10 November 2019
Where to start? Another Dylan quote perhaps: “I’ve been down in the bottom of a whirlpool of lies / I ain’t lookin’ for nothin’ in anyone’s eyes … It’s not dark yet, but it’s getting there”. What Mr Dylan is saying here is of course that things could still get a lot darker and the whirlpool represents blah di blah di blah.
In other words, it’s electioneering time, a year away in America and a month in the UK, so all politicians in both countries are bigging themselves up and dissing their opponents, preferably simultaneously, and revelations abound.
Donald Trump has admitted buying a portrait of himself, sports memorabilia and champagne. So far, so Trump, but he unfortunately took the money illegally from the Trump Foundation, a ‘not-for-profit’ organisation. He denied doing anything wrong (now, there’s a surprise) but the New York attorney general disagreed and a judge ordered him to pay damages of $2m.
The day after the America began the process of withdrawing from the Paris climate accord, a statement co-signed by 11,000 scientists warned that humanity faces “untold suffering” due to the climate crisis and, even if planet-warming emissions are eliminated, sea levels will continue to rise regardless. Farewell Norfolk, The Scillies and, for monied readers, the Maldives.
Despite a number of sworn testimonies that disagree with his version, Trump has also denied any quid pro quo in a discussion with Ukraine for his request to dig out some dirt on Joe Biden, the frontrunner for the Democratic presidential nomination. Most Republicans are publicly taking the “So what, that’s not an impeachable action” line but I’ll bet they’re not sleeping well at night.
Over here, Boris Johnson has been accused of a cover-up after refusing to release a report based on independent information from Britain’s intelligence agencies and third-party experts and prepared by the intelligence and security committee, on Russian infiltration in British politics, specifically Russian attempts to interfere in the 2016 EU referendum.
Headlines in Tuesday’s papers included:
“PM accused of cover-up over report on Russian meddling in UK politics”,
“Tories accused of trying to mislead voters with letter’s selective quotes about NHS” and
“Johnson told ‘so many lies’, says Juncker”.
And concerns over Johnson’s friendship with technology entrepreneur Jennifer Arcuri while he was mayor of London increased when the independent police watchdog delayed, until after the election, its announcement on whether the PM should face an investigation into possible criminal misconduct. (It’s alleged Arcuri received favourable treatment due to her friendship with Johnson, including receiving large sums of public money for her technology firms, though Johnson has denied doing anything wrong – now, there’s another surprise.)
During a visit to Northern Ireland, Johnson told a group of businesspeople that his Brexit deal did not involve physical checks of goods, thereby demonstrating that he doesn’t even understand his own deal. Well, either that or he’ll tell anybody anything he thinks they want to hear regardless of whether or not it’s true. But would Boris tell a porky? Is the pope a Catholic?
Sky News presenter Kay Burley reacted with fury when, having expected to be grilling Tory chairman James Cleverly, he failed to appear, obviously refusing to submit to nominative determinism.
There have also been allegations that the Conservative party has received Russian money via donations from emigrés living in the UK. Examples given include the £160,000 paid by Lubov Chernukhin, wife of the former Russian deputy finance minister, at a Conservative summer party auction for a game of tennis with Johnson and David Cameron.
If I had that sort of money, I’d gladly give £160,000 (to a charity) not to play tennis with Cameron and Johnson.
On t’other side, in the absence of a published manifesto to bite on, the anti-semitism row continues to rumble along as Kate Ramsden, who had been standing as the Labour candidate for Gordon in Aberdeenshire, withdrew after Labour said she could face a disciplinary hearing. What she had blogged was “To me, the Israeli state is like an abused child who becomes an abusive adult” and “Like child abuse, it has to stop … As we intervene with child abusers, the international community needs to intervene with Israel.”
How can this offend anyone? I think she’s absolutely right so am I anti-semitic and, therefore, likely to start proposing a final solution? Absolute bollocks. Why can’t Jeremy Corbyn actually take a stand and explain the difference? (The 2010 census revealed that only 58% of the population of Israel described themselves as more or less orthodox practising Jews*, with 42% saying they were “secular”, although slightly over half of these believe in God.)
If somebody says we should intervene in, say, the Ukraine, does this make them anti- individual members of the Eastern Orthodox church, or prejudiced against followers of any of the country’s other religions, or might it be that they just don’t like what the state is doing? Let’s not conflate individuals with states – even though I live in the UK, I am still ashamed of ‘my’ state’s decision to invade Iraq.
The trouble is that Corbyn has to be pushed into deciding anything because he knows that whatever he says will upset some of his party. The result is that he’s still acting like Norman Juster’s Triple Demons of Compromise – one tall and thin, one short and fat and the third exactly like the other two. And now Tom Watson’s resigned …
On the fringes, Dominic Grieve, one of the disenfranchised Tories, is standing as an independent in the Beaconsfield and Marlow constituency and is, as he put it, trying to destroy his own majority as a Tory in the last election.
And Jacob Rees-Mogg’s nanny is still feeding him false information about the world outside, probably because she doesn’t know either.
Last year, he was stupid enough to say that food banks were a good thing because they demonstrate how caring society can be, and this week he remarked that those who died in the Grenfell tower lacked common sense: “I think if either of us were in a fire, whatever the fire brigade said, we would leave the burning building. It just seems the common sense thing to do,” he said.
Of course. The fire service tells you to stay put because flats are supposed to be insulated so you don’t open a door on the 12th floor, increase the draught that helps spread the fire and then run through the smoke and flames before dying and blocking the stairs. I realise that, with the benefit of hindsight, the advice was wrong, and deadly, but it was given in good faith at the time and I’d have followed it, and died. It’s like Michael Gove’s problem with ‘experts’. Perhaps I’ll offer to fix Gove’s teeth next time he needs a filling.
Much more worryingly, according to an 11-page briefing note leaked from party headquarters, Conservative candidates are being told not to sign up to specific pledges on protecting the NHS from privatisation, or trade deals or tackling climate change, presumably just in case their party’s manifesto bears as much relation to their reality as did Boris’s Brexit bus.
Let’s just add ‘None of the above’ to the bottom of every ballot paper – we’d probably end up with only about 20 MPs who would do a much better job as a group than our broken oppositional model ever did.
Meanwhile, in St Petersburg, a 63-year old university professor, Oleg Sokolov, got drunk and fell into the River Moika. Police were able to save him and found his backpack contained a woman’s arms so they visited his flat where they found the decapitated body of Anastasia Yeshchenko, a 24-year old former student of his. Investigators say he is suspected of murder. Surely the evidence so far is circumstantial?
Talking of arms, Emma Watson demonstrated her personal convictions at last year’s Oscars ceremony with a temporary tattoo that read “Times Up” [sic] tattoo on her right arm. She subsequently tweeted “Fake tattoo proofreading position available. Experience with apostrophes a must.”
Would that politicians could take life so unseriously.
* Why does this remind me of whoever it was who, when asked if he was a practising homosexual, looked shocked and said “I don’t need to practise”? Possibly Quentin Crisp?