Skip to content

The Liar will not set you free… Boris Johnson’s Brexit Vision.

Old blog… reposted for continuing depressing relevance…



There’s only one speech I think Boris Johnson should ever make and yesterday, being Ash Wednesday, was the perfect opportunity to make it.  There would have been real liturgical rightness to the occasion had he appeared in front of the cameras, dressed in sack-cloth and besmeared with ashes so as to declare…

“I hereby repent me of my selfish and destructive lies and promise to try to recover my immortal soul.  I have been a mendacious opportunist with no loyalty to anything other than my own gargantuan ego, but with a contrite heart I hope, in the distant future, to recover your trust. I will retire from public life for the next ten years at least, while I try to work out my own salvation.”

You see, I love Boris Johnson.  I love him more than he loves himself – it’s that tough love that wants nothing less for him…

View original post 471 more words


David Davis has resigned – but what from?


Such indolence in the face of national emergency will one day entertain a laconic historian.  Perhaps comparisons will be made with the Emperor Honorius, walled up in Ravenna, who reacted to Alaric’s sack of Rome by worrying about his pet chicken.

David Davis is just one of many culpable people who have been unable to think past opportunistic rhetoric and do the actual work of establishing Britain‘s legal and economic relationships in a radically transformed environment.  European negotiators may have vaguely assumed that once the referendum was (narrowly) passed and the decision made, then sleeves would be rolled up and the terms of the divorce would be handled in an amicably constructive fashion.  But no.  Beneath the rhetoric, there is just more rhetoric.

Europeans trying to find out what Britain actually wants from Brexit in concrete terms have discovered no concrete at all – only layers and layers of  ugly and mouldy wallpaper.  The more you try to steam and scrape it away, the more the wallpaper seems to take over.

Charlotte Perkins Gilman, thou shouldst be living at this hour.

The very people who shouted loudest about “taking back borders” have shown no interest in taking responsibility for them.  While supposedly doing his official job, David Davis was notorious for the infrequency of his meetings and his unpreparedness while at them.  It is as though the habit of blaming foreigners for everything for the purpose of advancing one’s own career is so ingrained with people like Davis, that the idea of having to take real responsibility for one’s own actions is impossible to accommodate.

And so Davis has resigned from a job he hasn’t been doing.  Perhaps Brexit was never meant to be concluded at all because Davis (and many others) cannot imagine a world in which there are no more foreigners to blame.  In many ways, hard Brexiters never really dreamed of leaving the EU – rather they dreamed of always remaining at the point of leaving. The EU has been, for decades, a place you get political points for standing up to – a way of raising your own profile -a cause to define yourself against.  The shift from sloganeering to actual work has never occurred.

You could point out that the chief architects of Brexit have all been recession-proof millionaires who can throw their money around the world just by clicking a mouse.  Betting against your own economy is no longer (as it once was) regarded as an unpatriotic act.  Power is lodged with people who have no need to face the real consequences of anything.  European negotiators facing Davis and his team have been dismayed at how little someone can seemingly care about the nation they claim to represent.  Davis is no patriot because he does not possess any of the things that a worthwhile patriotism is made of – empathy, vision, and concern from anything beyond his own ego.  Stuff that requires work.

Brexiters like Davis have had years to absorb the reality that you cannot negotiate a deal that gives you all of the benefits of club membership and none of the obligations and that such a dream bespoke deal would be incompatible with any self-respecting definition of the EU.  They have also had years to confront the truth that this wonderful land called Restoftheworld trades with Britain because it’s a European country and not because it’s a buccaneering offshore powerhouse.  I would say that they are too lazy to care, but perhaps it’s truer to say that they are too loveless to work.

Like C.P. Cavafy’s barbarians, Europeans have been profoundly necessary for Brexity wreckers.  Europe, for the likes of David Davis, exists only so that people like him can give a short answer to difficult questions: “because of foreigners.”  Take away the foreigners and the difficult questions will demand actual answers.


As of today, we’ve had to live without Richard Brinsley Sheridan for exactly 202 years.



Yes, R. B. Sheridan died 202 years ago today.  His was a turbulent and exciting and difficult sort of a life, which involved theatrical politics and political theatre in roughly equal measure.  Like his father (I wrote a book about his father dontchya know?) he had a rather ambivalent relationship with theatre.  Theatre was his bread and butter, but he was prone to see the stage as a mere stepping stone to something larger and more important.

Dramatists are considered “great” if they can keep two or three of their plays in a professional repertoire long after their deaths.  By this measure, Sheridan is certainly a great dramatist.  “The Rivals” and “School for Scandal” remain remarkably funny and enjoyable plays if performed properly.  “The Critic” is also hilarious, even if it’s an awkward length.  Sheridan always had problem writing plays of optimal length and was never good at cutting.  “The Critic”…

View original post 373 more words

The only felicitous fall of Donald Trump – the ballot box and the arrest warrant.


I don’t like the phrase “consigned to the dustbin of history”.   I’m very fond of history and I also believe that history is a vibrant and dynamic shaper of present and future events.

But we can look forward to a time when historians pore over (yes that’s how you spell “pore over”) every detail of the events of 2016-2020 to try to discover how a nation (and perhaps a world) could lose the run of itself so completely as to permit something like Donald Trump in high office.  One day, high school students will solemnly debate and discuss how such a thing could have happened and the conclusion to many an essay will pay tribute to the ultimate resilience of the great republic that survived the Trump election and the Trump administration.

I believe in this future because I have to.

Does Trump leave the White House because he’s been voted out, or because he’s been impeached from office, or forced to resign?  I would say that the benign unTrumped future I have to believe in demands a mixture of the two.  Impeachment is, after all, a political as much as or more than a legal one.  The process of impeachment involves elected officials voting.  At present, Trump can claim majority support in the Senate, Congress and the Supreme Court.  No matter what concrete facts are proven as a consequence of the Mueller investigation, without large scale political change in November, no impeachment is possible, because Republicans have shown no evidence of any ability to put nation before party or to act like morally conscious vertebrates.

However, it’s not enough for Trump to just be voted out of office in 2020.  There is no shame after all in losing an election per se.  If Trump is simply voted out of office in the normal course of events, then his supporters will simply pledge to better organise around the next Trump next time.  To be defeated electorally is not the same as being discredited – and it is vitally important that the toxic brand of nativism, anti-environmentalism, anti-internationalism and poverty-sanctioning kickdownism that this disgusting and delusional race-baiting serial sex offender represents is utterly discredited in a way that mere political defeat can’t do.  The criminal allegations that are being made against his administration demand the assertion of Rule of Law and without some legal process, the idea that a president’s executive authority has no legal limits will be allowed to go unchecked.

If Trump were to be removed from office surgically, however, by an impeachment vote that preserved the political careers of many leading Republicans, there would be a different but even more serious problem.  Those who had turned against Trump would be denounced as “RINOs” by Trump’s blindly supportive base.  No matter what hard evidence was used in order to legally remove Trump, the process would be denounced as another example of some sinister metropolitan deep state coup against a popular champion.

No, the happy future that I keep faith in demands that Trump is removed and prosecuted and that Trump and his apologists and enablers  suffer simultaneous political defeat.  Trump and everything he represents needs to stand indicted as beyond the pale of constitutional politics – as an affront to the American constitution.  But among the tools used to effect his excision from the body politics, the clear electoral will of the American people needs to be first and foremost.

In other words, constitutional norms and rule of law will need the reinforcement of some significant expression of democratic will.

And among the topics discussed by high school kids in debating clubs and in history essays in the 2040s will be: “How come Trump was president when nobody nowadays admits ever having voted for him?”

The Anniversary of Paul McCartney and John Lennon’s first meeting.



On this day in 1957, at St Peter’s Church Woolton’s summer fête, Paul McCartney first met John Lennon.  If the pair of them had spent the day signing their names on every flier and every hymn book in the church’s possession, St Peter’s restoration fund would now be in a much healthier situation.

Mutual friend Ivan Vaughan is to be thanked (and thanked and thanked) for this meeting.  To be honest, it seems probable that Ivan Vaughan would have introduced John and Paul to one another at some point anyway.  If you have one friend who has a band and another friend who’s a great guitar player – then it seems likely that introductions will be made sooner or later.

At the fête Paul saw a bunch of roughnecks on the back of a lorry playing stuff that was half way between skiffle and rock and roll.  He was immediately…

View original post 900 more words

Rereading the Federalist Papers (1787) on July 4th. An Unexceptional Nation.


I’ll be spending July 4th reading the Federalist Papers.  Is there a more authentically and instructively American way to spend the day than this?  I think not.

One thing that occurs to me while reading Hamilton, Jay and Madison on the advantages on the spanking new constitution is quite how secular it all is.  The modern creed of American exceptionalism is entirely absent from these papers.  “Publius” regards the new nation in the light of an exceptional opportunity, but nowhere suggests that Americans are fundamentally different from other humans.  At no point is it remarked that God has taken Americans under such special protection or that the new republic is destined to succeed where all other republics have failed.  Rather, the innumerable international and historical precedents that are produced to suggest the dangers which threaten Americans  are offered on the basis that Americans are flawed human creatures.  Publius favours Montesquieu rather than Rousseau and is closer to Edmund Burke than Tom Paine.

Exceptionalism is a toxic doctrine, in the USA or anywhere else.  The belief that you are yours are distinctively favoured soon reinforces an emotional state that has nothing to do with gratitude and everything to do with entitlement.  Devotees of their own exceptionalism give up trying to be better than they have been and insist on being better than other people – as a matter of faith rather than fact.  A country that insists that it is the greatest nation on earth never can be – because it has lost the capacity to learn.  Exceptionalism is also cognate with kickdownism.  Once you are convinced of the importance of being better than others then you obsessed with those who might start to snap at your heels rather than those who are already kicking you in the head.  Exceptionalism is always nervous, defensive to the point of paranoia, because it has to deal with troublesome concrete facts on a regular basis.

This is why reading The Federalist Papers is such a tonic.  Hamilton, Jay, and Madison – writing as “Publius” do not believe that God or Fate or Nature (or any other Capitalised Abstraction) have decreed that Americans have a right to consider themselves exempt from the common follies of humanity.  Americans are just people – like any other people – who are presented with particular opportunities and particular challenges.  Within a careful constitutional framework, they can build a pretty impressive country.

I can’t stand knee-jerk anti-Americanism.  Knee-jerk anti-Americanism is a debilitating and impoverishing condition.  The USA is not my country and never will be but it contains much and many that I love.  And when the disgusting and delusional race-baiting serial sex offender who currently threatens all that’s good about the USA is removed from office, it will be because of a reclamation of the rationalist constitutionalism that defines (and is defined by) “Publius” and the Federalist Papers.  He’ll be removed as a result of either electoral or judicial processes (ideally a mixture of the two).  On that day, the USA will recover a definitional sense of itself as a nation of Laws not of Men.  To say nothing of Women.

Edward Young was born on this day in 1683. “Procrastination is the Thief of Time” etc.



The author of the best-selling long religious poem of the mid eighteenth-century was born on this day in 1683.

His contemporaries found no comparison between the spiritual rhapsodies of Night Thoughts and the hard headed opportunist who seemed more interested in securing professional advancement than in pious speculation.

The Complaint: or, Night-Thoughts on Life, Death, & Immortality was published in succeeding “parts” between 1742 and 1745.  It went through many, many editions and did more than any other work to promote the notion that there are things that blank verse can do that rhyming couplets should not.

To be honest, I think I prefer his earlier couplet satires published as – Love of Fame – which might be far better known today, if it weren’t for Alexander Pope.  If we lived in a blessed world where everyone knew Alexander Pope back to front and inside out, then we might be…

View original post 359 more words

“Thoughts and Prayers” – How small is God these days?


“White people call the police like they’re calling Customer Service” is a phrase I hear often these days from the USA.  More and more incidents are being documented and circulated involving white folks who just don’t feel comfortable having black people within their line of sight will phoning 911 to complain on the vaguest and most spurious of pretexts about their sense of unease.  Implicit in these calls is the idea that the police should function as bouncers whose job it is to remove undesirables.  The police are not there to enforce any kind of over-arching “Law” but are rather employed to protect some version of “us” from some version of “them”.

Here’s more…

To an alarming extent, the people making these calls are entirely justified in terms of their expectations of how cops are likely to behave.

Then it occurred to me that in many parts of the USA in particular, “God” is summoned much like “Customer Service” as well.

Whenever “Thoughts and Prayers” are sent in the wake of any given weekly gun-related atrocity, it is hard not to think of a concierge button being jabbed on a hotel phone.  The politician who sends “Thoughts and Prayers” resembles someone who has a florist on speed dial, or rather someone with a florist app and a standing order.  You would say that there was something “liturgical” about these responses, except that actual thought has gone into worthwhile  liturgy.

I’m not in the business here of trying to argue anybody out of or into the idea of belief in a Deity.  I am interested in the character and capacities of the deity that some people habitually invoke.  It seems clear to me that the rhythm and the (limited) content of the prayers that many people send suggest a very small and undemanding god indeed, a concierge or a senior bouncer.

The sending of “thoughts and prayers” by senior legislators who are actually empowered to do something practical and real about the atrocities they are sending automated prayers about is particularly reveal.  It illustrates a need to believe in an undemanding deity who takes orders rather than giving them.  “God” (and such a god only deserves to be capitalised at the beginning of a sentence) exists to validate the assumptions and privileges of whoever has privileged access to them.  “God” is a brand logo, a club card, a front desk phone number – someone or something who will sort out stuff that you don’t feel like sorting out yourself.  Assuming of course that you are a club card member.  Because integral to this concept of a small and servile god is that it confers advantages on some people rather than others.

In the summer of 2002 I was in Chicago at a big sociology conference (as an interested +1) may I say, and I heard a paper from academic, priest, poet, novelist Andrew Greeley.  He’s no longer with us.  He was asked whether the events of 9.11 had led to a resurgence of religious belief in the United States.  He replied – “No – it’s always God Bless AMERICA and never GOD bless America”.  Greeley noted back in 2002 that for many people who invoke religion, the idea of a deity exists in a subservient capacity – to serve a particular tribe.  I would say that people just want to sanctify their own privileges but this kind of intercession has nothing of the sacred about it.

Dear god.
I am better than other people.
Please keep things that way.


Happy 150th Birthday to Canada – the world’s most Shakespearean nation.

Reposting from last year… why Canada is the world’s most Shakespearean nation…



Happy Birthday Canada.  In a few hours time, we’ll amble downtown and watch the parade.  Then later, when the red and white snake has shaken itself apart, we’ll go down to the river and stare at the United States.

Yes, Canada is one hundred and fifty years old today.  Among the many wonderful adjectives that will be joined to Canada today, I’d like to add another – Shakespearean.

Or rather, I’d like to revive an idea that was perhaps insufficiently developed by its original expounder, Thomas D’Arcy McGee, prior to his assassination – 150 years ago next year.   McGee, former 1848 Irish revolutionary, and by far the most eloquent of 1860s Canadian confederators, could (and did) lecture about just about anything.  Sometimes he lectured on Shakespeare.  And it’s my belief that had he lived longer, his lectures on Shakespeare and his lectures on Canada would have joined themselves up.

View original post 652 more words

Ian Bannen would have been 90 today.


Here was an actor who compelled – an actor you couldn’t take your eyes off.

He would have been 90 today and I’m thinking of our memorable roles that we can all revisit.

Ian Bannen played a suspected child sex offender in The Offence (1972).  The Offence was one of those remarkable and distinctively sweaty films that Sidney Lumet made with Sean Connery – the others being The Hill and The Anderson Tapes.  The Offence could be best described as a film for people who find Get Carter too light and fluffy and its unremitting grimness is intoxicating even today.  Bannen plays a character of terrifying moral vacancy with a hideous grimace who succeeds in goading Connery into retributive violence that reveals a horrible complicity between cop and villain.

Bannen was also wonderful as Jim Prideaux, the errant secret agent turned eccentric schoolteacher in the 1979 TV adaptation of Tinker, Taylor, Soldier, Spy.  Tending to a wound picked up on a mission in Hungary, living in a caravan and befriending a lonely boy called Bill, Bannen’s character is obsessed with loyalties and exhibits a peculiar and touching naivety, despite the fact that he has long inhabited a world composed exclusively of labyrinthine betrayals.

Bannen was the irascible granddad in John Boorman’s nostalgic wartime story Hope and Glory (1987).  The highlight of the film, from his point of view, is when he is bowled by his grandchild’s googly.  I would love to live long enough to be bowled by my grandchild’s googly.  It must be one of life’s great experiences.  I would use the phrase “may you be bowled by your grandchild’s googly” as a sort of ritualised blessing and put it on greeting cards.

Bannen also played David Lloyd George in the very special 1991 RTE television movie dramatisation of the 1921 Anglo-Irish Treaty, alongside Brendan Gleeson and Barry McGovern as Collins and Dev.  Bannen’s Lloyd George was suitably slippery and Bannen perfectly illustrated LG’s incomparable ability to read a room and to locate and exploit human weaknesses.  In this case, LG’s perception that Arthur Griffiths was the sort of man who could not bear the merest imputation of having acted in bad faith was pretty decisive.  LG was also adept at turning his own weakness into a negotiating strength – “I’m a minority party leader who happens to be PM – cut a deal with me quick or you’ll be dealing with that Orangeman Bonar Law”.  And yet when Bannen plays LG, the charm is there too – charm which is not all faked. This was the sort of LG that you could imagine yourself being willing to be tricked by.

So here are my top four Ian Bannen performances.  Revisit. Enjoy.  I invite other suggestions.