Sunday 11 September 2022
Of Tongue And Heart
The King's grandfather was "the King" until he died, since when everyone has called him "George VI". While he was alive, then it was his wife who was "the Queen". Likewise, it is the King's wife who is now the Queen. His mother is Elizabeth II.
Boris Johnson's tribute to Elizabeth II was excellent. He is not going quietly, and he may not be gone long. He is unusual in being both a good speaker and a good writer, and he was not the worst Prime Minister ever. By far the worst in living memory was David Cameron.
Wholly foreseeable and wholly foreseen, the catastrophic consequences of the war in Libya continue to eclipse even those of Afghanistan and Iraq. Now admitted to have been the political choice that some of us had always said that it was, the austerity programme immiserated and even killed so many people as to attract the condemnation of the United Nations, and the distribution of Red Cross parcels.
Of course it was barely reported at home, since of course there is only a cost of living crisis at least 12 years into it, when it has started to affect the people who were not supposed to be poor. Presumably, these newcomers to Breadline Britain are not budgeting properly, cannot cook properly, and need to pull themselves up by their bootstraps. I say "at least 12 years", because if there was a boom under Tony Blair, then I was far from alone in never noticing it. Cameron was even worse than Blair, but he was the Heir that he professed to be.
Johnson's disastrous decision to lock down too late and to open up too early did cost a lost of lives, but nowhere near as many as that. By the way, there are some funny little people who think that the cost of living crisis has somehow been caused by the lockdowns, because they are now going to spend the remaining decades of their lives blaming absolutely everything on the lockdowns, when their hedonistic indulgence was subordinated to the lives of the very old, the chronically ill, the duskier hued, and the generally less deserving.
Ask them to list the links on the chain from the furlough scheme, of which plenty of them availed themselves, to, for example, the increase in the price of wheat. They will not answer. Instead, they will rant that "everyone says it now", meaning everyone whose work they read, proving both that they read almost nothing, and that, being unable to tell when people were joking, they had no wit. Certain media outlets have a lot to answer for when it comes to employing "contrarians". Not everyone's sense of humour is that sophisticated.
In preparation for his war, Cameron turned Manchester into the world centre of the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group, to the point of dispatching the Royal Navy as its ferry service. That Group went on to bomb Manchester Arena. Cameron himself bombed IS in Iraq while supporting it so strongly in Syria that Five Eyes intelligence agencies trafficked British schoolgirls to it there. The 15-year-old Shamima Begum was married almost immediately upon her arrival in Syria, and pregnant almost immediately after that. "She wanted it" is not an argument that would normally be admitted under such circumstances.
All of this had the enthusiastic support of the Liberal Democrats, of the Labour Party until 2015, and of more than 90 per cent of Labour MPs, as well as the whole of the party's staff, to very end. Both economically and internationally, and the connection between the two has never been more glaring, Labour is now far to the right of the Conservatives.
Liz Truss has not only filled her Cabinet so as to snub her nose at the people who elected her because they thought that the British should be running India rather than an Indian running Britain, but she has also discarded the ludicrous policies that both she and Rishi Sunak felt obliged to offer them, in preference for those which might actually pass a House of Commons twelve thirteenths of which never wanted her as Prime Minister. Parliamentary democracy in action after all, it seems.
It is Truss, Kwasi Kwarteng and Jacob Rees-Mogg who propose the British State's largest ever intervention in the peacetime economy, with the State "borrowing" £130 billion from itself, effectively to pay everyone's gas bill for two years. Of course, this is not really borrowing at all. It is an accountancy fiddle between the Treasury and the Bank of England. There is therefore no reason whatever to build in a mechanism for every household to spend decades "paying it back".
If there were an inflationary effect, then means to control that would be readily available to the State, and they include both monetary means, which therefore need to be brought back under democratic political control, and fiscal means, one of which may indeed be a windfall tax. Truss is ruling that out because her largest campaign donor was the wife of a BP executive and because, having become Prime Minister at 47 in an era of short Premierships, she herself still hopes to go back to Shell despite her pronounced lack of success there last time.
In October, the Government's scheme will still leave us all with double the energy bills that we had last October. In the last fortnight, the price that the energy companies paid for gas has fallen by 46 per cent. Yet in three weeks' time, bills will go up by 80 per cent. These are the companies to which the Government proposes to give a further £130 billion. The renationalisation of energy, which is massively popular because anyone can see that it would permanently preclude the return of these problems, would cost only one forty-third of what was already being spent, and could be easily be tacked onto it. Again, though, follow the money, and by no means only on one side of the House.
None of this has been caused by the invasion of Ukraine, but it is being made worse by the sanctions. Even The Sun has found that Russia is booming. The sanctions regime, in which most of the world is not participating, is an act of pure self-harm on our part. Ukraine is the truly black mark against Johnson, and it will come to be seen as such almost universally. In the last few days, the Americans have made of Ukraine what they long ago made of Israel, a beneficiary of practically limitless "aid" conditional upon its use to purchase the wares of American arms companies that in turn kicked back vast sums of that public money to both political parties.
Take only the most academic interest in either Russian or Ukrainian advances or setbacks. There is only one way for this to end. Until then, whatever the appearances, it never will have ended. Whether we like it or not, and we have no particular reason to care either way, Crimea goes back to Russia, while the parts of the Ukraine that the largely Ukrainian Soviet elite had put into the Ukrainian SSR in order to make its independence impossible become Russian satellite states, although they are economically and culturally too Soviet for today's Russian Federation. A much more stable and coherent Ukraine becomes constitutionally neutral, with all of this requiring the denazification that no one any longer disputed was necessary to some extent, nor did anyone dispute that at all until very recently.
In the meantime, we absolutely refuse to starve or freeze to death in the dark over which country Kupiansk, Izyum or Balaklyia should be in. Those facing that prospect now include even people who officially exist. Therefore, the last few months have seen ever-increasing support for the strikes. Their suspension during the mourning period is the correct way to avoid squandering that goodwill. Thereafter, they and other resistance must resume in earnest, making up for lost time.
In speaking from and for the class that still suffers most as a result of the sanctions, and which will always be most called upon to fight any war, the RMT leadership, in particular, has indeed spoken out of turn, and long may it continue to do so. Have benefit sanctions been suspended as a mark of respect? Have eviction proceedings? Has anything that has caused so many of us to exclaim at long last that enough was enough? Strikes, football, carnivals, the TUC, and almost comically the Wigan Diggers' Festival, have all been cancelled, but rugby and cricket have gone ahead. What compensation will there be for those whose paid, but rarely well-paid, work was servicing all but the first of those cancelled events?
A key figure, even a kind of constitutional monarch these days, remains Jeremy Corbyn. It would be interesting to know when he had ever publicly expressed republican views, as Truss and Keir Starmer have certainly both done. Corbyn's republicanism is a reasonable assumption, but that is all that it is, whereas I am not aware that people on both frontbenches have ever recanted the private desire to abolish the monarchy that I know that they have articulated in the past.
Still, the signatures of Truss and Starmer do now appear on the document proclaiming the new King, along with those of Nicola Sturgeon, Alex Salmond, Ian Blackford, and someone with whom I have been known to get drunk at university a quarter of a century ago. Alba's position had been a Scottish republic when Queen Elizabeth died, but that day has come and gone.
There are also several Plaid Cymru Privy Counsellors. Was any of them there, such that their signatures now appeared? Corbyn's does not, because he was not. Tickets for backbench MPs who happened to be Privy Counsellors were allocated by ballot, but he would have been a "hypocrite" if he had turned up, or a "traitor" if he had not. If he did have any choice in his attendance, then he chose to maintain all of his existing and emerging alliances, rather than turn up to an event that would have proceeded in exactly the same way without him, as it did.
Tony Benn had little or no idea who I was when he told me that he intended to go along to the Accession Council and shout "No!", so that the Proclamation would not have been "with one voice of tongue and heart". But Benn's life story had given him obvious issues of his own. His argument in terms of hereditary surgeons or hereditary pilots does not stack up, since nor would we elect surgeons or pilots.
Corbyn, on the other hand, was pestered by Jeremy Paxman in 2017 as to why there was nothing in the Labour manifesto about abolishing the monarchy, and replied, "Look, there's nothing in there as we're not going to do it." He added, "It's certainly not on my agenda and, do you know what, I had a very nice chat with the Queen." Corbyn is less an heir of John Wheatley than some of us are, but like many of us he would agree with Wheatley that he saw "no point in substituting a bourgeois President for a bourgeois King".
As Leader of the Labour Party and while seeking to become Prime Minister, Corbyn explicitly did agree with that. By contrast, both the present Prime Minister and the present Leader of the Labour Party are among those bourgeois politicians who used to want to make that substitution in their own respective persons, but who have either just perjured themselves, or have changed their minds.
Republicanism is the inescapable logic of Thatcherism for those cleverer, or perhaps simply younger, than Margaret Thatcher, while Starmer has never heard of Wheatley, of Red Clydeside and the Independent Labour Party. The definitive work on James Maxton remains Gordon Brown's published doctoral thesis, but the choice of Blair over Brown in 1994 marked the point at which the Labour Right ceased to be as bookish as the Left, albeit without the Left's balance between university types and the organic intellectuals of the working class. Since then, the Labour Right has been defined by its violent anti-intellectualism, a streak that, unlike the Left, it had always had.
Ardent monarchists profess to see the Crown as "embodying" this, that or the other while spending the rest of their time bemoaning that such things "no longer" existed, generally based on childhood memories that were not borne out by any adult social history, and they profess to believe in a small State while advocating wars, tight controls on immigration, draconian "law and order" policies, and the effective criminalisation of poverty in and of itself, all the while ignoring the fact that the only State in Britain was the Crown.
But people who had been 2,271 votes away from leading the largest party in a hung Parliament would be far more likely to think that the Crown as the only State was just fine and dandy if you could get your hands on the Crown in the office of Prime Minister, the office for which Benn longed but to which he never came anywhere close. That must certainly be the view, both of that office's occupant, and of a decidedly non-accidental aspirant to it.