Jeremy Corbyn’s letter to Theresa May last night offering to slightly soften his Brexit stance risks stirring a backlash from Labour supporters. A new poll makes it devastatingly clear that if Labour is perceived as having enabled Brexit, it will lose 45 seats – including five of its seven precious Scottish seats.
* A “permanent and comprehensive UK-wide customs union”, including a say in future trade deals. * Close alignment with the single market, underpinned by “shared institutions”. * “Dynamic alignment on rights and protections”, so that UK standards do not fall behind those of the EU. * Clear commitments on future UK participation in EU agencies and funding programmes. * Unambiguous agreements on future security arrangements, such as use of the European arrest warrant.
It’s not likely May would agree to any let alone most of those. Her Brexiteers wouldn’t stand for any of them, and her only priority is keeping the Tories under her wing.
But Corbyn isn’t providing the leadership it takes to stop May’s Brexit. He’s a wanker.
Theresa May clashed with Jean-Claude Juncker and Donald Tusk during Brexit talks in Brussels but has secured agreement for a fresh round of formal negotiations to break the impasse.
A meeting with the European commission president was described as “robust”, with Juncker resolutely rebuffing May’s demand for a renegotiation of the withdrawal agreement.
May also confronted Tusk over his comments on Thursday in which the European council president said Brexiters without a plan would have “a special place in hell”. The prime minister said “the language was not helpful and caused widespread dismay in the United Kingdom”.
She’s full of it. Maybe it caused widespread dismay among Tory Brexiteers destined for Tusk’s hell, but it amused the rest of us. May is deliberately wasting time trying to get a nip here and a tuck there, but it’s not going to change the package dramatically, neither is it going to change the fact she’s asking for a contradiction on the Irish border.
The woman is a Brexit fool without a plan – maybe Tusk caused her personal dismay. I doubt she is sensitive enough to feel any. She comes across as a robot, determined to complete its programming whatever the disaster that ensues.
The hell we are all facing is Tory Brexit and Britwreck. There are enough Tories determined to crash the UK on the rocks just to spite Europe, that May has to placate them to keep her party together, causing her to try to speak out of both sides of her mouth simultaneously, with garbage being the unavoidable product. Nothing May says makes any sense, because she’s as clueless as any Tory. Like any Tory, she puts party and herself first, and the UK second.
I am loathe to use female pejoratives like c***, t***, b****; and male pejoratives like p****, d***, w*****, f***** and a*******. However appropriate they may be. I think of various pols in these terms, yet it doesn’t seem appropriate to set them out on a web page. And yet…
Take May’s abortive trip to Northern Ireland to pacify the natives. She wasn’t prepared for it having had only two years since the first Brexit vote to figure out how she was going to deal with the Irish border, and now a few days ahead of Brexit, she still hasn’t a clue. I doubt she has a clue what “backstop” actually entails. I doubt anyone else does, either.
“Backstop” is a meaningless word designed to conceal the fact that not only does May not have a sodding idea of what she is doing, she doesn’t give a shit. It’s all delaying tactics to persuade batshit insane Tory MP’s to vote to keep her majesty in No 10. That is her primary directive among Tory zombies… Stay. In. Power.
Tony Blair and John Major went to Belfast during the referendum campaign to set out the seriousness and insolubility of this problem in great detail. They were not listened to. For two-and-a-half years, the UK civil service and others have sought to come up with various ingenious ways to have no border at all between two countries, one of whom has refused to be in a customs union with the other. They have not come up with anything. Nothing exists like it anywhere on Earth. Currently, Steve Baker and various others are in the process of coming up with a solution that will work, in the space of 48 hours. It won’t happen. So the backstop is needed.
So for those who have brought the UK, and the European Union, to this point, who campaigned for it with no plan at all of how to sort it out, Tusk has every right to be angry and every right to express that anger too.
Tory Brexit has been both reckless and wreckful. These far right politicians obviously wanted to inflict the maximum amount of damage in Europe, in revenge for Europe inveigling the UK into membership, without any regard whatsoever for collateral damage to the UK.
They live in some sort of imperial cloud cuckooland where the Britain of yesteryear can be resurrected in all its imperial glory, bereft of colonies and its theft of their foreign wealth, and somehow float to the top among giants that make Britain look like en effete pigmy.
No wonder Tusk is exasperated. He is faced by the dregs of the English ruling class. The problem is, they have no class.
She said the chaos and uncertainty around Brexit made it clear that ill-informed or ill-judged decisions were a mistake.
“Clearly, if people in Scotland are being asked, given the opportunity to look again at the independence question, they have a right to have as much information as possible about what – if Scotland chooses to be independent, what our relationships will be with the rest of the UK and with Europe,” she said.
“And some of the answers to those questions inevitably depend on the Brexit outcome to some extent. And, therefore, I think it’s in the interest of allowing an informed decision to be taken about independence that we allow some of that clarity to emerge.
“Brexit is a good example of what happens when people take, in some respects, an uninformed decision about a big change. And when people, as I believe they will in due course, opt for Scotland to be an independent country, that should be on the basis of a genuinely informed decision about all of the implications and consequences.”
Evidently she is one of the few leading politicians in Britain doing any serious thinking about consequences. She is absolutely right that we have to wait for the political and economic fall-out from the Tory Brexit to settle before we know how to proceed on another Scottish referendum.
And she is doubly right to point out that in such a referendum, unlike in the Brexit one, the pros, cons, options and consequences should be clearly laid out for serious consideration by voters. Those arguing for an early referendum taking advantage of Brexit chaos are not helping the independence cause, nor the other nations in the UK. They are just trying to be selfish and take advantage of a disaster.
In the event of Brexit, I would support Scottish independence, because I think Scotland would have a brighter future in the EU than in a weak and isolated UK. However, this is not the time to be making such a decision. Sturgeon seems one of the few pols in Britain not losing her head when all about are losing theirs.
She pledges there will never be a hard border in Northern Ireland.
At her speech in Belfast, May said she would never allow a hard border to be erected on the island of Ireland.
“Northern Ireland does not have to rely on the Irish government or the European Union to prevent a return to borders of the past,” she said at a speech in Belfast. “The UK government will not let that happen. I will not let that happen.”
She’s opening and closing her mouth, and words keep coming out of it, but it is entirely unobvious what the words mean or portend for policy. Apparently there is some rabbit in a hat she means to pull out to prevent a hard border in Northern Ireland even in the event of a pull-out from the customs union.
And she can’t say straight out she won’t pull out of a customs union because she needs the moronic Tory Brexiteers to keep her in Downing St. She has to speak in meaningless code to confuse both sides of her party a to what it is, if anything, she actually plans to do, besides warming her tootsies in front of the No 10 fireplace for as long as she can get away with it. What an appalling shambles of a government and political party. It’s a disgrace.
Neeson, who has starred in films such as Taken and Non-Stop, recalled being told about the rape [of an undisclosed person] after he returned from a trip overseas.
“She handled the situation of the rape in the most extraordinary way,” Neeson said during the interview, which can be read in full here. “But my immediate reaction was … did she know who it was? No. What colour were they? She said it was a black person.
“I went up and down areas with a cosh, hoping I’d be approached by somebody. I’m ashamed to say that, and I did it for maybe a week – hoping some [Neeson gestures air quotes with his fingers] ‘black bastard’ would come out of a pub and have a go at me about something, you know? So that I could kill him.”
Now let’s grant that Neeson is not the person now that he willingly describes he was at that point in time. Evidently, nothing came of his mini-crusade to kill some random black person because someone he knew got raped by a black person, and I am not posting this in order to attack or condemn him. It just raises some interesting questions, so let’s deal with them in the abstract.
First, no woman I’ve ever known has admitted to me she had been raped. So I cannot gauge what I would personally feel if a niece or friend said they had been. I suspect I might be angry enough to try to whack the suspect, but what Neeson describes, goes a few steps beyond. He first asks a reasonable question: who did it? Then he asks something I would consider out of the blue, that must have come from his or her circumstances: what colour was he?
And then comes something I don’t understand at all. He goes out with a cosh, hoping to attack some random black stranger in revenge for this vicious assault. To reiterate, Neeson says, “It was horrible, horrible, when I think back, that I did that,” so he understands the gravity of his actions. Had she said, no, he was white, would Neesom have prowled the streets looking for white men to cosh? Neesom doesn’t clarify anything here.
Now from what I’ve read and seen of Neeson, he seems a decent bloke, but here he is describing a violent and atavistic response that has purely racist overtones. Whatever he feels now, he obviously had issues then, or so he admits.
I don’t particularly want to lay into Neeson, he didn’t have to admit what he told the interviewer, however, having admitted this horror in his past life, it was remiss of him to fail to explore it in more detail, and he will come to regret that. It leaves questions unanswered, and while Neeson today may be a reformed character from Neeson then, having gone this far, he would do well to go a hell of a lot further and explicate where his head was at the time, and what journey he took to get his head where it apparently is today.
Corbyn had this coming. Dire though May’s misgovernment has been, his dithering leadership of the opposition has been as bad, perhaps worse, because he is betraying Labour voters. He’d better hope May doesn’t go for another election because he and his party could be wiped out.
Admittedly, he is caught between Labour Leavers and Remainers, and has claimed to be in favour of simultaneously leaving AND staying in a customs union, despite having no say in forming its regulations. His position is completely illogical, especially as his heart remains with the Brexiteers, and it’s unclear where his head is. Certainly not in a leadership role.
As a result, neither side trusts him, because neither can believe he means a word he says. Rather like May and the Tories. Corbyn has deliberately put himself in a position where he is an ineffective opponent of Brexit, and hence of the Tory party that has embraced it. If he is still the leader of the party after the next election, whenever it comes, it will be of a rump party of little significance.
Again, I think there is a resolution to this conundrum. Unstitch the UK entirely and let the regions go where they will. Scotland would go back into the EU. England can go… well, let’s not go there.
Then there will be no reason to evacuate the royal family from any palace other than Balmoral.
British officials have revived cold war emergency plans to relocate the royal family should there be riots in London if Britain suffers a disruptive departure from the European Union, two Sunday newspapers have reported.
“These emergency evacuation plans have been in existence since the cold war but have now been repurposed in the event of civil disorder following a no-deal Brexit,” the Sunday Times said, quoting an unnamed source from the government’s Cabinet Office, which handles sensitive administrative issues.
Any chance of evacuating the rest of us? Thought not.
The “Four Horsemen” is a reference to four iconic (English speaking) protagonists of atheism who rose to prominence in the late 20th and early 21st centuries: Daniel Dennett, Richard Dawkins, Christopher Hitchens and Sam Harris, who all went on to write additional books following the 2004 9/11 terrorist attack in New York, giving rise to the “new Atheism” meme. This is them at their only publicised meeting together in 2007 that is commemorated in The Four Horsemen book reviewed in the linked article.
First a wee disclaimer. I became an atheist in my mid teens, late 1960s- early 70s, long before I’d ever heard of any of these gentlemen. I was raised a Roman Catholic, and brought up with Holy Communion, Holy Confession, Holy water, holy this that and the other, bobbing up and down in the pews, pictures of the pope and Virgin Mary on the walls, muttering prayers and fingering rosary beads. I bought into all this, and cannot really explain why I lost the faith. It was a matter of erosion over a few years, not a sudden, logical revelation. Perhaps it was out of sheer boredom and repetition. Perhaps it was because I noticed Catholics didn’t get on any better, nor had better rationalisations for the world than anyone else. Perhaps it was because science and rationality interested me – though many famous catholic scientists have managed to reconcile rationality and religious faith. At any rate, it was cemented by the many cheerful atheists I met at university, virtually all scientists.
So, I lost my faith before I went to uni, but my apostasy was cemented by my experience there. My older brother, a math graduate, never did. We don’t discuss it at all, probably because his wife is even more devout than he is. The first of the Four Horsemen I ever read was at uni, and that was Dawkins’ The Selfish Gene, some time after it was first published in 1976. Dennett, I didn’t come across till some time after 1995, when he published Darwin’s Dangerous Idea: Evolution and the Meanings of Life. Dawkins had already given me brilliant additional arguments to bolster and defend my existing atheism. Hitchen’s and Harris’s writings I am not too familiar with.
The point I am trying to make is that I was atheist long before the Four Horsemen came along, long before “New Atheism” became their sobriquet, and that there is nothing new about atheism. (To be fair, Dennett just went along for one ride, he was never part of the later cavalry charges.) It’s not that atheists never before successfully argued against religion, it’s the notion that after 9/11, atheism became a new movement that needed a new name. The criticism of it is that the protagonists are seen as increasingly dogmatic and hostile to religious believers, and especially to Muslims.
Perhaps the main difference between traditional atheists like me and the New Atheists, is that we tend not to dabble in evangelical atheism – candidly, I confess to having been a protagonist of atheism on subscribed message board, in some cases taking to religious fundies on their own boards, though this was in the prehistorical days before the public free-for-all that is Twitter – while they go out and proselytise like any preacher, delightfully giving interviews to the media whenever possible.
On to the sardonic review (I have no reason to suppose the Guardian reviewer, Steven Poole, is prejudiced against people of any or no beliefs, and make no assumptions about his own possession or lack of them).
New Atheism’s arguments were never very sophisticated or historically informed. You will find in this conversation no acknowledgment of the progress made by medieval Islamic civilisation in medicine and mathematics – which is why, among other things, we have the word “algebra”. The Horsemen assume that religion has always been an impediment to science, dismissing famous religious scientists – such as Georges Lemaître, the Catholic priest who first proposed the big bang hypothesis, not to mention Isaac Newton et al – as inexplicable outliers. At one point Harris complains about a leading geneticist who is also a Christian. This guy seems to think, Harris spits incredulously, “that on Sunday you can kneel down in the dewy grass and give yourself to Jesus because you’re in the presence of a frozen waterfall, and on Monday you can be a physical geneticist”. Harris offers no reason why he can’t, except that the combination is incompatible with his own narrow-mindedness.
For these men, rationality is all on “our” side and evidence-free faith is all on “their” side. But faith is very much a movable feast: Hitchens himself, in his sad late persona as a useful idiot for the Bush-Cheney regime in the mid-2000s, notably kept insisting – in the face of no evidence – that Saddam Hussein had possessed a working nuclear-weapons programme, which proved that it had been right all along to invade Iraq.
I believe it’s a reasonable argument to make that atheism can descend into becoming a dogma, if one abandons scepticism and acquires blind faith in one’s position. We see this happening in politics today all over the world, but it isn’t exactly a new development – it’s probably as old as politics itself. The New Atheists are certainly sceptical of religion, and rightly so, but post 9/11, less so of the policies of rightwing governments, and especially of their actions against Islamic countries.
Poole doesn’t just call out Hitchens and Harris, he criticises Dawkins as well in this light.
Dawkins became a leading social-media troll, with tweets such as this from last summer: “Listening to the lovely bells of Winchester, one of our great mediaeval cathedrals. So much nicer than the aggressive-sounding ‘Allahu Akhbar.’ Or is that just my cultural upbringing?”
Yes, it probably is. Carillons give me a headache. Not a fan of Twitter myself, and think that if you want to style yourself as a philosopher, best to avoid it. If you dabble in the same pool as President Trump, you will not come up smelling of roses. Now, Dawkins has written many excellent books on evolution and how it support atheism, but here he’s descending into crass propaganda without much thought. I respect his prior work, but when Poole remarks, “[Dawkins] has a bright future ahead of him leaving pointless online comments below newspaper articles”, he has a point.
Dawkins gives the impression that he’s not against the great Christian scholars, architects and artists, but is not willing to give Islamic scholars, architects and artists any credit whatsoever. I suppose the Taj Mahal is an aberration. Touch of hypocrisy, maybe?
And here is an another issue – the entanglement of some of the Four Horsemen with the alt-right. “Alt” means not specifically Christian, but secular.
The intellectual path followed by Harris is most balefully illustrative of the poisonous seeds that were always present in New Atheism. At one point here, the men admire themselves for their willingness to consider truths that might be politically dangerous. For instance, Hitchens says, if the notorious hypothesis of the 1994 book by Richard J Herrnstein and Charles Murray, The Bell Curve – that black people are genetically inferior in intelligence to white people – were true, it shouldn’t be ignored. Luckily, Hitchens hastens to add, that example is not viable. Later on, however, Harris brings up the argument again. “If there were reliable differences in intelligence between races or genders,” he begins, before Hitchens cuts him off dismissively. “But I don’t think any of us here do think that that’s the case.”
Hitchens might have been too generous. In 2018, Harris caused a storm by inviting Murray on to his podcast for a weirdly uncritical two-hour conversation. Murray, Harris claimed, had been the victim of a terrible “academic injustice” for the way in which his notions about the inherent cognitive inferiority of some “races” had been rejected by the scientific establishment. (Lest you worry about Murray, be reassured that he is still a fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, which is funded by the ultra-conservative billionaire Koch brothers.)
The alt-right is not known for its devotion to reason and rationality either. It may be little more than a backlash against what it sees as political correctness: moderation in foreign policy, support of economical deprived people, fairness for racial and sexual minorities, respect for and preservation of the environment, affordable health care. It’s hawkish against Islam and supportive of war against Islamic nations as well as terrorists. However, parroting phrases like “It stands to reason that…!” is always a very weak substitute for actually producing and substantiating reasons with evidence.
The irony is that the alt-right extremes of New Atheism begin to share many of the domestic and foreign policy goals of America’s indigenous Christian far right. It might even be said that on some issues, they read from the same Common Book of Prayer.