Wednesday 13 November 2019

Brexit, EU, disinformation: three good reads

The first is by the supreme stylist of the Irish Times, Fintan O'Toole,

the second by the outstanding author of The Capital, enlarging upon his time in Brussels,

the third an alarming but by no means despairing sequel to the writer's chronicle of where it all began, during his time in Russia.

The rest of the pictures, for punctuation's sake, are drawn from our last big march in October, as jovial and inventive as the others; we missed the bout of rain, having retreated to the ICA for lunch, meeting the same folk with 'my' Tillmans T shirt as before - pictured below - after which I went down to Parliament Square and caught the last four speeches).

Meanwhile, to the books. All three give us a bigger perspective than you can glean from journal or newspaper articles. Fintan O'Toole traces the Brexit delusion to England's (note: not Great Britain's; O'Toole is careful to make the distinction) swivelling between abjection and grandiosity after the Second World War, the self-pity of winning the war but losing the peace (including resentment that Germany prospered thereafter).

 'In the English reactionary imagination dystopian fantasy was and is indistinguishable from reality', and O'Toole uses an address to the anti-European Tories of the Bruges group as one example.

The sleight of hand was not subtle: Hitler tried to unite Europe, so does the EU, therefor the EU is a Hitlerian project. But the lack of subtlety did not stop the trope being used in the Brexit campaign. 'Napoleon, Hitler, various people tried this [unifying Europe], and it ends tragically. The EU is an attempt to do this by different methods,' Boris Johnson told the Daily Telegraph on 15 May 2016, a month before the Referendum.

O'Toole tracks Johnson's mendacity back to the beginning, too. It's why he was able to paint such a devastating portrait for the New York Review of Books, 'The Ham of Fate', last August. I learnt much more that was painful-funny here, including the absurd and slippery speech the person we must now know as Diana Ditch made for his selection as Tory candidate in the safe seat of Henley-on-Thames. All O'Toole has to do is quote the supposed sleight of hand with which he turns his selfish act of depriving his pregnant wife of toast in hospital into his attempt to buy some more, only to find that 'you can't pay for things on the NHS...we need to think of new ways of getting private money into the NHS'. Job done; Johnson replaced the retiring Michael Heseltine, irony of ironies (MH is our greatest Remain speechmaker, if you didn't know).

There's more, including some outrageous playing with facts about our not-so-easy-to-check medieval history. O'Toole refers to La Ditch's brand of absurd equations as 'Brexit camp...edgy clowning in which everything is at once very funny and highly sinister'. But I hope no-one's laughing now. Those who vote for this criminal liar, and they include Theresa May, happy to canvas for someone she has said has no 'moral integrity', have given up any moral pretence whatsoever.

It has to be admitted, though, that while Diana and co were playing with our future, successive governments did next to nothing to enlighten us about why the European Union matters. Which is why Robert Menasse's Enraged Citizens, European Peace and Democratic Deficits should be essential reading everywhere, not least in schools. It presents as a rather dry little handbook, but Menasse's style, as translated by Craig Decker, is anything but. Arriving in Brussels for his research period, he notes his objections to the project, and how pleasantly surprised he was at both the openness and the anything-but-faceless so-called bureaucracy. But while he praises the Parliament and the Commission, 'two supranational institutions, which are truly European in their aspirations and duties', Menasse is critical of the Council, 'an institution in which national interests, national sensitivities, national fictions, etc. are defended', thwarting 'logic and rationality in a wretched game of national affectations and so-called interests'. And the power of that Council has been strengthened, not weakened.

For whoever supports nationalism - 'because that's just the way people are' - will be swept away by nationalism, because in the European Union and the globalized world, national furore can never really be satisfied. And the rage will become extreme once people realize that the 'defence of national interests' was a fraud from the get-go. The only things being defended are the interests of the national political and economic elites.

Sound familiar? One of Menasse's solutions is for the EU to abandon nations in favour of regions, the only areas in which we're truly rooted. 'Europe, in point of fact, is a Europe of regions. The task of European politics should therefore be to systematically recognise and develop what Europe, in fact, already is'. And has already been acknowledged as such through the European grants to restore deprived areas like Sunderland and Cornwall (who collectively were too stupid to realise that where their government had deserted them, the EU stepped in). Cultural diversity must be celebrated, too, and yet the EU's cultural department is, in budgetary terms, the worst off. That has to change. And I think it already is changing. Let's hope against hope that little England will not be cut off from the move.

Peter Pomerantsev's Nothing is True and Everything is Possible, about his time in Russia, was a work of tragicomic despair. There's more hope about This Is Not Propaganda, interweaving the present information war with the tale of Pomerantsev's dissident parents, pursued by the KGB before they made a new life in this country, in that it cites the marvellous people around the world trying to fight misinformation and tyranny with their own tools - Srdja Popovic with his worldwide training courses, courageous Alberto Escorcia in Mexico, Babar Aliev in Eastern Ukraine, to name but three. Escorcia sums it all up when he defines the Internet as 'a great battle between love, interconnectedness on the one side and fear, hate, disjointedness on the other'. It seems as if the fear and hate are winning at the moment, but all is not lost.

And the UK's ties with the rest of Europe won't be broken, whatever happens. Recently took delivery of the latest Europe Day CD, and though it's a real shame that, in a convoluted chain of ever more surprising disingenuousness, Eldbjørg Hemsing refused permission for her brilliant part in the spectacular finale, Cristian Lolea's arrangement of Enescu's First Romanian Rhapsody, to appear, there's plenty of top-quality nourishment here.

Its sequel will be a 10th anniversary disc of highlights from the concerts across the years. So much to celebrate!


David Damant said...

I would add that the decision to take us out of the EU was not taken by those qualified to judge the matter - leading people in nearly all the professions, business organisations,etc - and the Commons was heavily Remain. The genius of the British constitution, based on a representative democracy was sidelined ( Boris said "stand aside" to the Commons)The Tory party in the country was one powerfully unbalanced and completely undemocratic factor, and they are as neurotic on the EU point as the ERG group.As for the referendum, as Clement Attlee said, referendums are the device of dictators and demagogues, and Farage, Trump and Boris are certainly the latter. Cameron's foolish mistake ( exaggerated by not even requiring a 55% vote, in the way always prescribed for constitutional matters) was to overlook the anti- elite vote - one only had to watch the referendum campaign and response from up North to see the hate they have for London and top people " with their glasses of wine and champagne" " WE can take decisions too" Both quotations......and nothing much to do with the the EU. But they made up the Leave majority. So I would not argue a general demise of opinion and judgement, but rather a constitutional outrage

I have observed over time the desire of people to be ruled by their own kind. One can see it in Scotland, Catalonia etc. I would argue against some of the analysis you quote in the three books, attempting to draw out deep historic tides of reasoning which may be correct in part but can easily be exaggerated. My observation is that the desire to be ruled by one's own kind is not only a deep but also a valid desire, and also - and I have had experience of this in Scotland in past years - the ruling by the locals can be more efficient " if we are all Scots the business goes better". The fallacy of asking people for their views is that the only point considered by a referendum - rule by one's own - is the dominant even the only idea under consideration. But today we have globalisation, of everything and especially trade. Change for example is rapid, unsettling, sometimes unfortunate. Many of the things that make people unsatisfied are due to that, and being in or out of the EU, or the UK, or Spain, will not get rid of those influences. In many cases especially trade leaving the EU,or the UK, or Spain,will be likely to make these factors more difficult to control. Probably less than one % of the population is capable of judging these matters and referendums are misconceived in the extreme, though we need another one if we are to reverse the first. [Note I voted Remain because the organsiations and people in a position to know were strongly Remainers, that is, I did not feel able to judge for myself,]

David said...

Well, I paraphrased and probably oversimplified. I recommend you read these books. Thanks for your own lucid thoughts.

Julia Matcham said...

Thank you for your précis plural of the books. How you have time when you do so much travelling, I can't imagine! There are millions of reasons why people voted as they have...a great deal simply an imaginative idea of what we might be based on what we were. Not that that was anything to boast about. Voting Remain from my point of view was based more on my view of the way the world has evolved than detailed knowledge of the EU. We are still tribes. In order to survive we need to make accords with people like ourselves. We ARE Europeans. To cast ourselves out of our natural environment is suicidal.

The USA is not our natural environment...I think they have some distance to go before they reach our level of sophistication...well that is, the inherited wisdom of the nation...not well represented at present! I dread a Brexit that reduces us to partnerships with, dependency on, nations with which we have little culturally in common.

Far from gaining 'control', we will lose it.

David said...

Unfortunately people's imaginations are not so rich as to allow for millions of reasons. But I admit neither I nor Fintan O'Toole have covered all bases. But the manipulation of 40 years of press misreporting and lies has a lot to do with it. And yours is an interesting take re tribes but apart from anything else I think proximity will do the trick. Alas, though, we seem better at importing the worst of American than the best, say, of Scandinavian democracy. Scotland is right to look to those countries for its ties. And for a country with murderously low levels of healthcare to export its greed into our precious NHS is terrifying. We hope both the American and British horror clowns will not weather the current crisis.

Fortunately I haven't been travelling much this month, but I need to limit blogtime as there's work to be done and deadlines to be met...

Susan said...

Now that my laptop is back in operation (!), I can try to catch up. I often feel, this side of the pond, too, that even though I make a good effort to be informed and thoughtful, there is an enormous amount that I am just learning in the past months that brought us to this point. Our press, even the best of it, has not been and still is not up to the job. On the subject of importing the worst of America, and notably exporting the greed into the NHS is indeed terrifying. I do often wonder how even the Democratic-side "debate" on health care coverage must seem to those who have NHS and similar systems. (But actually, I have a pretty good idea!) Most of the Democratic candidates, when it comes to putting in place what we ought to have, either run for the exits or spout Republican talking points, or both. Nonetheless, one has to have hope, difficult though it can sometimes be

David said...

I feel the same. And, as you must have felt some years back - I still pinch myself to believe that your Horror Clown is still clawing on to power - it seems incredible that so many people here would vote for sheer greed and lies. There's a very eloquent speech given by American actor Rob Delaney for Labour about the NHS which again makes the choice clear. Do watch it all: Can we still hope for Elizabeth Warren over there?

Susan said...

The Rob Delaney video is excellent, could not be more clear about the stark nature of the choice. Yes, certainly, re Elizabeth Warren. The situation is volatile, and there are too many candidates, but she steers a steady grass roots course and is picking up, on the one side, one valuable endorsement after another, and on the other side, has all the right enemies (as Delaney also points out re who the sides are in this battle). But misinformation is already flying and will continue, a lot of bad actors have too much sway (zuckerberg is one particularly malign force), so it is not at all clear how things will turn out.

David said...

Likewise. BTW I had no idea who Rob Delaney was when I watched the film. More cause for concern lurking in the Tory manifesto: