Friday, 18 December 2015

Has Ukip Santa come early?

According to the Graun, " Douglas Carswell, the Ukip MP, has called on Nigel Farage to step down as leader to help the party draw a line under its unpleasant and socially illiberal image" which suggests that Mr Carswell* has misidentified his party's main feature as a bug. As any fule kno, Ukip's whole USP is being unpleasant and illiberal (or "politically incorrect" in Kipperspeak).  Think of the party as a wannabe crowdsourced Donald Trump, optimised to hyperventilate on the oxygen of publicity:
August 2015. Bobby Douglas, a UKIP council candidate in Wales, calls for immigrants to be ‘gassed like badgers’. It would be hyperbolic to attach much significance, in and of itself, to the spleen of a racist mediocrity. But quantity becomes quality, and Douglas is one of many, many such symptoms. His ranting breached even his own party’s standards – UKIP suspended him. This doesn’t obviate the fact that such sadistic cathexis was shoved into the public sphere in the first place: in fact, as we’ll see, it’s part of how it performs a function. UKIP’s an efficient machine for the extrusion of such fantasies into social life, to a purpose, and the party’s repeated suspension of its own members is just the clattering of the mechanism resetting itself.**

In their discussion of what the media theorist Nick Couldry calls its ‘theatre of cruelty’, Henry Giroux and Philip Mirowski, among many others, have have written extensively on neoliberalism’s sadistic culture, the increasingly open vilification of ‘losers’ and the crowing of and over ‘winners’. Swathes of mass entertainment celebrate physical agony (‘torture porn’), metaphorical ‘eviction’ (reality TV) and the punitive gaze at the desperate – leavened with the schmaltz that is its obverse. As Mirowski points out, in Never Let a Serious Crisis Go to Waste, it is not, of course, that ‘spectacles of cruelty’ are new, but that the theatre is ‘unabashed’, ‘has been made to seem so unexceptional’; and that in the context of neoliberalism it is doing something distinct. It serves, he says, ‘more targeted purposes [than distraction], such as teaching techniques optimised to reinforce the neoliberal self’.
Writes China Mieville (it's worth reading his whole piece, an angry and very timely take on the mobilisation of vindictive cruelty as a means of social control).

Anyway, the continuing civil war between the party's one MP and its leader looks like an early Christmas present for the rest of us. Or is it? That depends on what Ukip is really for. If the party's wealthy backers intended to realise Margaret Thatcher's dream of eliminating the very idea of socialism from British political life by usurping the Labour Party, then the in-fighting is great news.

If, however, Ukip is just a disposable front for a faction of the conservative family, with the more limited brief of shoving the Overton Window in a more Eurosceptic direction, then maybe it's not such great news. Because if that's all it's for, then maybe the disintegration of Ukip is simply the culmination of a plan coming together. Having nudged the UK towards Brexit, maybe Ukip's work here is done and all that remains is for the party to self-destruct once the Conservative Party has been bullied into an acceptable level of xenophobia. If Ukip is intended to fall apart and stop splitting the small "c" conservative vote once a sufficient degree of Europhobia has been delivered, maybe it's not time to celebrate yet.

Not having access the inner thoughts of Stuart Wheeler and the other mangers of the Ukip piggy bank, I can't say whether we're looking at cock-up or conspiracy here. Let's hope it's the former.

* Post amended - an over-enthusiastic spell-checker originally changed "Carswell" to " Farewell." Glitch or omen? You decide...

**My emphasis.

Sunday, 13 December 2015

The execution of Father Christmas

In the run up to Christmas, Christian clergy traditionally beg anybody who might be listening to remember the real meaning of Christmas (according to a definition of "real" that includes stories about a baby whose dad was definitely the supernatural being who, among other things, created the entire Universe and whose mum was totally a virgin).

The Anglican Church tends to make this plea in an earnestly apologetic sort of tone, as though terribly sorry to interrupt busy people already preoccupied with the time-consuming business of Christmas shopping, sending cards, organising seasonal relative-visiting and catering logistics and so on.

In other places and times, the tone is rather different. According to national stereotypes, the French have no time for this sort of self-effacing diffidence, preferring excitable direct action.

The stereotype seemed to ring true in 1951, when the clergy of Dijon wanted to remind the faithful about the true reason for the season and their reminder came in an altogether more demonstrative fashion. They denounced Father Christmas as a heretic, who had no business intruding on a festival that was supposed to be all about baby Jesus and arranged with their flock to have an effigy of the jolly old soul hung from the railings of Dijon Cathedral, then burnt. According to France-soir:

Dijon, 24 December

Father Christmas was hanged yesterday afternoon from the railings of Dijon Cathedral and burnt publicly in the precinct. This spectacular execution took place in the presence of several hundred Sunday school children. It was a decision made with the agreement of the clergy who had condemned Father Christmas as a usurper and heretic. He was accused of `paganizing' the Christmas festival and installing himself like a cuckoo in the nest, claiming more and more space for himself. Above all he was blamed for infiltrating all the state schools from which the crib has been scrupulously banished.

On Sunday, at three o'clock in the afternoon, the unfortunate fellow with the white beard, scapegoated like so many innocents before him, was executed by his accusers. They set fire to his beard and he vanished into smoke. At the time of the execution a communiqué was issued to the following effect:

`Representing all Christian homes of the parish keen to struggle against lies , 250 children assembled in front of the main door of Dijon Cathedral and burned Father Christmas.

`It wasn't intended as an attraction, but as a symbolic gesture. Father Christmas has been sacrificed. In truth, the lies about him cannot arouse religious feeling in a child and are in no way a means of education. Others may say and write what they want about Father Christmas, but the fact is he is only the counterweight of a modern-day Mr Bogeyman.
`For Christians the festivity of Christmas must remain the annual celebration of the birth of the Saviour.'
Father Christmas's execution in the Cathedral precinct got a mixed response from the public and provoked lively commentaries even from Catholics.

The affair has divided the town into two camps. Dijon awaits the resurrection of Father Christmas, assassinated yesterday in the cathedral precinct. He will arise this evening at six o'clock in the Town Hall. An official communiqué announced that, as every year, the children of Dijon are invited to Liberation Square where Father Christmas will speak to them from the floodlit roof of the Town Hall.

Very strange. Although the War Against Christmas may be a paranoid conservative fantasy (most secular liberals are, at worst, merely indifferent), it seems that the civil war within Christmas (between the pious, who claim ownership of the season for religious reasons and businesses which value it as a profitable celebration of consumerist indulgence) is a real thing.

Monday, 7 December 2015

Salvation barmy

The only way to avoid eternal punishment for sins we never committed from this all-loving God is to accept his son—who is actually himself—as our savior. So … God sacrificed himself to himself to save us from himself.
Peter Boghossian

Sunday, 6 December 2015


A short time ago, somebody gave me a back-handed complement. The somebody in question was one Lucy Bostick, a Ukip activist from Essex, who failed to get elected as a County Councillor for the Chigwell and Loughton Broadway district in 2013. I'd mentioned her name in an old post because, in a Ukip election leaflet that had been stuffed through my door in the 2014 European elections, she was quoted as saying that a proposed financial transactions tax would decimate the City of London, to which I added the comment, "Ukip's Lucy Bostick says 'decimating the City' like it was a bad thing."

Anyway, Ms Bostick recently contacted me, via the comments section of this blog,* with the following request:
I can't see a means of contacting you so I'm posting here. I'd like to ask you to remove or edit an old post in which you have included me. Please could you contact me so I can send you full details of my request? Many thanks.
As there was nothing remotely dodgy in what I'd written (I quoted her statement as reproduced in a party election leaflet and added an opinion of my own), I declined to remove mention of her from my blog. I'd originally illustrated my post with a couple of scanned extracts from the election material and did decide to delete these, because I'd heard about bloggers being on the receiving end of a bit of nastiness from over-zealous Ukip activists who'd taken umbrage at the use of any part of their branding or imagery to illustrate any less-than-complimentary comment and I like a quiet life as much as the next guy.

Still, it's always good to know that I'm not just shouting into the void, or getting a very occasional nod of agreement from somebody else living inside the same filter bubble as me.

Since Ms Bostick has been kind enough to take notice of me, I thought it would be rude not to find out a bit about her. A quick Google session doesn't turn up a lot - it's not like I've hit the big time and annoyed a well-known Ukip figure - but she does rate the odd mention in the press. Most of the coverage comes from the time when she was hit by the shrapnel from an explosive rant from one of Ukip's more flamboyant ex-general election candidates, Kerry Smith:
Kerry Smith, the candidate for the top target seat of South Basildon and East Thurrock, is said to have mocked gay party members as “poofters”, joked about shooting people from Chigwell in a “peasant hunt" and referred to someone as a “Chinky bird”...
... Mr Smith is also said to have mocked Lucy Bostick, a Ukip activist in Chigwell, for printing "boring c**p" on her leaflets.
According to the transcripts, he said: "This is Chigwell. If she was doing a survey in Chigwell the question should be 'Do you oppose the EU banning the use of lead in shotguns as that way you can shoot more peasants coming from Chigwell? 'Do you support a peasant's hunt through Chigwell village?"

Madness...? [shouting] THIS IS CHIGWELL!

I was intrigued enough to find out what manner of leaflet had attracted the scorn of the forthright Mr Smith, so I checked out a copy of Ms Bostick 's old election leaflet on t' Internet (I'm not reproducing any of it for obvious reasons, but there is a link to a .pdf here at the time of writing - don't be surprised to find it broken if it subsequently gets removed for image management reasons).

Well, the look and feel of the leaflet is a tad more slick and professional than the 2014 Euro election leaflet Ukip sent me, which looked as if it had been slapped together by the people responsible for those attention-grabbing urgent-definitely-not-a-circular junk mail envelopes designed to con the gullible and greedy into imagining they're about to win a few thousand in some fictional prize draw they never entered.

Does the content live down to Mr Smith's "boring c**p" jibe? Overall, no more than many local election leaflets, I'd say. We learned that Ms Bostick was for local referendums on planning issues, keeping police stations open and street lights on, being transparent and accountable and putting local residents first. She was apparently against high council taxes and profligate spending decisions. A bit platitudinous (see Hoggart's Law), but not outstandingly so and saner than Kerry Smith's prescription drug-fuelled rants.

But this is Ukip, so there's always going to be something a bit weird going on and, sure enough, it's right there on the title page. After saying a rhetorical "YES" to planning referendums, open police stations and switched-on street lights, Lucy Bostick comes out with this conceptual car crash of mixed messages:
"YES to celebrating our rich cultural diversity and Christian, Anglo-Saxon heritage"
OK, so you're into celebrating cultural diversity AND sectarian, nativist identity politics? Any thinking person who paused to decode this values statement would realise that the contradictory ideas packed into the slogan more or less cancel one another out, although I'm guessing that thinking people weren't the target audience here. I'm not going to unpick all the elements of this oxymoronic mess, but one bit stands out as being especially odd. Anglo-Saxon? What's that all about?

Taken literally, it's just plain bizarre. I know that many Ukip supporters want to go back to the 1950s, when they were youngsters and, regressive as it is, nostalgia for lost youth is at least understandable. But going back to the early Middle Ages? Interesting though characters like King Alfred and Hereward the Wake might be, it's hard to see how they're relevant to electing a local representative charged with overseeing issues like the optimal placement of pedestrian crossings in Chigwell. It's also hard to reconcile this Anglo-Saxon trope with the party's name - it's supposed to be the UK Independence Party, not the English Independence Party ("Celts and Picts only welcome if they're prepared to assimilate?" - good luck selling that message in the rest of the UK).

Or is "Anglo-Saxon" just code for something else? There are various other things it might mean. Not being a mind-reader, I can't say for sure what Ms Bostick intended, but she might, for example, be referring to this:
The Anglo-Saxon model or Anglo-Saxon capitalism ... is a capitalist model that emerged in the 1970s, based on the Chicago school of economics. However, its origins date to the 18th century in the United Kingdom under the ideas of the classical economist Adam Smith.
Characteristics of this model include levels of regulation and taxes being low, and the public sector providing fewer services. It can also mean strong property rights, contract enforcement, and overall ease of doing business as well as low barriers to free trade.
Well, that would be Thatcherite enough for Ukip, although that sort of reference to the high level ideology of political economy sounds a tad out of place in an election leaflet from a wannabe councillor in Chigwell.

Looked at on the map, UKIP's "heartland" looks like the Anglo-Saxon territories around the middle of the 6th century, before the expansion into Mercia and Northumbria. This might appear like an amusing coincidence, but I think it actually highlights some important points about the nature of UKIP's support and thus their prospects...
...UKIP's support in the South East is quite peripheral, hugging the more economically marginal coastal counties. They look like a party that will do well in seaside towns rather than the commuter belt (and who could deny that Nigel Farage looks like the sort of chap you'd bump into at Brighton Racecourse)...
... the coastal bias reflects a disproportionate level of support among older voters. This perhaps explains the one exception to the Anglo-Saxon focus in terms of seats won, namely Cornwall, which I suspect may reflect support among retirees from elsewhere rather than a sudden upsurge in English nationalism. However, UKIP aren't picking up pensioner votes in particular. Indeed, the sweet spot appears to be people in their 50s and, to judge from the analysis of the Eastleigh Parliamentary by-election ... and other polling, the less well-off. This indicates that the party's appeal is to the economically vulnerable.
But this approximate coincidence between the 6th Century Anglo-Saxon lands and economically marginal areas in the 21st Century South East of England sounds a bit esoteric for a local election leaflet. Of course, Anglo-Saxon could also be shorthand for something else:
An ethnic nationalist might believe, for example, that what makes a person British is the supposed purity of their descent from the Anglo-Saxons (which in practice usually means “being white”).
And, just in case anybody is tempted to claim that's some kind of smear from Ukip's  proverbial foe, the politically correct metropolitan elite, that reading of the "Anglo-Saxon" trope comes from none other than Ukip Daily.
Maybe there was no intention here to use "Anglo-Saxon" as a synonym for "white", but the use of such terminology is, at the very least, unwise, given the well-known attitudes some of the more unsavoury characters who self-identify as Ukip supporters.

*Post updated and corrected at this point - I'd originally quoted from a post allegedly written by Alex Wood on the Ukip Voices blog which was adorned with official-looking Ukip party branding, but turns out to have been a fake blog created by some troll, so it's no longer appropriate to quote it as an example of the more extreme views prevalent among Ukip supporters (Kerry Smith's public statements will have to suffice to illustrate that point - see Poe's Law). This doesn't change my subsequent point that Ukip's reputation is far more damaged by the stuff their supporters (real and fake) come out with than by anything critics like me could write.*

So, if you happen to be reading this, Lucy Bostick, or any other Ukip activist who thinks that trying to shut critical voices up is a good use of your time, perhaps you'd be better occupied having a quiet word with the fruitcakes, loonies closet racists and trolls, whose real or fake support for your party does it far more reputational damage than anything your critics might say. Oh, and drop the Anglo-Saxon thing. It only encourages them.

*Her comment was attached to a completely unrelated post, presumably in an attempt not to draw attention the original post in which she got a mention and whatever it was about it that she objected to.

Wednesday, 2 December 2015

Dogfights cost money

“No Turkish prime minister or president will apologize ... because of doing our duty,” [Turkish PM Ahmed] Davutoglu told reporters after meeting with NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg in Brussels.“Protection of Turkish airspace, Turkish borders is a national duty, and our army did their job to protect this airspace."
Because Turkey is governed by serious, level-headed people who take their responsibilities as part of the NATO alliance very seriously. By the way, did I mention how serious these guys are?

... According to statistics collected by Christos Kollias, a Greek defense economist at the University of Thessaly, last year Turkish military helicopters and planes violated Greek-claimed airspace 2,244 times. For this May, Kollias recorded 361 Turkish incursions into Greek airspace.
At the beginning of this decade, Turkish planes entered Greek airspace several hundred times per year, including a record-low 636 times in 2013. That, in turn, was a decline from higher figures in the preceding years, but even the 1,678 incursions in 2009 do not approach the current activity. The result is constant hostile buzzing in the Mediterranean skies as the Hellenic Air Force responds to the intrusions...

...Dogfights cost money
In its current weakened state Greece hardly poses much of a threat to Turkey. The Turkish General Staff has not given an official reason for its increased air activity, and its spokesman referred inquiries to a local defense attaché, who did not respond.

Greece’s disastrous finances may, however, have encouraged Turkey  to tease its long-time foe (and NATO ally) a bit more than usual, as every Hellenic Air Force scramble costs Greece precious euros...

Yeah, right.