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Forget the blather about Cicero. It’s Trump who rings Johnson’s chimes.

Posted on July 28, 2019


Sunday. We wake to the news that ‘we’ are now officially preparing for a no-deal Brexit. Michael Gove has told us this so it must be true. Commentators tell us that it’s probably a negotiating ploy so that it will be a case of ‘who blinks first’ – ‘us’ or that faceless, joyless Brussels lot. So that’s OK then. People’s jobs, livelihoods and future prospects are now down to a game of posh-boy chicken – except that in their cushioned existence, another tenner on the weekly shop doesn’t even register.

To repeat a point made previously in this blog, I do not regard the EU, its institutions and its ideology with anything other than suspicion. Its purpose is to protect the interests of big business and, as we’ve seen very clearly, when any of its members elect governments that challenge the neoliberal consensus, it acts quickly to make life impossible for them. If the UK somehow remains and anything like a left-leaning, socially progressive party takes office, the EU would work vigorously to block measures designed to tax the corporations and use public spending for the greater good.  There are complex, far-reaching arguments about whether we should be in their club – it’s just that we haven’t had them yet. We’re closing our eyes, swinging and hoping for the best.

If there is one narrative that unites both critics and supporters of the new Prime Minister, it is that he is a man who has a frail grasp of detail. This has become all too clear all too quickly. The fairy-tale was that, at last, we have someone who is going to go over there and let them have it with straight-talk and charm. This has now bumped up against the reality that as he bounds off on his Euro charm offensive, he’ll be meeting people who want to know only about any such detail. That old Etonian smarm and the odd Latin ditty will get him nowhere. He’s not a complete fool, he knows he won’t get a better deal so now we’ll use something called ‘financial headroom’ – or the Tory equivalent of the derided money tree – to prepare for a no deal.

Except that the concept of ‘no-deal’ is preposterous. Unless the plan on November 1st is to deal solely with Trump, Xi Jinping, an assortment of vile Emirate prince-boys and anyone else who will be lining up to pick at the flesh of our floundering merchants (yes, I know, that’s exactly the plan) the UK will have to do a deal with the EU.  So all the posturing and faux toughness will count for nothing: but ‘tough’ talk is the staff of life for this wretched cabal of political clowns and cadavers.

Be in no doubt, Thatcher wanted to sell off everything we owned and destroy those institutions that protected communities and working people; this lot want to go one step further. The article of faith closest to their dark hearts is complete the total deregulation and the opening up of everything, but everything, to the vagaries of the market. That’d be the market that benefits the profiteers and plays fast and loose with the lives of ordinary people trying to get by. Think I’m exaggerating? If anything, I’m underplaying it.

Let’s take Liz Truss. She’s in charge of international trade, so that’s a pretty key position. She also has faith in young people and that’s a good thing. What does she like and admire about them? Well, she thinks they’re ‘freedom fighters’. You know, the way they’ve taken up the cudgels to fight for climate change so that we don’t continue to degrade the planet on a daily basis?  Sadly, that’s not the focus of her approval.

What Liz loves about these freedom fighters is that they ride around in Ubers, let out their property for AirBnB and order their food from Deliveroo. Everyone’s a consumer and everyone’s their own entrepreneur. Yay, we’re saved. Let’s work together for a better society by getting in an unregulated cab, driven by someone on subsistence wages and gorging on pre-packaged food, reheated in a shipping container on an industrial estate and brought to us by an A level student on a bike. We’ve all got money – we can all afford it.

Still, if we get sick from this pre-packaged feast, there’s one thing on which we can rely – that most highly and properly revered of all our institutions, the National Health Service. They’ll never be able to sell that off or deregulate it. There are some congenital naysayers who are stupid enough to think that all this stuff about Trump wanting to sell us chlorinated chicken is something of a smokescreen designed to get us to take our eye off the ball while the prize, the biggest and most lucrative prize, the public service that distinguishes us and in which we take communal pride, is hived off to the money makers in return for trading agreements. Really. As if.

We have been deliverood into the hands of bigots, self-servers and charlatans by 139,000 white people from the shires. The chief of their number has immediately appointed a modern, amoral Machiavelli to flood Facebook and begin another election campaign and has surrounded himself with the same set of people who treated us with mendacious contempt three years ago. He has peered over the Atlantic and seen how lies, denial, racism and vile aggression towards opponents has done Trump little, if any lasting damage. He might give us a load of old guff by quoting Cicero and Plato, but it’s Donald who really rings his chimes.

So, without apology, I return to my old mantra: sitting on the sofa won’t cut it.

On Thursday evening I joined one of the many protests that have taken place this week in Parliament Square. The crowd, mainly young and noticeably diverse, were there to let the Prime Minister know that they did not believe he had a popular mandate. They generally expressed it in a much more profane and pithy way: nine letters, three syllables. As I made my way toward the protest, I overheard a young man, late twenties perhaps, proclaim to his girlfriend that these people – that’d be me – were so fucking boring and that politics was shit. I decided not to hold my tongue and told him courteously, I hope, that he really needed to pay attention because this all affected him.

He said nothing in response but did shake his head in a mixture of disdain and pity for the poor, white-haired pensioner who clearly had nothing better to do with his time. And that’s the challenge for all of us. Not to speak to each other and to echo ourselves on social media, but to try to convince such young men and women that it all matters.

It means not taking the ‘don’t mention the B word’ route when it crops up at work. It means talking to people about the genuine existential threat (a much devalued term of late) to the NHS and public service. It means, for the moment, side-lining the lies, the clownishness, the fallout from Johnson’s colourful private life, his contemptible commentary on race and women. We need to talk about grovelling deals with Trump and dictators and what this will mean for us all.

He’s no figure of fun. We didn’t vote for him. We need to act however we can to be rid of him. Cicero would’ve approved.

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