This is a short post about something that is causing me some concern.
Ever since Donald Trump first came to my attention, I have been fascinated by his strange hairstyle. Not just the colours, which are interesting enough in themselves, but also the strange way that he styles it to disguise any baldness, and to achieve what he must believe is something attractive to behold.
To be honest, I did wonder that anyone could take a man with hair like that seriously, let alone elect him to the most important office in the world. Had I been an American voter in 2016, I would never have been able to get past that hair, whatever his policies. It would have been a case of a vote lost for want of a hairstyle, that’s for sure.
When he was elected, I felt sure that he would modify his coiffure, and appear with something more dignified, and better suited to his important role on the world stage. But no, he carried on with the intricate combing-over of hair that resembled soft straw, seemingly unaware of how it enabled him to be further mocked.
Last week, I was watching him being interviewed by a reporter. He sat forward excitedly in his chair, like a teenager making a point that was important to him. His answers were full of contradictions, and he really didn’t come up with a convincing reply to any of the probing questions. The news moved on to a different story, and I forgot about it after a while.
Sometime later that evening, it occurred to me that I hadn’t noticed the President’s hair. After his 100+ days in office, it seemed that I was actually becoming used to this clownish style, and beginning to accept it as perfectly normal.
Now THAT is worrying!
If you tune into any UK news media today, you cannot avoid the breathtaking news that the Duke of Edinburgh has retired from public life. Tributes to the 96 year-old are flooding in, and I am literally choking on a sea of superlatives and gushing praise. How many foreign trips he took. How many speeches he made. How many times he appeared in public. What a rock solid support he was for the Queen. And on and on. Oh, and on…
All of this exceedingly comfortable and well rewarded ‘hard work’ was for ‘our benefit’, apparently. Walking around behind your wife with your hands in your pockets, waving to a crowd from the interior of a Rolls-Royce, and muttering to film stars as you attend a premiere. It’s a miracle he lasted this long, with such arduous travails. Fighting to stay awake during boring banquets, and speeches in foreign languages might well be considered to be the ‘pit face’ in some circles. But not in mine.
In a country where basic living benefits are being withheld from the poor and the sick, and a huge percentage of the population are struggling to live on the minimum wage, and no-hours contracts, celebrating the idle life of this overpaid hanger-on is bordering on the obscene. While we are at it, let’s gloss over his racist remarks about ‘Chinky-eyes’, and ‘Darkies’ too. After all, he was only being amusing, and he’s married to the Queen.
To say he is retiring is a classic misnomer. You cannot retire from a job that was never a job. How can you retire from shooting wild birds, riding around in coaches, travelling from one luxury home to another, or cruising around on your sumptuous yacht? The man has not done a day’s work since he walked out of Westminster Abbey with the Queen on his arm, in 1947.
In case you hadn’t guessed, I am not a Royalist.
When you look at news reports of the fighting in Mosul, it is easy to overlook some of the basic facts about this huge city. Until recently, it had a population of almost 1.9 million people, and is the second largest city in Iraq after Baghdad. This makes it almost twice the size of Birmingham, England’s second largest city, and more than three times larger than Boston, in the USA.
Just imagine if those well-known cities were under occupation by a well-organised army of religious fundamentalists, and being attacked by forces from their own country helped by the US or a foreign power, as well as being bombed by British and American aircraft. Think how difficult it would be to deal with the potential for causing civilian casualties, or choosing which of the people you encounter is friend or foe. The maze of streets, the apartment blocks, rooftops, factories, industrial areas, and large airports. A major river, numerous bridges, shopping areas, markets, schools, hospitals, religious buildings, and administrative offices. Every wall or fence a potential hiding place. Every rooftop or balcony a spot for a sniper, and the ability for the enemy to hide in plain sight among crowds of distressed non-combatants.
For almost three years, this city has been a battleground between warring factions; international interventionists, and government troops. If you live in a city, or have ever lived in one, then you can only try to imagine what this must be like, as I do. Even allowing for the large numbers who have fled Mosul, it is estimated that more than 750,000 civilians remain there, possibly 1 million. That is still much larger than the population of Boston, and countless other western cities. By comparison, the largest city close to where I live is Norwich. This is the biggest city in the whole county, and covers a substantial area, including many suburbs, and an international airport. I cannot imagine fighting on the same scale happening there, yet the population is only 133,000.
Another fact overlooked, is that many of the residents remaining in Mosul actually welcomed the forces of Islamic State as liberators. They had previously suffered religious persecution from Iraqi government troops and sectarian militias, and were happy to have the intervention by the fundamentalists. Many joined them willingly, and some still fight alongside them to this day. Of course for many others, living under IS was unacceptable, as they were cruelly treated for many reasons, including religious ones. But as parts of the city are recaptured by the Iraqi army, their foreign allies, the police units, and the ‘Golden Brigade’, many civilians have been arrested, detained without trial as suspected members of IS. Many others now live in fear of reprisals by the army and militia units, as the old enmities between Sunni and Shia Muslims resurface in the ‘liberated’ areas of the city.
Naturally, I am no supporter of Islamic State. This horrible organisation has no place in the modern world. But we need to look behind the news reports, the five-minutes of combat footage, and the talking heads interviews, and to be aware that replacing one form of terror with another might well be what we are helping to achieve. Not only in Iraq, but in Syria too.
This week has seen the British Supreme Court debating whether or not the country will be allowed to leave the EU without the seal of approval from Parliament. Naturally, the whole subject of the referendum has been subject to great scrutiny once again. Long-winded news reports, features on discussion programmes, and the constant efforts by those unhappy with the result to derail the whole process. Today I heard that Ireland is to mount a legal challenge to the result too. Well, not exactly Ireland, but a British barrister, Jolyon Maugham, who is trying to use their courts to allow for a future overturning of the current process.
It is worth looking at what is really going on here. Behind the rhetoric, lurking in the wings of the legal actions, and hiding in plain sight in the words of many broadcasters and journalists, is that old British anachronism, Class. If you examine where and by whom most of the votes were cast, it is easy to see how the result happened. Those wishing to remain in the EU were predominantly from the larger cities, and the affluent suburbs that surround them. Ignoring the overwhelming Remain votes in Scotland and Northern Ireland, which had very different agendas, anyone who looks at the voting demographic can clearly see the sort of areas that voted to remain. The University Towns, the areas with Science Parks, or places where the price of property is generally unaffordable to those on average incomes. Many of those Remain voters were also from the younger age groups; some still in full-time education, or hoping to travel extensively later on. The Intelligentsia, the bureaucrats, the wealthy retired, and the second home owners, all voting to stay in an EU that suited them very nicely, thank you.
This section of the still-present British class system did not dream for one second that they would ever lose that vote. That is very clear from their reaction to defeat. They considered the Leave voters to be from the uneducated and poorer classes in the main; and these people do not bother to vote, do they? People working for minimum wage, on no-hours contracts. Those without jobs, or any prospect of finding one. Young people who could never dream of being able to go to university, and will never be able to afford to move out of the family home. Agricultural workers, industrial workers, fishermen; all have seen their industries dismantled, sold off, or crippled by regulation. Pensioners struggling to make ends meet close to the poverty line. People who left school as soon as they could, trying to earn something to make a contribution to the family income. Those who read tabloid newspapers, watch trite entertainment shows on television, and like to often eat fast food. They had no gap years, no thoughts of backpacking around Asia, or worries about which university to choose. They have never read The Guardian, or watched ‘Question Time’. Their opinions didn’t matter, and their thoughts were irrelevant. They would do what they had always done. Shut up, and do as they were told.
But they didn’t, and now the losers cannot bear it. They hate to think that this majority of their own country, one generally disregarded by the affluent south and the well-educated, actually didn’t do as it was supposed to. So now they throw everything at them. They seek to overturn that voice of the people, or to put as many obstacles in their way as they possibly can. Some dress up their protest with accusations of racism. Others assert that there should be a second referendum, as the 52% could surely never have really understood what they were doing. They don’t say why, but the implication is clearly visible in the patronising language. They believe that the 52% were low class, pure and simple. More than 17,000,000 citizens of their own country should not have been allowed a say in their own destiny, because their social position and educational background were not up to scratch.
So when you see talk of a ‘divided nation’; a country split by a bitter referendum, don’t be fooled. It is Class, pure and simple. The scourge of this island, and something that has never gone away.
2016 has been a year when we have seen polls fail at every turn. After decades of relying on pollsters, they have finally been proved to be wrong, and we have seen for ourselves how little they matter. I have some vested interest here, as I am a long-term member of the UK’s largest polling group, You Gov. Despite my scrupulously honest answers to their frequent polls, they got it wrong. Every time.
They were not alone. Every poll got the ‘Leave’ vote wrong, in the EU referendum. Just to add insult to injury, the polls everywhere also failed to predict the result of the US election, as they all decided that Trump would lose. This has continued in Europe, where they missed the results in the Italian and Austrian referenda by a mile. So, can they be trusted anymore? Obviously not.
Since the mania for polling arrived here from America in the early 1960s, their predictions have been hit and miss at best. Despite some convincing results with ‘exit polls’ at General Elections, their strike rate has been something like 50%. That equates to tossing a coin, and does not justify the huge amounts of money spent engaging these numerous polling companies to foretell events.
This year has seen their high watermark in failure. They can no longer claim to have that finger on the pulse of the electorate, anywhere. In fact, we can no longer rely on them to even tell us what a nation’s favourite biscuit happens to be. So, time for them to shut up shop, and disappear. Thanks all the same, polling companies, but we might just as well feel some seaweed, or examine the entrails of a dead goat.
Your USP has gone, and you should go with it.
Fidel Castro died today. Farewell, El Comandante. May you rest in peace.
With him also died a beacon, a light that shone in this world. A light that said Cuba would not be ruled by America; become a puppet state, or be threatened and bullied. Cuba would not bow down to harsh blockades and embargoes, or listen to the cries and complaints of the exiles in Florida. There would not be another Batista, and no more Mafia or gangsters to exploit this poor country.
Some have described him as a dictator. Others say that he lived in luxury as his people struggled to survive. His alliance with the Soviet Union almost brought the modern world to war once again, during the missile crisis in 1962. The Soviets retreated, but Castro never gave in. He gave education to his people. He gave them a better health service, more freedoms, and less corruption than they had ever known. He may not have been perfect, nobody is. But anything was better than the Batista regime he replaced, and his determination to see through the Cuban Revolution was an inspiration to all of us on the Left.
The future for his country may now be uncertain. The vultures will be circling, and a Republican is going to be in the White House. But we had Fidel for when it really counted, and he never did less than stand up for what he believed in, and to try to get the best for Cuba. There have been few like him in my lifetime, and in the time I have left, I do not expect to see another.
Fidel Alejandro Castro Ruz 1926-2016. You will be missed.
The TV news continues to report distressing scenes from Aleppo. Civilian deaths, destruction, and more involvement from the allies of the Assad regime, with ships and aircraft arriving in greater numbers. The attacks are condemned by western governments, and all the media too. Aid is not getting through, children are being killed in the bombing, and despite being warned of the attacks, civilians are not leaving the beleaguered city.
As the Syrian government builds up forces on the outskirts, and bombs and artillery shells continue to rain down on the city, the ‘rebel fighters’ within seem to be more determined than ever to retain control of the country’s second largest city. Although there has been an outflow of refugees, it is estimated that more than 300,000 remain, clinging on to what is left of their ruined homes.
We are left in no doubt who is to blame. The Assad government, cruel and ruthless. The Russian allies, happy to help prop up an unpopular and failing regime, despite condemnation from so many other countries. Putin flexing the muscles of his country, completely disregarding world opinion. Assad determined to eradicate all opposition, whatever the cost. It says so on the TV news, and in the daily newspapers, the statements of US leaders, UK leaders, and almost every leader in the so-called ‘free world’. So that must be the case.
So why am I confused?
This is the same media, and some of the same leaders, who told us that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction. They told us that Saddam was evil, Qaddafi was evil, and most of the other governments in that region, Iran included, were evil too. They told us that the Taliban was evil, perhaps correctly, and that ISIS was evil, again perhaps correctly, at least from the viewpoint of what society considers to be acceptable outside of those regions. Before that, they told us that Al-Qaeda was evil, and hunted down its leader, Osama Bin Laden. The new president-elect of the USA has stated many times that he is in favour of hunting down all Muslim fundamentalist fighters, wherever they may be.
Well, I have some news for him. many of them are in Aleppo, resisting the lawful (like it or not) government of Syria for the last four years. Let’s take some time to examine just who these ‘rebel’ fighters there really represent. There are many, so I will list them for clarity.
The Al-Tawhid Brigade. (Backed by foreign countries, including Qatar)
The Muslim Brotherhood. (In favour of Sharia Law. Sound familiar?)
Shams-al-Shamal. The Northern Sun battalion. (Formed by army officers opposed to Assad)
The Free Syrian Army. (A mixed bag of jihadists and former soldiers)
Foreign volunteers. (Muslim radicals from Chechnya, Libya, Yemen, France, the UK, and other countries. Some of these have since returned to the west, and have been responsible for attacks against civilians in European countries. Many are now on most-wanted lists in many parts of the world)
Kurdish nationalist militia. (These men are fighting for independence from Syria, and have joined the fundamentalists in the hope of achieving this)
Al-Qaeda. (Yes, them again, currently mounting the fiercest opposition inside the city)
Some other smaller groups are allied with these, and their main agenda is the formation of a fundamentalist Muslim state in Syria. Their eventual aims are remarkably similar to those of ISIS, currently considered to be the natural enemy of the western way of life.
Is it any wonder that I am confused? An estimated force of 10,000 of these assorted Muslim extremists are currently holding the second largest city in a foreign country, yet their fate is somehow supposed to be not only the responsibility of the western powers, but by some twisted reasoning, they have become to be seen as our allies too. And all because we are not supposed to like Assad.
And because the Russians are helping him, let’s not forget that.
We should revisit the lessons of Iraq, Libya, Afghanistan, and many other countries. Destabilising regimes may seem attractive on the surface, but the outcome of such interference has been plain to see in the past. Extremists posing as refugees, seeking asylum in countries where they then carry out atrocities, and help to radicalise young men and women. Foreign nations left in a continuing state of civil war and sectarian violence after the loss of stability. Most have become more extreme in their attitudes to organised religion, and vociferous in their hatred of those western countries who once helped to organise their resistance.
So before you sign the petitions against Assad, calling for him to be tried as a war criminal. And before you add your voice to the growing clamour against Putin’s Russia, take some time to look at who you will be supporting instead.
Learn some harsh lessons from history, and be careful what you wish for…