January 29, 2017
by Martin Odoni
A popular hashtag on social media at the moment rightly condemns the UK Prime Minister for her pusillanimous stance on the ban on refugees from certain Islamic countries entering the USA. Theresa May is being called Theresa-The-Appeaser for her mealy-mouthed refusal to criticise the new US President, Donald Trump, for signing an Executive Order closing borders to people originating in seven Middle Eastern countries. (Interestingly, but unsurprisingly, none of them are among the countries in the region with whom Trump has personal business interests.) This was done just as May was preparing to meet the new President for the first time.
The anti-refugee policy drew immediate, scathing condemnation from all over the world, and has seen a second furious tidal wave of protests against Trump across the USA to follow the multi-millions demonstrating for women’s rights last weekend. (Trump only got sworn in nine days ago, and already millions seem ready to start a revolution against him!) But when pressed on the matter by increasingly impatient journalists, May, for long hours, refused to be drawn. Even when one of her own MPs, the Iraqi-born Nadim Zahawi, revealed that he himself would be subject to the ban, May stayed quiet.
The ‘Appeaser’ tag of course invokes memories of Neville Chamberlain, the British Prime Minister at the heart of the notorious ‘Munich Agreement‘ of 1938, shortly before the start of the Second World War. I think the comparison is unfair though. On Chamberlain, that is.
I am one of those history buffs who have some sympathy with Chamberlain over Munich, as he was in a pretty hopeless position when he tried to negotiate with Adolf Hitler. Chamberlain has long been castigated as the weakling who let Hitler walk all over him, giving up the Sudetenland and leaving Czechoslovakia undefended as the price of Britain not having to go to war, only for war to follow anyway, when Hitler reneged on his promise not to claim any further territories. But people arguing that Chamberlain was a weakling forget that Britain in the 1920s had undergone a massive program of disarmament, and the task of rebuilding the military was only just under way by the time he became Prime Minister. Militarily, Britain was far behind Nazi Germany, clearly nowhere near ready for another war, and in light of Britain’s military weakness at that point, Chamberlain’s concessions to Hitler were understandable, and may even have been wise, as they bought extra time to re-arm.
But more than that, even while Chamberlain made concessions in the face of threats, he still took an explicit position of opposing what Hitler was doing. He did not stay silent in the face of a powerful right-wing extremist; even if the promises Chamberlain extracted from Hitler in return for the concessions ultimately proved to be lies, at least they were born from a genuine attempt at offering up some opposition.
Compare that to May’s behaviour over the last couple of days, and you quickly realise that there is almost no resemblance at all. What May is doing is not even appeasement in fact (a word that is thrown around with depressing frequency, especially by militarists who do not appear to understand its meaning). What May has been doing in the face of right wing extremism is basically nothing; she has merely tried to keep her lips sealed and hoped not to become embroiled in the matter of the refugee ban at all.
What Chamberlain did to try and contain Hitler in 1938 may arguably have been wrong (although as I say, given Britain’s military weakness at that point, that is very much open to debate), but at least he did try and do something against it. Whether we think appeasement was the right action, at least it was not inaction. May’s response to such extremism when faced with it is not even to appease it, it is simply not to talk about it until her hand is forced. Even when she is compelled to speak up, all she says is that she disagrees with the refugee ban, not that she condemns it. (If Vladimir Putin of Russia had come up with a policy as intolerant as this, what, I wonder, would she be saying then?) May is making no real attempt to oppose Trump’s anti-Muslim prejudices, or his cruel rejection of the terrible plight of so many refugees (from wars that the USA and Britain themselves have played significant roles in creating), even though she is not being threatened by a powerful military in the way that Chamberlain was. She is being sycophantic, sucking up to Trump in the hope that he will give Britain a kinder trade deal to prop up an economy that will soon be ailing in the aftermath of leaving the European Union. She is scared of losing such a deal, and she is giving in to that fear.
So even if we accept that Neville Chamberlain was ‘weak’, what do the last couple of days make Theresa May?
An outright coward, perhaps?
January 24, 2017
by Martin Odoni
[Downing Street. The Cabinet Office. Theresa May is present, sat at the table filling in some papers.]
CAPTION: The very near future of an alternative reality where Brexiteers got everything they wanted.
[There is a sharp knock on the door.]
MAY: Come in.
[The door opens. Jeremy Heywood, the Cabinet Secretary, walks in.]
HEYWOOD: Prime Minister…
MAY: Ah, Cabinet Secretary! Excellent. I have whims I require you to carry out.
HEYWOOD: Whims, Prime Minister?
MAY: Commands then.
HEYWOOD: That still sounds a little strong.
MAY: A strong country requires a strong Prime Minister, Jeremy. Now, here are my commands. I trust you are paying attention?
HEYWOOD: Of course, Prime Minister, that goes without saying.
MAY: I only wish it did. First on the agenda today, I want you to shut down the BBC.
HEYWOOD: [Startled.] I beg your pardon?
HEYWOOD: Prime Minister? Did you just… ask me to… shut down the British Broadcasting Corporation?
MAY: Ask you to…? Oh good heavens, Jeremy, no. What a concept! My my…
HEYWOOD: Oh thank goodness…
MAY: I ordered you to shut down the BBC. Next, I want…
HEYWOOD: I beg your pardon for interrupting, Prime Minister, but you do realise that you have no right to make such a demand. The BBC’s Charter is outside the elected Government’s power of control, and the requirement for a free press…
MAY: The requirement for a free press is a constitutional right, Jeremy. And I removed it from the constitution just now. Here you go.
[May holds up a form, which Heywood, looking pale, reaches out and accepts. He studies it briefly.]
HEYWOOD: Prime Minister… the constitution…
MAY: I just told you, I’ve changed it. The right to a free press has been dropped from the constitution, because I don’t like it. And that nasty Marr-person at the BBC nearly forced me to admit on live TV the other day that I knew even before the Trident vote last year about that nuclear weapons test that went bollocks-up. Could’ve been in real trouble if I’d blurted that out. So shut the BBC down. Oh, I’d like that done by 4pm, if you’d be so good?
HEYWOOD: But, Prime Minister, with all due respect you do not have the right…
MAY: I have every right, thank you. The Supreme Court says I do. And you can also shut down the Mirror, the Guardian, the Canary and the Independent. They’re all horrid to me. Now, next on the agenda, I want you to divert all tax revenues for the next year away from the Treasury and into my personal bank account.
HEYWOOD: [Appalled.] Prime Minister? You cannot be serious…!
MAY: You’re saying I cannot be serious? Who do you think you are? John McEnroe?
HEYWOOD: Well no, Prime Minister…
MAY: It could take a few days for the standing order to be set up, so you’d best hurry up and get on with it. There’s this wonderful new dress that’s all the rage in Milan, and I’d like to get one so I can look hot when I’m visiting that hunky Mr Drumpf fellow in a few days.
HEYWOOD: Tax revenues cannot simply be diverted into an individual’s bank account, Prime Minister! The control of taxation is the prerogative of Parliament…
MAY: Not anymore. I’ve made another change to the constitution.
[May presents another document to Heywood, who gives it a dumbfounded look.]
MAY: As you can see, the constitution now says that the Prime Minister may raise taxes in any amount and at any time at his or her own discretion. So see to it, will you? I expect the standing order to be up and running by a week on Friday. Next, Patrick Stewart said he disagrees with me about something again this morning. Arrest him and have him beheaded please.
HEYWOOD: Arrest him, Prime Minister?!? On what grounds?!
MAY: Arrest him on the grounds that I don’t like it when people say I’m wrong, and behead him on the grounds of Lambeth Palace. It’ll scare the Archbishop of Canterbury into keeping his mouth shut in future that way.
HEYWOOD: But, Prime Minister, we can’t behead anyone, executions are illegal in this country…
[May presents another sheet of paper to Heywood.]
MAY: No they aren’t, Jeremy. I’ve changed the law so I can execute anyone I feel like executing…
[May starts scribbling on another paper.]
MAY: While you were asking me, “On what grounds?”
HEYWOOD: Well then this law-change cannot have been ratified by Parliament.
MAY: It doesn’t have to be, Jeremy. There’s been an amendment to the constitution. Have you not seen it?
HEYWOOD: Which one is it this time, Prime Minister?
MAY: The one I’m just writing up now. As you’ll see in a moment, it says that the Prime Minister may introduce new laws at his or her own discretion without recourse to consultation with, or ratification by, any outside body.
HEYWOOD: But you cannot just change the constitution simply because you feel like it.
MAY: Yes I can, Cabinet Secretary. When I appealed to the Supreme Court that I should be allowed to activate Article 50 and withdraw Britain from the European Union without Parliament’s approval, the judges said, “Yes, that’s fine.” And as withdrawal from the EU is a constitutional change, and if it’s fine for me to do it without ratification, that means I am free to change the constitution in any way I see fit, whenever I see fit, without getting Parliament’s say-so. Got it?
[May starts filling in another paper.]
MAY: But me no buts, Heywood. Now. My husband’s golfing partner’s wife wants a child, but she’s past child-bearing age. But one of her cousins has just given birth. Therefore, I want you to arrange for the new baby to be kidnapped and handed over to my husband’s golfing partner’s wife, with immediate effect. If her cousin complains, just tell her the baby died of mumps or something.
HEYWOOD: [Mortified.] I can’t believe what I’m hearing! Kidnapping is against the Law.
MAY: Kidnapping by any individual below the office of the Prime Minister is against the Law, Cabinet Secretary. There’s been…
HEYWOOD: Oh let me guess, Prime Minister. There’s been a change to the Law?
MAY: Well actually no, not yet.
HEYWOOD: [Surprised.] Oh.
[May finishes filling in the paper.]
MAY: …But now there has. A Prime Minister, with this freshly-inked change to the Laws of Her Majesty’s United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, is no longer subject to kidnapping prohibitions. And as you will be carrying out this instruction on my behalf, in this particular instance you are exempt from them too.
HEYWOOD: I don’t want to be exempt from…
MAY: Baby! Kidnap! See to it. Now, people are campaigning outside of various major hospitals to Save The NHS. They look really scruffy with all those awful placards and things they carry around. Most unsightly. Have them all shot.
MAY: Yes, shot. With guns. No need to arrest them and put them in front of a wall facing firing squads, just send in the army and shoot-to-kill.
HEYWOOD: You can’t just command the British Army to butcher British citizens indiscriminately! It’s a violation of the Army’s duty to protect the people!
[May produces another sheet of paper and hands it to Heywood.]
MAY: I think you will find that as of oh-eight-hundred hours this morning, the army’s duty has been re-evaluated and re-defined as a duty to protect the Prime Minister. Exclusively.
HEYWOOD: And who re-defined it and how?
MAY: I did. By writing it down on that form. Now, penultimately on today’s agenda. I fancy that actor from EastEnders. Whassisname? The man with the stubble? Runs the pub.
HEYWOOD: Er, I am not totally au fait with soap operas, Prime Minister, but I imagine you mean Danny Dyer?
MAY: That’s the fellow. I want to sit on his face for a couple of days. I want him arrested, stripped naked, dipped in banana custard, and tied to my bed at Chequers. Make the arrangements.
HEYWOOD: You want what?!?
MAY: A bit of nookie, Cabinet Secretary. With Danny Dyer. Arrange it.
HEYWOOD: But, Prime Minister! With respect… what if he doesn’t want to… do… things… with you?
MAY: What do his wishes have to do with anything? I’m feeling horny, go and get him so I can dirty some bedding with him.
HEYWOOD: May I… clarify your instruction please, Prime Minister?
MAY: Oh if you must, Cabinet Secretary. Get on with it.
HEYWOOD: You want me to arrange for you to indulge in acts of a… carnal nature with another person, irrespective of whether it is with his consent or not?
[May starts writing out another form.]
MAY: I trust that won’t be a problem for you, Jeremy?
HEYWOOD: Prime Minister, if he does not consent, it would be rape. Both morally and legally, I would have a most profound problem with it!
MAY: Morally? As civil servants go, you have quite the taste for luxuries, Cabinet Secretary! As for legally, not a problem. You see, I’m just putting the last details on another constitutional change.
HEYWOOD: [Nauseous.] Oh really, Prime Minister? And what is this one?
MAY: A re-definition of citizenship of the United Kingdom. Under the terms of my new law, all people previously defined as ‘subjects of Her Majesty the Queen’, are now hereby re-classified as, ‘slaves, body and soul, in perpetual possession of the Prime Minister’.
MAY: And if, under the newly-amended constitution of the United Kingdom, I have ownership of the body of every British citizen, I can do whatever I damn well please to the body of anyone I choose, including Danny Dyer. [Almost drooling.] And, oh boy, I will! So, to the final issue on today’s agenda…
HEYWOOD: Prime Minister, I must apologise. But I cannot carry out any of your instructions.
MAY: I beg your pardon?
HEYWOOD: Forgive me, Prime Minister, but I find your instructions completely unethical. I abhor the very notion of what you demand, and I am completely perturbed as to the manner in which you have authorised your own self-indulgences.
MAY: [Menacing.] Are you… disagreeing with me, Cabinet Secretary?
HEYWOOD: Indeed I am! Proudly and without hesitation!
[May starts writing another paper.]
MAY: Very well, Jeremy. [Calls out.] Officers!
[The door opens. In step two policemen. May points at Heywood.]
MAY: That man is openly disagreeing with the Prime Minister. Arrest him.
POLICEMAN: Arrest him, ma’am? I can’t arrest him just for arguing with you.
MAY: Yes you can.
POLICEMAN: But there’s no law against disagreeing with…
MAY: Yes there is.
POLICEMAN: Which one?
[May hands the officer the paper she was filling in.]
MAY: This one, Constable, the one I’ve just finished writing. It amends the constitution so that any person found guilty of contradicting the Prime Minister can be summarily shot.
[The policeman studies the paper for a moment, shows it to his colleague who nods idly, then places his hand on Heywood’s shoulder.]
POLICEMAN: So you did, ma’am. Sir, I arrest you for crimes against the Prime Minister. I must inform you that anything you say will not be taken down, and will not be used against you in a court of law, as you won’t be getting a trial.
HEYWOOD: What! I have a right to a trial! Every accused is entitled to a fair trial!
MAY: We don’t have trials in Britain, Jeremy. Not anymore.
POLICEMAN: The Habeas Corpus Act was repealed by the Prime Minister yesterday, sir. As soon as she says you’re guilty, that’s it. I have to arrest you and throw the book at you.
MAY: And the courts are all being abolished as we have no use for them anymore. Not when I can simply decided who’s guilty and who isn’t. Gentlemen, march him out and shoot him.
HEYWOOD: But you can’t do this!
MAY: Why not? The Supreme Court has decided that I am allowed to control the constitution. When I control the constitution, I control everything. Anything in the constitution that bars me from doing something I wish to do, I can simply remove it whenever I feel like it. Against that, Cabinet Secretary, what can you do to stop me?
[The police march Heywood out and close the door behind them. After a moment, there is the sound of gunfire.]
MAY: What can you do to stop me?
CAPTION: Do you understand why the Supreme Court’s decision was right, yet?
January 5, 2017
by Martin Odoni
Back in the summer, Britain made a decision that I am still terrified it will live to regret, when the notorious Referendum on leaving the European Union came out in favour. In the days after the decision was made, memes presenting this quotation, attributed to Martin Schulz, President of the EU Parliament, started circulating on the Internet among some of the more extreme ‘pro-Brexit’ factions; –
I have seen that the memes are still circulating six months on, and it is starting to irritate me, for one simple reason, that I am sure most of you can already guess. Yes, you got it, ladies, gents, and others; –
The quotation is taken from a satirical section in a magazine published in Germany, called Contra Magazin. The article it appeared in can be accessed by clicking here.
The section it appeared in in Contra Magazin, called Kurioses & Satire, is roughly the German equivalent of NewsThump. Nothing in that section is meant to be taken seriously, and all quotations in it should be expected to be either made up or deliberately altered for purposes of pure parody. The article was not genuine news, nor even propaganda; it was a joke. Maddeningly, not only is the word ‘Satire’ included in the section-name, but it even says, ‘In Satira‘ below the picture on the original article. And yet somehow, hardly anyone seems to be able to add two-and-two; –
It is a sad lookout for many on the xenophobic Hard-Right in the UK that they apparently need a full translation before they can figure out what the word ‘Satira’ means. It also says something about their fixation on seeing the EU as the modern incarnation of Nazi Germany that they are unable to spot a joke about it, even when it has been clearly labelled as such, or check their sources when they hear a dubious quotation. While I would not be altogether surprised were I to discover that it is descriptive of Schulz’s private attitudes, the fact remains that he never said what is in the quotation at all.
I recommend people stop doing their research at I-Saw-It-In-A-Meme-On-Social-Media-So-It-Must-Be-True University.
January 3, 2017
The Guardian is not really a ‘liberal’ newspaper in the modern sense of the word.