Category Archives: Brexit

Improper Purposes: Boris Johnson’s Suspension of Parliament

There was something richly amusing in the move: three judges, sitting in Scotland’s highest court of appeal, had little time for the notion that Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s suspension, or proroguing, of parliament till October 14, had been lawful.  Some 78 parliamentarians had taken issue with the Conservative leader’s limitation on Parliamentary activity, designed to prevent any hiccups prior to October 31, the day Britain is slated to leave the European Union.

It did take two efforts.  The initial action in Edinburgh’s Outer House of the Court of Session was unsuccessful for the petitioners.  Conventional wisdom then was that such issues were, as a matter of high policy, political and therefore non-justiciable.  Legal standards, in other words, could not be applied to the decision.  (British judges tend to be rather reserved when it comes to treading on matters that might be seen as the staple of political judgment.)

All three First Division judges thought otherwise, taking the high road that this was exceptional.  Lord Carloway, the Lord President, accepted in principle that advice by the Prime Minister to the Queen would not normally be reviewable by courts.  Such a realm was customarily one above and beyond the judicial wigs.  That said, as a summary of the judgement records, “it would nevertheless be unlawful if its purpose was to stymie parliamentary scrutiny of the executive, which was a central pillar of the good governance principle enshrined in the constitution”.  That principle was drawn, by implication, from the “principles of democracy and the rule of law.”  Feeling emboldened, Lord Carloway, on examining the documents supplied by Johnson and his team, felt that improper reasons could be discerned.

Lord Brodie similarly noted the singular nature of the circumstances. Under normal circumstances prorogation advice would not be reviewable, but if it constituted a tactic designed to frustrate Parliament, it could well be deemed unlawful.  In this case, Johnson’s move was “an egregious case of a clear failure to comply with generally accepted standards of behaviour of public authorities.”  It could be inferred on the evidence that “the principal reasons for the prorogation were to prevent or impede Parliament holding the executive to account and legislating with regard to Brexit, and to allow the executive to pursue a policy of a no deal Brexit without further Parliamentary inference.”  Bold stuff, indeed, and hard to fault.

The third judge, Lord Drummond Young, was bolder still.  No need to be nimble footed here: the entire scope of such powers, relevant to prorogation or otherwise, could be legally tested.  The onus was on the UK government to show a valid reason for the prorogation “having regard to the fundamental constitutional importance of parliamentary scrutiny or executive action.”  The clues of evident impropriety in Johnson’s action lay in the length of the suspension and the general circumstances suggesting a prevention of scrutiny.  There could be no other inference that the move showed a wish “to restrict Parliament.”

The full bench, accordingly, made an order “declaring that the prime minister’s advice to HM the Queen and the prorogation which followed thereon was unlawful and thus null and of no effect.”  Few more damning statements have ever issued against a prime minister of the realm.

In an effort to remove some egg on the faces of government officials, a spokesman for Number 10 claimed to be disappointed by the decision, insisting that Johnson needed “to bring forward a strong domestic legislative agenda.  Proroguing Parliament is the legal and necessary way of delivering this.”  This was a somewhat milder version from those offered by other sources close to the Prime Minister, claiming political bias on the Scottish bench.  “We note that last week the High Court in London did not rule that prorogation was unlawful.  The legal activists choose the Scottish courts for a reason.”  The cheek of it all!

As for certain conservative outlets, accepting the judgment of the Court of Session was, well, unacceptable.  The Supreme Court, it was hoped by the likes of Richard Ekins, would clean up the mess made by their northern brethren with clear heads.  The Scottish decision had been “a startling – and misconceived – judgment.”

Which brings us to the second front opened up by petitioners in England, itself.  A High Court challenge, with an appeal now expected to be heard in the Supreme Court next week, initially failed to yield any movement.  But Johnson had little reason, or time, to gloat.  The government is now reverting to a stalling game, refusing to act on the Scottish decision till the English equivalent is handed down.  Not all business, however, will be suspended: the work of select committees, for instance, will continue.  The government also finds itself in the trenches, facing a Parliament intent on extending the Brexit date in order to achieve a deal.

The publication of the full, previously leaked doomsday document, the Yellowhammer contingency plan, anticipating measures if a no deal Brexit takes place, has also done its bit to pockmark Johnson’s efforts to maintain a steady ship.  The prime minister, said Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn accusingly, “is prepared to punish those who can least afford it.”

The government’s hope is that the Supreme Court case will move at its usual snail’s pace, thereby making any point ventured by Johnson’s detractors a moot point.  Richard Dickman of Pinsent Masons has observed that such appeals “take months sometimes years, but the court can move quickly in urgent cases like this one.”  The occasion promises to be quite a judicial party: 11 of the 12 law lords will be sitting.

Testing the judicial weather, Dickman suggested that there might “be a simple ‘yes’ or ‘no’ decision from the court with a more detailed judgment to follow.”  Another chapter in the annals of British law and parliamentary farce is being written.  In the meantime, the sentiment of the EU’s chief negotiator, Michel Barnier, reverberates through Europe. “We do not have reasons to be optimistic.”

Brexit reveals Corbyn to be the True Moderate

If there is an upside to Brexit, it is this: it has made it increasingly hard to present Jeremy Corbyn, contrary to everything the corporate media has been telling us for the past four years, as anything but a political moderate. In truth, he is one of the few moderates left in British – or maybe that should be English – politics right now. The fact that still isn’t obvious to many in Britain is a sign of their – not his – extremism.

Brexit has brought into sharp focus, at least for those prepared to look, the fanatacism that dominates almost the entire British political class. Their zealotry has been increasingly on show since the UK staged a referendum in 2016 on leaving Europe that was won by the pro-Brexit camp with a wafer-thin majority.

The subsequent feud has usually been portrayed this way: The UK has split into two camps, polarising popular opinion between those who feel Britain’s place is in Europe (Remainers) and those who prefer that Britain makes its own way in the world (Brexiters). But it has actually divided the British political class into three camps, with the largest two at the political extremes.

On the one side – variously represented by the new prime minister Boris Johnson and many in his Conservative party, as well as Nigel Farage and his supporters – are those who want Britain to break from Europe and rush into the embrace of the United States, stripping away the last constraints on free-market, ecocidal capitalism. They aren’t just Brexiters, they are no-deal Brexiters, who want to turn their back on Europe entirely.

The other side – variously supported by many Labour MPs, including the party’s deputy leader Tom Watson, and the Liberal Democrats – are those who wish to stay in the secure embrace of a European bureacracy that is nearly as committed to suicidal capitalism as the US but, given the social democratic traditions of some of its member states, has mitigated the worst excesses of free-market fundamentalism. These UK politicians aren’t just Remainers, they are Remainists, who not only refuse to contemplate any weakening of the bonds between the UK and Europe but actually want those bonds to tighten.

Suspending parliament

And as the divide has deepened, it has become clear that neither side is prepared to pay more than lip service to democracy.

On the Brexit side, Johnson has suspended parliament, an institution representing the people, that is supposed to be sovereign. Like his predecessor, Theresa May, he has repeatedly found there is no legislative majority for a hard or no-deal Brexit. He has faced an unprecedented and humiliating series of defeats in parliament in the few days he has been prime minister. So now he has swept parliament out of the way in a bid to run down the clock on a no-deal Brexit without legislative interference.

Watson and the Remainists have been trying a counter-move, arguing that the referendum is no longer valid. They believe that new voters, youngsters more likely to support Remain, have come of age in the three years since 2016, and that more information about the true costs of Brexit have lately swung support to their side. They want to ignore the original referendum result and run the ballot again in the hope that this time the tide will turn in their favour.

The reality is that, if Johnson drives through a no-deal Brexit by ignoring parliament, or if Watson gets to quash the first referendum result to engineer a second, it is likely to trigger civil war in the UK.

The first option will drive Scotland out of the union, could very well reignite the sectarian “Troubles” of Northern Ireland, and will have English urban elites in open revolt. The second option will ensure that large sections of the English public who voted for Brexit because they feel marginalised and ignored are up in arms too. Their trust in politics and politicians will sink even further, and there is the danger that they will turn in droves to a crowd-pleasing autocrat like Johnson, Farage or worse.

Zealotry vs compromise

In these circumstances, anyone responsible would be looking to find common ground, to understand that political compromise is absolutely necessary to stop Britain breaking apart. And that is exactly what Corbyn and the largely ignored and maligned third camp have been trying to do.

They want to honour the spirit of the vote by leaving the EU but hope to do so in a way that doesn’t cut the UK adrift from Europe, doesn’t prevent the continuation of relatively free trade and movement, and doesn’t leave the UK exposed and vulnerable to serfdom under a new US master.

For many months Corbyn has been calling for a general election as a way for the majority of the public, having chosen in the referendum what they want to do, to now decide who they want to negotiate how Britain departs from Europe. But even that realistic compromise has not satisfied the fanatics within his own party.

Because the zealots of the right and the immoderate centre dominate the political and media landscape, this approach has barely registered in public debates. Corbyn’s efforts have been misrepresented as evidence of muddled thinking, ambivalence, or his covert opposition to Europe. It is none of those things.

Caught in the spider’s web

The common argument that Corbyn is a Brexit wolf in sheep’s clothing draws on the fact that, like many democratic socialists, such as the late Tony Benn, Corbyn has never been enamoured of the unelected European technocratic class that is misleadingly termed simply “Europe” or the “European Union”.

Rightly, socialists understood long ago that the more Britain was locked into Europe’s embrace, the more it would become caught like a fly in the spider’s web. At some level, most people have started to recognise this, if only because finding a way to leave Europe, even for Brexiters, has proved so inordinately difficult.

Just like banks were too big to fail in 2008 so they had to be bailed out with our public money to save them from their private malfeasance, the publics of Europe have incrementally had their sovereignty transferred to an unelected and centralised bureacracy all in the name of pursuing freedom – of movement and trade, chiefly for global corporations.

We haven’t noticed, it is true, because for decades our own domestic politics has come in one flavour only – support for our little corner of the global neoliberal empire. Till recently the consensus of Britain’s ruling elite, whether of the right or of New Labour centrists, was that being a player in Europe was the best way to protect their – though not necessarily our – interests on that global battlefield. Now, as the neoliberal empire enters a period of terminal decline, this same elite are bitterly divided over whether the US or Europe is the best guarantor of their wealth and influence continuing a little longer.

Iron fist in velvet glove

But Britain and the world’s problems – whether in the shape of impending economic meltdown or environmental collapse – cannot be solved from within the neoliberal paradigm, as becomes clearer by the day. New political structures are desperately needed: at the local level to foster new, more decentralised economic models, free of corporate influence, resource-stripping and unnecessary consumption; and at the global level to ensure that such models reverse rather than perpetuate the ecocidal policies that have dominated under neoliberal capitalism.

To start on that path will require the democratisation of Britain. The fear of Benn and others was that even if a truly socialist government was elected, its ability to make real, profound changes to the political and economic order – by bringing much of the economy back into public or cooperative ownership, for example – would be made impossible within the larger framework of European corporate managerialism.

We have been given glimpses of the iron fist Europe’s technocrats wield beneath the velvet glove in the treatment of Greece over its financial troubles and the Catalan independence movement in Spain.

The attitude of Corbyn and other democratic socialists to Brexit, however, has been wildly misrepresented by the other two camps of zealots.

In Benn’s time, it was still possible to imagine a world in which neoliberalism might be prevented from gaining a tyrannical grip on our political imaginations and on national economies. But things have changed since then. Now the issue is not whether Britain can stop being locked into a European neoliberal order. It is that the UK, like everyone else, is already in the stranglehold of a global neoliberal order.

Not just that, but Britain has willingly submitted to that order. As the zealotry of most of the political class demonstrates, few can imagine or want a life outside the neoliberal cage. The debate is about which corner of that suicidal, ecocidal global order we prefer to be located in. The Brexit row is chiefly about which slavemaster, America or Europe, will be kinder to us.

Inside the leviathan’s dark belly

In this context, there is no real escape. The best that can be done, as the moderates in both the Brexit and Remain camps realise, is loosen our chains enough so that we have room once again to contemplate new political possibilities. We can then breathe deeply, clear our heads and start to imagine how Britain and the the world might operate differently, how we might free ourselves of the tyranny of the corporations and heal our planet of the deep scars we have inflicted on it.

These are big matters that cannot be solved either by binding ourselves more tightly to European technocrats or by cutting loose from Europe only to chain ourselves to the US. The Brexit feud is an endless theatrical distraction from the real questions we need to face. That is one reason why it drags on, one reason why our political class revel in it, John Bercow-style.

Strangely, it is the Remainists of the immoderate centre – typified by commentary in corporate “liberal” media like the Guardian – who so often claim to lament the fact that the left has failed to offer a vision, a political future, that might serve as an alternative to neoliberalism. But how can such a vision emerge from deep inside the leviathan’s dark belly?

Hiding in ideological life-rafts

It goes without saying that the Atlantacists cheerleading Brexit are up to no good when they speak of “taking back control” and “reclaiming our sovereignty”. They demand those powers only so they can immediately surrender them to a US master.

But the much-maligned left wing, soft Brexit – a version that wishes to distance Britain from Europe without pretending that the UK can stand alone on the global neoliberal battlefield – also has use for such language.

This version of taking back control isn’t about spitting in the face of Europe, blocking the entry of immigrants, or reinventing the imagined halycon days of empire. It is about recognising that we, like the rest of humankind, are responsible for the crimes we have been, and still are, committing against the planet, against other species, against fellow human beings.

Chaining ourselves to an unelected, distant European technocratic class that simply follows orders – implementing the requirements of an economic system that must end in the destruction of the planet – is cowardice. We can more easily shelter from that truth when we cede our political and economic powers to those compelled to carry out the (il)logic of neoliberalism.

Standing a little outside Europe is probably the best we can hope to manage in current circumstances. But it might give us the political space – and, more importantly, burden us with the political responsibility – to imagine the deep changes that are urgently needed.

Change has to happen if we as a species are to survive, and it has to happen soon and it has to happen somewhere. We cannot force others to change, but we can recognise our own need to change and offer a vision of change for others to follow. That can begin only when we stop shielding ourselves from the consequences of our decisions, stop hiding in someone else’s ideological life-raft in the forlorn hope that it will weather the coming, real-world storms.

It is time to stop acting like zealots for neoliberalism, squabbling over which brand of turbo-charged capitalism we prefer, and face up to our collective responsibility to change our and our children’s future.

Unhinged before the Fall: Boris Johnson, Parliament and Brexit

The Brexit no deal prospect is engendering an element of lunacy fast seeping into every pore of the British political establishment.  As with all steeped in such thinking, some of it made sense.  Prime Minister Boris Johnson had been inspired by a mild dictatorial urge, seeking to suspend the UK parliament five weeks out from October 31.  This has been described as nothing short of a coup, or, if you are the speaker of the House of Commons, John Bercow, a “constitutional outrage”.

Legal expertise was called upon to answer the question whether Johnson’s proroguing of parliament was, in fact, constitutional.  This was itself a tricky thing, given that the UK has a “political constitution” that resists being inked into written form.  To be British is supposedly to be reasonable, and codifying such convention suggests a fear that reason might be lost.  As Professor Michael Gordon of the University of Liverpool explains, three avenues are open to evaluate the constitutionality of a government action in the system: “compatibility with the law, political convention and constitutional principle.”

On the first point, it was near impossible to challenge Johnson.  For all the matters of convention, the monarch remains the figure who ultimately holds the power to prorogue parliament.  And the argument here by the prime minister is that this is the penultimate step to announcing a fresh legislative agenda in the monarch’s speech on October 14.

As far as the second point was concerned, Gordon had to concede that the Queen would never have constituted herself as a “constitutional safeguard” to reject Johnson’s request. That would have done more than repudiate the long held convention on staying above politics and acting on the advice of the prime minister.

This only left the nebulous notion of “constitutional principles”: as the government draws support from the House of Commons, it must duly abide by the body if its wishes are out of step.  As the House of Commons rejects the idea of a no deal Brexit, Johnson should have engaged parliament on the issue.  Well, that’s the view of the pro-parliamentarians, and as the current prime minister has a very flexible set of values both personal and political, few should have been stunned by the latest antics in subverting parliamentary scrutiny.

Beyond the legal pecking, a swathe of reaction were in agreement with Bercow.  Novelist Philip Pullman went one further, suggesting that, “The ‘prime minister’ has finally come out as a dictator.”  Britain best be “rid of him and his loathsome gang as soon and as finally as possible.”  This had a certain whiff of a coup of its own, the sort of thing that Westminster systems have been vulnerable to in history.  (Australia offers an apt, if undistinguished example of the overthrow of Prime Minister Gough Whitlam in 1975, ably assisted by opposition leader Malcolm Fraser and then governor general John Kerr.)

The prorogation ploy was taken so seriously by the Financial Times that a humble suggestion was made lest Britain comprise his airy position as law-abiding obsessive and exemplar of order to the world. “If Mr. Johnson’s prorogation ploy succeeds, Britain will forfeit any right to lecture other countries on their democratic shortcomings.”  (Hadn’t it already done so?)  Imperially sounding, the FT suggested that Britain’s singular disposition lay in “constitutional arrangements” long bound by “conventions.”

Momentum, the Labour faction supporting Jeremy Corbyn, the man who would be usurper, was laying the ground for a challenge, albeit tumbling into the oxymoronic. “An unelected prime minister looks set to approach an unelected monarch to ask her if he can shut down parliament to force through a disastrous no deal Brexit.”  The assessment? “Make no mistake – this is an establishment coup.”  All fine, except that monarchs are known for being humanity’s unelected specimens, and that this coup was being countered with a proposal for a counter-coup. Messy be the conventions of the land.

For those long linked to Britain’s gradual and seemingly natural integration into European affairs, the move by Johnson was near criminal.  Hugh Grant, summoning up a certain primal rage, was furious.  On Twitter, he launched a ferocious firebombing of Johnson’s position.  “You will not fuck with my children’s future.  You will not destroy the freedoms my grandfather fought two world wars to defend.  Fuck off you over-promoted rubber bath toy.  Britain is revolted by you and you little gang of masturbatory prefects.”

Comedian and all round brain box Stephen Fry could not stomach it, asking for a good cry for Britain, and deeming Johnson’s effort as those of, “Children playing with matches, but spitefully not accidentally: gleefully torching an ancient democracy and any tattered shreds of reputation or standing our poor country had left.”

Unfortunately, such comments betray an old tendency in self-referential Britishness, a Britannia-rules-the-waves smugness.  The world admires, the world respects.  But that world died some time ago, if, indeed, it ever existed.  Britain made a pact for security and wealth with a Europe often reluctant to accept its suspicions and reservations. Both are now parting ways.

Far milder assessments have also been offered to hose down the Grant ire.  Johnson’s attempt to schedule a Queen’s speech for October 14 was seen in The Spectator, a magazine he once edited with carefree indifference, as “normal” and part of the operating processes of a new government.  At the very least, it would also “bring to an end one of the longest parliamentary sessions in history”.

The Queen was hardly going to refuse, stratified by, well, convention.  Had she done so, breaking the crust, and holding forth over the prime minister, there would been howls of a different sort.  The only conclusion to arise from this latest bit of chess play by Johnson is that, come October 31, Parliament will have a minimal role to scrutinise the agreement, or non-agreement, as it might well be.

Brexit or Not?

Brexit deadline is 31 October 2019. On 23 June 2016, the British people voted 52% against 48% to leave the European Union. In England alone, the margin was somewhat higher, 53.4% for leaving the EU, against 46.6% for staying. In the meantime we know that this result was influenced by Cambridge Analytica, the same as the Trump Presidency was apparently helped by CA, and according to CA’s own account, more than 200 elections or referenda worldwide during the last 5 years or so were decided by CA.

CA is said to have disappeared; however, the knowledge on how to manipulate voters’ opinions – the algorithm to do so – is by now well known by Google, social media and, of course, by the world’s key secret service agencies, foremost CIA, NSA, MI6, Mossad, DGSE (France), BND (Germany) and others. Therefore beware of believing even in a shred of democracy in upcoming elections, anywhere in the world.

Will Brexit actually happen?  Chances are it will not. Almost three-and-a-half years after the UK vote, and two-and-a-half years after the UK started the exit process, the Brexit “soap opera”, as it is often called – leave or stay – continues.

Both, Theresa May and Boris Johnson, and so far, also the opposition Labor Leader, Jeremy Corbyn, have assured British people they will respect their choice; no new referendum, no Parliamentary vote; and instead, they foresaw negotiating a “deal” with Brussels. If there is “no deal”, then Brexit will take place as a “No Deal, or Hard Brexit” – so the erstwhile verdict – which could change, of course, as just about everything that has been said and agreed upon in the Brexit saga. But what exactly is meant by a “deal”, or a “no-deal”, for that matter?

Though, the definitions of a “deal” are vague, a “deal” refers basically to a UK exit from the EU under as smooth as possible conditions for both business and individuals, meaning that current relationships; i.e., business licenses, trading relations, residency permits, free exchange of labor, would not stop at once, but a transition period would allow to work out specific conditions. In fact, this is precisely included in the Withdrawal Agreement (WA). However, the WA has not yet been ratified by the House of Commons. Why not?  Is there a hidden agenda? Once the WA is ratified, there is no way back? Is that it?  The Parliament’s holdout for a 180-degree change from “leave” to “stay” despite the popular vote?

The WA provides for a period up to 31 December 2020 after Brexit actually happens, or longer, if negotiated, to hammer out the post-Brexit details of trade, future tariffs, business licenses, transit of labor and capital and more before the new UK/EU divorce rules would enter into force. This is plenty of time to negotiate individual trade and peoples (free movement) agreements with EU partner countries. Everything – the current UK-EU relations agreements – would stay in place during the transition period; i.e., for at least another 15 months (or longer, if more time is negotiated as necessary), if Brexit would take place on 31 October 2019.

Some of the possible post-Brexit bilateral negotiations have already started behind the scenes, notably with China and the US and most likely with others, like Germany and France. The UK could, for example, look at the Swiss model. Switzerland, not a member of the EU, is de facto an EU member, just without voting rights. Switzerland has currently more than 120 multi and bilateral agreements with Brussels and the 28 EU members. And this despite a three-time direct popular rejection of EU membership by referenda (1992 – against joining the European Economic Area, 50.3% against; in 1997, EU membership referendum – 74.1% against; and in 2001 on “EU access negotiations” – rejected by 76.8%). Yet, Switzerland is still looked upon as a model for ‘democracy’ – where people decide.

So, everything is possible, direct negotiations with a selection (or all) of EU countries, following the Swiss model, and/or a wider scale of by- and multilateral negotiations with countries or trading blocks around the world.  Actually, Brussels has already hinted to the UK leadership at starting bilateral negotiations with EU members, even though the official line is “leave” or “stay”. No doubt, Brussels as well as Washington would like to do everything possible to keep the UK within the EU bureaucracy. The UK has an implicit reputation of being Washington’s mole in the EU, representing Washington’s wishes in crucial decisions — like when 10 new Eastern European member candidates had to be admitted — or not.

Therefore, why the hype about a “no deal” Brexit?  Do people even understand what “no deal” means?  That it literally means all doors are open for negotiations during the transit period and that nothing changes during that period, which is even extendable, and, of course, that a myriad of options to negotiate new deals with new partners are open after the transit period, in the post-Brexit phase.

It’s all fearmongering, manipulation of public opinion — the stock market will crash, UK’s GDP will contract by between 2% and 4%  depending whom you ask, and who pretends having had all the details to calculate such nonsensical numbers; that unemployment will soar, especially as UK citizens will be expulsed from their EU host countries and come home to look for work, and so on. These threats emanating from Brussels, as well as from the UK elite, have, of course, only one goal in mind – No BREXIT; find a way to reverse the people’s opinion and Referendum decision.

Entering the realm of intimidation, the British Government warns in a “clandestine report” – “leaked” to the Sunday Times – that a Hard Brexit (a “No Deal” Brexit) will hit the UK with food, fuel and medicine shortages. RT reports this much-feared prospect is becoming increasingly likely since the changing of the guard in Downing Street. Yes, this is clearly part of spreading fear to coerce public opinion against Brexit. However, this could all be prevented by the British Parliament voting for the Withdrawal Agreement which is part of the sovereign deal – no approval from Brussels necessary – for any country wanting to leave the EU. How come, this is never mentioned in the media, thus preventing the public from knowing what the government could do to avoid a Hard Brexit havoc?

There are also other economic predictions, contradicting the fearmongers, and by all accounts of logic, more plausible ones; namely, that the UK would do much better after Brexit, free to deal and trade with whomever, no looking over the shoulders by Brussels, no impositions of complex and often very costly rules, frequently mere rules for the sake of rules by the European Commission. Regaining full sovereignty would do the UK good, both economically and socially.

The UK could also continue maintaining a relation at a distance with a body that is often mentioned in the same breath as corruption; a body that has shown little sympathy for solidarity among member countries. Examples abound. Greece, Italy, Spain, Ireland, Portugal were all “sanctioned” with troika-imposed rescue packages (troika = EC, European Central Bank – ECB, and IMF). It is also clear that Brussels favors a set of nations, unofficially, of course, stronger, mostly northern nations that do not have to follow the strict ECB debt limitation rules imposed by the ECB and mostly applied to southern EU members. This amounts to an unspoken two-tier arrangement.  But these voices of reason, who would promote Brexit for the sheer long-term socioeconomic betterment of the British citizenry, are not allowed to come to the fore. The media are controlled by the “Stay” proponents.

Brexit, stay or leave, is a delicate matter. Labor, hence Jeremy Corbyn, has a tendency to favor “stay” – oddly, along with some of the conservative Tories, for all the false, scare-evoking reasons propagated – unemployment, reduction in GDP, gap in trading partners, and so on. Then there is the extreme right, represented by Nigel Farage, the boss of the very Brexit party, who supports Brexit for the wrong reasons — anti-immigration, racism, bordering on xenophobia, a similar reasoning as is used by Madame Le Pen in France, who also would like to exit the EU for stricter border control, anti-immigration and racism. Ditto, for Italy’s right-wing Lega Norte Deputy PM, Matteo Salvini. This controversy of reason is confusing to the general public – and possibly even to Jeremy Corbyn, who does not want to be associated with Nigel Farage, has to vouch for “stay” – perhaps against his better understanding of Brexit’s socioeconomic advantages for Great Britain.

Of course, there are plenty of ways to reverse the promises of former PM Teresa May’s and today’s PM, Boris Johnson’s assurances that the 2016 vote result will be respected. The easiest one would be for the British Parliament to revoke Article 50 of the Treaty of Lisbon, which gives member states the unilateral right to quit EU membership. That’s precisely what the UK did, trigger Article 50 by the Prime Minister’s decision after the Brexit Referendum. Once this process was set in motion, it was understood that it couldn’t be stopped except by a Parliamentary vote canceling application of Article 50.

Today, that option is fully on the table. It can be done equally unilaterally and sovereignly by the UK, without the approval of the remaining 27 EU member states. Should that happen, the status quo would win, the UK would remain a EU member. No change.

Labor Leader, Jeremy Corbyn has recently hinted about introducing a no-confidence vote against PM Johnson. If Parliament accepts it, and if he wins, he would become interim PM, calling for new elections which he expects to win. His support base in the UK is growing, despite increasing – false – accusations of anti-Semitism. If he would become PM, he could indeed call for a new Brexit referendum, or simply call for a vote against Article 50. Bingo! And the UK would remain a EU member. Knowing about Cambridge Analytica’s coercive methods applied to swing public opinion, a new Brexit Referendum would likely be manipulated in favor of “stay”.

By the way, since CA’s admitted interference in the Brexit vote, it is totally conceivable that the 2016 Referendum result could be annulled as invalid, and a new referendum be launched. It’s a miracle that so far, no politician, no media, nobody, has talked about it.

In summary, might it be possible that the outcome of the June 2016 Referendum came as a surprise for the British Authorities and elite? Hence, the result was simply not acceptable? Therefore, to preserve the illusion of “democracy”, could it be possible that an entire complex construct had be conceived and built over a period of some three years, in which public opinion had to be confused to the point of losing track of the details and of specific conditions for exiting the European Union so that it could be more easily swayed into the direction of the Master’s wishes, while still pretending to be democratic? Let’s wait and see, but no surprise, if Brexit doesn’t happen.

• First published at New Eastern Outlook (NEO)

Olive Reincarnations and Elvis on Mars: Boris Johnson Becomes British PM

The BBC World Service took its listeners to the English cathedral town of Ely, set in picturesque Cambridgeshire, during the course of a hot July 23 in an effort to take the pulse of the country.  Well, at least that particular, erratic pulse. It found, for the most part, a certain enthusiasm for Boris Johnson, the fop-haired, bumbling wonder of the Conservatives, a quite literally inventive journalist, former magazine editor and Mayor of London who has become the new prime minister of Britain.

One word kept cropping up in discussions like an endangered species searching for a bullet: enthusiasm.  Plain, sprightly, delightful winged enthusiasm. “We need to be enthusiastic; Boris (because, of course, he is Boris to them) is enthusiastic.”  Be gone pessimists and Cassandras; farewell such tactical and strategic realities of being in or out of the European common market; in or out of European regulations; ease of access or difficulty on the border between Northern Ireland and Ireland.

With the Conservatives voting on who to replace Theresa May as leader of the Conservative Party, and, it followed, Prime Minister, Johnson won through against Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt.  The margin of victory – 66 to 34 percent of the party membership – was nearly two to one, and came from a system Johnson derided as a “gigantic fraud” when employed by the British Labour Party in 2007.

His victory speech had much of what has come before.  It spoke of instincts – the acquisitive standing out (“the instincts to own your own house, to earn and spend your own money”).  These were “noble”, “proper” and “good”.  Nor should the needy be forgotten, the poor abandoned, in realising them.  Words were given like those of a motivational speaker.  “Do you feel daunted?  I don’t think you look remotely daunted to me. And I think we know we can do it, and that the people of this country are trusting in us to do it, and we know that we will do it.”  While he conceded that the campaign of deliver, united and defeat – spelled DUD – did not augur well, detractors had forgotten the E: “E for energise”.  “I say to all doubters, dude, we are going to energise the country.”

The October 31st deadline for Britain’s exit from the European Union would not change.  The “new spirit of can-do” would prevail.  Britain, “like some slumbering giant” would “rise and ping off the guy ropes of self-doubt and negativity.”  Metaphors of growth and movement abounded: “fantastic full-fibre broadband sprouting in every household”; “more police”.

The Johnson-watchers verged between being worried and thrilled.  Comments seem pitched to a sporting register: How will BJ perform on the field?  Will he restrain himself, or be unduly foolish on the world stage?  As if describing an unusual species, Lloyd Evans remarked that, even at Oxford as a first-year student, he was “weirdly conspicuous – the ruddy jowls, the stooped bullish stances, the booming Duke of Wellington voice, and the freakish white bob crowning his head like a heavenly spotlight.”

James Forsyth, writing in The Spectator, is hopeful the real Boris is partially caged, leaving another version to do get his hands dirty.  “This is a risk; will his approach sound flippant when discussing serious issues?”  On balance, however, Forsyth felt that there was something to be said about the man being let loose.  “When he tried to be a different kind of figure, it didn’t work.  It felt forced rather than natural.”

Finance commentator and regular forecaster of economic apocalypse Robert Peston stated the cold, mad justice of it all.  As Johnson had been instrumental in creating Brexit, it was only fitting that he now try to own it.

Navigating the gong tormented sea of narratives on Johnson, a few career standouts remain, making his attempt to be Big, Bold and British, unconvincing.  The new British PM and Tory leader is a piece of truly befuddled work, one who still manages to play the card of the electable clown.

As a journalist, he fabricated and teased records.  In 1987, when employed by The Times courtesy of family connections, he was fired for a story on the discovery of the Rose Palace, built by Edward II.  His godfather, Oxford historian Colin Lucas, featured.  “The trouble,” he recalled, “was that somewhere in my copy I managed to attribute to Colin the view that Edward II and Piers Gaveston would have been cavorting together in the Rose Palace.”  Pity, then, that Gaveston was murdered by the time the Rose Palace was built.

After the sack, he ventured over to The Telegraph, and became a shock trooper for anti-EU sentiment in Brussels, feeding Eurosceptic fanaticism back in Britain and beyond with such choice titled pieces as “Snails are fish, says EU”, “Brussels recruits sniffers to ensure that EU-manure smells the same” and “Threat to British pink sausages”.  Johnson’s feeling about it all?  A “rather weird sense of power” that his copy had “this amazing, explosive effect on the Tory party”.

His casually racist remarks on foreign powers and peoples have given him an enormous inventory of the insulted over the years, producing degrees of consternation and rib-stitching hilarity.  He has deemed Africa a country, its people “piccaninnies” with “watermelon smiles”, compared women who wear burqas to “bank robbers” and “letterboxes” and appraised the chaos within his own conservative party as akin to “Papua New Guinea-style orgies of cannibalism and chief killing.”

Other comments have caused less consternation, not least of all his views of the current US president, Donald Trump, whom Johnson deemed “unfit to hold the office of the United States” on account of his “stupefying ignorance”.  This, from a man who himself said that becoming UK prime minister was “about as good as the chances of finding Elvis on Mars, or my being reincarnated as an olive.”  We live in jaw-droppingly interesting times.

Britain is in a mess, and the Boris Broom is unlikely to be able to make its bristles more effective beyond tinkering with the May-EU Brexit plan as it stands.  The EU chief Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier has expressed the view that some room is open on reworking “the agreed declaration on the new partnership” but that the “withdrawal agreement” would be more or less ratified in its current form.

On the diplomatic front, Johnson is bound to be confused, if his various stances on the Northern Ireland-Ireland border, or non-border, are anything to go by.  Having scolded his predecessor for taking the view that having no firm border between the two would not be in the UK’s interests, he subsequently veered, telling the House of Commons that “there can be no return to a hard border.”  BJ’s slumbering giant may well continue to do a bit more slumbering.  Over to you, dude!

Facebook vs Citizens

A wonderfully written recent article on the ethics of Facebook Inc provoked me to think about my own position. It’s oft said in defence of the software that Facebook is a forum for progressive public debate, an ideal and desirable stimulus for democracy. So I was pleased the article stimulated a lively exchange of ideas on a contentious issue, the ethics of Facebook itself.

During the unprecedented, wild explosion of Facebook’s popularity, it had a revolutionary vibe. By 2018, political scandal had engulfed the company and Facebook vs The People hit the high court in the USA, stoking public concern over how much power the business has. Nonetheless, Zuckerburg is teflon-skinned, at least in the elite privilege networks he moves in, because they are acting as if, and telling us that, Facebook is socially responsible, acts lawfully, and is not a threat to democracy. In all truth, the fact Facebook successfully established the “publisher” defence in court (Wikileaks?) suggests that its primary function as corporate spyware is left unmentioned, intact, and beyond the purview of public scrutiny. In all truth, the only revolutionary thing about Facebook is it has upgraded the ability of the powers that be to repress dissent, especially powerful dissent spawned on Facebook itself.

Like every revolution, Facebook had its cadre, its battle, its legacy. Like every revolution, the cadre was purged, the battle turned downwards, the legacy? Propaganda. By stealth, the undemocratic vanguard of Facebook enacted policies to accrue more power, more wealth, and became an ossified nomenclatura that cultivate, fiercely protect class privileges. Like Stalin being bestowed praise in Pravda, Zuckerburg is given laurels in Time, his eerie face a reminder of who is officially the great man of our times. Like Stalin in the USSR, he is the primary political Titan and heavyweight behind the facile facade of popular democracy. In 1917 the revolution was red, its slogan “Bread and Peace.” In 2018 the revolution is hollowed of soul and substance by a blue collar, data age enterprise, indoctrinating people to think they care about meaningful “connection” before capital, or people, before profit.

Commentators call the data age the fourth industrial revolution. Borne aloft by the rapid global expansion of processes of digitisation and artificial intelligence, the fourth industrial revolution has had vast effects on the economy, the means of production and society at large, blurring the distinction between the digital and physical. Evidently this has had a profound effect on social relations and power dynamics. At once liberating the best and worst instincts in humanity, the means of informational production contains the possibility of liberation today, but in the hands of anti-democratic incumbent elites in politics, business and law enforcement, it deepens and broadens the vassalage relations of feudalism and capitalism by affording elites the power of surveillance, which is an easy way to regulate modes of thought and behaviour to conform to their agenda.

Such unethical psychological and behavioural manipulation was a key strategy of the well documented, but scarcely understood, partnership between Cambridge Analytica, a sordid global lobbying consultancy, and social media. The presidential and Leave-the EU campaigns represent many millions spent on completely manufactured demands: Trump’s policies and Brexit.

The sad truth of where power lies in politics today is that Cambridge Analytica didn’t work for political campaigns. The political campaigns really worked for Cambridge Analytica, because Trump’s and Leave’s roles were — perhaps unknowingly — not to be borne aloft to victory by underlings at the firm but to act as stooges to rally, recruit more and more citizens to be crunched in the firm’s matrix and spat out as a model voter, pliable citizen and captive consumer, a purpose for which corporate information management has been using political campaigns for well over a decade.

Data, advertising and social media companies already have long established and vastly more significant income revenues from the constant use of their software by other means than having to depend on single political commissions to get by. A commission like Trump’s or Leave’s merely sanctions the act of harvest, a mass reaping. Corporate data management portfolios have, over time, edged closer and closer to the architecture of political power, to the extent the two are fast becoming indistinct, a single power complex.

Silicon Valley is increasingly deployed as a strategist, and in turn campaigns enrol them to lobby us in such a way as to recreate our “psycho geographic profile” to fit their model. The idea of elections in days gone past was that, accepting of course it fast became the norm not all candidates abided to the norm, that candidates nonetheless made an earnest pledge for a mandate on which they would be judged by the public and ultimately be rewarded or punished at the ballot box, not that the electoral process would become a spectacle in which dishonest promotions to audiences would be used to nudge and steer them towards well advertised ideas.

Why has this change occurred? The advent of transnational informational capitalism meant centralised hierarchical networks of IT experts like Silicon Valley could pursue their own selfish agenda, namely self enrichment, the most direct and obvious means to that end being to sell the data we so willingly impart within their software within a culture of what I call “consensual coercion” that has taken over our lives. That is, a lifestyle of unnecessary transparency that is promoted to us through social media and, longing for acceptance, we do it, cultivated, nurtured, fed by big business. Lots of companies have high stakes in our penchant for carelessness with data and have long sought for us to give it up by latent or patent means.

To understand the raison d’être of Cambridge Analytica and, by proxy, contemporary political campaigns we have to move backwards to the inception of consumer psychology, the art and science of manipulating the minds, emotions and desires of citizens to generate intended economic outcomes.

As partisan wings of the liberal media stage manage and rehearse their response to the Cambridge Analytica scandal to get their verdict on which breach was worse in first, to best frame events to the advantage of their partisan agenda, the world becomes ever more deceived and confused about precisely how far, how deep, how rancid the rotten corruption runs. Scapegoating Trump alone for the scandal not only ludicrously attributes the misuse of the politics and economy of information management — based on complex mathematical modelling and research — to him, but moreover overlooks the social and historical context of these revelations, which implicates the politico-corporate infrastructure of silicon valley in a vast conspiracy against the people.

Nigel Farage’s Grand Tour of Sabotage: The Paypal of the People Rides High

He is all about being the romantic saboteur.  He is destructive, hates the business of a steady vocation, and the idea of being desk bound.  Little details trouble him; an indignant bigger picture is enthralling.  Bomb throwers tend to be of such ilk, taking shots at the establishment, courting potential voters over a pint, and railing against non-representative elements in politics.  But Nigel Farage and his recently arrived Brexit Party can unimpeachably claim to be vote getters.

Along with others, some of whom have been resurrected in the stagnant pools of Brexit – take the near-dead and now very revived former conservative MP, Ann Widdecombe –  he has animated the corpse people and zombie faithful keen to attack the satanic heart of the EU.  Last month, in Peterborough, he told some 1,500 Brexiters about the broader mission at hand.  “This fight now is far more than just leaving the European Union.  This is a full-on battle against the establishment.”  This battle has also struck a Trumpist note, with Farage reserving special salvos for the BBC.

So far, the attack mounted by the collective that is the Brexit Party has worked; with a four-month old entity, Farage forged ahead in elections held by the very same entity he despises.  In doing so, he also convinced many from the UK Independence Party, the right wing anti-immigration party he used to lead, to join in. In the European elections last month, the Brexit Party won a stonking 29 seats against the Liberal Democrats with 16, Labour 10, the Greens seven, the Tories four, the SNP three, and Plaid Cymru and the DUP with one each.

Farage put the successes down to an elementary theme: “With a big, simple message – which is we’ve been badly let down by two parties who have broken their promises – we have topped the poll in a fairly dramatic style. The two-party system now serves nothing but itself.”  Despite doing well, Farage was careful to avoid drawing attention to another result: 40 percent of the UK European vote went to parties who are against Brexit, with 35 percent favouring it.

The reading from Liberal Democrat leader Sir Vince Cable was bound to be at odds with Brexiter enthusiasts.  For Cable the result showed that there was “a majority of people in the country who don’t want to leave the European now”.

As William Davis notes pointedly, “The Brexit Party is a mixture of business startup and social movement; it serves as a pressure valve, releasing pent-up frustration with traditional politics into the electoral system.”  In contrast to the more ramshackle, rough outfit of Ukip, which had a lower ceiling of appeal, the Brexit Party has been described by the Financial Times as “slick, with a mix of celebrities”.

It thrives in an environmental of pure factionalism, and simplifies, accordingly, the complex array of requirements and processes required to achieve their goals.  Farage cares little, nor is even aware of the actual issues concerning an effective divorce deal with the EU.  Any claim that a no-deal Brexit is bound to work with splendid effect is precarious, placing Britain at the bottom of the trade negotiating table.  There is no freedom to trade as a rule, and World Trade Organisation system must be navigated.  But these are technical sticking points that find no platform, let alone voice, in the Brexit Party’s world.

The business startup reference by Davis is apt.  Farage had been shadowed by events after 2016. The wrecker had done his job in seeking Brexit, only to retreat to the margins in sullen contemplation.  His UK Independence party disintegrated even as its former leader started to milk the lecture circuit and cosy up to US President Donald Trump.  But the continual delays and prevarications on leaving the EU stirred the saboteur into a return.

The Brexit Party has attempted to adopt the language of cool and chic marketing.  For one, it is winning the social media battle.  London-based online content and social media consultancy 89up revealed last month that Facebook posts linking to the Brexit Party website had been bountiful in the sharing department, exceeding those of every other party combined.  A survey of 1.5 million public Facebook pages by the consultancy found a staggering gulf between the portion of shares generated by the Brexit Party (125,035) and the Conservatives, with 26,400.  UKIP, Labour, the Liberal Democrats and the Green Party came in with a limping figure of 6,000 shares.

As with anything to do with Farage, its best to look past the plumage and shine.  The Brexit Party image comes equipped with rumours on how it is receiving its funding.  This can hardly surprise: Farage has been known to be rather liberal with his finances, happy to attack the EU as he receives its funds, and shy about declaring how he has used them.  Budgets have never been his thing.

Former UK Prime Minister Gordon Brown is one sensing an Achilles heel in the Brexit Party, suggesting that the party has been the recipient of “undeclared, untraceable payments”.  At an event in Glasgow last month, Brown suggested that democracy was “ill served, and trust in democracy will continue to be undermined, if we have no answers as to where the money is coming from.”

The UK Electoral Commission feels there is enough to go on, demanding that the party “review all payments, including those of £500 or below, it has received to date.”  This comes after the Electoral Commission’s conclusion that the “fundraising structure adopted by the party leaves it open to a high and ongoing risk of receiving and accepting impermissible donations.”

The views of Brown have had little traction with Farage supporters and the broader Brexit milieu, a point evidenced by the good showing in the European elections.  Efforts by critics and opponents to refashion the Brexit Party as a financial surrogate for the corporate interests of one man rather than citizen values is not something that has worked.  Brown has tried, rather bravely claiming that Farage was “not going to be remembered as he wants, as the man of the people – he’s going to remembered as the man of the Paypal.”

Political realities are often different from financial ones.  As former Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg admitted, “It was obvious there was a strong English, anti-European anti-immigrant movement waiting for someone to articulate it.”  Farage may well be the man of the Paypal, shoddy with party finances but he remains an identifiable voice, with anti-EU cadences that continue finding agreeable listeners across Europe, from Marine Le Pen in France to Matteo Salvini in Italy.

Snubs, Bumps and Donald Trump in Britain

He may not be popular in Britain, but he still has shavings of appeal.  For a country that has time for Nigel Farage, pro-Brexit enthusiast and full-time hypocrite (he is a member of the European Parliament, the very same institution he detests), President Donald Trump will garner a gaggle of fans.

One of them was not the London Mayor, Sadiq Khan, trenchant in his belief that the US president should never have been granted a state visit.  “It’s quite clear that Theresa May was premature in making this invitation, and it’s backfired on her.” But Trump’s tendency to unhinge his critics is not so much levelling as lowering: Khan’s coarse remarks a day before Trump arrived were timed to create a Twitter scene.

Trump, he wrote spitefully in The Guardian, was leading a push from the right “threatening our hard-won rights and freedoms and the values that have defined our liberal, democratic societies for more than seventy years.”  The UK had to stop “appeasing” (that Munich analogy again) dictatorial tendencies.  (Oblivious, is Khan, to the illustrious record Britain has in providing receptions and banquets for the blood thirsty and authoritarian.)

This semi-literate historical overview had the desired result.  Just prior to landing in London, Trump tweeted that Khan “who by all accounts has done a terrible job as Mayor of London, has been foolishly ‘hasty’ to the visiting President of the United States, by far the most important ally of the United Kingdom.”  For good measure, Trump insisted that the mayor was “a stone cold loser who should focus on crime in London, not me…”

The mood was set, and the presence of the president overseeing Britain’s increasingly feral political scene reminded The New York Times of boardroom takes of The Apprentice (reality television, again) though it came uncomfortably close to an evaluation of the “rear of the year” or a wet t-shirt competition of the fugglies.  This was aided by the absence of a one-to-one meeting between Trump and the soon to depart Theresa May, there being no preliminary meeting in Downing Street.

Trump felt at home, sizing up candidates to succeed May as British prime minister.  While he could muster choice words to describe Boris Johnson and Jeremy Hunt, Michael Gove barely registered. “Would do a good job, Jeremy?  Tell me.”

A few candidates did their best to impress, a spectacle that did, at points, verge on the grotesque.

The Conservative Party is deliriously panicked: Farage’s Brexit Party is proving so threatening its pushing the old guard to acts of pure desperation.  This is riveting, if troubling stuff for political watchers such as Tim Bale of Queen Mary, University of London.  “A lot of the constraints have come off British politics.  Whether they’ve come off permanently, or whether it’s because the Conservative Party is at panic stations, is something only time can tell.”

Foreign secretary Hunt was particularly keen to show his wet shirt to the ogling Trump.  He no doubt felt he had to, given that Johnson had already been praised as a person who “would do a very good job” as British prime minister. To repay Trump for his acknowledgment, Hunt dismissed the views of the London mayor.  “I agree with [Trump] that it is totally inappropriate for the Labour party to be boycotting this incredibly important visit.  This is the president of the United States.”

The situation with Johnson cannot but give some amusement.  Trump, rather memorably, had been a subscriber to the theory that parts of London had become a dystopian nightmare replete with psychotic, murderous residents of the swarthy persuasion.  Johnson, for all his faults, was happy to give Trump a nice slice of demurral on his city when mayor.  He also opined that Trump was “clearly out of his mind” in making the now infamous suggestion on December 7, 2015 for a “total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States.”   But politics is an odd stew, throwing together a strange mix of ingredients.  For his part, Johnson declined an invitation to see Trump in person, preferring the comforting distance of a 20-minute phone call.

Away from rear of the year proceedings were those who had consciously boycotted any event associated with Trump.  Prince William and Prince Harry preferred to avoid a photo opportunity with the president at Buckingham Palace.  Jeremy Corbyn of the Labour Party preferred to join protests against Trump over attending the state banquet.  The act will no doubt be seen as admirable in some quarters, but hardly qualifies as those of a potential future prime minister.  “Corbyn,” noted The Independent, “has again dodged the stately bullet and had instead taken the easy way out.”  To the echo chamber he went.

Beyond the visit, more substantive matters are going to be troubling for diplomats in the UK Foreign Office.  One of the things touted during the Tuesday press conference was the prospect of a trade agreement between a Britain unshackled from the EU, and the United States.  Trump even went so far as to press May to stay longer for the negotiations.  Not one for briefings, he ventured a suggestion: “I don’t know exactly what your timing is but, stick around, let’s do this deal.”

The issue is fascinatingly premature: Britain, having not yet left the EU, let alone on any clear basis, faces an orbit of sheer, jangling confusion for some time to come.  In terms of numbers, the issue is also stark: the UK has the EU to thank for half of its trade; the United States comes in at 14.7 percent.

The troubling feature of any free trade proposal coming out of the Trump administration will be its rapacity, or, as Trump likes to call it, “phenomenal” scope.  Nothing will be exempt.  Agriculture and health are two fields of contention.  Access for US exports will entail easing limitations on animal feed with antibiotics and genetically modified crops.  More headaches, and bumps, await the relationship between troubled Britannia and groping Uncle Sam.

Europe in Irreversible Decay

Europe, an “old” colonialist continent, is decaying, and in some places even collapsing. It senses how bad things are going. But it never thinks that it is its own fault.

North America is decaying as well, but there, people are not even used to comparing. They only “feel that things are not going well”. If everything else fails, they simply try to get some second or third job, and just survive, somehow.

On both sides of the Atlantic, the establishment is in panic. Their world is in crises, and the ‘crises’ arrived mainly because several great countries, including China, Russia, Iran, but also South Africa, Turkey, Venezuela, DPRK and the Philippines, are openly refusing to play in accordance with the script drawn in Washington, London and Paris. In these nations, there is suddenly no appetite for sacrificing their own people on the altar of well-being of Western citizens. Several countries, including Venezuela and Syria, are even willing to fight for their independence.

Despite insane and sadistic embargos and sanctions imposed on them by the West; China, Russia and Iran are now flourishing, in many fields doing much better than Europe and North America.

If they are really pushed any further, China, Russia and their allies combined, could easily collapse the economy of the United States; an economy which is built on clay and unserviceable debt. It is also becoming clear that militarily, the Pentagon could never defeat Beijing, Moscow, even Teheran.

After terrorizing the world for ages, the West is now almost finished: morally, economically, socially, and even militarily. It still plunders, but it has no plan to improve the state of the world. It cannot even think in such terms.

It hates China, and every other country that does have progressive, internationalist plans. It smears President Xi Jinping and his brainchild, the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), but there is nothing new and exciting that the West is able to offer to the world. Yes, of course, those regime changes, coups, military interventions and theft of natural resources, but anything else? No, silence!

*****

During my two weeks long working visit to Europe, in the Czech Republic (now renamed to Czechia), a country that enjoys a higher HDI (Human Development Index defined by UNDP) than Italy or Spain, I saw several young, decently dressed men, picking through garbage bins, right in front of my hotel, looking for food.

In Pilsen, Czechia, people raiding garbage in order to eat

I saw young Europeans kneeling and begging in Stuttgart, the second richest city in Germany (where both Mercedes and Porsche cars are produced).

This used to be proud Communist factory Skoda in Pilsen

What I observed in all seven countries of the EU that I visited, was confusion, but also indifference, extreme selfishness and almost grotesque idleness. In great contrast to Asia, everybody in Europe was obsessed with their ‘rights’ and privileges, while no one gave a slightest damn about responsibilities.

When my plane from Copenhagen landed in Stuttgart, it began to rain. It was not heavy rain; just rain. The Canadair jet operated by SAS is a small aircraft, and it did not get a gate. It parked a few meters from the terminal and the captain announced that ground staff refused to bring a bus, due to lightning and the downpour. And so, we stayed inside the plane, for 10 minutes, 20 minutes, half an hour. The lightning ended. The drizzle continued. 40 minutes, no bus. One hour later, a bus appeared. A man from the ground staff emerged leisurely, totally wrapped in plastic, protected hermetically from rain. Passengers, on the other hand, were not even offered umbrellas.

“I love myself”, I later read graffiti in the center of the city.

The graffiti was not far from the central train station, which is being refurbished at the cost of several billion euros, and against the will of the citizens. The monstrous project is marching on at an insanely lazy pace, with only 5-6 construction workers detectable at a time, down in the tremendous excavations.

Stuttgart is unbelievably filthy. Escalators often do not work, drunkards are all over, and so are beggars. It is as if for decades, no one did any face-lift to the city. Once free museums are charging hefty entrance fees, and most of the public benches have disappeared from parks and avenues.

The decay is omnipresent. The German rail system (DB) has virtually collapsed. Almost all trains are late, from the ‘regional’; to the once glorified ICE (these German ‘bullet trains’ are actually moving slower, on average, even in comparison to some Indonesian inter-city expresses).

The services provided everywhere in Europe, from Finland to Italy, are grotesquely bad. Convenience stores, cafes, hotels – all are understaffed, badly run and mostly arrogant. Humans are often replaced by dysfunctional machines. Tension is everywhere, the bad mood omnipresent. Demanding anything is unthinkable; one risks being snapped at, insulted, sent to hell.

I still remember how Western propaganda used to glorify services in the capitalist countries, when we were growing up in the Communist East: “The customer is always treated like a god”. Yes, right! How laughable.

For centuries, “European workers” were ‘subsidized’ by colonialist and neo-colonialist plunder, perpetrated in all non-white corners of the world. They ended up being spoiled, showered with benefits, and unproductive. That was fine for the elites: as long as the masses kept voting for the imperialist regime of the West.

“The Proletariat” eventually became right-wing, imperialist, even hedonistic.

Old German lady beggar and a pigeon

I saw a lot this time, and soon I will write much more about it.

What I did not witness, was hope, or enthusiasm. There was no optimism. No healthy and productive exchange of ideas, or profound debate; something I am so used to in China, Russia or Venezuela, just confusion, apathy and decay everywhere.

And hate for those countries that are better, more human, more advanced, and full of socialist enthusiasm.

*****

At Sapienza University in Rom

Italy felt slightly different. Again, I met great left-wing thinkers there; philosophers, professors, filmmakers, journalists. I spoke at Sapienza University, the biggest university in Europe. I lectured about Venezuela and Western imperialism. I worked with the Venezuelan embassy in Rome. All of that was fantastic and enlightening, but was this really Italy?

Author with great Marxist Italian professor Luciano Vasapollo

A day after I left Rome for Beirut, Italians went to the polls. And they withdrew their supports from my friends of the 5-Star-Movement, leaving them with just over 17%, while doubling the backing for the extreme right-wing Northern League.

This virtually happened all over Europe. UK Labor lost, while right-wing Brexit forces gained significantly. Extreme right-wing, even near-fascist parties, reached unexpected heights.

It was all “me, me, me” politics. An orgy of “political selfies”. Me had enough of immigrants. Me wants better benefits. Me wants better medical care, shorter working hours. And so on.

Who pays for it, no one in Europe seems to care. Not once did I hear any European politicians lamenting about the plundering of West Papua or Borneo, about Amazonia or the Middle East, let alone Africa.

Rome at night

And immigration? Did we hear anything about that nuisance of European refugees, millions of them, many illegal, that have descended in the last decades on Southeast Asia, East Africa, Latin America, and even Sub Continent? They are escaping, in hordes, from meaninglessness, depressions, existential emptiness. In the process, they are stripping the locals of land, real estate, beaches, everything.

“Immigrants out”? Fine; then European immigrants out from the rest of the world, too! Enough of the one-sidedness!

The recent EU elections clearly showed that Europe has not evolved. For countless dark centuries, it used to live only for its pleasure, murdering millions in order to support its high life.

Right now, it is trying to reshuffle its political and administrative system, so it can continue doing the same. More efficiently!

On top of it, absurdly, the world is expected to pity that overpaid and badly performing, mainly right-wing and lethargic European proletariat, and sacrifice further tens of millions of people, just in order to further increase its standard of living.

All this should not be allowed to happen. Never again! It has to be stopped.

What Europe has achieved so far, at the expense of billions of lives of “the others”, is definitely not worthy of dying for.

Beware of Europe and its people! Study its history. Study imperialism, colonialism and the genocides it has been spreading all over the world.

Let them vote in their fascists. But keep them away. Prevent them from spreading their poison all over the world.

They want to put the interests of their countries first? Wonderful! Let us do exactly the same: The people of Russia first, too! China first! And, Asia, Africa, Latin America first!

• First published by NEO – New Eastern Outlook

• All photos by Andre Vltchek

Lies in Politics: Boris Johnson, the Law and the European Union

An enduring memory of the 2016 Brexit campaign, so marked by the foppish-haired blusterer, Boris Johnson, was the claim that the European Union was hungrily drawing out from British coffers £350 million a week.  It was insufferable, unqualified and dishonest.  It was a claim reared in the atmosphere of outrageous deception marking the effort on all sides of the debate regarding Britain’s relationship with the EU.  But some deceptions have the ballast to go further than others.

Rooted in the machinery of politics, such deceptions might have stayed there, deemed those natural outrages of a not so noble vocation. After all, political figures do make lying an art, if a very low one.  But Johnson has not been so fortunate.  A private prosecution has been launched against the aspiring Tory leader and possible replacement for Prime Minister Theresa May based on allegations he “repeatedly lied and misled the British public as to the cost of EU membership” with specific reference to the £350 million figure.  Marcus Ball, the initiator of the action and a Remain campaigner, had the heavy artillery £236,000 will bring, the very healthy result of crowdfunding.

Johnson’s legal team was quick to suggest that the whole matter was vexatious, an around about effort to question the legitimacy of the 2016 referendum result.  A source close to Johnson (and who might that be?) told the BBC that the case was a “politically motivated attempt to reverse Brexit.”  Adrian Darbishire QC, representing Johnson, was withering in describing the action as a political stunt intended to create mischief in an effort “to regulate the content and quality of political debate” using the criminal law.

Such debate might well feature figures and claims, and Johnson, at best, could only be accused of using the £350m sum for no other purpose than “in the course of a contested political campaign.”  Such campaigns are bound to contain a range of claims duly “challenged, contradicted and criticised.”

Ball’s legal representative, Lewis Power QC, took the broader view.  The proposed prosecution was not an attempt to “seek to prevent or delay Brexit”.  There was a larger principle at stake: “when politicians lie, democracy dies”.  Much to be said about that; but taken to its logical conclusion, no democracy can be said to be extant, let alone breathing, given how alive the lie industry is.

Ball’s case, nonetheless, has an ethical sting to it, and seems to be one of whether lies have a meaningful role in politics.  Ball’s legal representative was adamant: “Lying on a national and international platform undermines public confidence in politics… and brings both public offices held by the (proposed) defendant into disrepute”.  The law offered a solution: “misconduct to such a degree requires criminal sanction.  There is no justification or excuse for such misconduct.”

In its purest sense, the case has the trimmings of Michel de Montaigne, that wonderful man of letters who, four centuries ago, thought the lie reprehensible.  In “On Liars”, he is curt and unforgiving.  “Lying is indeed an accursed vice.  We are men, and we have relations with one other only by speech.  If we recognised the horror and gravity of an untruth, we should more justifiably punish it with fire than any other crime.”

In 1975, Adrienne Rich wrote with more poignancy than flames that, “The possibilities that exist between two people, or among a group of people are a kind of alchemy.  They are the most interesting thing in life.  The liar is someone who keeps losing sight of these possibilities.” Not quite as savage as Montaigne, but a similar point on value and relations bound by speech.  Certainly, when it comes to politics, Rich is clear that the loss of perspective the liar suffers is acute, being most “damaging to public life, human possibility, and our collective progress”.

Such instances may seem a bit high barred.  The politician is a creature of deception and dissimulation, and avoiding the compromising wet by keeping to high and dry moral ground may be a difficult thing.  Even Montaigne also offers a subtle exit, if not excuse, for one economic with the truth: he who has involuntary defects – a poor memory, for instance – should be treated kindly; those with intent to deceive – well, that’s something else entirely.  “Not without reason is it said that no one who is not conscious of having a sound memory should set up to be a liar.”

When Hannah Arendt turned her mind to the nature of lying in politics in 1971, seeking to understand the entire episode of the Pentagon Papers and their publication, a more complex view was advanced.  “Truthfulness,” she laments, “has never been counted among the political virtues, and lies have always been regarded as justifiable tools in political dealings.” But moral outrage alone, she insists, is insufficient when faced with deception.  When we confront what she describes as “factual truths”, we face the problem of compellability.  “Facts need testimony to be remembered and trustworthy witnesses to be established in order to find a secure dwelling place in the domain of human affairs.  From this, it follows that no factual statement can ever be beyond doubt.” Hence such generously distributed, and acceptable notions, as the £350m figure.

Whatever might have been busying the mind of District Judge Margot Coleman, she was sufficiently persuaded by Ball’s daring suggestion to take the matter further. In a written decision published on Wednesday, the judge ordered Johnson to attend Westminster Magistrate’s Court at a date not yet specified.  There, a decision will be made to assess whether the case has sufficiently nimble legs to get to the crown court.  “Having considered all the relevant factors, I am satisfied that this is a proper case to issue a summons as requested for the three offences [of misconduct in public office].”

Should the case against Johnson stick, it will ripple and trouble.  For private citizens to succeed in actions against politicians who lie would be astonishing, if not perplexing, for practitioners of the political art.  Time to add Montaigne et al to the House of Commons reading list.