spring baths only to emerge at the end having discovered treasure at the bottom and probably left their by Vikings. Trump likes Vlad because he is a bullying vulgarian just like him, a man in love with money for its own sake. Fortunately, given the state of his body, we can at least be sure that Trump won't take his shirt off in public any time soon.
This is clearly the Trump we are going to get for these next four years before the galvanised American people turn out in force to vote him out of the White House in a way they should have done last November if they could have been bothered. This is the Trump of the campaign trail who, as in his business and TV career, cannot turn off the campaigning and the attention seeking. He tried to sound magnanimous by claiming to be giving power back to the American people. But this was hubristic nonsense as was all the idiotic language about how the Washington elite have enriched themselves at the expense of the people. This, incidentally coming from a property billionaire who has routinely stiffed small contractors and customers including to his Trump University. It is also the same man who so admires Vladimir Putin, a crook who has enriched himself many millions or even billion times more than any democratic politician could ever hope to get away with even if that were their intent. In truth this is a nonsensical slur against a political class who usually go into politics for all of the right reasons.
American democracy is not perfect, no system is, but, as the man whose bust is now back in the Oval Office where it belongs once said in the sort of bon mots that Trump could never dream up in a month of inaugurations, democracy is the worst form of government, except all those other forms that have been tried from time to time.
Many have observed, since the couple of days since the speech and after they picked their jaws up from off the ground, that the hubris and bragging of the speech represent gigantic hostages to fortune for the new president. He has promised to variously get America working again (unemployment is actually at near historic lows already) and bring old factories back again, although there is no mechanism for doing so and the president does not have the power to force companies to relocate. He has even promised to end the decades old war on drugs as the victor, end poverty in America's cities, build endless new roads, bridges, airports and railways, win the war on terrorism, This is all going to make America great again, something that he will do by turning it on itself and turning it into a kind of autarky presumably. And people wonder why he is being compared to fascists.
The inconsistencies and contradictions in all this are stark and startling. How does he intend to make America great again when he is intent upon turning it in on itself. America at its greatest bestrode the world stage, projecting power, standing up for bullied and poverty stricken Europe against Russia. Yes, Russia Donald. Pax Americana it was called. That was American when it was great. He harks back to a time between the wars when America was isolationist and when fascism and communism stalked Europe. America looked away when Germans waged war on a continent and started to commit first state sponsored bigotry and then state sponsored mass murder. America watched while Britain, led by a certain prime minister whose face he may recognise in his new office, stood alone against Nazi Germany and might easily have been beaten and invaded. Later, after it entered the war and the Nazis were vanquished only for us to face a new enemy in the Soviet Union, America helped create NATO and lent money to impoverished Europe. A zero sum analysis might see this as money wasted. It was seen in more pragmatic and indeed far sighted terms. It was an investment in freedom against tyranny. Perhaps Trump sees it as the start of the rot, after all that money helped create modern day Germany only for it to start making really excellent cars and thus putting American manufacturers of inferior products out of business.
NATO has been the guarantor of western peace and prosperity ever since. It won the Cold War thanks to America being able to outspend the Soviet Union on weaponry. Since the end of the Cold War it is true that western Europe has come to take all of this for granted and has spent progressively less on defence. But only in recent times has it become clear that increased defence spending was becoming necessary once again. The peace and prosperity dividend has been to all of our advantage in recent years. The US remains by far the largest economy on the planet, but it seeing the retrenchment of old style industry in keeping with many economies around the world, Britain's included. The US however has been home and chief creator of the new IT economy that has revolutionised all of our lives and made Trump's victory possible. Microsoft, Google, Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Apple, Netflix, Amazon all of these companies and more besides are American companies built with American money thanks to the excellence of American higher education.
As we saw in that speech Trump is no sophisticate and his thinking is an simplistic as his speech writing. For a start it will be difficult to cut the US from the world and start trade wars whilst at the same time keep selling debt to the world so as to fund the existing deficit and debt let alone the new borrowing Trump has planned. The rest of the world might well feel that it would be better off with a new reserve currency under such circumstances.
Let us be fair though, albeit not based on that speech. Trump is not wrong on a number of issues and it is very welcome that he intends to be generous and accommodating towards Britain, although one cannot help but consider this inconsistent once again with his avowed intention to turn more protectionist. In fairness however it has been said that his preferred way of doing trade deals would be by doing them with individual states rather than with large blocs. This might explain his antipathy towards the EU, an antipathy with which it is hard to disagree. It ill behoves us in the UK to disagree with him about that after all.
This blog gives Trump a rousing three cheers about his plans to cut US taxes and simplify them. Corporation taxes are ludicrously high and cause companies like Apple to keep billions of dollars off shore. Cutting them and offering giant corporations a deal to bring this money home is a good policy. Going on a spending spree is not a good policy though. Its certainly the case that America needs substantial infrastructure spending and this is defensible. More spending overall that would add to the deficit will be less easy to justify.
On China Trump is absolutely right. China has been playing fast and loose with trade now for years. It is not a currency manipulator, or at least isn't now. It has been in the recent past however. It definitively is a trade cheat though. Its markets are not open and yet it buys up foreign companies and assets freely and with abandon. It is a serial intellectual property thief and routinely prevents foreign companies from setting up there without handing over such property. Its activities in the South China Sea are outrageous and illegal and its refusal to bring North Korea to heel mean it has no right to expect that the US should kowtow to its demands over Taiwan. Nevertheless confronting China needs to be done with great care and finesse. Perhaps in the past there has been excess of care and finesse. This is a fair summary. But its not clear that the Trump approach will be an improvement.
And anyway, how is Russia any better than China? Why is one being favoured over the other? One cannot help but suspect that this is either racism or something more personal or even financial. Trump's repeated indulgence of Russia and Putin's recent reciprocation is worrying. What is going on?
Trump's mistake is that he is confusing what clearly won him the election, albeit by a wafer thin margin, with what will make his a successful government. It is always easier to run as the insurgent candidate, calling into question the decisions and policy positions of the incumbent party with the benefit of hindsight. It is even easier when, as with Trump, you can pretend you didn't say some of the things you did say or pretend you did say things you didn't. Now he will be followed everywhere by cameras and reporters, his every word will be on the record, his record will be there for all to see. He will own his decisions and even he will not be able to claim he did not say what we all heard him say.
Trump made a lot of big if not exactly lofty promises on Friday. It is hard to see how he is going to fulfil one of them let alone all. Poverty in America remains a problem as does white American anger. It will likely be the same in four years time as we welcome in the era of Mr Trump's successor. Barack Obama left a lot of people disappointed and the world a more dangerous place. His presidency was the triumph of lofty rhetoric over realistic expectations and eventually over reality. With Trump we have not even had the lofty rhetoric. Note to Trump supporters: Make America Great Again is not lofty rhetoric.
I was going to make a joke in my piece about the inauguration (coming up later) about Donald Trump trying to tell us about the reality of the size of the crowd and about the weather. But then that is exactly what he did do. He tried to tell us that the crowds were four times larger than they actually were and that it didn't rain. In this new era we are in a special era of mendacity and delusion. On Saturday, his first full day of governing, Trump had a busy day of signing executive orders beginning the dismantling of Obama's already shaky legacy. He also visited the CIA at Langley, an organisation he recently compared to Nazis. Never a man to let such facts get in the way of his insincerity he thanked the spooks for their work before spending the majority of his time, in front of a hallowed memorial, talking about himself.
Whilst there he took the opportunity to rail against the media once again, this time for their dishonest reporting of the crowds that saw his inauguration. This, according to Donald, who is clearly an expert on crowd size estimation among his other many and various talents, was clearly over a million and not the 250k most estimate it to have been and which can be clearly demonstrated by looking at pictures of recent inaugurations. The one last week had clear and large gaps.
You don't have to be an expert in crowd size estimation (there are such people, apparently) to see that the pictures of Friday's inauguration, when compared to Obama's 2009 inauguration, which was of the order of 1.8 million, quite clearly show it to have been much smaller. Acknowledged experts have concurred at this and indeed the Metro system has confirmed that the numbers using their service on Friday, at 11am, were much lower than those recorded in 2009. The numbers using the Metro, which is a definite number and not just guesswork are: Bush: 2005: 197k; Obama: 2009:513k; Obama: 2013:317k and Trump: 2017:193k. Thus the numbers recorded last Friday were similar to those who attended George W Bush's second inauguration in 2005, an inauguration that took place after a controversial war. Why Trump is in denial about this is a mystery. He did not win thanks to some massive upwelling of popular support. He won narrowly in a divided country, by the skin of his teeth, on the electoral college only. He lost the popular vote massively. So why did he think, in what is a Democrat area he lost to Clinton, that he would get crowds as large as Obama did?
But more importantly, on a day when there were surely more important things to talk about for a new president, did he and his Press Secretary engage in rants about dishonest media reporting when the media had barely talked about it prior to their raising it? Did Trump really think that he is popular? Has he not seen his own historically low poll ratings? And what do numbers attending an inauguration matter anyway, unless you have a narcissistic personality disorder and a thin skin? If it is this easy to rile the president then is it possible that we are heading to a world of trouble? We laughed when Kim Jong Un was furious about that crap film made about him a couple of years ago. Now it's only a matter of time until the president declares war on Saturday Night Live and has Alec Baldwin sent to Guantanamo.
Oh and Donald also managed to try to lie about the weather. According to him it only drizzled a little right at the beginning when in reality it continued for several minutes. We could see it on TV, Donald. He then claimed, ludicrously, that it rained heavily just after he finished speaking. This did not happen. Donald, you see, thinks he is God. This is the man who is now the most powerful man on the planet and in charge of the nuclear codes. Like a modern day King Canute, he thinks the rain stops at his command. Could anyone persuade him to go for a bathe in the sea?
You have to question the sanity of a man who is in this level of denial and apparently considers that he can tell people what they can see with their own eyes. This is not media lies, these are demonstrable facts that Trump got really furious about and blamed on the media. Trump has not been swept to power on a huge and popular surge of popularity. He is an unpopular populist. And he is ruling in a democracy. People are allowed to disagree with him. Presumably, given his denial of what happened on Friday he has also edited out the huge protests against him on Saturday. These were at least 3 or 4 times larger than the crowds that gathered to see him being sworn in. Or did we imagine that too?
Sunday, 22 January 2017
I think we can safely agree that Leviticus is not exactly light or entertaining reading is it. Lots of sub pagan claptrap about animal sacrifices and how wearing the wrong clothes or doing things the wrong way is a terrible sin against this weird and needy god. Many scholars think that Leviticus, for all of its idiocies, actually ended at Chapter 16. But someone decided we needed yet more rules about stuff. So now we get some ignorant and brainless rules about blood inserted later by more priests looking for free food and power. Are you listening Jehovah's Witnesses?
So, we are told, God spoke to Moses and gave him some more instructions for Aaron. Aaron of course is the chief priest. This is a clear and obvious power grab once more. The priests, who claimed to be descended from Aaron were inserting some more rules so as to establish their holiness and power. Nothing ever changes does it.
It was now made clear that any and all animals slaughtered had first to be taken to the Tabernacle and an offering made to the priests, sorry, God. These were fantastically well fed priests. Remember there was supposed be half a million Hebrews at this stage. The Tabernacle must have been swimming in blood and animal flesh.
But now we come to blood. Shedding blood without making an offering to God was a sin and meant whoever did it was cut off from his people.
The animal had to be brought to the Tabernacle and blood sprinkled on the altar. But here's the question: if there was only one Tabernacle in the whole of Israel was that not impractical? And how big was it? How many altars were there? Or was this a franchise operation, with branch Tabernacles all over the promised land. God is details obsessed with regard to what his priests should wear and what incantations and decorations his Tabernacle had to have but he didn't think this through properly did he.
And now we get the bit that Jehovah's Witnesses invoke for their idiocy. Leviticus 17:10 says that nobody should eat blood. God would set his face against anyone who broke this solemn injunction. From this Jehovah's Witnesses have invented the notion that this prohibition of eating blood somehow also prohibits blood transfusions.
Why is this? Well God says that blood is life and that he had given it to people. Now he's half right about this of course. Blood is life. But then so is the heart, so is the liver, the kidneys, the spleen, the lungs. Why is blood accorded this special protected status?
Nevertheless this is the instruction from God. No eating blood. And not just Jews were to obey this, anyone residing in Israel was to follow this ignorant and silly rule.
Oh and any animal that died naturally or was killed by other animals involved special instructions too. Anyone eating animals that had died in ways other than being sacrificed at the Tabernacle had to bathe themselves and wash their clothes and be regarded as unclean for the rest of the day. Fortunately God didn't foresee roadkill. Or Sainsbury's.
Saturday, 21 January 2017
You've read all the hype about it this week, now take a look at the real thing. It's terrific. Well worth waiting for. In years to come this will be an historic moment. And to think, 80 Labour MPs are currently considering voting against invoking Article 50 because they think that this will put them on the right side of history. The Labour Party is still grasping for answers and keeps grabbing the wrong ones. What is the point of it?
Friday, 20 January 2017
For all of the consternation and anger Donald Trump's election has produced, something remarkable and admirable will happen in Washington DC today just as it happened in Britain last July and will likewise happen in capitals across Europe over the course of this year. The peaceful transition of power is democracy in action. We may not always like the results. We may loathe the winners. But it is incumbent upon us all to respect the result and accept the right of the victor to govern. We may criticise their actions and policies when they do. That is another vital feature of democracy. But Donald Trump is the legally elected President of the United States.
At 10.30 this morning local time, Barack Obama will leave the White House for the last time and be driven to his successor's inauguration. Within a minute of the Obamas leaving the White House staff will begin the process of removing the final traces of their occupancy and moving in the effects of the Trumps, although typically for Trump this will not be quite so straightforward a process since Mrs Trump is going to be staying in New York for the next few months at least and the president himself may well go back there at weekends. Later in the day the new Commander in Chief will arrive and he will begin the process of governing with various executive actions. He will also likely repeal many measures of the Obama presidency. That is democracy for you.
Contrast this mature and time honoured tradition however with what is going on in Gambia at the moment where the outgoing president is refusing to outgo. Having lost his election last month, President Yahya Jammeh rescinded his initial gracious acceptance of defeat to Adama Barrow, a man it is constitutionally incumbent upon us to describe as an Arsenal fan and former Argos security guard. Jammeh has declared a state of emergency where none exists and is seeking to prolong his already 22 year corrupt and murderous tenure. Neighbouring countries, including Senegal and Nigeria are threatening to get involved in removing Jammeh from power.
So let us be grateful that, though America is a bitterly divided country, its new president will come to power with the grudging acceptance of his nation.
In truth though nobody really knows what to expect, although Trump's behaviour to date has not been encouraging. His picks for his Cabinet are a peculiar mixture of the highly respected and competent to the utterly incompetent, inexperienced and eccentric. At the confirmation hearings held over the last couple of weeks, some of his soon to be Cabinet have given answers that contradict the stated positions of the new president. Others, like Betsy DeVos, the prospective new Secretary of Education betrayed a troubling lack of knowledge of education basics and at one point refused to say that guns in schools are a bad thing because they might be necessary to shoot bears. No, really.
Rick Perry, the Trump choice for Energy Secretary, once said that he thought that the department should be completely abolished. During his confirmation process however he had to admit that when he said this he hadn't actually realised what the department does.
The problem seems to be that Trump has done what he does in business and surrounded himself with people he likes and who are willing to be ingratiating towards him. His is a government of cronies and patsies. The consequence is that he has a woefully inexperienced administration working behind a president who has never been in government before and whose style has always been very much as the PR man, larger than life brand leader rather than a proper bona fide businessman at all. Trump likes to play the role of businessman and international jetsetter and sybarite. Its hard to see how this will work well in his new role.
Its a role that always ages and has an impact on its incumbents. Even the fit and youthful Barack Obama has been visibly aged by the stresses and strains of the job. How much of an impact will it have on a man who is 70, overweight and on the cusp of obesity and who clearly gets very little sleep? Given his tendency to lose his temper at any and all slights, real or imagined, how long will it take him to get into a big crisis? How well will he cope with crises? They come along and, though there is plenty of advice and guidance on offer, Trump is not always good at seeking out advice and taking it.
The biggest problem with Trump is we simply do not know what to expect. Much as I started this post lauding the democratic process it failed this time. It failed not because Trump was elected but because he was elected and managed to avoid serious scrutiny of his ideas, his policies, his past, his personality, his finances, his taxes, his health, his suitability. He gamed the system and won. He is the president, although I remain of the opinion that he will end up being impeached. But what do I know? I said, like most people who claimed to know, that he could never get elected.
Now the world watches and waits.
Thursday, 19 January 2017
As Barack Obama heads into the final full day of his mixed bag of a presidency, he finds himself defending a decision that is emblematic of all that he got wrong. Bradley Manning, who let it be known that he wanted to be called Chelsea on the grounds that he now considers himself a woman, had his admittedly draconian sentence for his treachery commuted by Obama as one of his last acts before handing over to Donald Trump. Perhaps one of the reasons that Obama finds himself handing over to Donald Trump is precisely because he made wrong headed decisions like this one. One cannot help wondering if he would have made a different decision had Bradley stayed as Bradley. By becoming Chelsea he seemed to win more support and sympathy from a certain constituency, the president included. It's not clear why.
Manning is a traitor. He deserved to be punished and punished severely. 35 years was certainly excessive but 10 years does not seem unreasonable given the lives he put at risk simply because he decided that he knew best and that his principles trumped all others.
Was this the kind of hope and change the world expected when Barack Obama swept to power 8 years ago? Certainly back then nobody imagined, not even the terribly right on, politically correct Obama White House, that transgender rights would be the buzz subject that people who like to think of themselves as progressives would consider a matter of pressing importance. There were other matters that were important, especially from America's first black president. Yet over the last few years the issue of gun crime and of police violence against black people has been an issue with which Obama has grappled and largely failed to do much about other than to famously sing Amazing Grace to a grieving congregation in Charleston.
Yet domestically Obama has been a transformative president in many ways, albeit in ways that may well now be reversed by the Trump administration in league with a Republican Congress. His Obamacare reform was the first successful attempt to solve the intractable problem of the uninsured in the US system that so shames the largest economy in the world. Economists are largely agreed now that Obama's stimulus package when he first came to power after the banking implosion and resultant calamity that happened under George W Bush dragged America out of the mire. At the time it was criticised by many, this blog included, for its pork barrel approach to investment. That remains a fair description. I would argue that Obama's economic legacy is decidedly mixed even if he is credited with ending the great recession, something that might well have happened anyway given the robustness of the American economy. What he did undeniably do was double the national debt to an eye watering $9.1 trillion.
In truth though many of the reforms and policies of the Obama regime have been technocratic in nature and little understood by most American voters let alone by foreigners watching from a distance. In education amongst many there have been complex reforms that have been lauded by those in the know. But it is Obamacare that defined his presidency and which remains his lasting legacy for good or ill. It may have contributed to Clinton's defeat in the end, probably more than anything Russia did, especially as higher dividends were announced in the dying days of the campaign.
Obama was frequently frustrated, as many presidents are, by their powerlessness in the face of Congressional opposition. His attempts to advance the minimum wage, to bring in free community college education or paid parental leave were all stymied. Most notably his attempts at gun control, despite a long list of terrible massacres on his watch, will be a huge regret, one now compounded by conservative control of the Supreme Court for many years to come.
But it will be his foreign policy that will likely be his lasting legacy and the most ignominious one. Early on in his presidency, ludicrously, he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. This was based on a speech. The man is a great public speaker, but that good?
It was the triumph of hope over experience. Obama came to power and immediately sought to test the old lefty notion that being nice to people will result in peace and love and kumbaya in perpetuity. In reality it was just seen as weakness and naivety by the likes of Assad and Putin in particular. Obama and his Secretary of State Hillary Clinton offered Russia a reset. Putin couldn't believe his luck. 8 years on, though both Obama and Clinton saw the light, Russia has invaded foreign territory and thus expanded his country. He continues to menace and occupy illegally other territory of Ukraine and to threaten the Baltic states with a build up of forces in western Russia. It is building up tactical nuclear weapons in the same area, weapons whose use would make the defence of NATO members dangerous, possibly existentially so. His behaviour in Syria has enabled effective genocide, he has been complicit in the downing of a passenger airliner and has been interfering in the elections of several western nations including the United States itself.
Throughout all of this Obama has looked away, even when Assad crossed the supposed red line by using chemical weapons. Russia was caught red handed with sleeper agent spies in the comely form of Anna Chapman. Obama made light of this to the fury of the CIA because he wanted a successful summit with then Russian president Medvedev.
Across the rest of the world too the world looks more dangerous and unstable than it did when Obama came to power. North Korea is looking ever more irrational and uncontrollable. China has become ever more assertive and aggressive as it builds up its forces and tries to expand its territory by building bases in the South China Sea. Obama has ignored the transgressions of his enemies in what he imagined was a kind of benign neglect. He has been equally lackadaisical about staying close to his friends. Britain was not the only country that felt relations cool. Israel too. Much of Europe, Egypt, Turkey. Middle eastern allies have felt abandoned and Russia has been allowed to once more park its tanks on that lawn.
The Obama administration boasted about the CIA success with its Stuxnet virus deployed against Iran with stunning success meaning that the hard work was wasted.
The Bradley Manning commutation added insult to the injury of other failures during the Obama years, the loss of the thousands of files to foreign powers and terrorists thanks to the Edward Snowden scandal so celebrated by lefties on this side of the channel. There was also the less well known loss of millions of US government employees personal financial details in a Chinese hack.
Obama came to power promising change and new hope for his country. 8 years later Donald Trump is the inevitable reaction to his perceived failures. Trump, in his less lyrical, less articulate way, is offering much the same as Obama promised in 2008. It is likely that, if and when he is seen to fail, the democratic scales will tip back again.
But for all that Obama will leave a mixed legacy and an appalling one in foreign policy, he has been a classy, intelligent, witty and dignified president. There has not been a whisper of scandal. The Obama family have clearly enjoyed their time in the goldfish bowl of the presidency: Sasha and Malia have been a breath of fresh air and Michelle has been a graceful, gracious and beautiful first lady who has been such a success that many Democrats hope that she can be persuaded to launch a political career herself and be rather more successful than the last political spouse who attempted the same.
Barack Obama made oratory fashionable again such was the excellence of his speech making. But for me he was at his best at the less formal events and when speaking off the cuff. His addresses to the Correspondents Dinner were an annual highlight and I for one will miss the annual Thanksgiving turkey pardon comic tour de force he so enjoyed every year with his daughters. The man has the comic timing of Bob Hope and the good looks of a Hollywood star. Maybe that is a clue for his next career step. Some actors end up going into politics, often with great success. Maybe Obama can go the other way.
Whatever though, as we transition from a president who has been grace personified to one who angrily tweets in the middle of the night about every perceived slight and throws out insults like a saloon bar bore, Barack Obama is very soon going to be missed. His legacy is going to be a mixed one. But he always looked the part. This is unlikely to be true of Donald Trump.
Why are people making a fuss about Boris Johnson's remark about President Hollande and the punishment beating of Britain for escaping the clutches of the European Union? As ever in these snowflake times, people are claiming to be offended just because it either suits them to be offended or because they think they ought to be. I would have had more respect for the likes of Tim Farron or Emily Thornberry had they shrugged and said so what? about the remarks. As it was they lived down to our expectations.
It's bad enough that prize arse Guy Verhofstadt made a mountain out of this particular molehill without our own political pygmies this side of the channel seeking to do the same. Verhofstadt is the same halfwit who claimed to be offended by David Davis's 'get thee behind me satan' joke to a select committee last year. One can only presume that this joke got lost in translation. It's either that or Verhofstadt really is as dim or ill educated as this would suggest.
Of course those claiming that this Boris remark was offensive are doing so on the grounds that he was comparing Hollande to a Nazi. In reality the word never crossed his lips. It is all in the eye of the beholder as ever. Boris was using what those of us with a sense of proportion call a metaphor, a stylish and imaginative one as ever. We know that Brussels is populated by grey men with no imagination and so Boris must seem very exotic indeed to them. But that doesn't make him offensive, just cleverer and better read.
Perhaps in future the pronouncements of our Foreign Secretary should be accompanied by trigger warnings for prissy EU types. Fortunately of course, since Britain is leaving the EU, they will soon be in a safe space away from we Brits and our sense of humour. If only we could give them Tim Farron and Nick Clegg as part of the divorce settlement. This is not a joke. And it was intended to offend.
Wednesday, 18 January 2017
There was an opinion poll done at the weekend. So what? you might well ask. Well you will have noticed that the NHS is having a crisis at the moment, which is to say that the media (particularly the BBC) have decided to talk about the pressures on the NHS a lot because that is a January tradition along with booking summer holidays and going on faddy diets that leave you so hungry that you put on more weight than you gained over Christmas. Anyway, it is fair to say that the Government is not handling the NHS 'crisis' especially well, although what they could do about it is a moot point. Last week Chauncey, for once showing himself to be at the cutting edge of public opinion, asked six quesitons of the PM on this issue, the default option for Labour when Labour is struggling. The result? Labour is behind the Tories on managing the NHS. This an achievement right up there with the very greatest recipients of Darwin awards. They should give special mention to Chauncey alongside the man who blew a bubble gum bubble, had it pop all over his face and caused him to crash his car killing him. Alongside that kind of idiocy is the Labour leader who has contrived somehow to be less trusted than the Tories on the NHS.
Of course the PM has had a big triumph this week. It has been announced that she will appear on the cover of Vogue. It is not clear if she will be wearing her leather trousers. Oh and she also gave a speech.
During the PM's big speech yesterday the BBC cut to a shot of Chauncey and Diane Abbott watching the speech and taking notes. I have to admit that I sniggered. It was just a funny image given what we know about their fundamental incompetence and inability to deliver a coherent message over the course of a single day.
Presumably I was not alone in finding this risible. When the BBC then cut to Chauncey opining on Mrs May's newly announced speech it was difficult to take seriously the man who just last week as part of his big relaunch announced one policy in the morning and then announced three more in the afternoon. Labour are for our being in the Single Market. Except when they are not. And if the EU plays hardball and won't do a deal? They are opposed to the stated policy of making Britain more competitive with Europe by cutting taxes and regulation. By today they will probably have announced a different approach on that too. Just to be fair minded.
At the weekend Chauncey seemed to be in the process of announcing a new policy on nuclear power. Entirely coincidentally there is a by election coming soon in which Labour will be defending a narrow majority in a constituency which is home to Sellafield.
What then would Chauncey choose to talk about today? His new enthusiasm for nuclear power? His new enthusiasm for controlling immigration, unless of course Diane Abbott is sitting near to him? We should start a sweepstake. Maybe that was what they were writing in their notepads during the big speech. With a political colossus like Ms Abbott to guide and influence him how can it be that Chauncey is doing so badly in the polls?
Today, somewhat surprisingly, the confused old gentleman on the opposition front bench wanted to talk about Europe and yesterday's speech. Why surprising? Well for anyone else it would be the obvious choice. The problem for Labour and for Chauncey is that he clearly doesn't really understand any of it or have any clear policy for what Labour would do if the world imploded on an existential level and he were to become PM.
Happily some kind advisor, maybe even Diane Abbott herself, had written out Chauncey's questions for him. This is all very well but he doesn't really seem to understand these questions. Thus any answers must be a strange kind of mystery to him in much the same way that his leadership and policies are mysteries to the people of Britain.
Chauncey tried to complain about the PM having given her speech yesterday in a hall in London to an audience of dignitaries and journalists rather than to parliament. It's a nonsense point. It was a major occasion and one that was addressed to the country and indeed the rest of the world. Presumably MPs do have TV sets. They also have phones. Labour MPs often spend their time looking at them instead of listening to their leader.
Chauncey then proceeded to make the same point in his second question. This was an excuse to make a weak joke about her being the irony lady rather than the iron lady because she was talking of empowering parliament outside parliament.
Mrs May then read out some of the remarks that Chauncey made in response to her speech. He had made copious notes in front of the TV cameras but was still confused. As the PM pointed out, he was complaining about the PM wanting access to the single market and then said that he wanted the same thing. People are confused about the Single Market. Access to the Single Market is what any country has. Membership of it is different and distinct. I will be happy to sit down with Chauncey and Diane and explain this if it helps. Would general remedial classes be a good idea for the Labour front bench?
Chauncey then turned to one of his favourite subjects, the mooted cutting of Corporation Tax if we fail to get a deal with the EU and need to compete with it. Chauncey mentioned a sum he had clearly plucked out of the air. Nobody has said that Corporation Tax will be cut, although it should be cut regardless. It has been mentioned as a possibility. However it would be cut so as to attract companies to Britain. It's a very straightforward proposition. Again, shall we make an appointment for me to explain it to him? We can do it on FaceTime if he prefers.
And then he committed his third gaffe of the session. He wanted to know about frictionless access to the Single Market. The PM did not laugh out loud at him. A LOL would have been appropriate. She simply pointed out to him, in a kindly way, that frictionless access is about borders, not the Single Market.
And Chauncey kept banging on about paying for access to the Single Market. How much would this be? Again Mrs May, instead of pointing out that the negotiations haven't started yet and so it is impossible to know, kindly patted him on the head and said there there. Maybe go and have a lie down or take some pictures of drain covers to relax.
The PM was stronger today than on any previous occasion since her very first outing. This was because it was mostly about Brexit and she and her government, contrary to the narrative of recent months, has a plan and she has outlined it. She has done her homework. She said it herself in response to one of Chauncey's obtuse questions about something he didn't really understand: 'There is a difference between us and it's very simple,' said the PM across the dispatch box at a snivelling Chauncey. 'When I look at Brexit, or any other issue, I consider it, I set out my plan, and I stick to it. It's called leadership. He should try it some time.'
This was in contrast to a confused line from all of the other parties, with the possible exception of the Lib Dems who weren't called upon to contribute. Labour is all over the place, the Tory remainers are all over the place, the SNP continues to whinge and moan and try to find any excuse to call a referendum, or at least talk about it to appease their headbangers. Angus Robertson puffed himself up to full sanctimonious outrage because England is forcing Scotland out of the Single Market. He was then deflated by the simple point made by Mrs May. The SNP wants to take Scotland out of the UK and with it the Single Market. It is a simple and easy to understand argument. It's why there will be no Scottish independence referendum any time soon. Because they would lose.
But the main story of the day was Labour's utter drift and pointlessness on Brexit. Chauncey was simply hopeless today. He tries to disguise his ignorance and incompetence by shouting a lot. Every once in a while he says something about the NHS to try and rally his troops. That is the only time he sounds half convincing. Today he sounded like one of those confused members of the public the BBC patronisingly interviews in vox pops during any report concerning Brexit to try and convince us all that it is a dreadful mistake. Labour's line is that it is a dreadful mistake, unless you think it isn't a dreadful mistake and you live in a constituency where there will shortly be a by election. Oh and isn't nuclear power marvellous.
Most comical moment of the day was however delivered not by Chauncey with his crack team of gag writers. It came from Chris Bryant who told the House that, far from closing tax offices in Wales and relocating them to Cardiff - which is actually also in Wales as the PM pointed out - they should be opening tax offices in every small town and village throughout the principality. Tax offices everywhere. What a very Labour sort of idea. They haven't quite got the hang of this populism thing have they?