Wednesday, 28 December 2016

Challenge the Post-Truth Politicians

Michael Gove had plenty of air time this morning on the  BBC's Radio 4 to rehabilitate himself and try to appear more reasonable. His message during the brexit campaign could be summed up -"We don't need experts, they always get it wrong, forget the experts and just believe what I tell you and everything will be fine". 

Today he tried to qualify his rejection of expert opinion by saying that we shouldn't accept what experts say without question and what he wanted was fact based discussion in which experts could justify themselves by presenting their evidence. So I wonder why this was not how the campaign was conducted? Gove knows very well that any attempt to present complex evidence was rejected by him and his colleagues during the campaign in favour of the lies that were so much easier to promote. Evidence and facts went out of the window. The Today Programme presenter chose not to challenge him robustly and repeatedly on this point, like they usually do with politicians on this programme, why not?

I'm sure that Gove would be happy to accept the advice of medical experts, or even a plumber, should he have need of such trained and experienced people, but not "experts" who provide opinions which inconveniently contradict his own political beliefs. It's so much easier to rubbish the expert's advice, like he did during the brexit campaign, than to counter it with facts and expertise; but beware of following Gove down that road or you will end up in a morass of lies propagated by people like the brexiteers and Donald Trump. 

Go a little further in that direction and you will find yourself with autocratic leaders quite prepared to set up fake news websites, commit voting fraud, arrest journalists, judges and opposition politicians, or change the constitution to keep themselves permanently in power.

If you don't want that to happen, challenge every lie or sweeping statement that unscrupulous politicians of the post-truth generation, like Michael Gove, make when they rubbish people who disagree with them. Don't let them get away with a shrug of the shoulders or a humorous quip as a response.

This is the new front line in the fight to preserve western democratic values and if you think that I'm overstating the case look at the story of Turkey and its slide into dictatorship over the last fifteen years.

Friday, 18 November 2016

Yes You Can - Lie Your Way to Power

During his campaign Trump lied every time he opened his mouth but in the world of post-truth politics none of his supporters care!

He has insulted, Mexicans, muslims, blacks, latinos and women. He has incited violence from the gun lobby at his rallies, he cast doubt on the electoral process, saying that he would not accept the result if he lost, and he repeatedly accused Hillary Clinton of being a crook. He sacked his campaign managers when they tried to advise him. He has promised things that will never happen and probably not said what he really wants to do.  But his supporters don’t care!

What he has succeeded in doing is to ride a wave of anti-establishment discontent among the poorer paid resulting from their declining wealth due to globalisation and the closing of traditional industries.  So in protest they have elected an unscrupulous billionaire to represent them who will cut taxes for businesses and the rich, do nothing for the lower paid and dismantle healthcare reforms.  

This is just like Brexit, where labour voters in the north of England voted for the "Leave" liars because they could see their real incomes falling and public services disappearing. In a master stroke of populism the brexiteers blamed this on immigrants instead of Tory austerity policies. So traditional Labour voters will now live under the most right wing government since Thatcher, which will cut public services even more and will also allow wages to stagnate, because after Brexit they'll have lower growth, less corporate taxes and very limited choices. Meanwhile inflation will rise cutting real incomes still further.

One of the brexit lies
There no longer appears to be a place in the politics of the English speaking world for reasoned discussion and debate. You can lie your way to power either with false promises or by creating false scare stories. I fear that we appear to be witnessing some sort of revolution in which voters no longer question, or even need to believe, what candidates say so long as they confirm their supporters’ prejudices at every opportunity. Nothing good ever came from revolutions unless, of course, you like and approve of the violence and the inevitable authoritarian rule which follows. 

It’s impossible to know what Trump will do in office, but I’m sure that he’s more dangerous than bumbling, lying Boris Johnson. The media and politicians appear to have accepted that post-truth "Trumpism" is the new normal and seem prepared to give him the benefit of the doubt. We will have to wait and see how he handles the inevitable crises that will soon come, particularly from the East and his friend Putin. Expect some sabre rattling on the borders of the Baltic States.

Hillary Clinton won 1.5 million more votes than Trump in the popular vote, but due to the USA's electoral college system she lost the election. I can't help thinking that if she had won, Trump and his supporters would be claiming the result was fixed, screaming for a McCarthy style witch hunt and dreaming up grounds for impeachment. Liberal minded Democrats don't do that, but perhaps they should learn quickly how to fight loud and dirty! 

Meanwhile the only thing that reasonable and rational people can do is to challenge every lie that you hear from whatever source!

Saturday, 5 November 2016

Enemies of the People

Now, amidst a media storm following the announcement of the High Court judgement requiring the government to obtain the consent of Parliament before triggering the start of the brexit negotiations, the foreign-owned right wing tabloid press accuse High Court judges of being enemies of the people for protecting parliamentary sovereignty. But even  Nigel Farage has agreed that the brexit referendum  was only advisory and not legally binding and so it needs a formal legal process, in the form of an Act of Parliament, to confirm it. 

What are we seeing here: ignorance, stupidity, arrogance, doublethink, or the first steps on the road to authoritarian rule by editors of the tabloids behind their chosen right wing leaders? In choosing their headline in 2016 did the Daily Mail deliberately intend to use the tactics of the Nazis in 1933?

What do they want, an executive who can overrule parliament when it suits them, or when the unelected tabloid press want them to?

They claim that brexit means taking back sovereignty from the EU but what sort of sovereignty? The UK is a parliamentary democracy which was established over centuries through hard fought battles between Parliament and the King, including a bloody civil war in which many died. But the tabloids, by launching personal attacks on the judges who supported the supremacy of Parliament, appear to want to throw out all that in favour of government by referendum and executive decree. 

It’s a dangerous road to start down. People don’t vote in referendums because they've made a careful evaluation of the facts. They vote from their emotional instincts and they are easily whipped up by populist politicians who invent lies to support their case and pour scorn on experts. But then the tabloids know this because they were part of it during the brexit campaign, as were some government ministers!

And why are ministers silent concerning the hysterical reaction of the tabloids? Could it be that they are scared of the damage that they could suffer as a result of challenging them, or is it because the tabloids are favouring the government’s position?

It’s in the nature of executive power to want total control and that’s why any democracy has checks and balances built into it, like an independent judiciary and a second chamber in Parliament. If you undermine these safeguards you are facilitating the would-be populist leaders who don't tolerate opposition or reasoned discussion.

Both the government and the tabloids should remember that 48% voted Remain and that the 52% who voted Leave does not represent an overwhelming mandate in favour of a hard brexit. Brexiteers, by talking up their case in this way, like May did at the Tory conference, or the right wing press is now doing, are likely to provoke a backlash. Perhaps the High Court judgement is the trigger.

This whole episode is yet another example of the press exerting power without responsibility “the prerogative of the harlot down the ages”!

Saturday, 1 October 2016

The 1-2-3 of Post-Truth Politics

After Johnson and Gove’s Brexit lies and, following with interest, and some horror, Donald Trump’s presidential bid, I've come to a better understanding of the method of campaigning that has been labelled “Post-Truth Politics”.

First you invent a lie which a significant number of people are likely to believe.
  1. Next you repeat it frequently to your followers.
  2. If you are eventually challenged that you have lied, you change the subject or brush it off with an insult (Trump), or a shrug of the shoulders, or a bit of good natured humour (Johnson), or you pour scorn on the expert who is trying to correct you (Gove).
  3. Then you continue to repeat the lie.
  4. By the time it’s become absolutely clear that you have lied, you have established a new post-truth factoid which your followers now firmly believe.
  5. Meanwhile you invent another lie and keep the process moving on.
If you are fortunate, this extremely cynical approach to campaigning will result in personal rewards such as the post of Foreign Secretary for Johnson (why Teresa?) or even more worrying President of the USA!!

In the UK, the post-truth age has its roots in the “Spin” that became a normal and even an essential part of Tony Blair’s period in office.  Post-truth politics is taking to extremes the selective portrayal of facts and the burying of bad news commonly practised by the Spin Doctors in Blair’s government.

It’s no wonder that many younger people don’t trust politicians and don’t feel that they are represented by anyone.

Wednesday, 6 July 2016

Power without Responsibilty

The prerogative of the harlot through the ages

While Boris Johnson is writing his £250,000 a year column in the Daily Telegraph and advising us all to be optimistic about Brexit, the pound is sliding through 31 year lows and six Property Funds in the city of London have closed to withdrawals.

On the day after the referendum result was declared Michael Heseltine mounted a scathing attack on Johnson for “leading his troops to the sound of the guns then quitting the field of battle”!

The further spectacle of Nigel Farage resigning as UKIP leader is yet another example of the unwillingness of the “Leave” campaigners to take responsibility for the Brexit negotiations and their consequences.

To quote Stanley Baldwin, three times British Prime minister back in those far off days of the 1930’s when Britain was still a Great Power, the principal Leave campaigners have achieved - “... power without responsibility — the prerogative of the harlot through the ages.

Following Gove’s back-stabbing of Johnson we are, of course, all enjoying the spectacle of the Tory leadership contest and also watching the Labour Party tear itself apart.  It would be great fun if it wasn’t so serious! 

Listen to Ken Clarke’s candid “off the record” comments, in which he dismisses the idea of Michael Gove as Prime Minister and discusses the other leadership candidates with Malcolm Riffkind.

The Leave campaign’s lies and back-tracking on their undeliverable promises are not, however, at all funny!  Neither is their characteristic bluster about a bright future outside the EU!

They have created a climate of uncertainty that will affect the country’s prospects for inward investment and employment for a decade and also probably provoked the break-up of the UK!

Monday, 4 July 2016

Thank you Michael Gove!

Who would have predicted that Gove would stab Johnson in the back? There again he has done the same to his friend David Cameron, so I suppose it should have been expected. Gove does not seem likely to poll enough votes from MP's to get into the final two, who will be put to a vote by Tory Party members; it seems likely that the second place slot will go to Andrea Leadsom. 
Theresa May does appear to be the safest choice for the negotiations with the EU but she's no charismatic Margaret Thatcher (more a British Angela Merkel) and was almost absent from the Remain campaign. Perhaps she was hoping to take advantage of the chaos that she knew would erupt after the result, whichever way it went. Nonetheless maybe it's time for a more realistic female approach instead of one lead by idealistic male dreams and fantasies!

There's lots of comment even in the tabloids about the lies that were told by the Leave campaign, particularly the battlebus £350 million a week lie. The biggest and most dangerous lie of all was blaming the lack of school places, social housing, healthcare etc on migrants. This was a masterstroke, worthy of the worst demagogues of the 20th century and has already given rise to an increase in racist attacks against EU migrants. The real reason for those strains in public services is aggressive Tory austerity cuts, but Corbyn was incapable of countering the Leave campaigns slick slogans.

Corbyn is a disaster for the Labour party! The country needs an effective opposition to rein back the Tory right wing and tell some truths that stick, otherwise look at the mess that they create!
Corbyn, for all his honesty and idealism, is totally useless as a political leader! Having lost the support of two thirds of his MP's he should go quickly, and not try to hang on pathetically in the hope of being rescued by his £3 party voters in a leadership election that could not re-establish him as leader of the Labour Party even if he won!

Today Johnson, writing in his £250,000 a year column in the Daily Telegraph, is calling the chaos and emotional uncertainty that he, himself, has created ”Project Fear Hysteria” and comparing it to the national mourning which gripped the nation following Princess Diana’s death.  He can’t distinguish genuine feelings from journalistic lies and half-truthsOne doesn’t need to add that his tasteless comparison is offensive and disgusting. 

He goes on to accuse the Government of manipulating public opinion! Well he should know! And he calls for the public to be told some basic truths – not, of course, based on the opinions of the experts that he and Gove rubbished during the leave campaign but on his own unverified unilateral assertions. Are we expected to take him seriously! 

This man appears to be out of touch with reality, but as a columnist he doesn’t need to believe in and stand by his statements because he will probably need to write something more interesting next month to retain his well paid post!  You don’t sell newspapers by being boringly consistent!  

Thank you Michael Gove, for taking away from Johnson the possibility of being Prime Minister, and effectively ruling yourself out, at least this time round!

Sunday, 26 June 2016

The Biggest Mistake of the 21st Century

I have now moved beyond the shock of the Brexit result into anger, although an uneasy, slightly nauseous, feeling remains.

I'm angry at the Tory right and at Cameron for giving in to them, for allowing a referendum and creating a situation which will lead not only to withdrawal from the EU but also to the breakup of the UK. He will be remembered as the politician who made one of the biggest mistakes of the last 100 years, alongside Neville Chamberlain and Anthony Eden!

I'm also angry with Corbyn, with his virtual absence from the campaign until the last few days and his lukewarm 7 out of 10 endorsement of the EU. He may be honest but he's no leader. With his half-hearted campaign he has betrayed his own electorate by paving the way for the most right wing government since the eighties. The economic reaction to the uncertainty, reduction in investment, a drift away from the “UK” by businesses, lower activity generally and higher unemployment, will all result in a recession and lower tax receipts followed inevitably by further austerity measures and public spending cuts by a government that will relish this opportunity to impose their dogma. All of this will impact on the poorest and the lower paid. With half his shadow cabinet about to resign Corbyn's on his way out, but too late!

Apart from Nigel Farage the Leave campaign team didn’t seem to be relishing their victory.  It’s much easier to win a battle than to take responsibility for rebuilding from the rubble, but if Farage has his way the destruction will continue, because he will try to unpick the last forty years of EU inspired legislation whether good or bad.

I hope that you’ve read my previous blog about Boris Johnson’s lying and dissembling. With his turbulent personal history and, as a proven liar, he should not even dream of putting himself forward for Prime Minister. He’s just totally unsuitable for high office and he won’t be able to joke his way out of the embarrassing interviews and press articles that will come later. I'm waiting for an "anyone but Boris" petition to sign. I've already signed a petition calling for independence for London (where I used to live) and another petition calling for a second EU referendum.

The UK will be blamed for every EU crisis that arises. I don't accept the proposition, that the EU will get on with reform in our absence and that Britain will be the sacrificial lamb that enabled it to happen. France and Germany are already talking about closer integration with more harmonization of tax and social protection. They just don't get it, and without us they will have nobody shouting in their ears that this is not what the people of Europe want! We stood a better chance of reforming the EU from within. Our sacrifice is needless and will achieve nothing positive.

The country has never been so divided; between young and old; rich and poor; between England and Scotland; and between England and Northern Ireland. Great Britain is almost certain to fragment into “Little England” and Scotland as separate nations and who knows what Northern Ireland and Wales will do?

With almost all important world leaders, apart from Putin, and also those responsible for financial institutions like the IMF and the World Bank, telling us we should remain in the EU, a large proportion of English voters put up two fingers in a protest vote ultimately against their own best interests. Most were voting about immigration concerns whipped up by the right wing and foreign owned tabloid press.  One of our acquaintances gave as a reason for voting Brexit that "he didn't like the way they looked at our women". Since he wouldn't be able to tell an eastern European from an Englishman by looking at him, I can only assume that he was referring to the many Asians from his home town, none of whom would be removed by Brexit. 

As well as being worried about the possible effect on my pension funds and investments, I have the certainty that a lower pound will reduce our pension income, which is converted directly into Euros. There is also the likelihood that our State pensions will be frozen and not increased annually because this rule was applied only to UK expats living in the EU and certain other countries with which bilateral agreements have been established. 

I voted remain and I hope that all those who voted for leave will enjoy seeing their wealth and their employment opportunities diminish.

Saturday, 25 June 2016

Boris Johnson is a well-known liar

Of course we all know that Boris, in his time as the Telegraph’s Europe correspondent, made his reputation by inventing Euromyths about straight bananas and one size fits all condoms etc.; in effect creating the Big Euromyth which he has now used to pull the UK out of the EU; but when I saw this interview with Chris Patten I was surprised that he was able to call Boris Johnson a liar so directly and without any risk of legal proceedings for slander.

I investigated further and discovered that Boris was sacked from the Times in 1987 following a story in which he fabricated a quote from his godfather, an Oxford academic, who was ridiculed for Boris' inaccuracies.
He has also been sacked from Michael Howard’s shadow ministerial team in 2004 for lying to Guy Black, (Howard’s press secretary), David MacLean (the Tory Chief Whip) and the Press about an affair that he was having with Petronella Wyatt that resulted in her having an abortion. 

But the most revealing episode of his character so far has been in a recorded telephone conversation with Darius Guppy, one of his Old Etonian chums, in which he agreed to get the address of a News of the World journalist, Stuart Collier, so that Guppy could arrange an assault intended to scare him off investigating a fraud case in which Guppy was involved. This took place in 1990 when Johnson was the Daily Telegraph's Europe correspondent. In an interview with Eddie Mair, Johnson subsequently denied that he had done anything wrong and said that he was just humouring his friend.  

Judge for yourself whether he was asking Guppy questions about how much he was going to hurt Stuart Collier in order to humour him. 

Government ministers have had to resign for far less than any single one of these escapades and yet Boris is still being considered as a potential Prime Minister.  We are now in a period of post-truth politics in which skilled individuals, who are good at saying what people want to hear, whether it is true or not, can rise above reasonable and sensible discussion and get away with it.

Do we really want a proven liar leading the country?

Sunday, 19 June 2016

So if the UK votes "leave" then what?

As the New York Times says we would be in control again but of what and who would be in charge? Let's speculate!

David Cameron resigns because, although the “Leave” camp has said that they want Cameron to stay in office after the referendum, his position is unsustainable and made impossible by the undermining of his negotiations with the EU by his own reinforced and confident right wing. 

After a great show of agonizing and false reluctance, Boris Johnson agrees to stand and is elected leader of the Tories and therefore Prime Minister. In a re-run of the Blair -Brown Agreement he picks Michael Gove as his chancellor, and together they quickly set about implementing the radical right wing policies proposed by members of the Leave Campaign.  With Gove as the brains and Boris in the role of spin-meister, dealing with the task of presentation, amongst other things they:

Scotland has another referendum after a year or so and votes overwhelmingly to leave the UK and rejoin the EU;

Wales demands more independence;

Northern Ireland is forced to close its borders with Eire to limit migration and thus reneges on a central plank of the Good Friday Agreement.

After a couple of years of spin and fantastic stories from Boris (who is after all a journalist at heart, who made a career as the Telegraph's Europe correspondent, out of writing “funny” EU stories about straight bananas and one size fits all condoms) is finally called to account for his policy U turns, broken promises and the growing economic chaos.  Unable to joke or lie his way through it, he loses a vote of confidence in Parliament and is forced to call an early general election before he is replaced as leader.

Then we are presented with a choice between the left, in the shape of Jeremy Corbyn, the original charisma black hole, and Boris because, although he is a proven liar, he is at the same time the personification of Teflon Man and the UK’s answer to Donald Trump, don't forget that he compared the objectives of the EU to those of Hitler.  To complete the choice, standing on the sidelines will be Nigel Farage, the ghostly reincarnation of Enoch Powell.

So if you want a radical right wing government and a bright future vote Brexit

Monday, 8 February 2016

Gustavo Gimeno and the Eroica

If you’ve not heard of Gustavo Gimeno then you probably missed him directing the first concert by a symphony orchestra, the Orchestre National du Capitole de Toulouse, in the newly rebuilt “Theatre de l’Usine” at Saint Céré last night.

This is the only concert hall in the North of the Lot and we owe our thanks to Olivier Desbordes, who runs Opera Éclate, and has for decades directed the Festival of Saint Céré from the jumble of buildings that used to be a factory making suitcases.  As a result of his track record he has been able to successfully negotiate the funding necessary to redevelop the site, and as one of the residents of the area I am very grateful.

Perhaps you think that Gimeno is the young assistant conductor for the Orchestre National du Capitole de Toulouse, who substitutes for the Grand Chef when they leave their base, but you would be wrong because he's much more noteworthy than such a role might imply. 

In a packed hall Gimeno conducted Beethoven’s Eroica in a fashion worthy of its name.  From the startling opening chords through to the coda it was a performance to remember. The energy and drive that he gave to this long symphony was sustained throughout. In only his second performance with the orchestra he drew playing of superb accuracy and detail from a somewhat reduced ensemble together with some beautiful solos from several of the woodwind principals.

To open the concert he chose Ravel’s Mother Goose Suite and he achieved a delicacy of colour and precision that my partner and I found surprisingly affecting in that rather episodic piece.

The room at the “Theatre de l’Usine” is too small for a full symphony orchestra and has a rather dry acoustic. It wouldn’t be kind to singers, but that same quality is very revealing of ensemble playing and the strings were up to the task.

So who is Gustavo Gimeno and what has he done?

He was the principal percussionist for the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra from 2002 to 2012, when he became the assistant conductor to Mariss Janssons.

He has also held the post of assistant to the late Claudio Abbado working with the Orchestra Mozart, the Filarmonica de Bologna, the Lucerne Festival Orchestra and the Mahler Chamber Orchestra. In 2013 he assisted Bernard Haitink with the Orchestra Mozart.  Here in an interview with Classical Music he talks about the experience of working with Claudio Abbado as his assistant. 

In 2014, when Janssons cancelled unexpectedly for medical reasons, he took on a series of concerts with the Royal Concertgebouw . These were a sensational success and heralded the start of his international career.

In less than two years he has established a full schedule of international engagements ranging from Europe, to the USA, to New Zealand and has accepted the post of chief conductor for the Orchestre Philharmonique du Luxembourg. Between March and August 2016 he will be appearing with:

Chicago Symphony Orchestra

Such a rapid acceptance by the major orchestras reminds me of another Gustavo (Dudamel) who has also had a meteoric career, but he is based in Los Angeles and only visits Europe occasionally.

Looking Forward (English with French subtitles)
In this video Gustavo Gimeno talks about conducting and Mariss Janssons, and some of Gustavo’s colleagues, recall his first concerts with the Royal Concertgebouw.  Don’t miss the snippet of Die Fledermaus at 3:34.

Here he lets Sibelius work his magic, creating the serene image of a swan via the cor anglais solo in The Swan of Tuonela.

And how about a little Tchaikovsky?

Or the wonderful sound he creates in Bruckner's 7th?

I will certainly be looking out for him in future programmes and wish him every success!