Tuesday 28 May 2019

The real Azerbaijan is not pretty

I am ashamed that I do not research countries that I visit properly. Azerbaijan, where I spent three days this month, for example. Read what Peter Oborne writes here today about how disgusting the Azerbaijani government is. 

He went to a beano in Baku paid for by the (pretty morally bankrupt) European Parliament and met a very brave journalist called Khadija Ismayilova who has broken many stories about the corruption of the regime, in a country where journalists are murdered.
In Azerbaijan, being an investigative journalist means leading a life under constant threat. As Ismayilova developed a reputation for producing stories which upset important people, someone installed secret cameras in her bedroom, which filmed her having sex with her boyfriend. When she refused to submit to blackmail demands, the perpetrators of this violation not only published the video, but also sent pictures to her brother. 

Azerbaijan is a traditional country. Women are not expected to have sex outside marriage. Armed with a knife, her brother arrived at her house, with the intention of killing her. Thankfully, a colleague was with her at the time. This saved her life.

We, of course, just hear about the faults of Russia and Iran. Never those of America's allies.

I recently read an article by an American neocon called Jacob Kamaras, praising Azerbaijan's economic success and scorning Armenia for her poverty, without mentioning that Azerbaijan has oil. Jacob Kamaras attacks Armenia for being on good terms with Russia and Iran, as if there were an alternative. 

He made me feel very sick. I hoped President Trump would fling out the neo-cons, but they are back.

Today Mrs May has been Prime Minister for as long as Gordon Brown and is about to overtake the Duke of Wellington

Today Theresa May has been Prime Minister for as long as Gordon Brown. 

Prime Ministers care about such things. Churchill was careful to make sure, when he resigned, that he had held the office for a few days less than Asquith, to whom he owed so much.

Mr. Brown was a disaster in so many ways, most of all because he presided over astronomic levels of immigration, but he did one thing to earn his countrymen's undying gratitude. When he was Chancellor of the Exchequer (finance minister) he saved the country from the euro. 

Had we joined the Euro, Brexit would have been impossible. Had he permitted a referendum on the Treaty of Lisbon it would not have been necessary.

Theresa May will overtake the Duke of Wellington, another failure as Prime Minister but not nearly as bad as her and a very great man, later this week. 

In July, she should overtake Neville Chamberlain, who was a very able man in a terrible spot. 

No-one can say that of her, and not just because she is a woman.

Will her successor last as long as she did? It's not certain at all.

Charles Greville, the diarist, records that when Lord Melbourne, the most languid Prime Minister we ever had, was offered the job he said to his secretary, Tom Young:
"I think it's a damned bore. I am in many minds as to what to do." 
To this Young replied:
"Why, damn it all, such a position was never held by any Greek or Roman: and if it only lasts three months, it will be worthwhile to have been Prime Minister of England."
"By God, that's true. I'll go!"

Theresa May marks this milestone by attending the EU summit. And yet despite the humiliation of attending as a powerless cypher and meeting people who comprehensively destroyed all that she tried to achieve, she is desperately sad that she cannot continue in the job. 

I wrote here about how she compares with other terrible Prime Ministers like Edward Heath and Lord North. Plot spoiler: badly.

Were the Euro-elections in the UK a second referendum?

Nigel Farage's Brexit Party, formed from scratch six weeks ago, did very well in the European Parliamentary elections. They won by far the most votes of any party in the UK, 31.6% of the total, well ahead of the second-placed Lib Dems’ 20.3% and the Conservatives' 9%. Brexit is the largest party in the toy parliament, but they did less well than the 37% that one opinion poll had suggested.

In a sense their showing told us nothing we didn't know.

35% of voters voted for parties comfortable with leaving the EU with no deal (the Brexit Party and UKIP). 35% backed the parties (Lib Dems, Greens and Change UK) that supported a second referendum.

A dead heat then?

Not necessarily. The Guardian points out that if you add the votes for the DUP to the Leave total and the Scottish, Welsh and Irish nationalist votes to Remain, 5.9 million voted unambiguously for pro-Brexit parties and 6.8 million voted for Remain parties.

But you can't really usefully add up votes like that. The nationalist votes have their own dynamics.

People vote SNP, for example, because they want an independent Scotland.

About a third of Scottish nationalist voters voted to leave the EU in 2016, according to the SNP's former leader Gordon Wilson. The SNP, the Welsh Nationalists and Sinn Fein used to be opposed to membership of the EEC (like Labour) and plenty of their voters still are. They are nationalists, after all.

The increase in votes for the Alliance in Northern Ireland is doubtless thanks to the Alliance being pro-EU, but plenty of DUP voters want to stay in the EU, including Ulster hill farmers who benefit from EU membership (and, incidentally, would benefit from the backstop).

The Conservative party's policy was unambiguously to leave the EU, so their 1.4 million votes might be added to the Leave total, even though plenty of loyal Conservative supporters who voted for the party had voted in 2016 to remain.

Deborah Mattinson of Britain Thinks suggested 80% of Tory voters were pro-leave but what is more important in my view is that 100% of them voted for a party pledged to take the UK out of the EU.

She thinks 60% of Labour voters were Remain, but Labour's policy on the EU was studiously ambiguous, though they were swinging round to wanting a second referendum before the vote. The Labour vote tells you nothing really about Brexit.

The main conclusion to draw from the election is that the country is still fairly evenly divided and that in an election where the only issue was Brexit many of their voters preferred to make their feelings about Brexit clear by voting for parties whose feelings were clear. 

What few mention is that three million foreigners were eligible to vote in these elections. Their votes were presumably mostly (but not always) for Remain parties and make the result less like a second referendum.

But what matters now about the results is not how they look sub specie aeternitatis but what politicians and the media convince us they mean. 

The opinion polls persuaded the Tories to change leaders before the votes were cast. Now the candidates are using the results for their advantage. The Remainers in the Labour party will use the election results to make a second referendum party policy.

The authority of the 2016 referendum result is diminished day by day but these elections confirm that
, after all we have learnt since 2016 about how difficult Brexit will be, almost half the country is still in favour of leaving. This is not what I should have expected. 

Sunday 26 May 2019


Untouched by the breath of God, unrestricted by human conscience, both capitalism and socialism are repulsive.
Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn

Strictly I should define loyalty as that devotion which is due when the moral debt is infinite. To God, to his parents, to his country, no one knows what he owes.
G.K. Chesterton

"False happiness is like false money; it passes for a time as well as the true, and serves some ordinary occasions; but when it is brought to the touch, we find the lightness and alloy, and feel the loss."
Alexander Pope

“Whether a belief is considered to be a delusion or not depends partly upon the intensity with which it is defended, and partly upon the numbers of people subscribing to it.”
Anthony Storr, Feet of Clay: A Study of Gurus

Even the loss of freedom after an honourable and bloody battle secures the rebirth of the people.

Slavery itself, considered as such in its essential nature, is not at all contrary to the natural and divine law.
Pope Pius IX in 1866

What we have in this country today, then, is both anarchy (the failure of the state to enforce the laws) and, at the same time, tyranny—the enforcement of laws by the state for oppressive purposes; the criminalization of the law-abiding and innocent through exorbitant taxation, bureaucratic regulation, the invasion of privacy, and the engineering of social institutions, such as the family and local schools; the imposition of thought control through “sensitivity training” and multiculturalist curricula, “hate crime” laws, gun-control laws that punish or disarm otherwise law-abiding citizens but have no impact on violent criminals who get guns illegally, and a vast labyrinth of other measures. In a word, anarcho-tyranny.
Samuel Francis 

The unforced, fatal mistakes that Theresa May made

Whoever had been British Prime Minister after the referendum would have had a terribly difficult job - no one disputes that. But Mrs May brought to the job very low self confidence, very little imagination, no leadership skills and a second-rate mind. She made things very much worse for herself and her country than they need have been.

Tim Shipman in the Sunday Times writes today about the five crucial, unforced, strategic errors that everyone agrees Theresa May made: setting unnecessary red lines and then saying they were not red lines; triggering Article 50 without any plan; fighting the election abysmally badly; lamely agreeing to settle the EU divorce settlement before settling anything else; and making the withdrawal agreement with the EU in secrecy from not only the cabinet but even her Brexit Secretary. 

I would add a sixth, the biggest mistake of all: promising Enda Kenny within days of becoming Prime Minister that there would be always be a frictionless border in Ireland.

She should have resigned immediately after the 2017 election - if necessarily forced out by her MPs and cabinet. They were supine. Eunuchs.

Instead, before the election she did what Nick Timothy (a Leaver) and Fiona Hill told her, afterwards what three Remainers told her: Olly Robbins, Gavin Barwell and David Lidington

After the resignation of Boris Johnson her deal probably had little chance (George Osborne thinks none), but there was still a hope for it had something been done about the Backstop, which Olly Robbins had persuaded Mrs May to accept. 

He, as a civil servant, did not know what the House of Commons and Tory MPs would accept. That was her job and she had no idea. How could she? She lived inside herself.

The new Brexit secretary Dominic Raab was sent to reopen negotiations with Brussels.

According to Tim Shipman,

'He says that in his first talks with Michel Barnier, the EU’s chief negotiator, he made the case that Britain needed a way to leave the backstop. Barnier replied: “I understand that it needs to be short.”

'Government lawyers drew up two proposals. May’s Brexit war cabinet agreed that the UK should demand option two, which would give the UK the unilateral right to leave the backstop. But Raab says: “I was undermined by others in government. There was a huge opportunity there, but we were not robust or resolute enough.” In private he has told friends this was a “sliding doors moment” when the course of Brexit changed.

'May, who had lost her political consiglieri — Nick Timothy and Fiona Hill — after the general election, did not authorise her civil service negotiator Oliver Robbins even to demand a unilateral exit clause.' 
Please may Olly Robbins be sent to govern an island somewhere, immediately, without a knighthood or gong. Barwell, who is a spad since losing his seat, can be left out of the next government completely.

Theresa May will rank as the most incompetent Prime Minister England ever had though, in terms of results achieved, Sir Edward Heath and Lord North were even worse. 

Neville Chamberlain was a very good, highly competent Prime Minister at the wrong time. Everyone agrees that Gordon Brown was not up to the job but he did much less harm than Neville Chamberlain or Theresa May, despite being a social democrat and a liberal. Most of what he did was bad (his lax immigration policy worst of all) but he saved Britain from joining the euro. Had he allowed the UK a referendum on the Treaty of Lisbon, Brexit would not have happened. 

That was the genesis of the Brexit referendum.

Friday 24 May 2019

Talking about "a mythologised experience of immigrant suffering" is blasphemy

I follow the liberal Catholic theologian Massimo Faggioli on Twitter because he makes me angry and I enjoy getting angry. His name means big beans and he is a bit like a Catholic version of Michael Wharton's Dr. Spacely-Trellis, the go-ahead Bishop of Bevindon.

Writing about "a mythologized experience of immigrant suffering" in 2019 strikes me as blasphemous, especially coming from a Catholic. No wonder there is so much hate for pope Francis in those circles.

This time I found, by googling
that he is commenting on a fairly interesting article in the American Catholic magazine 'First Things'. I learnt from it that describing America as a nation of immigrants is a fashion that only started with President Kennedy.

Here is the innocuous enough context of the words Professor Faggioli thought blasphemous.
A century ago, Teddy Roosevelt insisted that my ancestors become “unhyphenated Americans.” If we judge this demand cruel, it hardly seems kinder to demand that their hopelessly assimilated descendant hyphenate himself. Certainly “German-Americans” have historically suffered prejudice. On August 5, 1855, a mob lynched twenty Germans in Louisville, Kentucky. In 1919, Nebraska, my home state, enacted a law designed to end all instruction in the German language. But I identify with, not against, American culture. I refuse to distance myself from its triumphs and its failings by dwelling on a mythologized experience of immigrant suffering.

What people say about Theresa May

Theresa May’s departure was probably inevitable from the moment she lost her gamble to establish a Conservative majority big enough to get her withdrawal agreement through the House of Commons.

But she made one crucial misjudgement after the general election. In December 2017, she accepted the EU’s demand that the terms of the UK’s departure include a commitment that nothing would change on the Irish border. 

Professor Helen Thompson in Unherd

What comes next, for the Tories and Britain and Brexit, will prove that Theresa May’s failures, like her premiership, were modest and second-tier. History will say relatively little about her tactical record, focussing instead on acts of grand strategic failure and their authors.

James Kirkup today in his Spectator blog.

I wanted to believe Theresa May when she first said Brexit means Brexit, but I remember thinking that if she really thought that, wouldn’t she then have to sack all those Remainers in the civil service who helped push Cameron and George Osborne into their Project Fear suicide mission? Would she hell. Imagine if she had passed her deal. It would ultimately have been formalised in the small hours in the penumbras of some or other EU summit. There would be lots more of the European Court of Justice, a firming up of the common rule book, our fishing rights would be retained by the Spanish and the Scandinavians.

Why is Theresa May not resigning as Tory leader now rather than in 2 weeks?

Theresa May did not resign the leadership of her party this mornning. She announced she would resign in two weeks' time.

She should have resigned  today so that the party can get on with choosing a new leader quickly and the country can get on with solving the Brexit conundrum.

Instead she is as selfish in her standing down as Prime Minister as she was in clinging to office, after losing the election she foolishly called. Her tears this morning were for herself and not her country.

She hangs around for two more weeks to meet Donald Trump, without what she considers the 'humiliation' of having a leadership election going on.

What fun he will be, unlike her. I wonder if he will pay compliments to Nigel Farage or Boris Johnson. I suppose the President will be briefed that Boris said in December 2015, "The only reason I wouldn't visit some parts of New York is the real risk of meeting Donald Trump".

In fact the Tory election will be going on. Had she resigned today a new Prime Minister could have met the American President. Instead we are getting closer to the recess and time is running short. On 31 October our EU membership vanishes, like fairy gold. Or so President Macron said. I don't think I believe him.

The key thing to understand: When Theresa May is alone in a room the room is empty

Britain's membership of the EU has been extended to Hallowe'en. President Macron says there should be no further extension and he has a veto. There is no time to be lost in finding a new British Prime Minister. An election among Tory MPS can be held in a week or so. The two candidates who win most votes from MPs go forward to an election in which party members decide. If Boris Johnson is one of the two the other one would, if he is sensible, drop out. Boris could be Prime Minister in time to greet Donald Trump.

Please, Sir Graham Brady, make this boring woman go today.

They say that all Prime Ministers go mad in the end, but that's not always true. David Cameron and John Major didn't and I think Gordon Brown was mad to start with. Has Theresa May? Why is she clinging on in this way that is frankly embarrassing? 

Camilla Tominey in the Telegraph has another explanation. She has written the best article about our unloved Prime Minister that I ever read and the least charitable. The motivation, she very convincingly suggests, is love of the trappings of office, not a sense of duty. 

The article quotes 'well-placed insiders' who understand Mrs May.

“She behaves like a masochist but the quote about how she will give up the job she loves betrayed something about her. She’s much more into the status of having the job than most people would have thought about her. People think it’s all about duty and public service but she does enjoy the trappings.”

“She enjoys Chequers far too much. She loves hosting people there.”

I had thought less of Theresa May when I read that, unlike the Camerons, she didn't enjoy Chequers and preferred her suburban house. Now I read that the reverse is true I, quite unfairly, find I like her even less.

“She likes all the wining and dining and things being served on silver platters. It comes from a past of having been looked down on by the likes of Cameron and Osborne and the feeling that she’s finally made it.”
"Theresa was annoyed when Margaret Thatcher became Prime Minister and beat her to it. What keeps her there? This is the only place she’s ever wanted to be. It’s mattered more than anything else in her life.

Wednesday 22 May 2019

How Farage outflanked everyone

'Future historians will point to how the liberal Left made two fateful miscalculations about Farage and indeed populism more generally. The first was to assume this was but a fleeting protest movement not rooted in deep structural shifts within our societies; they considered it a passing ‘blip’, a brief stop on the journey to a new liberal, pro-European and cosmopolitan world order. 
'This miscalculation, encouraged by some academics, has been devastating for the Left because it has prevented people from really interrogating the appeal of these movements. If politics is reduced to a waiting game, a conveyor belt, waiting for the old white people to die, then you do not need to engage with

European empire

"The world is developing into one not of nation states, but of empires. China is an empire. India is an empire. The US is an empire. We need to create a European Union that is capable of defending our interests."

Guy Verhofstadt talking to CNN yesterday.

“We got rid of them...We finally turned them [the UK] into a colony! And that was our plan from the first moment.”
One of Verhofstadt’s staffers recorded in a recent BBC Four documentary about the Brexit negotiations.
"Austria Hungary was a European Union that worked."
Helen Szamuely


"Moscow consistently favored the Nazis over the Social Democrats, whom it called ‘social Fascists’ and continued to regard as its principal enemy. In line with this reasoning, it forbade the German Communists to collaborate with the Social Democrats. In the critical November 1932 elections to the Reichstag (Parliament), the Social Democrats won over 7 million votes and the Communists 6 million: their combined votes exceeded the Nazi vote by 1.5 million. In terms of parliamentary seats, they gained between them 221, against the Nazi 196. Had they joined forces, the two left-wing parties would have defeated Hitler at the polls and prevented him from assuming the chancellorship. It thus was the tacit alliance between the Communists and the National Socialists that destroyed democracy in Germany and brought Hitler to power."

Richard Pipes, Communism: A History of the Intellectual and Political Movement (2003), p.96 

"Even as the Fascist leader, Mussolini never concealed his sympathy and admiration for Communism: he thought highly of Lenin’s ‘brutal energy,’ and saw nothing objectionable in Bolshevik massacres of hostages. He proudly claimed Italian Communism as his child."

Russia Under The Bolshevik Regime (1994) p. 252

Sunday 19 May 2019


"We shall soon be in a world in which a man may be howled down for saying that two and two make four, in which furious party cries will be raised against anybody who says that cows have horns, in which people will persecute the heresy of calling a triangle a three-sided figure, and hang a man for maddening a mob with the news that grass is green."

G. K. Chesterton

"We continue to understand how immigration is changing our country and how it will continue to change our country. We have learned that our country must be a country of immigration as well as of integration.”

Angela Merkel speaking to an NGO that offers help with careers to immigrants and their children, the occasion which she chose to celebrate the 70th anniversary of the German constitution.

Friday 17 May 2019

Could a new Prime Minister take Britain out of the EU without a deal? It's hard to say

The Conservative leadership election should take place as quickly as possible so that the new Prime Minister has time to do something before the extension of the time-limit for leaving the EU expires on Hallowe'en, even though I am sure the other EU leaders will persuade President Macron to agree to a further extension.

The strong card of Boris Johnson and Dominic Raab is that they resigned from the cabinet over the Withdrawal Agreement. Either of them as Prime Minister means a new start. The rest are a continuation of the Theresa May cabinet which was bound by collective responsibility to all the things she did and wanted to do.

But can either man persuade the Europeans to alter the agreement? Who knows? But if not that leaves the Withdrawal Agreement or leaving with no deal - which is back to where we are now.

Robert Peston of ITV who was sure we would be forced to leave with no deal now thinks a general election is needed to break the impasse but I disagree. An election would be far too big a risk for the Tories and at best would mean the same Tory MPs who cannot countenance no deal returning to their seats in Parliament.

No deal is the legal default and a vote of the House of Commons cannot change that. The Cooper-Letwin Bill, which became the European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2019 [PDF] has not “ruled out” no-deal, despite media reports. It simply required the government to lay a motion in the Commons specifying a date by which an Article 50 extension should be sought, which the government did. That's it. 

So can Boris Johnson take the UK out of the EU without a deal? The Houses of Commons and Lords are opposed to it but backbenchers do not have the power to stop it unless they take over control of the order paper again and force through another Act of Parliament, as they did to pass the Cooper-Letwin Bill by a majority of one (the one vote being cast by a Labour MP who had just come back from the clink and has since been expelled). for Tory MPs to do that might bring down the new Prime Minister or force him to call an election that the Tories do not want.

Admittedly under the Fixed-Term Parliaments Act 2011 a defeat on a confidence motion is followed by a two week period for a new administration to be formed. In any case, the Sovereign never needs to call an election, simply because the Prime Minister asks for one, if he does not command a majority. But the threat of an election and the Brexit Party will inspire terror in Tory MPs.

It is all very murky.

Were I in Theresa May's leopardskin shoes I'd resign immediately, advise the Queen to appoint my ally and 'de facto deputy Prime Minister' David Lidington as caretaker Prime Minister and hope this would enable him to win the leadership election, to continue her policies or lack of them. I doubt being anointed by his predecessor would help him though. 

He has said that being close to the iron throne for three years he does not want the job and I believe him.

Thursday 16 May 2019

The threat to Europe

Angela Merkel said yesterday that Russia, China and the US are forcing Europe, time and again, to find common positions. This is true, but a much bigger issue is the movement of people into Europe from Asia and Africa. 

A common position on the part of the EU on immigration would force member states to alter the make up of their populations to suit other countries. This is existential. But with free movement of peoples this happens anyway. The immigration laws of one country are effectively the immigration laws of all.

British Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt was a Remainer, is now a Leaver and very much wants to be Prime Minister. He angered Theresa May (but her power has ebbed way) when he broke with government policy to say that the UK needs to spend twice as much on defence. 

That sounds Tory but it is not. It is nonsense on stilts. Where is the enemy against whom we are defending ourselves? 

The threats to Great Britain are grave indeed but not ones with which Nato can help. They are terrorists and those who sympathise with terrorism (though we made peace with the IRA), nationalists who want to break up the country (same caveat), France and Germany who want to make us subservient to the European Union and, much the biggest threat, unprecedented numbers of migrants and refugees who potentially will make our country into another country.

The British government talks about the danger from Iran instead. Iran is not a threat to England. It is not a threat to Europe or the USA or to anyone except the Sunni monarchs in the Gulf and to Israel - and not really a threat to them. We sell the Gulf states arms, which creates jobs for British workers, but we should not take up their quarrel with Iran any more than we get involved in their quarrel with Israel. Nor are Israel's interests ours.

There are not enough Shias in the world for the West to worry about. Our allies the Saudis who spend billions spreading Wahhabism, on the other hand, are a big problem, though not a military threat.

Europe certainly should keep out of Middle Eastern wars and stop taking in people from the Middle East who take sides in these wars. Otherwise the wars will spill over into London. In fact, they already have.

Britain should probably keep out of European defence entanglements, come to that. Why are we in Nato other than for prestige?

Europe feels, probably wrongly in my opinion, that it needs protecting from Russia. Donald Trump said that Nato is obsolete before he rowed back because he accepts (rightly or wrongly) that having an empire has many advantages for America. These are reasons for the USA and Europe to continue Nato but I am not sure why Britain or Canada are in it, to say nothing of Turkey.

The trouble is that nowadays people think values are worth fighting for but are not sure if nations are worth fighting for. The unspoken corollary is that all democratic countries are really the same country.

Nigel Farage is not going to be Prime Minister but Boris Johnson should be

Ignore what the British papers are saying. Nigel Farage's Brexit Party is most unlikely to win more votes at the next British general election than the Tories.

If they do win a lot of votes, which they might well, they will win few or no seats because of our first-past-the-post electoral system. 

What they will probably do instead is let in a Labour Scottish Nationalist coalition.

The biggest danger in the UK leaving the EU without a deal is that Jeremy Corbyn and Nicola Sturgeon come to power and make a deal that leaves the UK a vassal of the EU and permits free movement of people. 

The Withdrawal Agreement negotiated by Theresa May avoids the second of dangers but arguably not the first.

It is not true that the only choice now is between leaving with no deal, leaving with the Withdrawal Agreement that Theresa May has agreed and staying in. There are other possibilities. 

The Withdrawal Agreement plus a permanent customs union with the EU, as Jeremy Corbyn claims to want, is the option Conservatives and Labour are discussing. Something not very far from that is likely anyway. The Swiss or Norway options are possible options too. 

The Tories probably need Boris Johnson to lead them and the country, for all his grave faults,  one of which being that he is an adulterer, because he can credibly argue for Brexit.  I am reminded of WH Auden in 1940, safe from bombs in the USA, saying  that "the old bastard" Churchill was our best hope. But he cannot persuade the House of Commons to permit the country to leave without a deal and I do not see how he would settle Britain's relationship with the EU.  He might persuade Leave voters to keep voting Tory, but he cannot persuade the House to agree to leave with no deal even did he want to. 

Can he take the country out of the EU without a deal and without a parliamentary vote? I doubt it unless the EU decides we have to leave without a deal in October, which I am sure will not happen. Can he broker a deal with Europe? Could he even persuade the country to accept the Norway option, accept free movement of people and the Single Market and forget about having an invisible border in Ireland? That would free us from the political side of the EU which would not be a very bad way of implementing a fairly slim referendum majority. 

Theresa May has destroyed the Tories' reputation for competence but I admit that Boris is not the man to rebuild it. How difficult writing opinion pieces is. 

The departure of Theresa May is not very interesting. Who her successor will be is very interesting because the Gordian knot he or she will have to try to untie is horribly interesting, though in some ways horribly boring. My brilliant history master Dr White had an expression that I often find apt. 

'It is "interesting" in inverted commas.' 

Today The Daily Telegraph provides an 'Et tu, Brute' moment when Theresa May's former Svengali Nick Timothy, who persuaded her into an early election and a disastrous campaign, tells her she must go. 

In effect she did what he and his colleague Fiona Hill told her, at the Home Office and at No 10. He doesn't blame himself but blames her for mistakes made after he was fired, when she relied on civil servants.
If the Prime Minister had delivered a meaningful Brexit, she could have kept her party largely together and retained DUP support. She could have threatened Parliament as she now threatens her own MPs: vote for this true Brexit, she could have said, or face the electorate you betrayed.
In fact, a hard Brexit was not possible after the result of an election which he advised his boss to call. On his watch she ruled out a hard border in Ireland and started the Article 50 process without any plan, so he has a nerve criticising her. But this discussion is pointless. What does he suggest the country does now?

He does not say.

Tuesday 14 May 2019

May and Corbyn want the same Brexit - with a permanent customs union - but neither dare admit it

The truth is that most Labour and Conservative MPs want the same Brexit - with the UK in a permanent customs union. But neither side wants to say so and thereby lose most of their voters.

It's almost impossible for the two parties to make a deal. If they did I cannot see it passing the House of Commons. 

In the very unlikely case that it did pass the UK would leave the EU, stay in a customs union and forego the power to make trade freely with the world, but the rest of our relationship with the EU would still take years to work out. It will in any event.

I ask myself if this Brexit - with the UK bound into a customs union - is better than no Brexit. I am not well informed enough to be sure but I tend to think I'd prefer staying in and making trouble till they let us leave with a better deal - or leaving with no deal and taking our chance on what follows

But staying in would need another referendum, which Leave would probably win again.

And if Remain won it Leave would not go away any more than Remainers did after they lost the 2016 referendum. And they would be right - they would have witnessed the democratic decision of the people ignored.

If no deal can be made with Labour the Prime Minister's Plan B is for the House of Commons to hold a series of votes to decide which possible option has most support. That would include the Norway option, which I could live with at least for a while, but a permanent customs union almost passed last time. So we return to that. 

Except we don't because this time the Labour Party will refuse to co-operate with such votes.

David Cameron, if you remember, called the referendum to put an end to the fighting over the EU for good. I thought his lasting achievement would be cementing our membership of the EU forever or rather until it collapsed from the weight of its internal contradictions.

Any way you look at it the Brexit fight has many years left in it.

Something has to go and that something is clearly Theresa May. But who should replace her? 

Obviously not Amber Rudd who would be another Theresa May, only prettier and of a higher social class. Obviously not anyone who campaigned for Remain. 

I say this not because I am in favour of Brexit but because only a Brexiteer can hope to make the country believe in Brexit and since the Tories have to implement Brexit or die they have to do so with conviction. They are now the Brexit party avant la lettre.

Not even Michael Gove, who is at least as eloquent as Boris, will probably do because he has reluctantly signed up to Theresa May's deal. 

Dominic Raab might do but the best hope for the Tories now, and it is a slim hope, is Boris Johnson. I am reminded of WH Auden in 1940, safe from bombs in the USA, saying  that "the old bastard" Churchill was what we needed now.

This session of Parliament is the second longest in English history

'It is Day 300 of the longest parliamentary session since the English Civil War. MPs sat for a grand total of three hours and 34 minutes yesterday, before running out of things to talk about and going home. Today’s gripping schedule in the Commons features an opposition-led debate on the probation service, a backbench bill to protect hares during the breeding season, and a discussion of anti-social behavior in Stockton. There hasn’t been a proper vote in over a month. This is not so much a zombie government, as basically no government at all.' (James Blanchard today.)

Sessions of Parliament usually last a year. This one has lasted three years and is the second longest in English history

The longest was the Long Parliament that sat between 1640 and 1653 in one uninterrupted session without being prorogued, for the good and sufficient reason that it made war on the Sovereign whose prerogative prorogation is. In the end Cromwell got rid of it without worrying about niceties. Watch the Lord Protector do it here, played by Richard Harris. 

Even if you are not a republican, you may wish he'd come back to life and do it again. But dissolving parliament would mean a general election, much the same people would be returned again and we'd probably have a Labour - Scottish Nationalist coalition government. Better not.

Unusually long sessions took place in the past because of a lot of constitutional change. They were held after the 'Glorious Revolution' of 1688-9, in 1893-4 to try and fail to legislate for Home Rule for Ireland, in 1992-93 to adopt the Maastricht Treaty into law and in 1998-99 in order to introduce devolution for Scotland and Wales. An exception was the long session of 1966-7 which did nothing anyone can remember.

What a great shame that Home Rule for Ireland didn't happen. Had the House of Lords agreed to it then the whole of Ireland would be part of the UK now. What an even greater shame about the Maastricht legislation - had it not passed England would not be in a crisis now and Europe would have been saved a world of pain. What a great shame about devolution too.  50.3% of the Welsh voted for devolution. The other side simply accepted the result.

About the Glorious Revolution different people have different views. The Duke of Bavaria is the Pretender and lives in Munich. He never comments on his right to sit on the English, Scotch and Irish thrones.

Society is intensely conformist and the media are the thought police

Nigel Farage was interviewed by Andrew Marr on the BBC on Sunday and was asked questions about his views on Vladimir Putin, giving very expensive AIDS treatments to foreigners at the taxpayer's expense, privatising the NHS and other things where he has taken positions disapproved of by the people who work for the BBC. 

Mr Farage complained that this had nothing to do with the subject at hand, which was Brexit and showed BBC bias against him. 

People who like him think he did very well to say so. People who dislike him think Andrew Marr did well.

The truth is that, as William Hague said today in the Daily Telegraph, interviews with major politicians should last longer, up to an hour, as they did in the days when Brian Walden (whose death yesterday I mourn) or Sir Robin Day interviewed Margaret Thatcher. In long interviews there would be plenty of time to cover everything. T
hings were better in the old days, even though the BBC was equally biassed against conservatism then.

Admittedly, the thought of an hour of Theresa May is more than flesh and blood could stand. I would guess that HM the Queen finds her weekly audience with the Prime Minister even harder going than with Gordon Brown.

Andrew Marr certainly did treat Nigel Farage very unfairly in at least one respect. This one.

Marr: So you accept you weren’t advocating no deal back then because you know . . .

Monday 13 May 2019

Tbilisi scene

Image may contain: outdoor

Theresa May will go before she badly damages the Anglo-American alliance

American historian Arthur Herman in an article published this afternoon in Forbes Magazine, headlined Why Theresa May Must Go, makes a good point.
'If the U.S. decides it can’t share data and networks with British telecom carriers, then China will have driven the first important wedge between the US and the UK since the Suez crisis more than sixty years ago.'
I often dislike the way the UK slavishly follows the USA, but on Huawei the Americans are right. And even if they were not right, it would be very foolish for the British to lose the advantages of sharing intelligence with them. Not to forget the advantages of being close to Donald Trump at this delicate moment when we need all the powerful friends we can find, to help us resist the machinations of France, Germany and Brussels. 

Instead, Mrs May's evident distaste for his views on immigration are an abiding memory from his wonderfully comic visit to England. Like a schoolmistress who cannot keep order, she clearly thought that his behaviour was very bad but the least said about it the better.

Luckily the sand in the egg timer is finally running out for our wretched Prime Minister. 

Everything now turns on who succeeds her. 

Robert Shrimsley in The Financial Times:
"Having promised to go once a withdrawal agreement is in place, Mrs May faces her own no-deal exit. Hence the profusion of rivals in pastel shirts posing with kitchen appliances in the interviews suddenly littering UK newspapers. We may not know how the umpteen Conservatives who consider themselves worthy of the leadership would really resolve the Brexit crisis, but we know their choice of oven."
Parliament has nothing to do but wait. 

Last week the one important vote the House of Commons took was on the Second Reading of  the Wild Animals in Circuses Bill. Meanwhile this session of Parliament is the longest in English history since the Long Parliament, which Cromwell dissolved in 1653 with the words
'You have sat too long for any good you have been doing lately. Depart, I say;
and let us have done with you. In the name of God, go!'
Robert Shrimsley quotes a wise, anonymous Tory MP saying
'Whatever comes next is coming. We may as well get on with it.'
The next Prime Minister has to be someone who campaigned for Brexit. It should best be one who can get close to the Trump White House and sympathetic countries like Italy, for domestic political reasons as much as diplomatic ones. 

The friendship of France or Germany is more dangerous than the enmity of Russia or China.

But I doubt this is what the new Prime Minister will do. Only Boris might have the wit to do so, though while a very unimpressive Foreign Secretary his foreign policy resembled much more Hillary's than the Donald's. He has insulted both of course in his time. 

He and a hard or no deal Brexit is probably the least bad chance my country has now. 

It has come to that.

Friday 10 May 2019

Master Archie Harrison Mountbatten-Windsor

I took little or no interest in the birth of the Duke of Sussex's son, because he is only seventh in line to the throne, but the Guardian and Independent, which 25 years ago said they would not cover stories about the royal family (until the scandals about Diana forced them to change their policy), did so avidly. I wonder why.

Why is the boy to be christened Archie, not Archibald? And why Harrison? And why not four Christian names at least, one of which should be Louis or Arthur?  And, most of all,  why no courtesy title? 

I smell the influence of Woke America.

Someone in the Spectator said the name Boris would have made people sit up. Yes, indeed.

The upper classes in 1936 didn't mind Mrs. Simpson being divorced. They minded her being American. I do rather see their point.

Still, good health and a long life to Master Archie.

Apparently he is named after the Duchess's dog.

Why Timothy Garton Ash is wrong about Europe

Things become much clearer as years go by. I read Timothy Garton Ash all my adult life but only now, after the Brexit referendum forced us all to think hard about the EU, do I see how misguided and dangerous his ideas are.

He has contributed a 'Long Read' to the Guardian about the EU and it is tosh. It says nothing interesting or original - or even interesting and unoriginal.

He co-opts the fire in Notre Dame as a symbol of the danger Europe faces but by this he means the dangers to the EU and Eurofederalism. 

The danger to European civilisation in his eyes comes from people who are attached to nation states, from politicians who want to staunch the unprecedented flood of refugees and immigrants from Africa and Asia, not from the tidal waves themselves. 

This is Alice in Wonderland logic. Words like civilisation mean whatever Humpty Dumpty Ash wants them to mean.

He points to the True Finns party as an example of an extr
eme right party entering government but neglects to say that they were partners in the coalition that accepted, for the first time in Finnish history, large numbers of non-European refugees. Finland, Malta and Luxembourg had hitherto been the three almost all white countries in Western Europe.

Actually, I am being a bit unfair. Professor Ash strays into good writing in this one paragraph which deals with Europe's sharp decline, but he does not enlarge on the theme though it is the issue he should be discussing.
“With the European civil war that raged on and off from 1914 to 1945, once described by Winston Churchill as a second thirty years war, Europe deposed itself from its global throne. In act five of Europe’s self-destruction, the US and the Soviet Union strode on to the stage like Fortinbras at the end of Hamlet. Yet, Europe was at least still the central stage of world politics throughout the cold war that followed. Europeans made history once again for a brief shining moment in 1989, but then Hegel’s Weltgeist, the “world spirit”, moved rapidly on from Berlin to Beijing.”

The truth is that the World Wars do not explain why Europe thinks it needs the USA to defend it or from whom. I am not sure what the explanation is but I know that it is subjective, not objective, and relates to decadence and civilisational exhaustion. 

So do low birth rates and accepting unprecedented numbers of migrants. 

And yet while Europe is in unprecedented relative decline the continent has never been nearly so rich, so peaceful, so technically advanced or so comfortable and easy a place in which to live.

Perhaps rich, peaceful and comfortable are clues. 

Justifying Genocide: German attitudes to the murder of Armenians, from Bismarck to Hitler

I wrote this for me blog exactly three years ago and thought, after my recent visit to Armenia, that it was worth reposting.

This week's political scandal about antisemitism in the British Labour Party has put the Holocaust in the news, but then the Holocaust is always in the news (very much more so than in the 1970s or 1980s). I think it wise not to wade into the discussion about what the malign Ken Livingstone (a man I detest) said about the Haavath Agreement. If you want to know about it, Andrew Roberts assails Ken here, though my views are different from Andrew's. But I have already stirred the waters in this article and, anyway, the story bores me. 

However, surfing the net (my besotting vice), I came across this interesting synopsis by Stefan Ihrig of his book Justifying Genocide: Germany and the Armenians from Bismarck to Hitler, that shows how Germans came to terms with genocide via the Armenian genocide. 

Thursday 9 May 2019

Could Nigel Farage replace the Tories and be a British Donald Trump?

Three of Britain's four biggest parties Labour, the Liberal Democrats and the Scottish Nationalists launch their European election campaigns today, which is bizarre because there only a fortnight to go until polling day. 

The Conservative Party, on the other hand, will have no launch event and no manifesto. The Daily Mail's Jason Groves says a Tory official shrugged and asked the reasonable question, 
“What would we put in it?”
Almost no Tory activists will be canvassing. The Tories would have done better not to stand at all. 

What will be interesting is how big the win by the Brexit party is and how very badly the Tories do. 

Wednesday 8 May 2019

"A nation is a group of people united by a common misunderstanding about their origins"

"A nation is a group of people united by a common misunderstanding about their origins." (Ernest Renan).
The current misunderstanding held by the English does not relate to Hengist and Horsa, whom no Englishman I speak to has heard of, but to the mistaken idea that they were always an immigrant nation.

Similar misunderstandings apply to France, which had very few immigrants till the twentieth century and then mostly Latin Catholic ones for the first half of that, Germany and many other Western European countries.

I wonder if people in Sweden tell the Swedes that they were always an immigrant nation.

The long, dark teatime of Theresa May's soul

And Nurse came in with the tea-things
Breast high 'mid the stands and chairs-
But Nurse was alone with her own little soul,
And the things were alone with theirs.
(Betjeman, 'Death in Leamington')

Theresa May has been given till teatime today by the Chairman of the 1922 Committee (the trade union of backbench Tory MPs) to say when she intends to resign. 

What a very British sort of ultimatum. The long, dark teatime of the soul, to quote the title of a novel by Douglas Adams. 

Monday 6 May 2019

The strange death of the Armenians

There were twelve Russo-Turkish wars between the ages of Ivan the Terrible and Lenin. Turkey won two, the second being the Crimean War which was 'won' for the Turks by Britain and France, one was a draw and both countries lost the First World War. Eight were victories for Russia.

In the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, Turkey lost North Africa to the European powers and most of the Balkans to nationalists. Russians and others expected that one day Mass would be celebrated again in Hagia Sofia in Constantinople. It was Catherine the Great's dream and had always been Britain's fear that Russia would take Constantinople and command the straits. In 1915 Britain made a volte face and agreed that her ally Russia could have Constantinople.

Turkey's catastrophic mistake was attacking British ships in 1914 and entering the First World War on Germany's side. Had she not done so the Middle East would probably belong to a democratic, federal Turkey now, Turkey would have the oil and would be very rich and powerful. Saudi Arabia, Israel, Syria, etc etc would not exist. 

In this alternative history the Armenians, Greeks and Assyrians would not have been ethnically cleansed and would have helped run the country. Of course, the Sultan in Constantinople, surrounded by wives and catamites, would be the Caliph and there would be no need for ISIS or Al Qaeda to restore the Caliphate.

Russia was always the friend of the Christians under Turkish rule, from Belgrade to Armenia, for strategic reasons. This policy was the reason for the Crimean War, which broke out over the Church of the Holy Sepulchre but almost broke out over Romania. Defending Middle Eastern Christians is part of why Russia is fighting in Syria today. 

Armenians' hopes for a Greater Armenia was very useful to Russia in the Great War, as were the Greeks' hope for a Greater Greece. Had Russia won the war, a Greater Armenia and a greater Greece could have been a Christian land bridge leading to the Lebanon and the Holy Land.

Had this happened the Turks would have been confined to a part of Anatolia. Tsarist Russia would have dominated the Eastern Mediterranean.

Instead Russia is in Syria fighting for her one Mediterranean ally and seaport.