Two More Years of High Noon?

I’ve been trying to think how it would feel to be Liz Truss or Kwasi Kwarteng. In the past, when I have (vanishingly rarely, of course) been a wee bit obnoxious in public and realize it, I’ve always just wanted to crawl under a blanket and disappear. By comparison, it is quite a feat to embarrass not just yourself but your entire country.

Yet the current iteration of the Tory party could continue to inflict its brand of humiliation on the country for two more years.

One Big Thing

The trouble is, everything’s wrong, all at once.

At the beginning of Covid, Isaiah Berlin’s hedgehog ruled by daily bludgeon. One big thing was wrong, and kept being wrong day after dreary winter’s day. Now you drink your tea or coffee, or carrot, celery and ginger detox, you stare at your screen and you see that you cannot win. The Fox has filled up the internet with insurmountable odds.

Late capitalism, wicked, insidious inflation, rents you can’t afford, yes yes yes, all that. Quick! Raise interest rates! Stop this damned moment when workers dare to jostle for an edge. Kill jobs and that will show them. But feverish rent- and profit-seeking is a problem we’ve had for a time.

Populism going mainstream? Silvio Berlusconi was first elected Prime Minister eighteen years ago, so bring me your Trumps, Bolsanaros and Melonis and tell me what else is new.

But a land war in Europe(!) you say? Even that has been going on for over half a year now, a baldly ignorant geopolitical move that somehow, 144 million Russians who can’t make it to queue in the Caucasus mountains can’t be troubled to denounce.

The melting of Antarctica? Ditto that. What’s a foot or two of coastal flooding – maybe even while you’re still alive – among Instagram users?

No, never mind about all that. Here is what is really important, an epochal change that is happening in this month, in this year. The real one big thing: September 2022 is the last month in the history of the world when people will pay much attention to England. Or the United Kingdom, Great Britain, the British Isles, you choose what to call that confused island set before it winks out before the eyes of the rest of the world.

Though the unending self harm of Brexit provides fresh reasons to sneek a peek through your fingers at the horror show (and shows every sign of doing so for a long time to come), the death of the queen marks the moment with perfect symbolic resonance.

God save the King is a pretty odd thing for any nation of well-educated grownups to say, and mean, in this century. Give it off to collective dynamics. Maybe. Still, they did it all very, very well, and I bow, curtsy and genuflect as best American guy can. Never again shall we see the chills-producing majesty of that awesome (in that word’s true meaning) march down the 2.64 mile, 360 plus year old Long Walk to Windsor Castle. The anachronism of the British monarchy went out with a perfectly choreographed flourish. And that is this month’s true and enduring historical event.

Gunboat Boris

The Tory government’s plans to use the Royal Navy to patrol British fishing grounds in the event of a hard Brexit elicited this French response Saturday:

Recalling this well-thought-out Trump Administration plan, back in April, to “shoot down” ships:

Good government. Good times.

UK Election, 12 December, 2019

Early thought on tonight’s UK parliamentary elections: a good night for Biden, Buttigieg & Klobuchar.

Fair to read tonight’s thumping Tory victory as evidence that Labour was too far left of the broader electorate. To the extent that the Brexit vote in 2016 was a harbinger of the election of Donald Trump five months later, that’s an argument in favor of candidates hugging the middle ground in the fight for the Democratic nomination.

Not my personal politics, but it looks like the state of things.

Second: sorry to see Lord Buckethead dead last in Boris Johnson’s constituency of Uxbridge & South Ruislip. Next time.

Final note: the only Portillo moment, by 149 votes, turns out to be LDP leader Jo Swinson’s defeat by the Scottish National Party’s candidate.

A potential 2020 story of longer lasting import than the incipient Labour leadership race will be the Scottish independence dance between Johnson and the SNP’s Sturgeon. Bring it on.

Huts and History

Red Sky Shepherd’s Huts builds outbuildings. Among their sheds, one model offers “timber frame construction with tongue and groove interior pine walls. Each wall and floor are five layers deep (with) … a cavity filled with quality sheep’s wool insulation.” One specific hut of this type features “a corner-set wood-burning stove … (and) a pull-out double sofa bed.”

This particular hut connects the most historically disastrous British Prime Minister I can name to a really big personal dilemma. For in this hut, his publicists would have it at least, David Cameron has been writing his memoir, For the Record.

For the Record is published by Harper Collins, a subsidiary of News Corp, a Rupert Murdoch company. The book is available for pre-order just now on Amazon in the U.S. for $40.00.

I’d be interested to read Mr. Cameron’s version of events. The problem: paying a person who has done great harm. A couple of other books come to mind – those of the East German spy master Markus Wolf and O. J. Simpson.

Simpson’s 2006 If I Did It was to be published by ReganBooks, which is also an imprint of Murdoch’s HarperCollins, but universal disgust led to a court awarding royalties to the victim’s family. So that worked out okay, although it was an easy choice not to be stained by reading that book.

•••••

Cameron, for all his slack-jawed inattention, was no O.J. Simpson. To his credit, the New Statesman reports that

“Cameron is donating the £800,000 that the publisher HarperCollins paid for his book to charities for Alzheimer’s, veteran servicemen and childhood disability (his six-year-old son, Ivan, who suffered from severe epilepsy and cerebral palsy, died in 2009).

(Do not fret for the former Prime Minister. His fee for speeches about Brexit: £2000 per minute.)

Mr. Cameron’s long-delayed book drops next Thursday in the U.K., the following week in the United States. Suppose For the Record is a Brexit tell-all and a ripping good read. You reckon?

Amazon isn’t encouraging:

“In For the Record, he will explain how the governments he led transformed the UK economy while implementing a modern, compassionate agenda that included reforming education and welfare, legalizing gay marriage, honoring the UK’s commitment to overseas aid and spearheading environmental policies.”

Ehhh.

I imagine Cameron will claim to have been undermined by the current Prime Minister and Michael Gove, who is currently heading up planning for a crash out of the EU. If he does and he was, he will have been betrayed by dicey bedfellows. Dicey bedfellows who, as it happens, run the government just now.

Former P.M. Cameron will pursue a cautious book tour:

“The only events on the calendar are An Evening with David Cameron, at a yet-to-be-revealed central London location on 6 October, and an interview by the BBC’s Sophie Raworth at the Times-sponsored Cheltenham literature festival a day earlier.”

Meanwhile the U.K. parliament has been sent home by a Prime Minister eager for an unimpeded stomp across the political landscape through the upcoming weeks of party conferences. Prime Minister Boris Johnson has lost every parliamentary vote since he assumed office while withdrawing the whip (in American, that means he stripped the benefits of running on behalf of his party) from 21 party stalwarts, meaning they can’t stand as Tories in the next election, and as a result now commands a distinct minority.

You can see why Mr. Johnson might wish to send his parliamentary opponents back to the provinces. You can also see the peril to the British system of governance. The demons David Cameron unleashed with his 2016 Brexit referendum vote are circling their devilish roost.

Johnson’s boorish challenge to the parliament’s (unwritten) constitutional authority speeds up everything from the prospects for a new general election to the collapse of the confidence and supply agreement with Northern Ireland’s DUP to Scottish succession. History is revving up in the United Kingdom.

But about those memoirs: seems like the Trump tell-alls are shallow and cash-motivated. I’ve passed on them. Have I missed anything? Anyone? I’ve enjoyed two Brexit books, Tim Shipman’s All Out War and Craig Oliver’s Unleashing Demons. But what to do on Cameron’s book?

•••••

I had a dear German friend who spent her life, spanning the entire division of her country, in western Berlin. She would not countenance buying the East German spymaster Marcus Wolf’s 1999 memoir Man Without A Face (co-authored by Anne McElvoy). For Inge it was a bridge too far. Wouldn’t buy it, wouldn’t read it.

Still, conflicted, I just may enrich the bank accounts of Wolf’s estate, Cameron’s charities and Wolf’s and Cameron’s publishers, and in some kind of odd, backwards tribute to Inge, read both their memoirs together. I’ll bet Man Without a Face is not turgid. Place your bets on the Cameron book?

Quotes: On the Singapore Model

Street food stall, Singapore

For those who wish to see, critics warn about Boris Johnson’s hard-Brexit plans for free ports and mimicking the so-called “Singapore Model.” Angela Merkel warned of the danger to EU of Singapore-style UK on its border today. She said,

“But the fact remains that after the withdrawal of Britain, we have an economic competitor at our door, even if we want to keep close economic, foreign and security cooperation and friendly relations.”

Addressing the Singapore Model, an Oxfam report from last year notes that Singapore

“has no equal pay or non-discrimination laws for women; its laws on both rape and sexual harassment are inadequate; and there is no minimum wage, except for cleaners and security guard.”

Unless perhaps you are a cleaner or a security guard, I’m guessing that’s not exactly among the outcomes rank-and-file Brexiteers expect from a hard Brexit.