Tag Archives: Little Englanders

How to survive in the age of Trump, May and Farage

How do I live in a society in whose leaders values are totally alien to me? In Britain we have a Poujadist leader who seems intent on dragging Britain back to a country of her childhood imaginings. A country from which people with foreign sounding names with funny foreign languages are absent.The Britain which I love is fast disappearing before my eyes. EU nationals are now threatened with deportation because of their ‘EUness’, an alien virus which is seen to threaten the integrity of the English nation. To answer my own question I look to those who have survived with their integrity intact in more violent and authoritarian societies than mine.

One figure that has always attracted me is the Russian poet Anna Akhmatova, a women who survived the horrors of Stalin’s persecution of the intellectuals in the 1930s. She was one of the early supporters of the revolution or rather the revolution in social mores that was sweeping through Russia in the early twentieth century. What this change meant was that women were no longer confined to the domestic scene as wives or mistresses. They could live their own lives rather than a life according to established custom. When Stalin achieved power this independent minded woman was seen as threat to new puritanical work obsessed  world of communism. In Stalin’s world individualism of the type that was practised by Anna Akhmatova was seen as a threat to the collective. People should work for the good of society and exhaust themselves in the fulfilment of communist society’s goals. The individualism of Akhmatova was seen as bourgeois and as contrary to communist life and practice. Also she scandalised the puritanical Stalin by living what in the sixties would be termed a sexually liberated life.Women could take on traditional masculine roles that being a doctor, architect in Soviet society, but they should not transgress the traditional sexual mores.

The first act of persecution on her was the sending of her husband sent to a labour camp, where he later died. Then when her son had achieved adulthood he was sent to the camps on a trumped up charge. Stalin and his secret police then played a cat and mouse game with her. She would go to the camp were she thought her son was imprisoned with food and queue for an opportunity to meet her son. All to often she would be turned away on some pretext and was denied a chance to talk to her son or deliver her food parcels. This was an experience common to many mothers and wives of camp inmates. Yet despite this treatment she continued she take whatever opportunity she could to help her son. Somehow her son survived the camps and returned to civil society.

I cannot know what anguish Anna Akhmatova suffered because of her cruel treatment by Stalin, but I do know is that she retained her personal integrity. She continued to write poetry. It is this quality of personal defiance that I most admire, an intent of being herself and not communism woman. There is one of her poems  ‘The Crucifix’  which expresses her personal agony, in the manner in which only be achieved by a poet.

The Crucifix

Do not cry about me mother seeing me in the grave

I

The greatest hour was hallowed and thundered

By angel’s choirs, fire melted sky

He asked his Father ‘Why am I abandoned?’

And told his Mother ‘Mother do not cry’

II

Magdalena struggled, cried and moaned

Piter sank into stone trance

Only there, where mother stood alone,

None has dared cast a single glance.

Translated from Russian by Tanya Karshtedt

Edited by Dmitry Karshtedt, August 1966

What I take from Anna Akhmatova’s story is that even in the most cruel and corrupt of societies, it is possible to retain that independence of mind and sense of individuality, which represents the best of human life. In the end she triumphed over Stalin. The many tomes of his writing remain largely unread today, the only readers being those historians who need to understand Stalinism; whereas Anna Akhmatova’s poems are read by many thousands if not millions for pleasure. Her spirit lives on through her poetry, Stalin’s died at his death.

There is another story from Soviet Russia that sticks in my mind. A person who has been recently freed from a labour camp is given a $10 dollar note by a friend, who realises that they will need help now that they are trying to reestablish their life. However this man knows of friend in similar circumstances who he thinks is in greater need of the money, so he sends him the $10 dollar bill. The recipient of the money knows of a person who is greater, so he sends on the money. In the end the $10 dollar bill never gets spent as its sent from one person to another. People can it seems retain the best of human qualities in the most appalling of circumstances.

What I am not suggesting is that contemporary Britain is the 21st century equivalent of the Soviet Union. Instead I live in an increasingly authoritarian society in the leaders have values alien to me. It is a country in which the nastier of the Poujadist or Little Englander strain of politics has become mainstream. While our leaders may claim they are neither, their actions and the wording of their speeches betrays there true intent. How will I live in this new Britain? I will continue my friendships with my Iranian and Peruvian neighbours. Continue to patronise the Italian cafe where I regularly go for coffee. What I am trying to say is that I will try to live my life according to those qualities of life that the philosopher Kwane Anthony Appiah calls cosmopolitanism. I enjoy a life which I see as characterised by friendship with people of other culture. A cultivated open mindedness a respecting others for there differentness. Perhaps a feeling first stimulated on my first visit to France in the 1970 when for the first time in my life I could enjoy a good cup of coffee. This to a person brought up on instant coffee was a life changing experience.

I grew up in what many would consider ideal circumstances. It was a childhood spent in small rural village of native born English people. There was a strong sense of community mindedness. I could wander through the village and its surrounds knowing that I was safe. If I encountered any problems I could go to a neighbour. Yet now I could not return to a community of native born English speakers, as I love learnt to love diversity and difference. In the village of my childhood there would not have been a Mohammed with whom I could discuss Middle Eastern politics. Now my ideal world is the one centred on the urban coffee house, where I can engage in conversation with people who are not like me. One in which a secular minded Englishman can have a friend  who is a good Muslim who both share a liking for indulging in good conversation.

The vain glorious and useful idiots of Brexit

Economists often seem afraid to use words in common circulation in their analysis, they will resort to made up technical words, when a much simpler phrase would have been more appropriate and useful. One little known book today is Erasmus’s  “The Adages”. In this book he demonstrates how the simple proverbs and phrases in common usage can conceal profound truths. One of the frequent themes of his essays are the damaging behaviors of vain glorious princes. These princes in their lust for glory start wars which damage their countries prosperity leaving them poorer and indebted. The only beneficiaries are the mercenaries they employ in their armies. These wars were so profitable for the mercenaries that one even took over a city state and made himself the Duke of Milan. What economics lacks is that despite being a science of human society are the terms to describe those irrational behaviours that have a major impact on the economy and society. Just as in renaissance Italy we have leaders that inflict significant damage on their economy in pursuit of vainglorious enterprises, that they believe will earn them a place in history. However what I cannot find in Erasmus is any reference to the ‘useful idiot’ a person that is now very common in our political classes.

A useful idiot is the one who in elieving that they are advancing their own interests are  in fact advancing the interests of another more powerful individual or group of individuals. This  group prefers to avoid attracting to much attention, as it would highlight the fact that their interests are damaging to the health of the wider society.

The most damaging to our economic prospects as a nation are the useful idiots in parliament, who have successfully campaigned for a damaging break with Europe. When one reads of the vast sums of money paid by the Brexit supporting billionaires to those politicians campaigning to leave Europe, it becomes obvious in whose interests they are operating. Senior politicians who supported the campaign are now being paid hundreds of thousands for newspaper columns and books by the very press barons who wanted to exit Europe. Do these politicians really think that their newspaper columns or books are really worth the hundreds of thousands that are paid for them? What can be said is the hundreds of thousands paid to these politicians are but the small change in the pocket of these billionaires? Only the politicians themselves can really think that their talent is worthy of such high salaries. What can usefully be said is the many books being written by these self serving politicians will the very books which will be the first to be pulped next year as most of them will remain unsold.

There are another group of useful idiots in our parliament, these are not the paid proxies of the billionaire class but those naive politicians who having spent a lifetime within the Westminster confuse reality with the world as seen from within the Westminster bubble. They over estimate their powers and the significance of their actions. They seem to have a naive Harry Potter like perspective take on the world, they believe that having access to the levers of power in Westminster gives them the power to change the world. What they despise is the mundane reality of power in which Westminster is but one player, a player that achieves it goals through negotiation and persuasion. They have no time for the mundanity of reality, they are lost in their own fantasy world.

One of the worst offenders are those on the left. They believe that by turning their back on reality they can create the just socialist society of their imaginings. If only they looked at the failing career of President Hollande they would be aware of the fallibility of their beliefs. He was elected promising to create a better France by increasing spending on the French welfare system and to reduce France’s high unemployment levels. To fulfil promises he would have to increase government spending, but this was in the Europe dominated by a Germany committed to an Europe wide austerity programme. Nothing he promised the French electorate could be delivered because his government was committed to the European programme of austerity. Now Hollande is the most unpopular of French Presidents, who if he wished to stand for President at the next election would be rejected by his party.

At present the leadership of the opposition party supports Brexit, because they believe that freed from EU regulation they can remake society according to their values. What they fail to realise is that a Britain shorn of EU membership will be but a small struggling country on the edge of Europe. They to solve what will be a problem of growing unemployment will be desperate to make deals with those businesses that can bring jobs to the UK. In such a situation the various multinationals will be able to dictate the terms on which they do business. What they will demand is a freedom from regulation, particularly employment regulation, together with cash subsidies of various kinds and infra structure  to benefit them. As demonstrated in Wales where the Labour government to persuade Amazon to locate a warehouse there was forced to spend billions on new roads to improve access to the new warehouse. Amazon is an employer noted for its use of exploitative working practices. This Welsh Labour government despite its socialist principles has turned a blind eye to this firms employment practices, so as not to offend a major local employer. A weak desperate government will sacrifice all its socialist principles to attract business to  the country in its desire  to create jobs. These people I class as useful idiots, because they will be doing exactly what the various rapacious multinational corporations want, creating a country in which they can operate largely free of regulation.

Those on the right seem to believe in some magical notion of Britishness. They believe that Britain really is some ‘spectred isle’ which will be restored to its former glory by breaking with Europe. One of their claims is that Britain will be free to trade with all those countries outside Europe, that they could not do as EU members. Again as with their left wing opponents they lack a firm grasp of reality. Unfortunately these dreamers dominate government and seem to think that by destroying all links with Europe, they will restore Britain to its past glory. If or when they achieve their break from Europe they will find that they become are reduced to governing a desperate vassal state, whose real governors are the multinational corporations.

The words Puerto Rico seem unknown to these ‘unrealists’. This country is independent and has a free trade treaty with the USA. Something desired by the ‘unrealists’, however any small weak country is at a disadvantage when negotiating with a powerful neighbour. In consequence  the free trade treaty has kept the country poor and impoverished. It is the location for American multinational companies who wish to operate in a low cost and regulation free environment, which of course is of little benefit to the people there.

What I am trying to suggest is that economics struggles to explain the why and what of human activity that is irrational and self destructive. Reading Erasmus’s explanations of the adages that explain the vain glorious actions of Princes, gives a far better understanding of the behaviours of today’s politicians than does any economic text.