by Martin Odoni

NB: This is an excerpt from another article published by The Prole Star.

A number of delayed inevitables finally happened this week. With Theresa May at last forced to declare publicly which policy to pursue over ‘Brexit‘, her house-of-cards is teetering. The Democratic Unionist Party, predictably furious to learn that the Prime Minister’s ‘backstop’ plan involved treating Northern Ireland differently from the rest of the UK, effectively establishing a kind of border in the Irish Sea, have in all-but-words dissolved the alliance agreed after the General Election. A number of May’s own MPs are now in open revolt over Britain not having independent power to end the backstop summarily, with the rumour circulating – perhaps wrongly – that the magic forty-eight letters of no-confidence have already been received by the 1922 Committee, automatically triggering a leadership ballot. Business leaders have expressed unhappiness with the Brexit plan. Opinion polls suggest the Tories have haemorrhaged between 3 and 6 points in around a week due to hardline Brexiteers across the country feeling betrayed by the suggestion that Britain may stay in a Customs Union with the European Union; they appear to be flocking back to UKIP. A ‘Coalition-of-chaos’?

A coalition of conservative chaos

Everything May said Corbyn would be, May has been.

In short, the Government has hit the buffers this week.

TO READ THE REST OF THIS ARTICLE, PLEASE CLICK HERE.

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by Martin Odoni

So. The ITV leaders’ debate. I found the absence of Theresa May from it was rather a redeeming quality, as the leaders who did speak were comparatively less android-like, and she would have ruined that with her mechanical repetitions of ‘Strong & Stable’. I thought Caroline Lucas and Tim Farron were the most impressive speakers, Lucas very impassioned, Tim Farron surprisingly combative. Nicola Sturgeon seemed a bit awkward compared with her performance in 2015 and a bit too eager to speak from a narrowly-Scottish perspective. Leanne Wood’s performance was fairly solid, although it had a bit too much umm-ing and ah-ing at points. I do feel Jeremy Corbyn rather missed a trick by not taking part.

A special mention for Paul Nuttall – and yes, paranoid ‘Kippers, I will start by being fair to him. Given it was clear that the other four debaters were all in agreement on most topics, and therefore were dead-set against Nuttall’s far-right mindset, I genuinely thought his showing was surprisingly good. It can only be difficult to avoid getting in a flap when everyone else on the stage disagrees with your every word, and I thought he held himself together quite well.

But, having said all that, he still said some flipping stupid things, which made it easier for the others to ‘gang up’ on him. Here are my own responses to five of these stupid remarks; –

STUPID REMARK NUMBER 1: –

“There’s a big world out there! There’s the Anglosphere. There’s the Commonwealth which has over 2 billion people in it. This is where our future lies.”

(Emphasis added.)

Really? Nuttall thinks the British Commonwealth is this country’s ‘future’? That would be rather like Vladimir Putin suggesting that the future of Russia lies with the Tsars of the House of Romanov. Or Lars Rasmussen declaring that the future of Denmark lies in raiding other countries in longships and stealing their gold.

The whole reason why the Commonwealth is so-called, and no longer called ‘The Colonies’ or ‘The Empire’, is that it is not Britain’s future. It is part of Britain’s shameful past, and there is little reason to assume any of its constituent nations would be eager to offer Britain a better deal than the European Union.

Speaking of the Commonwealth as Britain’s ‘future’ says more about the pseudo-historical romanticism of the xenophobic right in this country, harking back to some kind of ‘British Golden Age’ that never really happened, than it will ever say about the realities of Brexit.

STUPID REMARK NUMBER 2: –

“We are letting too many people come [into the country]. The only way to solve it is by having an Australian points-based system, whereby we have the right to say who comes and who doesn’t.”

Oh? Would this be the same Australian points-based system that, according to studies from last year, allows a higher rate of immigration per head than the UK’s current system?

Well, I am fairly happy for extra immigrants to come in, so I am most gratified to learn that Nuttall was secretly in favour all along.

STUPID REMARK NUMBER 3: –

“My party is committed to putting £6 billion extra every single year into the National Health Service. This will fund twenty thousand new nurses, ten thousand new GPs… Net [migration should be] one in, one out.”

While I am heavily in favour of training up far more home-grown medical experts than has happened in Britain over the last twenty-five years, we have to face the reality of how long it takes; training up a new doctor requires up to six years of education. So as we wait for an enlarged next generation of doctors and nurses to come-of-age, what do we do in the meantime? Well, the answer to that is precisely what we have sadly been doing for the aforementioned twenty-five years; we have to rely on immigration to keep the NHS adequately staffed. But if, as Nuttall insists, we have to reduce net migration to zero, adequate staffing becomes a dice-roll. What if not enough unskilled people wish to leave the country at a time of NHS vacancies? What if a lot of the people leaving are themselves NHS workers?

The policy platform of the UK Independence Party, characteristically, is completely incoherent. Particularly, it fails to recognise how one policy can impact upon another. It is therefore ironic that Nuttall said at one stage of the NHS/social care discussion, “The left hand very often doesn’t know what the right hand is doing.”

That is a fine summary of his own party’s policies.

STUPID REMARK NUMBER 4; –

“Let’s not forget the opportunities Brexit will give us once we leave the European Union. We’ll be able to sign trade deals all over the globe.”

“Opportunities”? The UK will be compelled to sign such deals, instead of leaving it to the EU to sort that out, as it presently can. Whether replacing all these deals is an opportunity or a chore, it will be an obligation. A very long, slow, frustrating obligation, some of the negotiations taking many years. This is because, once the UK is out of the EU, it is also out of all of the EU’s trade agreements too. That will mean replacing the collective deals with individualised treaties, country-by-country. Nuttall does not seem to realise the incredible amount of work and time that will involve, and again, no plan for what the UK will do in the meantime.

STUPID REMARK NUMBER 5; –

“How would we pay for [NHS funding increases]? Well, we would take that money directly from the Foreign Aid budget… … … We believe as a party that people know how to spend their own money better than any Government does on their behalf… we believe that people know what best to do with their own money.”

The implication of this is that the Government spends tax-receipts on services. This is not strictly true, but Nuttall probably thinks it is, so let us go with it for now. With this in mind, from where exactly does Nuttall think the Foreign Aid budget is sourced? Throughout the debate, he kept talking of spending more on some services by re-directing funds from other areas. Fine, but if he is going to rabbit the Bronze-Aged cliché of people ‘knowing how to spend their own money’, how can he then talk about a putative UKIP Government investing in anything at all?

In fairness to Nuttall, he was not the only one to make the odd silly remark; I found Leanne Wood’s remark that large class sizes in schools have little negative effect on the quality of the children’s learning to be very foolish indeed. If that is the case, well, why not just have about fifteen teachers in the whole country, and let each one of them teach one year of pupils up and down the nation all at once? Easy in an age of Skype, right? The reason why not is because of course large class sizes have a negative effect on children’s learning!

But Nuttall definitely made most of the stupid remarks, and if he is really the outstanding talent left in his party, that is a very sorry look-out for its crumbling support-base.

Ah well, better luck next time you need to choose a leader, UKIP – assuming you are still around long enough for there to be a next time, that is.

by Martin Odoni

If, as seems inevitable after last month, Article 50 is activated in the next few weeks and the United Kingdom starts the process of withdrawal from the European Union, it is perhaps ironic that it should happen in a year ending in -17. For the Union of Socialist Soviet Republics was established 100 years ago this year, after a pair of Revolutions in the old Russian Empire, and was the world’s first Communist/Socialist country (at least in its objectives). It lasted through until 1991, when it collapsed in circumstances that should sound uncannily familiar to anyone closely studying what is happening to the UK right now.

There was a lot to be said against the Soviet Union down the decades. Despite its established aim of fairness and equality, the nation proved to be an oppressive, at times expansionist, dictatorship. It was one of the most dreadful regimes on Earth during Joseph Stalin’s era as General Secretary of the Communist Party. (Not officially the Head of State, but in practise whoever held the office of General Secretary was the man – it was always a man of course – in charge.) Stalin is estimated to have taken the lives of over twenty million people during his rule. Thanks principally to him, the very name ‘Soviet Union’ tends to cause lips to curl back in disapproval.

There is another side to this however. Although there was very little freedom in the USSR, it did take relatively good care of its population, by the standards of wider Russian history. Life had been utterly miserable for the vast, vast majority of ordinary people during the centuries of the old Russian Empire. While Stalin had shown no real concern for the well-being of the man-in-the-street – and considerable paranoid concern for his own physical safety – his successor from 1953, Nikita Kruschev, made a genuine-if-modest attempt to liberalise society, and the standard of living had improved a lot between the 1950s and the 1970s. Irina Lobatcheva, author of Russia in 1990’s, recalls,

 In 1960s-1980s the Soviet society provided majority of Russians with a decent life, free of fear of unemployment, with plenty of opportunities for self-fulfillment and career advancement. Everyone had a right to a month long vacation which one could spend in recreation hotels, sanatoriums, or touring the USSR for a very affordable price. Medical care was free, as well as any education, numerous children clubs and summer camps; even day-care centres cost next to nothing. Simple life, overall confidence in the future, guaranteed pension. The ideological load had almost waned after the death of Stalin: the state security had little effect on our lives compared to its influence in 1930s-1950s, when harsh competition with the rest of the world demanded from the new socialist state extraordinary repressive measures.

NB: Apologies for the poor syntax and punctuation of the above excerpt. The published translation into English of Russia in 1990s was not compiled very well, and it has to be said that the book sometimes reads a little like the output of a website subjected to Google Translate. I considered making corrections but ultimately decided against it as it would be dishonest.

One can certainly question whether Stalin’s repressive measures were really as necessary as Lobatcheva implies, but her points about the standard of living in the USSR, at least compared with what preceded it and what succeeded it, are accurate and frequently overlooked in the West. Life may not have had much in the way of civil liberty in the Soviet Union, but it had been no freer or less brutal under the Tsars of the Russian Empire, and at least under the Communist Party, levels of starvation and destitution hugely declined for the first time in centuries.

Kruschev introduced a major stabilising influence on day-to-day life in 1961 when he imposed indefinite price controls on essential goods; the same number of rubles that could buy a loaf of bread in 1961 could still buy an equivalent loaf in 1986. This had an unfortunate effect in the wider economic picture, as the costs of manufacture were rising constantly, and to keep manufacturers and farmers funded, the Government was forced to keep printing more and more money, causing international inflation of the ruble.

After Kruschev was effectively overthrown by the Central Committee of the Communist Party in 1964, he was replaced by his Ukrainian deputy, Leonid Brezhnev, a comparative doctrinaire hardliner who lacked imagination or energy. Brezhnev had positioned himself to take over by blaming Kruschev’s policies for the country’s mounting economic difficulties. Once in office, Brezhnev spent the remaining eighteen years of his life in Government doing very little to change them. Meanwhile, he restored repressive powers to the state police force, the KGB (‘Chekhists’), that Kruschev had taken away from them, and restarted the Stalinist practise of imprisoning political and cultural dissidents.

In the 1980s the ailing Soviet economy began to break down. One key cause of this was intervention in a civil war in Afghanistan, between the communist Government in Kabul and Islamist guerrillas, beginning in 1979. It proved to be a calamitous ten-year mistake that ultimately took a terrible toll on Soviet resources without ever achieving a victory to which to point. The sluggish economy was crippled by the burden of trying to support a failing and unending war-effort. Necessary production capacity that should have been used for consumption goods was instead allocated to manufacturing military supplies. At home therefore, industries that had advanced over a century’s-worth between 1929 and 1945 were stagnating once again, and producing fewer and fewer goods, as the ongoing price-controls slowly transformed currency inflation into a production deficit.

To add to the terrible burdens on the Soviet economy, in 1986, the entire population of Pripyat in Ukraine had to be evacuated permanently as a result of reactor unit 4 at the local nuclear power station, Chernobyl, exploding, condemning the region to literally thousands of years ahead of inhospitable radiation poisoning. The phenomenal resources needed to prevent the spread of the radioactive fall-out, to rehouse over 30,000 people, and to adjust to the enormous loss to the electrical power supply on the Soviet Union’s western frontier, were perhaps a final tipping point.

Brezhnev was long dead by this time; he had died in 1982 at the age of 75, and had been replaced by a former KGB chief, Yuri Andropov. At 67 when coming to office, Andropov was another old man rather stuck in his ways. His main policy platform was a necessary but largely ineffectual campaign to end political corruption within the Communist Party. It did not help the stability or conviction of the Soviet economy that he died a little over a year after taking over. His successor, Konstantin Chernenko, was even older (72 years old) than Andropov, and was already in dire health when he became General Secretary in March 1984. He too died after just over a year in office.

In 1985, a young (by Soviet Union standards anyway) new General Secretary was elected, Mikhail Gorbachev, the first leader of the USSR to be born after the Revolutions of 1917. At 54, he was not such a hardline stick-in-the-mud as his predecessors, and while he remained a dedicated communist, he recognised the urgent need for reform. He embarked on two side-by-side programs of reforms. The first, going by the name of Perestroika, very roughly translating as ‘restructuring’, was a campaign to reform the economy, including loosening the state controls over industry and the markets. The second, going by the name of Glasnost, very roughly translating as ‘open-ness’ or ‘transparency’, was a campaign to reform the country politically.

Glasnost allowed far greater freedom of expression, making it easier for people to speak out about the hardships they were increasingly facing, and making it easier, in turn, for the Government to identify failings that needed correcting. But it also made it a lot easier for fundamentally different ideas about the way the country should be governed to proliferate. (The USSR had, to this point, been a one-party state, but Gorbachev legalised the formation of political parties other than the communists.) One idea that became popular among pro-reform groups was that life in the West was much better than life in the USSR. TV and photo images began to appear in Russian media in the mid-to-late 1980s of the glossier side of life in the USA. Spectacular technology, colourful, glamorous ‘showbiz’ lifestyles.

Of course, there was no mention of the uglier side of Western life, including the tendency not to take much care of the poorest, or the horrendous poverty and misery of, say, being black in Ronald Reagan’s America. Naturally, Western life looked superior when the focus was on the rich and privileged in the richest, most privileged country.

Therefore, growing numbers of Russian people around the turn of the 1990s, fed up of waiting hours in queues just to buy bread, began to get the idea that the way the USA operated was the way the USSR should do things too. So the reformers began to push for, not a reformed communist economy, but a full-scale free market economy.

This was not what Gorbachev wanted. Despite his reforms, he remained a communist, and was deeply suspicious of what might happen if state controls of the economy were loosened to the degree found in the USA. But growing public unrest, and pressure from a reformer faction within the Communist Party itself, gradually dragged him into changing the market more severely than he had intended.

Gorbachev’s reform programs were not helped by the fact that he had no coherent plan in place, and he was largely improvising. That he recognised the need for reform had made him the best option for General Secretary, but that really just showed what a collection of dinosaurs the other options had been. Knowing something needed to change was a step up from his colleagues, but knowing how to do it was another matter. With no clear framework for reform, his every policy decision could lead to problems, and they frequently did.

Furthermore, the reformer faction had gained a figurehead in the shape of Boris Yeltsin, who was developing a popular reputation as an ‘anti-establishment’ figure after taking the unprecedented step late in 1987 of resigning from the Politburo. Gorbachev had responded to this by firing him from his secondary role as First Secretary of the Moscow Communist Party, while the Communist Party started smearing Yeltsin in the media. All of this just seemed to increase Yeltsin’s popularity, while motivating him to seek revenge on Gorbachev. Over the next several years, Yeltsin piled pressure on Gorbachev to increase the scope and pace of reforms.

In 1990, Gorbachev created new fundamental reforms to the political system. As part of a reorganisation that ended the permanent link between the Communist Party and the Executive branch of Government, a new office was established of ‘President of the USSR’, to which Gorbachev was elected in March. At a secondary level, the Russian Republic was given a Presidential office of its own. Yeltsin, to Gorbachev’s despair, was elected to the role in May. If Gorbachev was worried, conservative Marxists within the Communist Party were horrified. They had spent the last four years or so becoming increasingly alarmed by the amount of authority the party had surrendered due to the reform programs. Yeltsin, their ideological nemesis, was now in a position of real power within the largest federal Republic in the Soviet Union.

Gorbachev had appointed Gennadi Yenayev, Chairman of the nation’s Trade Unions Council, to become the Soviet Union’s first (and only, it would transpire) vice-President. He was a known conservative who opposed the reform programs. If Gorbachev expected gratitude from the hardliners for making such an appointment, he was soon to be disillusioned. For in the summer of 1991, Yenayev led a group of the hardliners in Moscow in a poorly-planned attempt to overthrow Gorbachev, and to restore pre-Perestroika communism.

The coup, or ‘Putsch’ as it was called, failed, due to its dependence on support from the military, which in the event refused to open fire on the civilian population of Russia. Opportunistically, Boris Yeltsin spotted the chance to shine by very publicly heading up civilian resistance to the coup. In one major moment of showmanship, he actually climbed onto a tank outside the Russian Parliament building and addressed a crowd of resisters from there.

In truth, opposition to the Putsch among the population was not nearly as large as the Western media likes to portray it; with growing political chaos, including the collapse of the so-called ‘Eastern Bloc’, and ever-worsening shortages of goods in the shops, Gorbachev’s popularity had rapidly eroded. So while there was a disapproving recognition that what the plotters were doing was anti-democratic, there was no great wish to defend the Soviet President. But still, the opposition proved just strong enough, and once it was clear that the military would not support Yenayev, the ‘Putsch’ quickly collapsed, and the conspirators surrendered.

In the weeks that followed, Yeltsin got enormous praise and adulation, both at home and in the West, for rescuing Gorbachev and for thwarting the hardliners. Seeing the opening to complete his revenge on Gorbachev, Yeltsin used the hype, in effect, to seize control.

Knowing that the coup had effectively severed his relationship with the Communist Party, Gorbachev felt compelled to resign as General Secretary. Yeltsin then shut down the party by ordering nationalisation of all its assets and suspending all of its activities inside Russian boundaries. At the same time, most of the different Republics of the Soviet Union began declaring independence, rendering the Soviet Presidency a powerless role. All its authority was devolved to the Heads of State of the individual Republics, including Russia itself. As Yeltsin was President of Russia, and Russia was the largest of the Soviet Republics, this made him more powerful than Gorbachev.

From there, Gorbachev had no option but to terminate the Soviet Union completely. On Christmas Day, 1991, he formally resigned the office of President of the Soviet Union, and the USSR had been formally dissolved.

The USA and its allies had always hated and feared communism, and so were delighted to see the USSR break up. The hope in the West was that, under Yeltsin, Russia would go further than Gorbachev had so far dared, and try to create a full free market economy. To this end, the USA despatched groups of right-wing economists to Moscow to advise Yeltsin on how to transition to full capitalism. Their advice was to remove state operations within the market entirely, including remove all price controls set by the Government. All businesses were to become completely privately run.

The problem was, the price controls that the Soviet Government had imposed since the early-60’s had kept people’s money safe. As mentioned before, the price of a loaf of bread in 1989 was the same as it had been in 1962. The price of all manufacturing goods had been subsidised by the Government, so prices in the shops did not have to go up. At the end of 1991, all these price controls were removed, and all state interference in the market was ended, including the subsidies for manufacturers. Manufacturers and retailers were now free to set their own prices for all of their goods.

Frankly, almost anyone could have predicted what was to happen next, yet somehow the very people who were supposed to be the experts were completely unprepared for it. The manufacturers of goods were no longer being subsidised by the Government, and no longer being regulated by the Government either. They were given freedom, therefore, to put prices up. So they put prices up. A long way up. And so the shops had to put their prices up as well to make an honest profit. It meant that the Russian currency, the ruble, became almost worthless within weeks. People’s life savings were used up in weeks as desperation led them to pay massively inflated prices for the most basic items.

Prices had quadrupled before the end of the first week, and they just kept ballooning up and up and up. This was partly due to the well-intentioned but ill-advised decision of Viktor Geraschenko, chairman of the Russian Central Bank, to try to offset the sudden price-jump by increasing the size of the money supply, which simply led the ruble to inflate even faster.

Within a year, Russia was in chaos. Vast numbers of people were struggling to afford food, it had become so expensive. Entire industries were teetering on the brink of shutdown as markets were unable to sell goods to a population whose income was no longer adequate to afford them. By August, industrial productivity across Russia had declined by worse than forty percent. Many people resorted to selling their most prized possessions just to get the extra money they needed to buy bread.

Tiny numbers of entrepreneurs who happened to be in the right place at the start of the 1990s were now able to hog all the consumption goods, and with the markets cornered, they could hold the population to ransom. Wealth was absorbed by these tiny handsful of people, while millions of others went hungry. The hoarders would eventually become known derisively as ‘The Oligarchs‘.

The privatisation of state assets led to the development of a voucher system so that the public could own shares in former public property. But because of the desperation of hunger, many people ended up desperately selling off their vouchers in exchange for the money they needed to buy food. The vouchers were almost invariably sold to the Oligarchs, cementing their grip and control over the new Russia.

While the Oligarchs counted their ever-growing stockpiles of money and assets, the state had become so weakened as the 1990s wore on that before long it was largely powerless even to enforce the law. Business in Russia had leapt from one extreme to the other. Gone were the days of excessive state-intervention, to be replaced with a kind of ‘frontier law’, rather like the Old West; if a businessman had trouble with a strong competitor on the market, the solution was literally to hire a bounty hunter and have the competitor blown away. It was almost possible to measure how successful a businessman in Russia was by the number of bodyguards he needed surrounding him.

The courts in Russia became largely useless. Officials within Government were open to bribery as they were desperate for money themselves, which meant that any Russian with a genuine grievance could not expect help from the law unless they were rich enough to buy a court’s time. And even then, if the defendant was richer, the case would almost certainly be dismissed. With most of the old ‘Soviet’ councils disbanded, every local state office was now basically operating as a front for the Russian Mafia, including the courts. Crime and disorder were everywhere. The majority of people across Russia were living in horrendous poverty, of a kind hard to imagine in the UK or the USA, and many had to turn to crime themselves just to avoid outright starvation.

While all this was going on, the political instability of the previous decade proved to be ongoing. Indeed, there was a near civil war between different branches of the Government. Yeltsin was still President, but the Russian Parliament (‘Supreme Soviet’), dominated by former members of the Communist Party (leaders were Aleksandr Rutskoi and Ruslan Khasbulatov), wanted him impeached over his handling of both the economy and the new constitution of the Russian Federation. In response, Yeltsin issued a controversial Presidential decree, Decree Number 1400, dissolving the Supreme Soviet. He did have the authority to do this under the constitution, but he was also compelled under the same laws to call a Presidential election to happen within three months of the dissolution, which he refused to do. Therefore, the Soviet refused to stand down. In October 1993, the two factions started firing at each other.

On 2nd October, tens of thousands of civilians gathered outside the Parliament building – the Russian ‘White House’ as it is known – to protest as Yeltsin’s military forces approached. After a lengthy stand-off, the military opened fire. A prolonged and convoluted skirmish across central Moscow continued through the 3rd and 4th of October, at the end of which, the official number of civilians killed was one hundred and forty-nine. The real death-toll, we will probably never know, but from eyewitness accounts, it seems likely to have been well in excess of a thousand. Thousands more were injured, thousands of others were arrested and/or tortured.

In the next few days, the Russian media tried to spin events as the military ‘heroically’ rescuing the country from ‘Marxist thugs’, ‘terrorists’, ‘bandits’ and ‘gangs of assassins’, all roused into armed insurrection by the Supreme Soviet. Yeltsin himself delivered a very cynical address on television while the insurgency was going on, calling the protesters ‘mercenary troops’. In reality, only a tiny proportion of ‘mercenaries’ were armed at all, and a great many of them were older generation Muscovites peacefully protesting against the effects of the Government’s ‘Shock Therapy’ economic reform program.

The whole bloody chapter demonstrated that Yeltsin was as capable of deceit, ruthlessness and authoritarianism as any Soviet leader or Tsar had been before him. The end of communism in Russia was not the end of brutality or oppression in Russia. Communism was clearly not in itself the reason for the decades of tyranny after all, and ending it was not bringing about the promised social liberty. Society was not freer; what oppressed people was now crime and poverty rather than harsh policing. Even the markets were not freer; markets had merely exchanged domination by the Soviets for domination by the Oligarchs

None of this was what people had expected at all when they had struggled for an end to the grip of communism two years earlier. Many were left wondering why on Earth they had sided with the reformers back in the early-1990s at all. For sure, times had often been hard under communism, but at least back then, more often than not, they had enough to eat, the money in their pockets was not completely useless, and crime and disorder were largely kept under control. Now the Russian people were living in a kind of purgatory. It was only a return to state authoritarianism under Vladimir Putin that brought an end to it.

The scary thing is – and I realise this may not seem obvious at first glance but stay with me – I see worrying parallels between what happened in Russia a quarter of a century ago, and what is starting in Britain now.

See the USSR and the European Union.

See the Russian reformers and the Leave EU campaigners.

See Mikhail Gorbachev and David Cameron.

See Boris Yeltsin and Nigel Farage.

Farage is to Brexit what Yeltsin was to the end of the USSR.

Nigel Farage is the Boris Yeltsin of modern Britain. Seriously.

I am quite serious about the parallels; –

The USSR was a stagnant, bureaucratic mess. The Union arguably was beneficial to its members, but at the same time, it did a lot of harm to them in certain ways. The EU is sometimes weighed down by its own bureaucracy. It is often stagnant because of the constant squabbles amongst its members. And while sharing a common market and many laws with the EU does its member-populations a lot of good, its treatment of some countries such as Greece shows it also does harm in a lot of ways.

The Soviet reformers promised the Russian people the moon around the turn-of-the-1990s. They promised far greater freedom, unlimited prosperity, happy lives-of-plenty for everybody. The Leave EU campaigners have promised the people of the UK the moon. They have promised far greater freedom, an end to bureaucratic inconvenience, more prosperity, less money taken from British pockets to go to Brussels; happy lives-of-plenty for everybody.

Mikhail Gorbachev was a Soviet leader who saw a need for reform, promised change for the better, an open, freer relationship between the peoples of the USSR, a revival of the economy and of industry. But once he was in power, he had no coherent plan in place to bring it all about, and so largely resorted to improvising, reacting, blundering, and making it up as he went along. His programs attempted to find a middle ground between all-out reform and staying-the-course, and the compromise fell flat. Ultimately, Gorbachev’s reforms were rejected by the Russian people, who chose all-out departure from communism. David Cameron was a British leader who was rather forced into trying to reform the UK’s relationship with the EU. He promised change for the better, an open, freer relationship between the British people and their neighbours on the continent, and negotiated amendments to the treaty with the European Union. His program attempted to find a middle ground between leaving the Union altogether and allowing the relationship to remain unchanged, and the compromise fell flat. His deal was rejected by the British people who chose all-out departure from the EU.

Boris Yeltsin was a popular, charismatic, ‘everyman’ figure in Soviet politics, with a reputation for being anti-establishment, and he demanded a major shift of the country towards the Right. He was a member of the Communist Party, but left it to pursue a radical political agenda. A cynical showman wanting change entirely for the advancement of his own interests, he convinced substantial numbers of people to support him, and eventually led them to force a fundamental change of the country’s entire way of life. Nigel Farage is (sadly) a popular, charismatic, ‘everyman’ figure in British politics, with a reputation for being anti-establishment, and he demanded a major shift of the country towards the Right. He was a member of the Conservative Party, but left it to pursue a radical political agenda with the UK Independence Party. A cynical showman wanting change entirely for the advancement of his own interests, he convinced substantial numbers of people to support him, and eventually led them to force a fundamental change of the country’s entire way of life.

Gorbachev had no coherent plan for reform before the death of the USSR, and neither did Yeltsin after it. The UK Independence Party had no coherent plan in place for what to do after leaving the EU, and it has become painfully clear in the months since the Referendum that the Conservative Party lack one either. Gorbachev and Yeltsin despised each other, despite having much common political ground. Cameron and Farage despise each other, despite both being right wingers.

Furthermore, if you look at the Oligarchs, and if you then picture what most of the key figures in the Leave campaign would like to become i.e. stinking-super-rich while the rest of the people are ground into abject poverty, and there is little distinction to be found. (There seems little doubt that Farage’s own wish when seeking to leave the EU has been to make it easier to exploit workers, and to get richer quicker.)

With the majority of Britons who expressed a preference voting to leave the EU, they have done to themselves what the Russians did when they fought to end communism. The British have cut their own lifeline, under the delusion that disconnecting it will make them ‘freer’.

But a baby does not become free and independent when the umbilical is cut. The baby requires a fully-working pair of lungs in order to breathe without the help of its mother, and even then will need the mother’s care for years and years to come. The UK, with its almost total butchery (for better or worse) of key industries since the 1980s, has removed its own lungs, and, in the shape of its largely-parasitical Financial Services Industry, transplanted a couple of balloons in their place. It is only with the umbilical cord of Globalisation that such an industry can keep Britain breathing in and out. This is one of the reasons why leaving the EU, at least before we properly replace critical industries that Margaret Thatcher discarded, is foolish.

Now, I need to stress that what happened to Russia will not necessarily happen to Britain, but it is something that needs to be guarded against; many EU regulations that quarter-informed Britons endlessly moan about present an obstacle to ‘Oligarchism’ (for want of a better word), and these regulations are going to be repealed in the UK when ‘Brexit’ goes ahead. Perhaps the parallel that makes a British repetition of early-90s Russia likelier than it should be is that far too many Leave supporters assume, just like the Russian reformers before them, that the changeover will work simply by default. It will not. It can be made to work for the betterment of the country, but it must be made to work, it cannot be left simply to work itself. The process will be too easy for opportunists to subvert that way.

So too many are not guarding against a repetition of what happened in Russia, and there are some hawkish people out there who, for reasons of pure greed, actually want a repetition. They have been allowed to control much too much of the public discussion to this point, partly because, as I say, there is no plan in place for leading the country in an alternative direction. Just like there was no plan in place in the former Soviet Union.

Destitution, political chaos, economic turmoil, war, mass-deprivation. Yes, these can be avoided, but more of the UK population need to work to avoid them. At present, too many are either assuming that leaving the EU will solve everything by itself, or sulking about the referendum result and looking for ways to derail the process rather than to guide it to a satisfactory conclusion. How effective was Yenayev’s attempt to simply ‘undo’ all the changes in 1991, rather than to influence their outcome?

The reformers v the hardliners.

The Leavers v the Remainers.

As Mark Twain is (wrongly) credited as saying, “History never repeats itself but it rhymes.”

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Hillsborough & UKIP

February 15, 2017

by Martin Odoni

This blog has, to this point, treated the Hillsborough Disaster and the UK Independence Racket-… er, sorry, I mean the UK Independence Party, as two completely unrelated subjects. I suspect that they still are, in fact. But over the last few days there has been an unmissable furore over whether claims of the new leader of UKIP, Paul Nuttall, to have been in the stadium on the day of Hillsborough are true or not.

NOTE: I have chosen to link to the Skwawkbox blog, because I am getting a little fed-up of the Guardian getting all the credit for identifying the anomalies in Nuttall’s story when the SB blog got there way earlier.

I do not wish to spend too long speculating on whether Nuttall’s claims are true. I myself, despite long years studying the Disaster, was not there, and so I have no possible way of knowing for certain. Even so, I can say that I was skeptical for a long time about Nuttall’s claims, and events over the last week or so have only served to increase my doubts. (His latest attempt to explain away a proven falsity in his claims has been debunked with astonishing speed and ease.) I disagree with suggestions that Nuttall’s account of being at Hillsborough was actually contradictory, but even so I doubt he was there, for reasons I have little need to explain, as they are being discussed widely elsewhere.

nuttal-htt

Whether he was actually there or not, Paul Nuttall has clearly lied about, or at least heavily embellished, his involvement in the Hillsborough Disaster.

So I want to discuss the response of some of Nuttall’s defenders, rather than his detractors. Particularly noticeable and crass was of course the intervention of UKIP’s chief funder (and, some would argue, real leader) Arron Banks, who tweeted last night that he was “sick to death of hearing about” Hillsborough.

For my own part, I have stated more than once in the past that I am sick of hearing people say that they are sick of hearing about Hillsborough. This is not least because there is something nauseatingly insufferable about anyone who imagines their personal boredom-threshold is more important than the grisly deaths of almost a hundred people. It says something about Banks’ self-centred arrogance – always in long supply – that he could put his wish for a change of subject before the fact that, even with the new Inquest verdict last year, there has still not been a single successful prosecution over the Disaster or the cover-up that followed.

Banks’ remarks are also startling vacuous at other points. He tweeted, “if a policemen opens a gate trying to help and makes a bad decision it’s an accident. As for a cover up it was the 80’s.”

Now, the first sentence is just stupid, because it is an implied strawman argument contradicted by the drearily obvious. Nobody is suggesting that the South Yorkshire Police were deliberately trying to get someone killed at Hillsborough. (At Orgreave, probably, but let us leave that on one side.) Everybody knows that the crush was unintentional. That does not satisfy the definition of an ‘Accident’ in a Coroner’s Court, I should mention. But even so, no one imagines that David Duckenfield was stood in the police control box next to the Leppings Lane end, tweaking his non-existent moustache and rubbing his hands together in evil glee, like a stereotype Bond-villain, as over three thousand people were crammed into a space suited for about seventeen-hundred. It is beyond stupid to imply that people are arguing Hillsborough was a deliberate attempt to take lives.

But if the first sentence is stupid, the second sentence is just meaningless. It was the 80’s, you say, Mr Banks? Well knock me down with a feather! Say, Arron, have you noticed? The year was called “1989”! Could that be connected with these “80’s” things you are talking about? There must be some link, right? EUREKA!

Sarcasm aside; again, we already know. Just saying, “It was the 80’s” does not explain anything, nor does it constitute a particularly clear reason for just shrugging the shoulders and dropping the whole subject.

Banks then tried to clarify his ‘point’ (for want of a better word), by adding, “It was the 80’s” [thank goodness he repeated that, there was a real danger we might not have figured out which decade 1989 was in without his repeated information] “I been[sic] at some matches that were squeezed beyond belief. This could have happened anywhere anytime.”

Sadly, this only intensifies the impression of crass stupidity. Again, Banks is saying nothing that has not been said countless times before, so he is enlightening nobody; it is perfectly true that almost all stadia in Britain and Ireland at the time were at least as unsafe and poorly policed as Hillsborough. But also, he in fact defeats his own argument in saying it. It is precisely because the Disaster at Hillsborough could have happened anywhere that the issues surrounding it remain relevant today. These issues are; –

  • Prejudiced, heavy-handed policing against presumed hooligans.
  • Complacency among football clubs and authorities, and again by the police, on matters of public safety.
  • Corruption of public and private institutions who are more concerned with protecting their own reputations than with honesty or transparency.

These matters have never been brought properly into the light-of-day, never given adequate official scrutiny or in-depth reform, and quite probably are still not properly guarded against even today. Simply saying, “Oh it was the 80’s” is merely giving this culture-of-shabbiness a name, not explaining or resolving anything. Wrongdoing remains wrongdoing, no matter the decade in which it happened, and a failure to fulfil one’s responsibilities, compounded by a subsequent attempt to shift the blame for that failure onto the people who suffered because of it, is only more wrongdoing.

As for feeling “sick to death”, I can tell Banks this; I’m “sick-to-death” of Banks and his allies lying to us non-stop about how much better off we will all be once we are out of the European Union, but that has never stopped them.

Inevitably, far lower-profile ‘Kippers than Banks have been leaping with partisan fervour to Nuttall’s defence. I have seen UKIP supporters registering squealing objections all over social media. One theme that seems to be popular among ‘Kippers is the notion that the British Left is somehow ‘exploiting’ the way Nuttall has been caught red-handed.

I find this argument vomitous. For a start, how can condemning Nuttall’s dishonesty (this chapter is just part of a far wider pattern of, shall we say, ‘seriously embellished’ claims Nuttall has made for himself) be called ‘exploitative’? Surely it is Nuttall’s manipulation of the Hillsborough Disaster, in an apparent attempt to associate himself with one of the British public’s greatest ever victories over institutionalised injustice, that is exploitative? He is standing in the Stoke-On-Trent Central By-Election next week, and the people there need to know the sorts of confections he is capable of. They must consider whether it is safe to elect a man who would lie to the whole nation about something like this, and in order to deliberate on that, they need to know he has done it.

But equally, let us remember that this whiny objection is coming from supporters of UKIP! Which is to say, from the party and support-base that have spent most of the last five years or so constantly trying to score cheap and cruel political points against other parties over alleged widespread child abuse by politicians. That UKIP supporters get so outraged about child abuse, but never seem to remember the alleged victims after the desired political damage has been inflicted on opponents, should tell us all just how much they really care about those same victims. So how is that not exploitation of a far, far lower order than merely pointing out when someone is using the tragedies of others to gain publicity? In fact, Nuttall has been pulling the same trick by trying to tap into outrage over the police cover-up after Hillsborough. If he was not there – and on balance it seems ever more likely that he was not – then he is being exploitative in one of the ugliest ways I can imagine, and so if you want to say that giving him a public caning for it is also ‘exploitative’ (it is not), well, swings-and-roundabouts.

No, the exploitation is very much on one side. Whether Nuttall was at Hillsborough or not, it is clear he was little-affected by it, but still he tries to associate himself with the campaign for justice after remaining silent about it for well over twenty years. Nuttall did not have to use Hillsborough to gain publicity, he chose to. He has exploited, he has not been exploited. He deserves vilification, for, after all the horrendous agonies Hillsborough campaigners have been put through over the last twenty-eight years, they did not deserve to be used like this.

It was their battle, not his.

by Martin Odoni

Apparently, Nigel Farage is upset. He is offended and hurt. People have been saying things about him and his party that he feels are unfair and uncalled-for, and he has spoken out on Channel 4 to object to it. Apparently, it hurts him when he hears that the UK Independence Party, of which he is the leader, is routinely associated with racism.

Leaving aside the reality that the number of UKIP members who have uttered racially-charged, or at least xenophobic, public remarks is almost startlingly high, and that homophobia and ‘pestilence’-fear-mongering are also unsettlingly commonplace, it should be conceded that calling the party as an organisation racist is perhaps hyperbolic. There is no doubt that its outlook is very insular and abrasive, and opens the way to ideas driven by stereotypes instead of nuance or real-world issues. It is also reactionary, inward-looking, and anti-minority enough to attract precisely the sorts of people who are prone to colour-feeling. But there is nothing in particular in UKIP’s thinking or ideals that indulge in, say, white supremacy, or even in old-style Imperialism.

So technically, we could concede the point to Farage and accept that he is right that his party – again speaking strictly about it as an organisation – is not racist.

But the problem is, even if the party organisation is not racist, a great deal of its support-base quite emphatically is. Some of them, especially those who have historically supported the British National Party, are downright ‘pro-Final-Solution’. This raises the question as to whether a party can ever really be anything other than the sum of its membership. Even if we are safe to assume that Farage is not a racist – and we would be assuming rather than certain – that does not make him UKIP. He does not control the thoughts of his party, and I doubt he would want to claim that he does, as it would cast a totalitarian shadow over his presence. So those sorts of people are in his party.

Add in all the rather unpleasant and ill-informed, reactionary views Farage has expressed, especially about HIV-sufferers and ‘benefit-tourists’, and even if he and his organisation can be said not to be actual racists, what they really are will not be any better. Their manifesto platform and wider rhetoric mark the party down as homophobes, xenophobes, Christian Imperialists, Big-Money-sycophants, benefits-bashers, Islamophobes, 40’s-style jingoists, climate-change-denialists and misogynists (especially Roger Helmer). None of these mindsets are noticeably more creditable, either morally or intellectually, than racism.

Offended as he is at the racism accusation, I somehow suspect that Farage would be equally offended if he knew that I have called him and his party homophobic, xenophobic, Big-Money-bootlicking, benefits-bashing, Islamophobic, jingoistic, misogynistic, climate-change-denying, Christian Imperialists, even though every word of the accusation is true. So what he really dislikes, it appears, is receiving condemnation.

In some ways, I do not mind that. After all, who does like getting condemnation?

Except…

This is UKIP we are discussing.

This is the party that massively exaggerates the scale of immigration. The party that massively exaggerates the British resources that immigrants consume. The party that seriously understates how much immigrants contribute to society. The party that vilifies and scaremongers Islam and its adherents. The party that attacks women’s rights, and implies that feminists want to conquer the world. The party that castigates the European Union as some evil foreign Empire that has colonised the United Kingdom and is in the rapacious process of stealing all its resources. The party that falsely asserts that more than half of HIV-positive diagnoses in the UK are non-British nationals. The party that accuses the Scots of lazily depending on English subsidy. The party that accuses climatologists of being part of an International Marxist Conspiracy to take over the world.

Any time anyone objects to UKIP making these untrue – or at least wildly exaggerated – and often hurtful remarks, the objector is accused of being too ‘politically correct’, of being ‘weak’, and of being too ‘soft’ to cope with hearing ‘hard facts’, even though the remarks are measurably not factual. Being abusive and spreading hyperbolic, offensive rumours are not irresponsible or shameful behaviours. Understood, everyone? It is ‘politically correct’ to describe them as such.

We get that stance from UKIP all the time. And with that being so, UKIP, I have decided to say that your party are all racists.

Yes, Farage, I know, you say that it is untrue. It is probably, as I said above, hyperbolic. But I shall say it anyway.

UKIP IS A RACIST PARTY.

Do you not like that, Farage? Is it not fair? Does it upset you? Do you think of it as a hyperbolic, offensive rumour?

Well, tough. Stop being soft, Farage! Stop being weak! Deal with hard facts when you hear them!

Oh well. I guess I am just not as politically correct as you, Farage.

by Martin Odoni

Predictably irritating, but necessary.

As I write this the ITV Leaders’ Debate has recently concluded, and it was annoyingly crammed with one-hundred-and-eighty-degree reversals of the facts, especially from David Cameron, and with economic fallacies by everyone. Nick Clegg in particular was spectacular in his economic illiteracy, using two of the worst clichés of the subject; “leaving debts for future generations to pay”, and comparing the National Debt to a “maxed-out credit card”. Ed Miliband, still hampered by a speaking voice that lacks power, came through with some credit, but not enough, you feel, to swing many voters. Natalie Bennett started very well for the Greens, indeed she arguably won the first half of the debate with her best TV performance to date, but she did seem to tire somewhat and fade into the background in the second half. Leanne Wood perhaps came across as a bit too Wales-centric, probably inadvertently, but she deserves great credit for the best-delivered closing statement of the night. Nicola Sturgeon clearly did the Scottish National Party’s hopes a bit of good with a very strong performance, although she was being very hypocritical on the subject of education, given her party’s long-running butchery of college places north of the border. As for Nigel Farage, TV pictures did him no favours with him looking sweaty and flustered throughout, but as ever, he came across as smug and callous, with his ill-judged remarks about HIV-sufferers bound to alienate more people than they will attract. (On that subject, his argument was not only scaremongering, it was also back-to-front. Surely it is a good thing that people suffering HIV/AIDS are brought into a country where effective treatments are available? It is one of the best methods of containing, controlling, and studying the epidemic, which will therefore be of benefit to everybody, including the British. He just never thinks things through, numpty-Nige, does he?)

But David Cameron’s overall performance… well, dear oh dear, he was just awful. Veering between mechanically-rehearsed soundbites and jumpy protestation, you could tell from the opening seconds that he wanted to be elsewhere. His down-the-nose tone when discussing opponents was off-putting, his denials of plain reality made him seem unsettlingly deluded, and some of his logic sounded like the dog following the tail. His use of the term, “we’ve brought the country back from the brink” was self-aggrandising, without ever establishing what it was that we were “back from the brink” of. (No. Not bankruptcy, that was never going to happen and it never will.)

Especially ridiculous – and to be fair Clegg was just as guilty of this – was Cameron’s idea that we need to build up a strong economy before we can have a strong health service. This is like saying we have to have sturdy branches before we can have a healthy tree-trunk; a strong economy depends before all else on a healthy workforce that can thus perform its work to the best of its potential. Waiting for the economy to be strong before investing in the NHS is akin to telling a hungry builder to get the houses built first, and he will only be fed afterwards. He just will not be able to do a good job of constructing a house when he is dizzy with gnawing hunger. Equally, a workforce full of sick people will not be able to build a strong economy until their illnesses are treated.

But for me, Cameron’s really major failure in the debate was one that went almost unnoticed, when he let slip some exceptionally bad arithmetic that draws attention to the dirtiest trick of which his Government has been guilty. He claimed, with complete dishonesty, that the Government has created ‘two million new jobs’ in the last Parliament, before adding that he planned to create ‘two million more new jobs’ over the next five years.

Another two million jobs? Really? That’s strange.

Post-Credit Crunch unemployment peaked at around two-point-seven million in 2011, and is now officially down to zero-point-eight million (though only by the underhanded decision to count just the people receiving Jobseekers’ Allowance instead of all people who are out of work and looking for a job).

Two million new jobs for zero-point-eight million people? Are most of these new jobs going to be part-time work so new workers can ‘double up’ or something? That sounds too impractical to believe.

The funny thing is, if we look at the current real unemployment figures i.e. the ones that are arrived at by the pre-Coalition calculation (which admittedly had inherited misleading spin of their own from the 1980’s), we find the number of people out of work and looking for a job is a little under… oh! Two million!

The unemployment figures from the Office Of National Statistics

This graph shows the real-terms unemployment figures since 1991. The blue line offering the JSA recipient figures only is the one being falsely spun by the Government as the total unemployed.

Coincidence that the number of new jobs hoped for will happen to be roughly the same as the real number of people who are currently unemployed? Coincidence, my foot. It was a very careless lapse by a Prime Minister who, over the last two months, seems to have been suffering from growing deceit-fatigue. Never mind the drawback that Cameron has still offered no clear explanation for how he plans to create two million jobs anyway. Coming from a party that traditionally rejects the idea of Government creating jobs in the first place, it is an explanation that he should have offered this evening.

His failure to do so will leave a lot of people thinking, “Another pie-in-the-sky promise”. The number of them we have had down the years is unhealthy for democracy, but then democracy is not something that Cameron has ever had much time for. If he had, he would never have tried to wriggle out of the debate to begin with.

For the dignity of the evening, it might have been better had he done so.

by Martin Odoni

I am sure there are fossilised remains of ancient bacteria on the planet Mars who are aware by now of Victoria Ayling’s little gaffe last week, in which she appeared to ask the most oxymoronic question yet in the current election campaign, of what is to be done if renewable energy runs out. A lot of us have had a big laugh over it, including me, but at the same time there has been something of a counter-attack from Ayling and her sympathisers, arguing that she was not guilty of a silly contradiction-in-terms, but of missing a word out of her sentence.

The sentence as spoken was, “What happens when renewable energy runs out?” which does indeed sound comically obtuse. Ayling and her defenders later clarified that what she had meant to say was, “What happens when renewable energy subsidies run out?” That certainly sounds a lot less paradoxical (although it does not make the slip of the tongue any less amusing, nor does it make people having a smile about it unacceptable; she is a politician after all, talking intelligibly is supposed to be her job). But, even were we to assume that that is genuinely what she meant – and I am not completely convinced by that for reasons I shall explain below – does it actually stop it being a silly question?

I would argue not. After all, what happens when any subsidy runs out? If the project being subsidised is showing signs of yielding good results, it will probably be renewed, and if it is not, it will simply be dropped.

There. Answered.

The question is a little like asking, “What do I do when I finish drinking this glass of water?” to which the answer would be, if you are no longer thirsty, you wash the glass and put it back in the cupboard, or if you are still thirsty, you refill the glass with more water and drink some more.

In the case of the renewable energy question, given that the local economy in Grimsby is gradually benefiting from fresh business and potentially significant numbers of new jobs, it is entirely possible that further subsidies will not even be needed when the current ones run out. I do not have access to precise information about it, so that should not be taken as read, but between the positive views of those close to the off-shore wind-farm projects, and comparing it to the slightly hysterical and obviously-erroneous rhetoric coming out of Ayling’s mouth, there is certainly no reason to expect the worst. For her part, Ayling seems to be trying to create a closed-ended fallacy; she is assuming that the renewables are only workable for so long as they are subsidised, and that it is a hugely difficult task for a Government to provide the subsidy.

But neither assumption is particularly certain. The first, that renewables only work for so long as they are subsidised, will be conditional on how wisely the subsidies are invested from the outset. If the money invested is spent on sound infrastructure and a skilled workforce, then eventually it will pay for itself, especially when the resulting new employment generates plenty of fresh activity for other local businesses; the signs on that score appear promising. Considerable infrastructure in the Grimsby area has already been built, and more is to follow. Whatever the power output ultimately offered by these sources, they will be a valuable source of employment for a long time to come.

The second assumption, that it is difficult to provide the subsidies, comes from the widely-held misapprehension that a Government’s money is ‘finite’, even when the Government itself is the issuer and the majority of money in circulation is electronic credit i.e. computer data that has no physical presence at all, and can be created or destroyed at a keystroke. Of course the Government can keep subsidising renewable energy, and with no great difficulty.

With UKIP’s inclination towards Climate-Change-Denialism, there is a genuinely sinister aspect in this. Ayling described renewable energy as a ‘fad’, which looked at some ways is another sentence that sounds preposterous. Wind, steam and running water had been used as power sources (albeit in mostly very primitive ways) for thousands of years before the Oil Industry ever existed, and the renewables industry is a direct descendant of that history. But less amusingly, there have long been links between the Climate Change Denialist groups and Big Oil, and the usually-flagrant misrepresentations made by Denialists of legitimate Climate Science lead back, more often than not, to the Oil Industry’s jealous determination to maintain the enormous profits that go hand-in-hand with society’s high fossil-fuel consumption.

While there are serious limitations on how much energy can come from, and how consistently energy can be provided by, wind and solar power, there is sufficient evidence that it can provide a cheap, clean alternative that will at least allow us to reduce our consumption of petroleum. To be clear, Ayling’s assertion that energy security cannot rely upon renewables is not exactly untrue, but it is a bit of a strawman argument, as the general case for renewables has never been that they can do everything that fossil fuels currently do, merely that they can help reduce our fossil fuel dependence. The reduction may not be as much as we would ultimately like, but that does not make it worthless; to argue against renewables on the basis that they cannot completely replace fossil fuels is to argue that drinking half a glass of water is the same as drinking nothing and dying of thirst. Ayling is, in effect, arguing that; –

Any solution that does not solve one hundred per cent of the problem is a complete failure.

But that sort of silly logic, of course, could be used against almost any policy that has ever been enacted by any Government in history. Anti-speeding laws and driving tests, for instance, have been introduced on our roads to prevent traffic accidents, but traffic accidents still happen, so should we get rid of traffic laws and driving licensing? Of course not, because the laws we have do reduce the number of accidents that take place, which still means more lives saved and fewer serious injuries occurring than would otherwise be the case. Murder has been outlawed for millennia, but murders still happen, so perhaps we should legalise murder? Similarly, medical practice laws are enforced to prevent doctors from mistreating their patients, and yet medical malpractice still sometimes occurs – just look at Harold Shipman. Should we therefore just not bother with medical practice laws at all? Ayling’s logic applied here would indicate that we should.

Ayling also tried the standard xenophobic-sounding ‘Look-out-we’re-wasting-taxpayer’s-money-on-making-jobs-for-foreigners‘ routine of the UKIP policy platform, by insisting that most of the renewable energy jobs are going to non-UK citizens. But information provided by RenewableUK showed that over ninety per cent of employees are British citizens.

So, even if we accept that Ayling’s mistake was not as obtuse as it sounded, she was still being silly and stubborn, and scaremongering more than dealing in genuine issues. The supposed slip-of-the-tongue remains quite a big ‘if’ anyway. Reading the general leanings of her remarks during these discussions, there does seem to be far more reference to renewable energy’s lack of power than to how much it needs subsidising. One notable quotation is the following; –

We will be back in the dark ages if we depend on renewables. We are spending a fortune paying for this fad which is not effective.

My conclusion is that Ayling did mean that renewables could run out when she made the notorious gaffe, but she meant it in the sense that there will be times when they will not provide enough energy to go around, and so the overall power available could run short temporarily, resulting in power cuts. That is a genuine concern, but then it is a concern for the uncomfortably-near future even if we carry on using fossil fuels at the same rate; power demand is constantly rising and fossil fuel sources are going down. The reason she switched tack to subsidies was probably because it just seemed easier to explain away her mistake that way.

So Ayling is not as foolish as the original quotation makes her sound. But one does not need to be that foolish to be a fool – only to be an outright imbecile.