All Out War : the first draft of the Brexit story

February 26, 2017

all-out-war

I have to admit I have become a bit disengaged from politics over the last few years. But after the political earthquakes of 2016 I felt I had to get back into it. The book I chose was All Out War by the political correspondent of the Sunday Times, Tim Shipman. This job seems to have been given access, going back for years, to most of the major figures in this story, except perhaps to Team Corbyn. Subtitled “The full story of how Brexit sank Britain’s political class“, it is a chronicle of the campaign that would lead to Brexit. It was well worth reading and has drawn plaudits from both sides of the debate. In fact, it is necessary to talk about all sides as what this book makes clear is that both “Leave” and “Remain” were coalitions of rival forces which at certain stages, as Shipman chronicles in exhaustive detail, seemed to spend more time  attacking factions on their own side rather than against those of the opposing campaign. If you like tales of bitter political infighting, this is the book for you.

Let’s take a look at those in favour of Brexit. The official campaign group for leaving the EU was Vote Leave, with its big rival being Leave.EU. There were other groups too such as Grassroots Out, Get Britain Out and Better Off Out, but Shipman focuses on the first two. Vote Leave was created in October 2015 by political strategists Matthew Elliot and Dominic Cummings. It was conceived as a cross-party organisation. Its two most prominent advocates were Conservatives Michael Gove and Boris Johnson, who gave it more respectability. They tended to play down immigration and highlighted global trade liberalisation instead. Leave.EU, which was originally called The Know, The campaign was co-founded by Bristol-based businessman and UKIP donor Arron Banks and property entrepreneur Richard Tice. They were The Bad Boys of Brexit” as Banks called his diary of the campaign. Their mantra for the campaign was immigration, immigration, immigration. In the end this double punch was effective, but there was a lot of hatred and there were even coups within Vote Leave.

Opposing them were the Remainers. Their principle figure was of course the PM. David Cameron felt that he had to promise a referendum in order to stem the tide of defections to Ukip, and lead a united party in the 2015 election. Not expecting to lose, Cameron made a number of tactical errors as he was outmanoeuvred by the Eurosceptics in his party. For example Remain fought the campaign with one arm tied behind their backs as Cameron wanted to avoid avoiding direct “blue-on-blue” attacks on fellow Tories. After the successful deployment of scaring the voters in the Scottish independence referendum of 2014, it was decided to repeat the strategy. It stressed the economic risks of leaving. There were messages from the Chancellor, the Governor of the Bank of England, Christine Laggard of the IMF and even Barack Obama who said that Britain would be at “the back of the queue” for trade deals if she left the EU. They may have overegged the omelette, but Remain generally won the economy debate. But this did not prove the decisive factor. Maybe with a sympathetic press it would have proved more effective. But little attempt was made to paint a positive picture of the European Union and Britain’s place in it. After three decades of Euroscepticism, this was always going to be a hard sell.

And then there was Jeremy Corbyn. They say that the problem with political jokes is that they get elected. Corbyn may have been elected as Labour leader twice, but he surely has no chance of ever being PM. I can’t be the only one who thinks that if the Tories had planted someone in the Labour party twenty years ago, he couldn’t have done a better job for them than Corbyn has.  The chapter called Labour Isn’t Working is about how Corby and his aides effectively sabotaged Labour’s Remain stance. Shipman portrays Corbyn as a puppet in the hands of shadow chancellor John McDonnell and chief of staff Seumas “Stalin wasn’t so bad” Milne. Lacklustre is the most positive way to describe Corbyn’s strategy of disengagement. McDonnell is said to have refused to travel on his party’s designated battle bus because to do so would have been “too New Labourish”. They were graduates from the Tony Benn school of anti-EU agitation, and many believe that Corbyn actually voted for Leave.

All this meant that Remain came across largely as Tory-run. Given the chaos of the campaign, 48% almost seems like a good result. They lost by 4% or 1.2 million votes. If Remain had won, we would be talking about the chaos that was Leave. It is interesting to compare these results with referendum held on 5 June 1975 in the United Kingdom to gauge support for the country’s continued membership of the European Communities aka the Common Market. In this case Yes won 67% of the vote. For such a transcendental decision I think there should have been a 60% threshold. Alas no such measure was in place, so we now have to accept the result.

 


Mockumentary: Nigel Farage Gets His Life Back

February 26, 2017

I am a fan of mockumentaries and so I really enjoyed this one from the BBC last Autumn.


My favourite rhetorical devices #1 Chiasmus & Antimetabole

February 18, 2017

If you can’t be with the one you love, love the one you’re with.” Stephen Stills sang this line in 1970 and it is an example of a rhetorical device known as Chiasmus. I became interested in this figure of speech after reading Never Let a Fool Kiss You or a Kiss Fool You by Mardy Grothe, a retired psychologist, management consultant, and platform speaker, who has also written a number of books about language such as Oxymoronica: Paradoxical Wit & Wisdom From History’s Greatest Wordsmiths, Viva la Repartee: Clever Comebacks & Witty Retorts From History’s Great Wits & Wordsmiths and I Never Metaphor I Didn’t Like. If you are not familiar with this structure, I found this piece online explaining the difference between chiasmus and antimetabole, a closely related literary device:

Many literary scholars use these terms interchangeably, though each term refers to a different literary device. Scholars generally know that chiasmus occurs when a phrase is repeated, but reversed, to make a point or emphasize an action. Antimetabole is very similar to chiasmus, but the words and grammatical structure must be reversed, since simply reversing the meaning is not enough. Knowing this, scholars may discover that all instances of antimetabole are also chiasmus, but the reverse is not always true.

The definition of chiasmus is a clause that is inversely repeated. The only requirement of a chiastic phrase is that the two clauses within the sentence must have opposite meanings. For instance, Havelock Ellis’s famous quote, “Charm is a woman’s strength, strength is a man’s charm,” is an example of chiasmus only. Here, the meanings in the two clauses are opposite, but the grammatical structure and the wording are different, meaning it cannot be an example of antimetabole.

Antimetabole is defined as a literary device that reverses the word order in a phrase to juxtapose the meaning. One example is Mae West’s catchphrase, “It’s not the men in my life, it’s the life in my men.” Here, the exact same words, grammatical structure, and rhythm are used create the second clause with the opposite meaning. Many scholars view this device as a subcategory of chiasmus because its rules are stricter and very closely defined.

Anyway, I don’t want to get too bogged down in all the technical stuff. Here are some of my favourites:

I have taken more out of alcohol than alcohol has taken out of me. Winston Churchill

 

The right to bear arms is slightly less ridiculous than the right to arm bears. Chris Addison

 

It is better to be looked over than overlooked. Mae West, in Belle of the Nineties (1934)

 

Recreational wordplayers wonder why we drive on a parkway and park on a driveway. Richard Lederer

 

Ask not what your country can do for you – ask what you can do for your country. John F. Kennedy

 

Before I got married I had six theories about bringing up children; now I have six children, and no theories. John Wilmot, Earl of Rochester*

 

It’s always the same. Either it’s rainy with sunny intervals, or sunny with rainy intervals. Pat DuPre, on Wimbledon weather

 

Greater love hath no man than this, that he lay down his friends for his life. Jeremy Thorpe, after Harold Macmillan fired seven members of his cabinet in 1962

 

A good ad should be like a good sermon; it must not only comfort the afflicted, it also must afflict the comfortable. Bernice Fitzgibbons was the director of advertising at Macy’s department store in New York City.

 

They say the movies should be more like life. I think life should be more like the movies. Myrna Loy

 

I’d rather have a bottle in front of me than a frontal lobotomy. Dorothy Parker

 

Many a man owes his success to his first wife and his second wife to his success. Jim Backus

 

We didn’t land on Plymouth Rock, Plymouth Rock landed on us. Malcolm X (Didn’t Cole Porter use this line in Anything Goes?)

 

It’s probably better to have him inside the tent pissing out, than outside the tent pissing in.  Lyndon B. Johnson, on J. Edgar Hoover

 

Your manuscript is both good and original; but the part that is good is not original, and the part that is original is not good. Dr. Samuel Johnson to an aspiring writer

 

This is about principled compromise, not compromised principles. John Hume, on Ireland’s 1998 Good Friday peace accord

 

I always say, keep a diary and someday it’ll keep you. Mae West, in Every Day’s a Holiday (1937)

 

I am a marvellous housekeeper. Every time I leave a man, I keep his house. Zsa Zsa Gabor

 

In what other language do people play at a recital and recite at a play? Richard Lederer

 

A hard man is good to find. Mae West

 

This isn’t a bar for writers with a drinking problem; it’s for drinkers with a writing problem. Judy Joice

 

____________

 

*This cannot possibly be correct John Wilmot, second Earl of. Rochester was a famous 17th poet and author of Signor Dildo. This quote sound like it comes from the 20th century at the earliest.


Martin’s quirky movies #5 Confederate States of America

February 12, 2017

csa-moon-landing

Loyal readers of my blog will know that I am a big fan of counterfactual history. In fact I dedicated a blog post to it – In defence of counterfactuals. As well as bringing history to life, they make a serious point: we live in a chaotic, uncertain world. When we study history, we need to be aware that things could have turned out differently. I am also a fan of counterfactual historical fiction. Recently I finished reading The Underground Airlines, the 2016 novel by Ben Winters, set in an alternate United States where the American Civil War never occurred and where slavery is still legal in the “Hard Four” southern states. Reading this book motivated me to go back to a film I had seen more than a decade ago in the days when I would actually go the cinema.

The film I am referring to is C.S.A.: The Confederate States of America. It has a similar premise to Winters’s novel. This 2004 mockumentary, directed by Kevin Willmott, imagines a Southern victory with the result of the creation of the Confederate States of America. he film has various elements. What I love is the way Willmott blends reality and fiction. The central conceit of the mockumentary is a fake documentary within a fake documentary. This documentary is produced by the British Broadcasting Service. As it’s supposedly being broadcast on television, it is interspersed with faux commercial breaks.

The sad thing is that many of the products advertised really did exist: Sambo X-15 Axle Grease, Darkie Toothpaste, Gold Dust washing powder, Niggerhair cigarettes and the Coon Chicken Inn restaurant. This type of racism is not so distant. I can still remember the Robertson’s golly or the Black and White Minstrel Show when I was growing up.

There are fake adverts giving a modern take on the slave trade. We have the Slave Shopping Network and its slave auctions:
States of America. The film has various elements. What I love is the way Willmott blends reality and fiction. The central conceit of the mockumentary is a fake documentary within a fake documentary. This documentary is produced by the British Broadcasting Service. As it’s supposedly being broadcast on television, it is interspersed with faux commercial breaks.

The sad thing is that many of the products advertised really did exist: Sambo X-15 Axle Grease, Darkie Toothpaste, Gold Dust washing powder, Niggerhair cigarettes and the Coon Chicken Inn restaurant. This type of racism is not so distant. I can still remember the Robertson’s golly or the Black and White Minstrel Show when I was growing up.

There are fake adverts giving a modern take on the slave trade. We have the Slave Shopping Network and its slave auctions:

And once you have the slave what better than an electronic shackle to keep control of your property:

These ads may be fake, but there was said to be Drapetomania, a mental illness that caused Black slaves to want to flee captivity. It was first diagnosed in 1851 by American physician Samuel A. Cartwright, who said that this disorder was “unknown to our medical authorities, although its diagnostic symptom, the absconding from service, is well known to our planters and overseers.” He put it down to masters being overfamiliar with their slaves, treating them as equals:

If treated kindly, well fed and clothed, with fuel enough to keep a small fire burning all night–separated into families, each family having its own house–not permitted to run about at night to visit their neighbours, to receive visits or use intoxicating liquors, and not overworked or exposed too much to the weather, they are very easily governed–more so than any other people in the world. If any one or more of them, at any time, are inclined to raise their heads to a level with their master or overseer, humanity and their own good requires that they should be punished until they fall into that submissive state which was intended for them to occupy. They have only to be kept in that state, and treated like children to prevent and cure them from running away.

Willmott alluded to Cartwright in another of the ads:

When you create counterfactual history like this, you create an alternate universe. Indeed, there are many differences. The film’s official website contains an expanded timeline of the history of the C.S.A. In this world the Civil War is known as The War of Northern Aggression. President Lincoln is not assassinated at the Ford Theatre, but lived in disgrace until 1905. President William McKinley’s assassin is an abolitionist rather than anarchist Leon Czolgosz. Rosa Parks is identified as a Canadian terrorist and a member of the J.B.U, the “John Brown Underground”. It is the confederate flag which is planted on the moon. Tim McVeigh blows up the Jefferson Memorial in Oklahoma City, with his execution being broadcast on pay-per-view. The “Muslim Menace” looms large. The Gulf Wars become the first and second Crusades, whose goals include regime change, the guarantee of oil supplies, and the conversion of the entire population to Christianity. Perhaps the history is not so alternate after all.

The ultimate message of the film is that maybe the South did win. That many of their attitudes did prevail. This is a complex question. Incredible progress has been made. The idea of an African- American president would have seemed like science-fiction barely a generation ago. The great institutional barriers have gone, but structural inequality is another matter.