Notes for May (not Her, 2017)
We live in weird times. How explain any of the following? The economic and fiscal policies of Conservative governments since 2010 have been rampant failures, increasing national indebtedness to levels not seen during preceding Labour administrations, failing spectacularly to hit self-proclaimed deficit reduction targets, imposing self-defeating austerity programmes of cuts to social services that hit the poorest hardest, increase child and adult poverty, and wreck the quality of life of many communities, without achieving any of their proclaimed economic goals; failing also to address the mounting problem of Britain’s balance of payments deficit and destructively low levels of productivity – yet according to the polls, the Conservatives’ reputation for competent economic management stands higher in the polls than for many years and is way ahead of Labour’s. The Blair-Brown governments delivered an unequalled decade of high growth, low interest rates, low unemployment, decreasing inequality and dramatic reductions in child and adult poverty; they were in no way responsible for the near-collapse of the international banking system from 2008 and indeed Gordon Brown played a, if not the, leading role in the successful international rescue effort. Yet unremitting falsehoods in the right-wing gutter press and Tory propaganda have created a series of false facts according to which Labour can’t be trusted with the economy while the leadership of Mrs May, who acquired the keys to No. 10 Downing Street by default and without benefit of election of any kind, is almost universally regarded as safe and dependable, even though she and her Chancellor, Philip Hammond, are committed to continuing the discredited austerity programme of their predecessors, testing it almost literally to destruction.
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Much the same can be said of the lamentable rush to Brexit. The Conservative party and its leaders since 2010 bear sole responsibility for holding the disastrous EU referendum in June 2016, in the misplaced confidence that their incompetent campaign for Remain would easily triumph; for deliberately misinterpreting its result as binding on the government and parliament (which it was not); for abandoning their commitment to Remaining in the EU, almost overnight, and throwing their government into violent reverse, opting not just for immediate Brexit without further ado and without any possibility of further public consultation, but inexplicably choosing the hardest and most obviously damaging form of Brexit even before the negotiations had begun. It was Mrs May who threw away one of her few bargaining chips by choosing an unnecessarily early date for triggering Article 50, long before her government was ready to embark on the most difficult negotiation of all our lifetimes. Yet unless the polls are spectacularly wrong, she is about to receive a massive vote of confidence in her coming management of the Brexit negotiation, without having revealed anything of substance about her true intentions. In all these tragic blunders she and her predecessor, David Cameron, have blatantly put the perceived needs of Conservative party management before the national interest. Yet instead of paying the ultimate political price for this catalogue of failures, Mrs May is apparently about to reap an immense electoral reward on 8 June. Weird hardly describes it.
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Jeremy Corbyn’s pathetically weak, divisive and wayward leadership of the Labour party, and the party leadership’s almost total failure to expose and challenge any one of the government’s failures and blunders in economic and Brexit management, have obviously made matters worse, although it’s doubtful if resolute and consistent opposition by Labour to austerity and Brexit of any kind would have deflected the government and its inflexible leaders from their perverse course. The collapse of Labour support across the UK clearly owes something to the manifest unelectability of Mr Corbyn and the party’s extraordinary failure to get rid of him, but there are deeper structural causes also at work, and replacing Corbyn would have had no effect on them. Meanwhile Corbyn continues to play fast and loose with such central questions as whether, as prime minister, he would in the last resort press the nuclear button (he is on record as answering “No”, in that monosyllable reversing his party’s commitment to nuclear deterrence, and refuses to retract it); or whether, if elected, he would seek to abandon Brexit, or only attempt to soften it; or whether he understands that international military action against ISIS in Iraq and Syria is the only way to defeat it, as formally recognised by the UN; or whether the parliamentary Labour party can be an effective force in parliament as long as its leader lacks the support of a large majority of its members. It’s bad enough that Mrs May has embarked on a Gadarene rush to disaster over Brexit: the absence of a vigorous and explicit opposition to her follies makes them far worse. How on earth did we get ourselves into such a mess? And I haven’t even mentioned the disaster called Trump!
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Ephems’s guide to royal etiquette, No. 83:
We know that ladies curtsy and gentlemen bow
But few know when to do it, or even how:
Well, do it when Presented at Court, or knighted, or
When passing The Queen in the corridor.
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Writing this in the fifth week (out of 26) of chemotherapy following a massive operation for cancer, I confirm that my experience so far resembles the stereotype: bad days alternate with slightly less bad, the Battle of the Bowels seems unwinnable, the desire to lie down and sleep is often irresistible, and perhaps the worst of all, the threat of anorexia and starvation through an extreme aversion to almost any kind of food or drink is ever-present – no doubt retribution for the over-weight, over-eating, greedy decades in the so recent past. There are few redeeming features to such a régime, but the principal one is the volume of affection and support that the news of the affliction has prompted, not only from close friends and family, but also from friends of long ago with whom contact has been rare in recent years, from email contacts whom in many cases I have never met, and indeed also from readers of and contributors to Ephems. To all you kind and generous people, a word of real appreciation and gratitude. It’s amazing how much such support contributes to one’s will to carry on. I’m everlastingly grateful – however long everlasting turns out to be!
13 May 2017