Saturday, 18 June 2016

Some Thoughts on The Assassination of Jo Cox MP

In the wake of the horrific murder of Jo Cox MP, I wrote the following on Facebook - I include the FB-specific introduction, even though it is irrelevant to this blog, as it provides a context for the way I phrased the piece overall...

Some Thoughts on The Assassination of Jo Cox MP

Before I start, a warning: This Post Contains Politics.

Various friends of mine know that, in general, I avoid discussing politics on Facebook. I regard it as a forum for entertainment and am well aware that my political and social views conflict with those of some of my friends. As the old adage goes, “Never discuss Politics or Religion at dinner parties.” That maxim applies equally to Facebook, as far as I’m concerned.

However, so sickened and depressed am I by today’s events that I feel compelled to break that self-imposed embargo. If you have an allergy to my views, and those of you who know me personally will be very well aware of my stance on the EU Referendum, then look away now. If you continue to read on and are offended by what I have to say, I can only not apologise. Yes, you read that correctly, it was not a typo, I do NOT apologise. I do, however, apologise for the length of this comment...

For me as a gay Englishman, the last week has been harrowing. First there was the horrific massacre of forty nine gay revellers in Orlando, Florida. For obvious reasons, this upset me deeply. Now, in Britain, MY homeland, we have seen the assassination of the Labour MP Jo Cox, a prominent campaigner for Britain to Remain in the EU.

The assassination of Jo Cox - and I use the term ‘assassination’ rather than ‘murder’ quite deliberately for reasons I shall clarify in due course - is undoubtedly the most shocking single event in recent British political history. Her career, first in charity and latterly in politics where she was intensely concerned with the plight of refugees, seems to me to symbolise the best in Britain. By a morbid symmetry, her killer, Thomas Mair, a neo-Nazi who subscribed to a South African white supremacist magazine, symbolises the worst. His cry of “Britain First!” as he shot Jo Cox three times and stabbed her repeatedly with a foot-long knife may have been merely a slogan, or it may have been specifically invoking the fascist Britain First political party, but it scarcely matters which.

In using those words during his frenzied attack, he clearly aligned himself with the most rancid elements of the Far Right. And they have taken his words and actions and run with them. Far Right Facebook and Twitter feeds are awash with sympathisers praising him, revelling in Jo Cox’s death, and advocating the targeting of others, including the Labour Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan.

And let us not forget that in May, when Sadiq Khan’s victory over the Tory candidate for London Mayor, Zac Goldsmith, was announced (a triumph, incidentally, over some of the most noxious dog-whistle anti-Muslim campaigning in recent memory, courtesy of that revolting Australian hate-monger Lynton Crosby), the leader of Britain First, Paul Golding, who had stood as his party’s candidate for Mayor, turned his back on Khan. Soon after, Britain First made blow-hard noises about carrying out ‘militant direct action’ against Khan and his supporters wherever they live, work and pray. Couple this with Britain First’s ‘activist training camp’ in Wales, where they practice ‘knife defence’, and the assassination of Jo Cox now places those words and activities in a far more sinister light.

Now, in trying to find a term to describe this atrocity, the Scottish writer Charles Stross made the following point in an argument on Twitter:

“Assassination is a base name for a base act. Calling it murder implicitly lets [the] killer’s fellow-travelers off the hook.”

And he is surely correct, which I why I stress that Cox’s killing was an assassination. A murder is a singular event carried out by an individual. It may carry little context beyond that, it may not. But an assassination is a very specific political act in a very specific political context, in this case that of a neo-Nazi invoking the name of a fascist party against the backdrop of an increasingly bitter and febrile political atmosphere in which certain elements are exploiting the public’s fears and stoking xenophobia for their own ends. Britain First cannot evade some responsibility.

Neither can the Brexiteers wholly evade some degree of moral culpability. Not just during this EU Referendum campaign, though of course it is far more concentrated and ubiquitous at the moment, but for years so-called Eurosceptics have fed the public misinformation, half-truths and lies, stoking anti-EU resentment, promoting mistrust and fear of foreigners. They’ve encouraged and exploited a Little Englander mentality, telling the public, for example, that if only we left the EU we could seal our borders and cut immigration down to a fraction of what it is now, omitting to say that over half of net immigration is currently from non-EU countries anyway, over which we could be as draconian as we wish. When you spend years telling people that the country’s going down the tubes because of ‘Them from over there’, don’t be surprised at the nasty atmosphere you’ve created.

And to those who claim that both sides - Remain and Leave - are morally equivalent, as both lie and exaggerate as much as each other to bolster their respective cases, I say this: you are hopelessly misguided. Those of us who wish the UK to Remain in the EU clearly regard the Brexiteers as wrong. We may call them names. We may say they are naive, or deluded, or gullible. We may even say they are idiots. But we do not go around describing them as ‘Traitors’, a vicious, loaded term often used against Remainers by the more extreme Leavers. The sinister implications of such a word are too obvious for me to elaborate. After all, how does one punish traitors...?

Now, whilst Remain may exaggerate, may even lie, the worst of those lies (“Your pension may go down, prices may go up, the value of your house may fall” etc.) are not even in the same moral universe as the half-truths and lies of the Brexiteers, who have consistently played the Xenophobia Card. Earlier today, before the appalling attack on Jo Cox, Ukip unveiled their latest poster. Reproducing a photograph of a massive queue of refugees at some unidentified EU border snaking away into the far distance with the slogan BREAKING POINT splashed over in lurid upper case letters, it was straight out of the Josef Goebbels Book of Marketing. And I don’t say that lightly or facetiously, as it exactly mirrors Nazi propaganda from the 1930s. At that point, I felt that the EU Referendum campaign had reached a new low. And then Jo Cox was assassinated.

Now, before I’m deluged with complaints from thin-skinned Leavers that I’m accusing them of racism, let me say that I do NOT believe that all Brexiteers are racists. But you can be damn sure that ALL racists are Brexiteers. Britain First are Brexiteers sans pareil, for example. The Venn Diagram describing ‘Racists’ and ‘Brexiteers’ isn’t even a proper Venn Diagram - the circle marked Racists is firmly and wholly encompassed by the larger circle marked Brexiteers.

So no, don’t you dare try to tell me with a straight face that the Remain and Leave campaigns are morally equivalent.

And to those gay friends of mine who back Leave I say this: the right-wing neo-liberal snake-oil salesmen who have sold Brexit to you no more give a damn about your rights as an LGBT person than they give a damn about the poor bastards fleeing war zones or crushing poverty and trying to escape to a better life - or, indeed, simply life itself - in this country. Sure, the Tories threw us the bone of equal marriage, because senior party officials realised they were on the wrong side of history - but even then Cameron had to bully his party into backing him, and many Tory MPs rebelled and voted against it and bitterly resent him to this day.

Meanwhile, for many years the EU has quietly and systematically passed legislation in favour of equal rights for LGBT people across the continent. To quote Kevin Maxwell writing in The Independent on 25th March this year:

“In all member states sexual activity between those of the same-sex is legal, and discrimination in employment for example has been banned since 2000. This means, Europe has been protecting our rights as gay people for over 15 years.”

What was Boris Johnson doing in 2000? Still justifying Thatcher’s Section 28! Later, he wrote that “gay marriage could lead to three men and a dog getting married.” As for Farage and Ukip, don’t make me laugh. Tedious golf-club fascists who think a woman’s place is in the kitchen and a gay’s place is nowhere near the kids. Do you really think such people, who for years either never gave a damn about LGBT issues or even positively acted against our interests, can now suddenly be trusted to run a post-EU Britain that is not shaped solely in THEIR interests, many of which are utterly inimical to those of ordinary (i.e. not rich and privileged) people, gay and straight?

The Britain they want is a throwback to the days of Empire, a Britain where everybody knew their place, with minimal workers’ rights, damn-all welfare provision, no universal free healthcare, a nasty mean-minded society riven by fear, paranoia, and insecurity, a Land Fit For Thomas Mair, and you can bet your last pound that YOUR place in their vision will be at the bottom of the heap, with them standing at the summit.

The Brexiteers have sown the seeds of fear, paranoia and xenophobia. Jo Cox is the first bitter fruit of that harvest. We can only hope that the crop now fails and withers in the field, but I fear that it will not.

A Pandora’s Box has been opened, the contents of which will continue to poison British society long after June 23rd.

Monday, 15 June 2015

The Wicker Man: a parable of nation-building?

Last Friday I went with my old mucker Al to a screening by the Stow Film Lounge of that wonderful 1970s classic The Wicker Man, which was also attended by the director Robin Hardy as guest of honour. There was, of course, a tremendous poignancy to the event as the great Christopher Lee had died earlier in the week, and there was a moving tribute to him before the main feature.

Afterwards there was a Q&A session with Mr Hardy, but despite putting up my hand several times, I was never picked, which is a shame because watching the film I had been struck by a thought to which I really wanted an answer...

It was sparked by Lord Summerisle’s potted history lesson to Sgt Howie. Lord Summerisle, the island’s ruler, explains that his grandfather was an agronomist, a man of science, a ‘typical Victorian’ as Summerisle puts it, who had chosen the island, for various reasons to do with climate and soil, to grow exotic fruits and other crops for export. In order to win over and bind together the impoverished inhabitants, he deliberately revived the Old Ways of paganism and banished Christianity. His scheme worked and the islanders prosper, in a low-key way.

Now, many critics and cineastes down through the years have examined the religious themes of the film, which are, of course, central to the events that unfold. And it is evident that Hardy and writer Anthony Shaffer had done much research into pagan religions when writing the screenplay. These themes are uppermost and clear.

But another strong theme is this: that the first Lord Summerisle’s great experiment was, in essence, an exercise in late Victorian nation-building. The parallels are striking. The scientist arrives, apparently in the late 1860s, at a time when across the world nationalists were unifying and creating new nations, the most notable being Italy, Germany and Japan. While Summerisle was reviving the Old Ways to unify his people, the Italian, German and Japanese nationalists were reviving old, and creating new, traditions to unify their peoples. In all of these programmes, intellectuals played key roles.

In other words, Lord Summerisle was creating a nation in microcosm using techniques similar to those of the great Victorian nationalist movements. I am convinced that this must have been a conscious decision on the part of the writers, because in plot terms, the overarching theme of the clash between religious traditions, paganism versus Christianity, would have worked equally well had the islanders and their Lord always been pagans since time immemorial. The plot didn’t need the element of the Victorian scientist reviving the Old Ways comparatively recently.

And so the question I wanted to ask Mr Hardy was whether this element really was as intentional as I believe it to have been. Was Anthony Shaffer also writing about nationalism?

Furthermore, by depicting the man who revived the Old Ways as an outsider imposing his vision, his will, on an alien people, isn’t there also an element of imperialism? The first Lord Summerisle, then, really is a ‘typical Victorian’ in every way: a believer in reason, a man of Progress, but also a nationalist and an imperialist.

And so I think that The Wicker Man can also be seen as a parable about nation-building and nationalism, and even of imperialism, as well as a supremely chilling examination of religious fanaticism.

Saturday, 8 June 2013

The Lords That Time Forgot

Earlier this week the House of Lords debated the Gay Marriage Bill, with a surprisingly (and gratifyingly) large majority in favour, though not before some of the usual suspects and others vented some very odd views, which prompted this...

As ever, click for biggitudinality.

Tuesday, 21 May 2013

Norman Tebbit marries his son shocker!!!

Not really. But the latest in the tedious gay marriage saga, which has seen more than half the Tory party not merely flaunting but positively reveling in its boneheaded regressive bigotry, is the return of the Chingford Skinhead to public life. Not that he ever really went away, but for some reason Dave's keenness on letting the gays get married has got his dander up, to such an extent that he made some very strange comments in an interview granted to the Big Issue:
It’s like one of my colleagues said: we’ve got to make these same sex marriages available to all. It would lift my worries about inheritance tax because maybe I’d be allowed to marry my son. Why not?
Maybe, as some have claimed, he was simply trying to be funny. Tebbit is, it is reputed, in possession of a ready wit. But if so it was spectacularly misguided. Still, it gave me the opportunity to have a go at another cartoon (click for biggitude)...

Thursday, 11 April 2013


So Thatcher died. After hating her and everything she stood for these last thirty years I felt nothing. It was totally unlike my JFK Moment upon hearing of her resignation as Prime Minister. Then I was young, in my first job, and sat on the khazi at work reading the paper when Jane, a fiery Glaswegian, thumped on the door to the Gents shouting, “McTodd, have you heard the news? Thatcher’s GONE!” Yes, she actually said GONE in block capitals.

So that was the death of Thatcher’s career. But when it came to the Lady’s actual, physical death this week, as I say, nothing. Oh sure, I jumped with both feet into the virtual bear-pit that is the Twitter, saying some fabulously vile things about her, but those were prompted by Olympic-scale fawning and drooling by Tories and other motley rightwingers. There’s nothing cheers McTodd up more than being really offensive to rightwing arseholes (by the way, if you’re a Tory and reading this, kindly piss off, there’s a good fellow). In fact, it is my ambition to actually cause a Tory’s death through paroxysms of rage induced by reading a tweet of mine.

So Thatcher died. And the media went into overdrive. The BBC News website’s homepage resembled an English version of what Pravda would have been had the old Soviet Union clung on into the age of the internet. Brezhnev and chums must be looking up green with envy, all they had was a dusty party newspaper and one TV channel endlessly playing solemn music. The Lady herself might have found this amusingly ironic, but for the fact that she famously had no sense of humour. As for the Tory press, well, the less said…

Meanwhile, the Tory party appears to have completely taken leave of its senses, creating a veritable Thatcher Death Cult despite the fact that they knifed her in the back in 1989 in the first place, ending not just her career but in a very meaningful way, ending her life. Perhaps they’re attempting to atone for that Original Sin… And with the State Funeral That Isn’t, Cameron has clearly co-opted Thatcher’s death in the brazen hope that some of her metallic glister will reflect on him.

Which prompts me to ponder the meaning of Thatcher. In his Independent column, Steve Harris ably points out how Thatcher’s death speaks volumes about the present. For the Conservatives it’s a reminder of the seemingly ironclad certainties of the Lady, in contrast with Cameron’s apparent weakness. Hence Dave’s eagerness to use her death, even to the extent of enmeshing the monarchy in what next week will be a party political stunt on a grand scale, something the Telegraph (of all places!) columnist Peter Oborne finds deeply disturbing. For Labour it’s a chance to prove that “Ideology mattered… ideas matter in politics.” For millions of others, including me, it’s an opportunity to celebrate the death of someone who in many ways mutilated British society.

The real point to me, however, is that neither side sees Thatcher as a flesh and blood human being. Those celebrating Thatcher’s death do not celebrate the death of a frail old lady. After all, even someone as jaded as I cannot fail to be touched by images such as this:

No, the death they and I celebrate is not that of an old lady, it’s the death of the Iron Lady, the death of a symbol, an emblem of everything we hated and hate about what this country has become. Thatcher started that revolution (though Blair continued it, and which is why, even discounting the Iraq War, he is also reviled by millions). By the same token, when Tories and assorted other rightwingers eulogise and canonise Thatcher, they do not venerate the woman, the human being, they venerate a symbol of power, a symbol of ideological certainty.

The point is that both sides have turned her into an abstract symbol, both have essentially dehumanised her and, in that sense, both sides are complicit in each other’s extremes. Consequently, for Tories to condemn those celebrating Thatcher’s death is therefore both hypocritical and spectacularly unreflective in its total lack of self-awareness.

I cannot help but recall a brilliant observation by the great jazz musician George Melly of his friend Trog’s work as a caricature artist. Trog, otherwise known as Wally Fawkes (and himself a jazzman), had simplified Thatcher

…as an image, reduced [her] to a few lines …a cartoon-strip figure. On the other hand, lesser-known political figures are drawn with near-realism and frequently cross-hatched to achieve sculptural solidity, the logic being that Thatcher… [has] become [an] almost abstract creature, whereas those lesser political figures remain individuals and are depicted as such.
What was true of depicting Thatcher as a graphic figure turns out, oddly enough, to be equally true of Thatcher as a public figure.

Wednesday, 6 February 2013

Daddy, what did YOU do in the Class War?

Bit of a Golden Oldie this one, as I did it last year, or maybe even the year before... Anyway, be that as it may, there is a famous World War One recruiting poster called Daddy, what did YOU do in the Great War? A little girl sits on her pensive father's knee asking him that very question as her brother plays with toy soldiers on the floor. The implication is clear - sign-up and kill the Hun so that one day you can look your children in their eyes and say you did the right thing! You can see the original here. Some time ago it prompted me to wonder what Nick Clegg would tell his children one day, and this bit of Photoshoppery was the result...

Tuesday, 5 February 2013

Peter Bone(head) MP

So at long last gay marriage is now legal, though not without the Tories showing - as if evidence were needed - that they truly are still the Nasty Party, half of them abstaining rather than sully themselves with the act  of allowing sodomites and carpet-lickers to tie the knot. One of the leading anti-gay marriage campaigners was Peter Bone MP, who memorably described gay marriage as 'completely nuts.' Scientific analysis attempts to uncover the reasons for his antipathy, with a notable lack of success apart, perhaps, from providing a modicum of amusement...