Friday, 7 June 2019

A week of shame and humiliation in La La Land

What a dismal, shameful, humiliating week it has been. Brown nose Britain at its worst, bowing and scraping in fancy dress at the feet of a man who in the words of a columnist in the Washington Post: ‘lied, seethed, intruded and blundered his way through his trip to Britain.’

We paraded our dancing bears (aka the Royal family) for his delight; we fawned over his every word, even though they made absolutely no sense – and we looked away in embarrassment when he turned up for a State banquet wearing clothes that had clearly been made for someone else entirely. Not so much the emperor’s new clothes, more the emperor’s wrong clothes.

Welcome to La La Land, where everyone pretends everything is normal, and where we faithfully record the words of a visiting potentate even though he clearly has no idea what he is talking about and is incapable of understanding what is being said to him. It is also a land where in the place of the prime minister, there is simply a void, a nothingness, and just the faintest of whispers. ‘Nothing has changed.’

When the emperor was asked about climate change, he burbled on about clean water. When he was asked about the NHS and its place in any future US-UK trade negotiations, he put some random words together, and then had another go the following day. ‘Everything is on the table, including the NHS.’ Or, if you prefer: ‘Everything is on the table, except the NHS.’

Even after he had left the UK for Ireland, where he urgently needed to spend some time at  his golf club, he carried on blundering, offering his thoughts about the Irish border, apparently under the impression that Dublin wants to build a wall there to keep the Mexicans out. His exact words? ‘I think it will all work out very well, and also for you with your wall, your border. I mean we have a border situation in the United States, and you have one over here.’ To quote the Washington Post’s Jennifer Rubin again: ‘The world plays along with the fiction that he is serious about what he says (as opposed to a man who bluffs, blunders and lies his way through life).’

And as if sucking up to our galumphing visitor wasn’t bad enough – a bit like schmoozing a wealthy but insufferable uncle in the hope that he will bestow upon us a few morsels from his table – we also suffered an unending sewage-flow of speculation to prepare us for our own mini-Trump in Downing Street.

The contempt I have for US Republicans who have rolled over and offered their rumps to Trump is matched only by my contempt for all those Conservative MPs who would now have us believe that Boris Johnson – a lazy, lying charlatan who is trusted by none of them – is the answer to our national crisis.

It’s as if Iago were to be appointed the next archbishop of Canterbury – a sadistic practical joke by the great casting agent in the sky. Or perhaps, like Gerard Baker in The Times, who wins my Pollyanna of the Week award, you can see an upside to a Trump-BoJo transatlantic coupling: ‘To many, [Johnson as next Tory leader] would represent the apotheosis of reckless populism, the elevation of clownish charisma over sober statesmanship, the primacy of preening ego and low mendacity over high principle and responsibility. Yet there’s reason to think that it might be, if not exactly a match made in heaven, then at least an unexpectedly productive partnership that may held the key to unlocking the political deadlock that grips both countries.’

Nice try, Gerry: reckless populism, the elevation of clownish charisma over sober statesmanship, the primacy of preening ego and low mendacity – who could ask for anything less from a future prime minister?

And so to Normandy, to commemorate a battle in which the Great War-Dodger would undoubtedly not have fought. After all, as he admitted to Piers Morgan, he was ‘not a great fan’ of the war in Vietnam, from which those famous bone spurs thankfully spared him, and although he gets all sorts of thrills from threatening death and destruction on brutal dictators (except those in Moscow and Beijing, of course), he is a lot fonder of barking than biting.

Huge kudos, by the way, to the Foreign Office official who drafted the Queen’s elegant put-down in her speech at that Buck House banquet last Monday. Britain and the United States, she reminded Trump, wagging her finger, had worked together to build an ‘assembly of international institutions to ensure that the horrors of conflict would never be repeated.’

And then, just in case he missed the message first time round: ‘While the world has changed, we are forever mindful of the original purpose of these structures: nations working together to safeguard a hard-won peace.’ This addressed to a man who has yet to meet an international institution he doesn’t want to destroy, or an international agreement he can’t wait to tear up.

It would have been nice, though, if somewhere among all the moving tributes to the men who fought with such bravery on the Normandy beaches, mention might also have been made of the 200,000 plus Russian casualties during the Battle of Stalingrad two years previously. It is not at all to demean the achievements of D Day and everything that followed to point out that the Russians have every bit as much right to claim that they turned the tide of the Nazi onslaught as the British, Americans, Canadians and other allied forces who liberated France.

Oh, to imagine a world with different leaders in Washington and London. A world in which we had head-space to focus on the military crackdown in Sudan, the Syrian army onslaught in the north-western region of Idlib, and the thirtieth anniversary of the Tiananmen Square killings in Beijing, so efficiently airbrushed from China’s past. A world in which our leaders had the political strength to deal with the impending closure of the Ford engine plant in Bridgend, or the disgraceful behaviour of violent English football thugs in Portugal.

But no. The liars and the charlatans are in the ascendant. So we would do well to heed the words of Philip Stephens in the Financial Times: 'To my mind, this is how liberal democracy eventually dies. Throw away shared values, truth and a modicum of mutual respect and the architecture of a free, open society comes crashing down. There have always been snake-oil salesmen such as Messrs Trump and Johnson. The danger is when the rest of us simply shrug our shoulders.'

Oh, I nearly forgot. Theresa May stands down as leader of the Conservative party today, clutching her parting gift from the voters of Peterborough: a by-election result in which the Tories were shoved into third place by Nigel Farage's Brexit party. What a dreadful end to a dreadful three years at the helm.


elaine said...


Anonymous said...

Numerous good points there, Robin

And, in the meantime, the doomsday clock of Climate Change keeps ticking, with none of the "leaders" attending the D-Day event really taking it seriously enough


LMC said...

Why can't I tweet this out ? I'm weeping with sadness at the miserable world Robin throws so a clear light on - what can we do ? shrugging shoulders and turning to bee-keeping or retreating in to reading novels - should not be our response indeed, but, but....

silver said...

copy the link and add to tweet. its easy

Anonymous said...

Well said Robin - you are absolutely spot on, and thank you especially for including the Russians.

Robin said...

Prime minister May was given a thermonuclear bomb with a dodgy mercury tilt-switch off an issue. She didn't do the best, a lot of other Tories would have done no better and she has kept some form of semblance. Some. The leaving of the European Union needs to be sorted but it is going to dominate the UK politics for 7 years minimum.

Yes we need to stand up to jingoistic hatemongers like Trump.

Tinkersdamn said...

The false nature of current and would-be leaders needs all the sunlight it can be given. At the same time, implied reverence for the recent pre-Trump past, the slope we slipped from, is surely too unexamined and dark to light our way forward. The BBC US web page has run the headline: "Why Biden Is The Favourite To Take On Trump" for weeks now. Similar noise has appeared there and throughout mainstream establishmentarian media for some time. This is part of the problem.

Tinkersdamn said...

About that void, the nothingness, the faintest of whispers: 'Nothing has changed', I felt as though I discovered the new leaf on the tree to challenge the stasis this spring as I listened to Merkel deliver the Harvard Commencement Address last week on YouTube. I doubt she's changed so much as my own relative perception of her has. In any event, she was pleasantly on target.

Anonymous said...

I seriously wonder if Trump has some sort of dementia. Korsakoff syndrome (see Wikipedia - patients with this syndrome can "confabulate" - their subconscious fills in memory gaps by making up stories, which they believe are true, even though, if they are, it's entirely coincidental), or something else. (I haven't looked closely enough at the footage of him - does he have Argyll Robertson pupils?)

fionamac said...

A brilliant piece! But so depressing because it was so ‘spot on’. Even down to mentioning Russia and their whitewashed absence from the D-Day remembrance. Please keep calling them out!

Neil Fellowes said...

Thank you for putting my thoughts and fears into some semblance of order. A fine piece.

hackneyed sojourn said...

Another tech convention, another filling of the backyard with an international crowd. Two UK educated Romanians hauling a fair number of satchels with lap tops etc. described themselves as low on the corporate rungs and readily agreed Brexit was a means of dodging regulation unlikely to serve the interests of many at first and with the potential to undermine regulation throughout Europe in time. Seperately, but soon enough after, another Brit, further along in years and rungs, countered the anti regulatory aspect of Brexit might be better described as a bid for freedom and lower taxes. More freedom and less taxes for who? And would the lack of regs serve even them for more than two quarters? A smile for an answer.

Meanwhile, the Leader of the Free World (Reagan with a combover, nothing like the knife-crime sported by Bojo), head of a Party which has cleansed voter rolls based on ethnic/income factors for decades, has now invoked executive privilege to block discovery of why citizenship questions are suddenly to be included in the census which apportions seats in Congress. 'Follow leadership' might not be the best counsel for a world that tresures feeedom.

[Btw Robin, none of the UK/Romanian satchels were filled with sand. ;-) ]