Sunday, 25 March 2018

Collectivism is Selfish

Afternoon - be assured that if this is a roaring success I'll be calling out other writers for some sort of 'blog-off' on a winner-takes-all basis. Write me a cheque for a pound if it's no good...

When I listen to the tribal battle being played out in the mainstream and on social media my reaction is a sort of mix of amusement and bewilderment. The terrain Left vs Right, Labour vs Tory, Leave vs Remain, Native vs Foreigner and Majority vs Minority is something of a dead end for all concerned. It's a bit like watching two bald blokes fighting over a comb or a couple of cats taking swipes at each other while simultaneously chasing their own tails. That so many otherwise sane, rational people not only partake in this garbage but allow themselves to become emotionally invested in it means that division and destruction are the logical consequences. No good comes from such nonsense.

As I've outlined previously the real battle lines are not between one form of authoritarian collectivism or the other, but on a whole raft of other axes where the 'right' side (at least as far as I and presumably many of our readers are concerned) are taking something of a shellacking. In the arenas of Reason vs Emotion, Responsibility vs Victimhood, Respect vs Mudslinging and Opponent vs Enemy we're seeing an 'endarkenment' within our times as Toddlers of both persuasions continue to increase their profile in terms of both volume and sheer number. Crucially, both are emphatically on the side of 'the collective', way over and above that of the rights and freedoms of individuals.

Everybody apart from those inclined towards victimhood-driven 'identity politics' should be concerned by this slow death of the individual within our public discourse. Anarchists aside, all of us on the 'lone ranger' side of the argument acknowledge the need for some sort of balance and that the collective has to prevail on occasion, at least to some degree. This may include a need for the State to dispense law, order and justice, defend us from invasion or provide some sort of safety net to prevent people from falling into abject poverty (be that in the form of a 'reduced fat welfare state' or universal basic income). Some of you may strike that balance in a slightly different place and that's fine.

This is important as pretty much any defence of the proverbial lamb against two wolves discussing what to have for lunch is frequently depicted as selfish, mean-spirited, grasping and unreasonable by those aggressively pursing a more collectivist worldview. Now it's true that full-blown anarchists and their pseudo-intellectual cousins known as Anarcho-Capitalists cross over into a somewhat unhealthy and potentially dangerous 'survival of the fittest' zeitgeist which makes no attempt to grasp a multitude of complicated realities. However, while this mentality is both inherently selfish and philosophically bankrupt, its ultra-collectivist equivalent is equally so.

One of the few positives to come out of the recent poisoning of the well is a raw expose of this dismal modus operandi for what it is. This shouldn't be necessary as history has taught us the required lesson many times over, but perhaps the biggest lesson of history is that we are doomed to either learn the 'wrong lesson' from it or precisely nothing. Be it Trade Union maniacs in the 1970s and 1980s, militant feminists, whining men's rights activists, racists regardless of colour or creed, nosy 'socially conservative' homophobes, LGBT lunatics, Nazis, Facists, Communists, big government types of all persuasions, the moral is the same. Collectivism has nothing to do with fairness or genuine equality.

While the 'struggle' of various identitarians has gathered pace the historical claim that "all we want is a fair shake" has basically been parked in favour of more outright calls for special treatment and/or an insistence that the issues of their group are somehow so much more important than everybody else's. Once you start demanding that we talk solely about subjects relating solely to black/white, women/men or straight/gay then you are by definition putting down a marker that equitable treatment before the law and in terms of civil rights is not what you're actually talking about. Where such genuine inequalities exist I am of course as keen as anybody else to end them immediately.

At the heart of all collectivism is a piece of rank intellectual dishonesty, the pushing of a generic 'group experience' over and above the reality that individuals live diverse, complicated and wholly unique lives. While I'm not exactly president of the Margaret Thatcher fan club, I've always found the attitude of many interested in 'women's issues' towards her somewhat interesting. Rather than holding up the first ever female Prime Minister as a ray of hope that not all is lost, that she achieved what she did seems to perturb a great many politically minded women who I've heard complain, amongst other things, that "she did nothing for women did she?". It depends what you mean.

Being not only a woman but a grocer's daughter surrounded by the old boy's club that was the High Tory establishment, it can be argued that regardless of what you think of her record, the achievement of first becoming leader of her party and then staying in office for a decade transcended 'issues' not only of gender but of class as well. Alternatively, while I don't dispute that some encounter closed minds and closed doors on account of what they are rather than who they are, it's quite likely that Thatcher wasn't one of them. Just because you're part of some 'historically oppressed' group doesn't mean that you will experience exclusion and inequality of opportunity on a personal level.

If you look at those who have been successful in the spheres of sport, business, politics, the arts or whatever else there seem to be two common reactions amongst those pushing the narrative of a 'generic experience' based on group identity. One is to say nothing other than to hope that their new 'champion' will do something for their denoted brotherhood/sisterhood. The other is to pontificate about their 'triumph over adversity', as if the individual must have faced ostensibly insurmountable obstacles and smashed them through talent and sheer force of will. The possibility that no such obstacles really existed (at least for the person in question) is simply not an option up for discussion.

Meanwhile the reaction to one form of collectivism in recent years has been what can only be described as the same bad taste joke in reverse polarity. The Toddler Right of Make America Great Again, Take Back Control, Men's Rights Activism and silly toytown Angry Nativist movements is simply 'another side' joining in what they perceive as the same zero-sum game, battling for control of the narrative, resources, kudos and group recognition. Instead of the 'historically oppressed' we now have the perpetually pissed-off white working class, a 'silent majority' that never shuts up, whining manchildren complaining about being 'forgotten' and how "nobody ever listens to me".

My heart bleeds - the poor lambs. Anyway, swiftly moving on...

While some of the criticisms that both sides might have of each other are valid on the surface level, how they get to that place and propose to 'fix' things are basically two sides of a highly authoritarian and anti-individualist coin. Moreover, it's this lie about 'generic experiences' that serves as fuel to both - while bad things are done by and are done to individuals of all races, genders, sexual orientations or whatever else, a manifestation of the age old maxim that "shit happens and life isn't fair" should serve as compelling evidence that this 'generic experience' narrative is bankrupt and fraudulent. This silliness even fails on its own terms when put under the slightest scrutiny.

Instead, both sides cherry-pick and wheel out material as Exhibit A for the prosecution, with the wrongdoers of 'their side' dismissed as isolated bad apples while the reverse is held up as an embedded confession to some social/institutional/systemic bias to which 'rigging the game' is the only solution (and anyone suggesting otherwise must be some sort of 'bigot' themselves and therefore part of the problem). In reality there is no Utopia and there will always be idiots possessed of dumb, immature and unpleasant attitudes towards all sorts of questions for all sorts of reasons or even none. No amount of 're-education' or 'social pressure' is going to change what people think or how they feel.

Far from being liberating, collectivism crams people into highly restrictive boxes based on a single aspect of themselves and creates a wholly false sense of obligation. I might be white, British and heterosexual, but the notion that I therefore 'owe' something to complete strangers who happen to share these traits is illogical and absurd. Beyond promising not to turn aggressive or steal their possessions I have no higher or lower obligation to such an individual as I would to anybody else. It was Ayn Rand who nailed it when she said that "at the heart of all collectivism is the pursuit of the unearned", correctly identifying the use of identitarianism to disguise crude selfishness as solidarity.

The antidote to this is not to set up your own 'rival group', advocating special treatment for itself and demanding 'free stuff' from the State, but to reject militant collectivism entirely and embrace at least some sort of balance that deals in individual liberty. If you're interested in localism then the promotion of the smallest locality there is (namely the individual) should be on your agenda. If you want to protect minorities against majority tyranny then take care of the smallest minority of all (the individual again), protect his or her rights consistently and rigorously, and punish anyone who attempts to infringe them. Once you've looked after the individual, 'groups' take care of themselves.

I'm off now to contemplate whether to write a book from scratch on topics covered here in the last 3 months, or release some of this stuff as a book (perhaps an e-book) of its own. If you have a view either way on that then please let it be known - we're all for freedom of expression on these pages.

In the meantime I'll leave you with some great music from Joy Division (RIP Ian).

Thanks for dropping by and I'll catch you midweek.

Thursday, 22 March 2018

Count Dankula - Why we Need to Defend the Indefensible

Evening - will keep this to the point, time is money and all that.

From the top:- Mark Meechan, aka Count Dankula, is clearly about as funny as leukemia. Apparently this manchild believed that training his pet dog (interestingly named Buddha) to respond to cries of "Jews" or "Sieg Heil" by raising his front paw in a way that vaguely resembles the Nazi salute, was a right laugh and worthy of a YouTube video. Tragically, circa 3 million others appear to share a similar taste in 'humour' and have taken it upon themselves to watch online, although I acknowledge that some will be doing so in reaction to Dankula's recent trial and the publicity surrounding it. I've seen photographs and refuse to give this idiot the undeserved oxygen of publicity by clicking play.

Then again, I don't really need to do this as our esteemed judiciary have shown a ruthless determination to thrust the Dankula brand into the public arena, giving this alleged comedian's 'career' the type of shot in the arm that will have many a club circuit 'shock comic' kicking themselves. Being as gratuitously offensive as possible with the aim of getting oneself arrested, put on trial and spun relentlessly around the hamster wheel of news might just represent an attractive career proposition to some narcissistic, failed joker who calculates that a fine or short prison sentence represents a workable quid pro quo. Especially as many 'free speech' advocates will be on their side.

I'm a great believer in something called the law of unintended consequences, and the Dankula trial for 'Hate Crimes' has certainly ticked the box in creating a political martyr out of somebody who in reality is basically harmless, highly unfunny and a complete idiot. He wasn't inciting crime or disorder, calling for a second Holocaust or anything like that - in fact his actions do not come remotely close to any sort of sensible threshold for a real pre-Hate Crimes offence. My thoughts on the material itself are clear and I'm sure many of you will feel the same way, so why turn him into some sort of cause celebre for the 'New Right' and its 'anti-political correctness' brigade?

Of course there is also a philosophical point in play here, namely that free speech has to be especially for the disagreeable and those who cause offence, right up to the line of incitement to crime, otherwise it is not worth bothering with. The concept of offence (and what causes it) is by definition a subjective one centred around how the person on the receiving end feels, rather than something quantifiable or clear-cut that can be proven to have happened or otherwise. While (psychopaths aside) we all have an emotional dimension and it seems wise to consider that before we engage in certain topics, sometimes the free exchange of ideas will cause offence to someone. That is unavoidable.

'Free speech' with such limits on 'offence' is merely licensed speech, and to illustrate the point it's worth looking at some other cases where a license is stipulated as a specific requirement to do something:- off the top of my head you need a license to drive a car or forklift truck, be a professional boxer or practice medicine. In all these cases a sanctioning body issues the license and renews it periodically, with the right to revoke it for any reason of its choice or even none. Similarly, by consenting to 'Hate Crime' you are acknowledging the 'right' of the State to issue or withdraw 'Expression Licenses' as it sees fit. This is a step on the road to an Orwellian nightmare.

A few years ago I had a crack at a routine that combined performance poetry with stand-up comedy (think John Cooper Clarke but nowhere near as good). In that time I told my own share of 'politically incorrect' jokes about Catholic priests, Muslims, people from Burnley etc and if anyone was there and took genuine offence then I'm sorry to hear about it, but life goes on. While this was still a damn sight funnier than anything Count Dankula is capable of it may still not qualify for the Top 20 in the list of smartest or most productive activities I ever embarked on - but is that really the point? In reality, most of us have probably committed a 'Hate Crime' at some point, told a bad taste joke or whatever.

This is why even if you took genuine offence to this absurd and highly unfunny YouTube video (personally I didn't find it 'offensive', just plain stupid) then it's in all of our interests to prevent the making of martyrs out of morons, while preserving a right to free expression which has been eroded at the margins and is now under attack from sinister forces. Perhaps free speech has something of a misleading name, as far from being absolutely free it is actually pretty damn expensive. It involves discipline, selflessness and accepting the right of others to potentially offend you. Most of all, it means defending complete dickheads like Count Dankula, difficult though that might be.

And...whatever price tag you want to put on freedom of expression, surely it's worth it?

The alternative, a totalitarian society in which thought, speech and the written word are strictly licensed by the State, is absolutely unthinkable.

Anyway, all done in about 900 words so I'll leave you to it and catch you on Sunday. You have a choice of 'why Collectivism is Selfish' or 'the Value of Abstraction' so if you have a preference then let me know.

In the meantime I'll leave you with Eddie and his Hotrods. Thanks for reading...

Sunday, 18 March 2018

I was Wrong About...Libertarians

Afternoon - always a pleasure, never a chore and all that.

About seven years ago I found myself in the midst of what I can only describe as a political existential crisis. Dave had not been Prime Minister for long but was already setting off red flags that, after much musing over what type of conservative he was, it was already apparent that Dave was, well, the wrong type. Now I'm not a conservative in either the small or large c sense, but appreciate that some are considerably 'less worse' than others and would make an additional distinction between those amongst the general population who happen to be of a 'small c conservative' disposition (of whom there are many) and their political representatives. They're not the same thing.

Moreover I'd suggest that the former has a wholly legitimate sense of grievance and a claim to have been seriously let down by the latter - in fact I've expressed surprise more than once on these pages that any self-identifying 'small c conservative' continues to vote Tory at all. If you believe in a smaller, less intrusive state in economic terms but would also like an emphasis on defence, law and order and some subtle nods towards conservatism in social policy then in your position I'd be inclined to try and find out whether or not I could sue the Conservative Party under the Trade Descriptions Act. Their continued support for an organ that has quite demonstrably left them astounds me.

It was not ever thus and I actually went through a phase of being unpleasant and bordering on hostile towards conservative-minded people, but in the last 12 months or so I've re-discovered a genuine respect for them. The equivalence I drew in my own mind between 'small c conservatives' and the Toddler Left, as if they were somehow 'as bad as each other', was illogical, not properly thought through and something I now rather regret. The mirror image of the Toddler Left is not conservatism in either the political or apolitical sense at all, but the batshit village idiots of UKIP, the Tea Party and a raft of other self-styled 'alt-right' outfits. I refer to them as the Toddler Right for this reason.

Many small business owners, self-employed people and ordinary wage earners alike fit rather neatly under this 'small c conservative' umbrella. They want a safety net and for the state to look after those who cannot fend for themselves, but generally take the view that the bigger government gets, the more it attempts to do, the more wasteful and inefficient it becomes. They don't want the birch or the death penalty brought back but would like some degree of discipline to be restored in schools and habitual criminals to be punished before that criminality becomes an irreversible spiral. They don't 'hate' anybody but have a broad view of 'what works' socially and wish for that to be respected.

Now there's much to disagree with in that, but to suggest that this is in any way comparable to the neurotic and willfully irrational nonsense spewed by the New Left and New Right alike is not just wide of the mark, but unnecessarily insulting to sane, reasonable people who hold such views. I'm friendly with many who might fall within the 'small c conservative' umbrella, one which transcends divides over race, class, sexual orientation and religion as effortlessly as any other. Though I'm not a part of that it's quite apparent to me that the Uk could really use some imaginative and morally courageous conservatives at the moment, rather than the 'caretaker managers' they actually have.

Similarly, I'm on good terms with many on the 'sane left' who broadly identify as socially democratic and would wish for a socio-political framework I couldn't possibly agree with. However, while arguing for something rather more than a 'safety net', they accept that the private sector and profit motive at least can be a force for good as well as harm. They also see the silliness around 'identity politics', the constant obsession over race, gender, religion and sexual orientation as a means of political recruitment, as the cynical, destructive and divisive nonsense that it is. That their party does not represent them either (albeit for different reasons) is also strikingly apparent.

However, the recognition that the lie of the land circa 2010 rendered me politically destitute was what prompted a bold, outrageous and, on reflection, completely insane decision. I was (drumroll) going to start my own political party in the small l/classical liberal mould, with distinctive but realistic and achievable policies that would not amount to 'overnight revolution' in the economic, social or personal sphere. Not having any great aspirations to be some sort of guru or messiah, the plan was to kick-start the new organisation and then hand over the keys when somebody more suitable for that role emerged. All I had to do now was establish that 'my' party didn't already exist.

As it turned out there was already a Libertarian Party established and so, after a bit of correspondence with the regional organiser Stuart Heal (with whom I'm still friendly now) and a couple of party officials I was happy to join and even volunteer myself for a bit of canvassing and leafleting in the rain round Manchester on Stuart's behalf (we lost, in case you were curious). LPUK introduced me to a handful of fantastic people and for that I appreciate its existence at the time. Surrounded by sharp minds and cogent arguers, I quickly acquired some of the zeal and intensity of a convert before an introduction to the wider 'movement' brought its inherent problems into focus.

Straight away the online conversation amongst active Libertarians struck me as somewhat odd on a number of levels. As a movement it has acquired the unfortunate moniker of "the Marxism of the Right" and on reflection I'll admit that there is much merit in such an analysis based on personal experience. Many completely missed the point of what a party seeking election was supposed to be trying to achieve, namely the pursuit of policies that were either on the edge of or a fraction outside the received conventional wisdom of the time, an appeal to nudge the conversation slowly but surely in their desired direction - don't 'lie' as such, but keep it realistic, politically palatable and achievable.

In contrast the LPUK manifesto was no less Utopian than the plan for world domination hatched by Wolfie Smith and his Mutley-esque associates. Even if you believe in zero income tax (and I don't - I did an analysis of this and the sums simply don't add up), advocating it right now or within the next five years is nothing short of cuckoo island fantasy politics and deserves to be laughed at. I recall arguing with a newcomer at a meeting that we should go into the next election arguing to legalise marijuana as opposed to all drugs and it getting fairly heated. A sane call to pick off the low-hanging fruit and win this thing in increments got the full-on International Socialist call of 'sellout' - sad.

One of the more unsettling cyberchats I remembered having while a member of LPUK was one started by a fella who believed not only that child pornography should be legal, but that the party itself should be advocating such legalistion openly. Quite aside from what you think of the subject (and my answer to the question is that kiddie porn is rightly illegal and should remain so), you have to ask where the political antenna was with this guy. Had he any grasp of how that would play on the doorstep, of the difficulties he was inflicting upon the real people who would have to go out and defend it in public? This is where too much time in 'filter bubbles' gets you, unfortunately.

Rather than talking about (let alone doing) anything constructive, far too many political Libertarians seemed content to argue incessantly and try to 'out-Libertarian' each other. I've heard the term 'keyboard warrior' thrown about in recent years and it should be clear what that is as well as what it definitely isn't. An individual calmly articulating thoughts on a platform like this one does not qualify, but somebody using the internet to promote an ideological cause while shouting 'Statist' or 'Fascist' at anyone who only partially agrees with them has gone into full-blown 'edgelord' country and really has less than zero right to be taken seriously.

Political Libertarianism was a breeding ground for edgelords, sadly, as it misses three fundamental points and will go precisely nowhere until they are addressed. One is the need for realism and gradualism as I outlined earlier. Secondly you need to accept that a political movement or organisation is simply a vehicle upon which the broad direction of travel has been agreed, but members are (or at least should be) free to get off a couple of stops before or after others if they so wish. I don't dispute that on a personal level I was at the 'vanilla' end of this spectrum but would still argue for things we're decades away from realistically achieving. So what's the problem?

Perhaps most importantly, too many Libertarians fail to recognise that consequence, outcome and whether or not your plan 'works' or not actually matters. Freedom for the sake of freedom is fine up to a certain point, but I remember my good mate Chris Coey asking me a little while ago "if you did what you wanted to do and the outcomes for too many real people were a disaster, would you go back to the drawing board and think again?". The short answer is that I would have absolutely no choice, as a country with millions living in squalor and abject poverty quickly becomes fertile ground for riots, extremism and ultimate tyranny. Looking at this utterly selfishly, none of that is in my interest.

Arguing that a significant number of people suffering lower living standards is 'a price worth paying' in the name of your ideology is simply another variant on the "can't make an omlette without breaking a few eggs" view of the world. In its own way it's no different to the mindset of the militant left and so the 'Marxism of the Right' analysis is probably a fairly perceptive and accurate one. Any idea that results in negative outcomes for a meaningful proportion of the population is not simply a bad idea, but short-sighted and potentially dangerous. This surely applies to 'cult Libertarians' as much as it does to Marxists and we have to be logically consistent or what's the point?

In the end my trek into fully-fledged Libertarian politics was a worthwhile experience for all sorts of reasons, but I can safely say was not quite what I expected. Perhaps the very concept of a Libertarian political party and pursuit of 'the great leader' to 'liberate' us is central to the problem, but we can talk about that 'great leader' another night as his forays into the 'soft loan' market became the stuff of legend. Small-state, socially 'couldn't give a flying fuck'' types are those I will always find the most common ground with, but the active Libertarian wing of politics is simply too dogmatic, too ideological and too busy arguing amongst themselves about who's 'more Libertarian' to get anywhere.

I expected better and was probably wrong to have done so.

Am absolutely itching to write another about the nature of authority, but will save it til midweek - if you have any topics you'd like to see covered on here then I'm absolutely nothing without you as readers so will do the best I can.

Meanwhile I'll pass you the popcorn seeing as I'm nice like that - catch you next time.

Wednesday, 14 March 2018

Bored with Brexit - it's EFTA Stupid...

Evening - hope our foray into European matters goes rather better than that of Man United last night.

The post-referendum period has been an immensely disappointing time from a philosophical perspective for a number of reasons. We've witnessed a sort of toxicity enter our discourse which, if we're absolutely honest, was on the horizon for some time but then that God awful campaign unleashed upon all of us. With many on both sides preferring to re-fight that battle amongst themselves rather than approaching the problem constructively, the entire country appears engulfed by a sort of 'caretaker manager' status as we've boiled everything down to 1) bickering about Soft Brexit/Hard Brexit/I can't believe it's not Brexit and 2) 'stuff' around identity politics. That's it.

Leaving aside the nonsense around non-binary and transgenderism, there are three reasons why I can understand the 'slow emotion replay' being fought to some extent. One is the shocking and blatantly dishonest campaigns waged by both sides, which has left a sense of 'unfinished business' with nothing truly resolved (especially when you factor in that it was 52-48 and hardly represents a 'mandate for change' at all). A good analogy would be with a very close (albeit terrible) fight in boxing which went to a split decision on the scorecards. The loser claims to have 'lost the battle but won the war' and immediately calls for a rematch. I think Remainers are ultimately wrong here, but get their point.

Then there's the attempts by numerous and various to tell 17 million people "what they voted for" as if they all voted the same way for some sole and identical reason. This has been used to drive a silly and presumptuous 'debate' about the trajectory and nature of Brexit, when in reality some will have 'Brexited' in the hope of retaining at least some economic ties with Europe. Others were no doubt willing to 'take a hit' in the name of culture, heritage and/or restricting immigration while there will of course be some who probably couldn't articulate exactly why they voted the way they did but were perhaps motivated by a desire for some form (in fact any form) of 'change' at any cost.

Probably most importantly there seemed to be a pledge on the part of the 'alternative government' that was the Leave campaign that we would all have more money in out pockets right away as a result of leaving the EU, that a deal could be struck which combined every imaginable positive of membership with precisely zero adverse effects. This struck me at the time as being a cynical and disingenuous piece of gerrymandering based on what those offering it knew to be a false premise. As a result, all roads from there were bound to lead to disappointment and disillusionment when this thing could easily have been won (albeit by a different campaign) on a more realistic understanding.

It may be that we struggle economically post-2019, but I don't necessarily see this as an argument why it's such a terrible idea. By the same logic, young people should never move out of their parents' house since for the few years immediately proceeding that decision they might have less disposable income. Similarly, the nations of Eastern Europe should have stuck with Communism in the 1990s because the period of re-adjustment proved to be one of stress, hardship and difficulty for some. In reality our biggest mistake was joining what was the EEC in the first place and no process of unraveling from it was ever going to be rapid, straightforward or painless.

It's worth remembering that greater independence, the ability to shape your own destiny to a more significant extent, is a good thing in and of itself.

With this in mind, the option of joining EFTA is one that has always struck me as the 'least worst' option and an off-the-shelf type of choice which could conceivably have been agreed (at least in principle) by now. Sure, EFTA equals compliance with most of the EU's rules, it means some sort of membership fee going forward and is not a 'perfect' solution by any stretch. However, while enabling continuity and confidence it provides us with some (albeit limited) tools for restricting immigration and disassociates us entirely from the 'ever closer union' that is now known to be the EU's ultimate goal. Set against Utopia it fails, but next to every other realistic option, it's pretty good.

The Uk would be a massive addition to the association and provide it with a significantly increased profile on the world stage. From there, we could start to appeal to those movements within other EU nations which seek a similar process to the one we're engaged in - offering to open our doors to any country wishing to substitute EFTA membership for that of the EU while promoting it internationally as a looser and more flexible alternative. In the event that seven, eight, nine takers were forming a queue to join what would essentially now be a rival body, EFTA would be in a position to basically re-negotiate an even better arrangement for itself, starting a virtuous circle (at least for us).

Playing 'the long game' here just might lead to what many Brexiters really want, which is not simply British withdrawal but the collapse of the European Union itself. This, I suspect, is why the Conservative Party, a distinctly pro-EU organ which gave us the Single European Act, Maastricht and the non-vote on Lisbon, will not even countenance going down the EFTA road. Meanwhile, the boneheads and village idiots on the UKIP wing of the argument are too trapped in their state of Little Englander myopia to see this bigger picture. Having enjoyed the chase much more than the catch, their lack of imagination has created the terrain for a strong 'take us back in' movement to emerge.

This is why I've ultimately stopped talking about the subject, as not only am I far from sure we will actually end up leaving, but even if we do Brexiters were too busy winning the vote and then celebrating to even attempt to win the argument, let alone establish realistic and achievable aims once it had been won. A motivated, driven and well-resourced campaign to stop this from happening will simply morph into one to take us back in given 2-3 years to re-tune and wait for the inevitable post-Brexit difficulty - nor am I in any doubt that they will get their day, their referendum to re-enter with Schengen, the Euro and everything else. How that will work out is anyone's guess.

Smug Brexiters have really taken their eye off the ball here.

Anyway, apologies for the gloom but there is a reason why this 'Brexiter' of two decades has gone rather quiet. I'll say it again, pursuing a referendum rather than destroying the pyrite sceptics of the Conservative Party was the wrong, wrong way to go.

On a brighter note, I wrote the words 'slow emotion replay' earlier for a reason. Will leave you with some music and catch you next time - thanks for reading.

Sunday, 11 March 2018

Conspiracy Theories, Britain First and Henry Bolton

Afternoon - apologies for the delay between posts, have had other things to deal with.

I'll start with a minor confession - on occasion I have advocated positions and beliefs on certain historical events that might be deemed to have entered the realm of 'conspiracy theory', at least to some. Now I'm firmly at the 'sane end' of the spectrum when it comes to stuff like this and don't, for instance, believe that the moon landings were fake, Elvis never died or the earth is flat. Off the top of my head here are some that I definitely DO believe - JFK wasn't taken out by a lone wolf called Lee Harvey Oswald, the McCanns are aware of far more than they are letting on and almost certainly know exactly what happened to their daughter (RIP). Princess Diana was murdered.

For the avoidance of doubt, what I've just stated is merely the expression of an opinion based on the available evidence, just in case any lawyers were sharpening their pencils and seeing pound signs flash through their brain. What some regard as 'conspiracy theory' is simply the rejection of the 'official' narrative around a particular event, usually after a forensic of that basic storyline appears not to tally with the facts. Unlike those who seem to regard purporting such theories as a curious vocation, I don't arrive at such conclusions either lightly or automatically. The immediate subscription to 'alternative' explanations of events and incidents is of course sheep-like in its own way.

Two stories in the news last week had something of a 'conspiracy theory' feel to them. One concerned Britain First, the rabid bunch of nationalist headbangers led by Paul Golding and Jayda Fransen. I've always thought there was something not quite 'on the level' about Britain First - having been a prominent member of a minor political party myself I'm acutely aware of how nightmarish it can be simply getting some external acknowledgement of your existence. On the contrary, Golding was immediately promoted by the mainstream media as 'the new Nick Griffin' and given a sizeable profile overnight, despite consistently dismal performances in elections. This is highly suspicious.

A key indicator worth bearing in mind is that for all their Facebook exploits and relative 'success' within the social media sphere, Britain First have never had so much as 1,000 current active members. That's about half of what the Libertarian Party had at its peak, yet many of you will probably not be aware that LPUK even existed. This isn't sour grapes at all, for LPUK ultimately deserved its descent from obscurity of the relative variety to that of a more absolute one (we can tell that story another day). What I'm getting at is that all the documentaries, TV appearances and retweets from the president were fiat political currency, backed by precisely nothing.

Golding and Fransen have apparently been jailed for 'hate crimes', which is unfortunate in itself. By the sounds of it they were engaging in an ugly form of vigilantism which compromised a major police investigation into suspects who it would appear were guilty. They also harassed wholly innocent people, calling them 'rapists', provoking a horrendous backlash and forcing them to move house. This rattles off quite a few recognised criminal offences in one go, namely defamation, slander, sub-judice, incitement, perverting the course of justice. Take your pick and do the pair of absolute tossers for all of the above as far as I'm concerned. They're scum of the lowest order.

While I've no doubt whatsoever that they're some form of 'controlled opposition', the key question might be that regarding the extent to which they are aware of it. Given that they're demonstrably 40 watt and thick as mince it's quite possible that whoever has been backing and financing these shitheads has decided that they've served their purpose, withdrawn their 'privileges' and thrown them to the wolves without either working out what is going on. How many similarly criminal activities have they participated in previously and gone wholly unpunished? So the question has to be asked, why are they suddenly having the book thrown at them now?

Perhaps somebody else (like Anne Marie Waters) will be 'pushed' instead?

However, it's also possible that this is part of a stunt to promote Britain First and hail its leaders as 'martyrs' who were willing to 'sacrifice themselves' for the cause. If they get out of 'prison' in a few months and start presenting themselves in such a fashion then you can see how Toddler Rightists out there might be inclined to support and/or join them on the basis that "my enemy's enemy is therefore my friend". The inverted commas there are for a straightforward enough reason, namely because in this scenario it's not inconceivable that Golding and Fransen haven't actually gone to prison at all. They might simply go off-grid to a 'safehouse' somewhere and re-surface upon 'release'.

Meanwhile Henry 'Badger Strangler' Bolton (no relation to Michael, be assured I've checked) is back with OneNation, the political party whose USP is ostensibly that it's pro-Brexit while remaining on the right side of the psychiatrist's door. Now I found the whole Jo Marney story rather tedious and thought it somewhat suspicious that the personal (albeit moronic) tweets and Facebook messages of a private individual before she apparently met Bolton were given the airplay and media coverage that they were. There's no disputing that the self-styled 'traditionalist' Miss Marney is a strange girl who badly needs to stop huffing paint for the sake of her brain cells, but why the fuss?

As for OneNation, I find its presentation as some sort of 'magic formula' (namely pro-Brexit but not racist or xenophobic) to be somewhat insulting to the millions of reasonable people who voted to leave the EU. Scepticism towards the European Union aligned with sensible and fair-minded approaches towards 'difference' of all kinds along with subjects like immigration is not some sort of geopoitical Bermuda Triangle, but a perfectly sane and highly achievable position that UKIP once threatened to occupy before it descended into full-blown village idiot territory. That Bolton seems to be packaging this as a 'masterstroke' on his own part should set alarm bells off immediately.

It will fail dismally for two obvious reasons. Firstly, he has already explained that his new vehicle will be a sort of 'pick and mix' outfit, lifting bits from 'the left' on certain issues and pieces from 'the right' on others. That can't possibly work as a) policy areas invariably bleed into each other, with your solution to one problem basically determining your answer to the next question in advance and b) you've absolutely no chance of getting thousands of people to pull in the same direction in the absence of at least some sense of agreed core principles, even if you don't have an ideology as such. 'Believing in Britain' is just saying everything while saying nothing, magnolia politics by numbers.

But of course the biggest reason that all roads lead to oblivion in this case is Henry Bolton himself - with that we're back to the questions regarding Jo Marney, her Facebook history and the suspicious 'leaking' of her mad, alcohol-fuelled musings into the public domain. This is what I'll refer to as 'the David Icke effect' going forward. Now Icke has actually made intelligent and factually correct comments on many issues over the years but of course the nonsense about 'lizard people' ultimately discredits him and, well, that's his own fault really. Unfortunately, it also leads to the sane, sensible and even provable positions he has taken in the past being launched into the 'lunatic' category.

Similarly, the concept of  a non-batshit replacement for UKIP is a highly logical and indeed necessary one within the system we have. It's just more than a tad suspicious that a highly discredited chancer like Bolton (who let's not forget appeared relatively recently and from absolutely nowhere) is ostensibly going to lead it down a cul-de-sac and quite possibly create the perception that support for further British independence is some sort of refuge for cranks, pub racists and soccer hooligans. Look, if you want to ruin an organisation, infiltrate it and get 'wrong uns' to join. Similarly, if you're seeking to discredit a line of thought, do the whole "agree with David Icke?" thing with it. Simples.

Henry Bolton is quite possibly an egomaniac with weaknesses who was in the right place at the right time and got incredibly lucky. It may also be the case that he has been 'pushed' by external forces and that UKIP's leadership election (while not necessarily rigged like Morrissey claimed) was at least 'managed' to a significant extent. He could very conceivably be 'controlled opposition' who doesn't even realise it, having deluded himself into believing he did it all through talent and hard work. Given his background resembles Swiss cheese and he had an apparently damascene conversion from LibDem to staunch Brexiter, a hefty dose of scepticism regarding his authenticity is fair enough.

Plenty within the ranks of UKIP thought something very similar and cited such reasons as those for voting to get rid of him.

Anyway I'm off to watch Fahrenheit 9/11 again - thanks for stopping by.

I'll leave you with some music and catch you all midweek.

Thursday, 1 March 2018

The Life and Times of Audley "A-Force" Harrison

Evening - I promised you all something lighter, so here it is.

As a new patron of the excellent Boxing Gossip channel on YouTube, one of the perks was the chance to ask for a video about a specific topic. Not wasting any time, I pretty much immediately suggested this to Tom, who (along with Hatman of HatmanStrikesBack fame) is undeniably one of the more knowledgeable pundits offering his take on the world of pugilism. While I look forward to the video that will follow, it also seemed apt to commit my own thoughts about one of British boxing's most divisive and controversial characters to the page. What follows is not a breakdown of what's available on Boxrec, but a more 'bird's eye view' of both fighter and man.

Cards on table, I eventually grew to have something of a soft spot for Audley, although this was not always the case. Earlier on in his career I joined in with the appropriation of some unfortunate nicknames that Harrison seemed to have almost accumulated a registered trademark on. Let's rattle a few off while we're here:- Fraudley, A-Farce, Gay-Force, Parcelforce, Fraudley Embarrison. Being referred to in this way can't have been any fun and must surely have a humbling effect on somebody whose early years as a professional were punctuated with arrogance and boasts about his 'greatness' and 'destiny' that were rarely (though by no means never) matched by in-ring performances.

This is the thing with Harrison - the setbacks he suffered did inject a dose of humility into the man and I eventually found myself (as someone who has made his own catalogue of mistakes) finding the continued outpouring of bile towards him by keyboard warriors somewhat excessive. It struck me that some of those self-styled pundits and armchair psychiatrists were projecting their own failings in life onto somebody else, or simply 'cyberbullying' what they saw as a safe, acceptable target. Audley had become a 'legitimate outlet' for the sort of abuse that might normally be reserved for convicted murderers, terrorists and paedophiles - this felt inherently wrong from a distance.

Many regard the fighter known as 'A-Force' as some sort of national joke figure, as if he's the worst British boxer in history or something like that. To illustrate the point, when Andrew 'Freddie' Flintoff had his own circus of a heavyweight fight against a man who threw one shot in four rounds (and dropped Flintoff heavily with it), there was a serious discussion about whether or not Harrison should be his 'next' opponent. Thankfully, Freddie's abortive boxing 'career' ended the night it began and the almost certain trip to intensive care that Audley would surely have inflicted upon him never materialised. People who actually know boxing know how crazy such talk really was.

The facts of Harrison's career are as follows. He had a 31-7 record and was 19-0 at one point while being ranked in the Top 15 of a couple of the governing bodies. A former European and 'world' WBF champion, he also won the popular Prizefighter tournament on two separate occasions, becoming the first man to do so when he stopped the rugged American Derek Rossy to clinch an international version of the event in 2012. An anti-climatic first-round loss to current world champion Deontay Wilder would follow, mirroring his defeat to David Price some 18 months earlier. Then there's that WBA title fight with David Haye, for which Audley is mos fondly (or otherwise) remembered.

You can't talk about Audley Harrison without at least referencing the shambles against Haye, an avalanche of 'big build up' followed by a dreadful farce of an event in which it's well worth remembering the Hayemaker himself played more than a cameo in the perceived ripping off of the paying customer. It's not for me to state whether or not the fight was 'on the level' but that first round where neither threw a punch in anger ticks every imaginable box for a 'fixed fight' or betting sting and those questions have certainly been asked. If Harrison had some sort of pre-fight meltdown, you have to ask why Haye didn't latch onto this immediately and finish it there and then?

With regards to his career, while it hardly puts him at the echelon of the sport or comes seriously close to justifying the hype around Audley following his 2000 Olympics win, it's one that 90+ per cent of those taking up professional boxing would bite your hand off and accept. Possessed of very good (if sometimes overrated, not least by himself) skills and power, there is no doubt whatsoever that Harrison was plagued by several in-ring and external issues. However, the persistent charge that he is some sort of coward, or lacked the heart to be a fighter on a generic level, are amongst those I would emphatically reject. Try climbing in a boxing ring yourself before making such claims.

Probably the biggest issue he had was an acute awareness that his ability to take a shot did not come close to matching his talent for dishing it out when he chose to (see Hersisia, Wade Lewis, Williams 2 and the second Prizefighter win for evidence). Rather than trade on his own strengths and make the opposition worry about him, Harrison fought in a reticent manner reflective of somebody who was over-thinking, obsessed with quite literally hitting without getting hit. While this had served him well in the 'fencing with gloves on' sport that is amateur boxing, the pro game would expose this for the flawed methodology that it was and lead to a series of embarrassing losses.

Another 'Audley issue' was one of weight. I couldn't help but think that Harrison was sort of infatuated/obsessed with Lennox Lewis and wanted to emulate him rather than be the best version of himself that he could be. Remember the Lewis-style hairdo in the Haye fight? When he dramatically cut his weight (albeit very late in his career) from a bodybuilder-ish 18 stone to a more athletic 16-12, it was a glimpse of the Audley Harrison that could have been, albeit with a sense of 'too little, too late' attached to it. In that second Prizefighter victory, Audley looked slick, mobile and had lost precisely nothing in the way of power. He was never, ever at his optimum as an 18 stone fighter.

Then there are the problems around trying to do it all himself, way too soon. While it's true that he paved the way for Hayemaker Promotions and others, being something of a pioneer in the process, Harrison should really have been knuckling down with decent trainers and honing his craft in the pro ranks rather than attempting to (in his own words) build a business empire like Tony Montana. That his early fights (which would have been fine on undercards) were topping bills and being sold as main attractions only added to the suspicion held by many that he was overly attracted to the fame and money aspects of high-level sport rather than producing elite-level performances.

Perhaps the nadir of that period came when, after getting rid of Matthew Ellis in two rounds, Audley asked the paying public who they'd like him to fight next out of a 42-year old and mentally unwell Frank Bruno, or former WBO champion Herbie Hide. This was a cynical attempt to buy into some crossover appeal that reflected badly on all involved and after the audience 'voted' overwhlemingly for Bruno, a somewhat slighted Hide went absolutely insane and incited a full-blown riot. Harrison would later form a domestic 'Fabulous Four' with Matt Skelton, Danny Williams and Michael Sprott in what were unfortunate and barrel-scraping times for British Heavyweight boxing.

On ability alone, Harrison should really have been above all of that, cleaning up and then moving on.

Something else to ponder is the reason for Audley's eventual retirement, namely the discovery of Traumatic Brain Injuries (TBIs) that led to him losing his BBBC licence. Now I'm no medical expert, but TBIs are not the sort of injury that appear out of nowhere having not been noted beforehand. It is perhaps worth asking how many times Harrison had previously passed medicals by the width of a coat of paint, whether he knew deep down that he was endangering his health as well as his career by jumping in with the likes of Haye, Price and Wilder in particular. It would certainly go a long way towards explaining his hesitant and somewhat negative style when facing punchers.

Audley Harrison cannot possibly have been as bad as some of his detractors suggest or his career record would have been closer to 7-31 rather than the 31-7 it was (including a few victories in rematches). It's also worth asking how well he could have done if some of what I'd outlined above had been different, had he grafted away from the spotlight rather than embracing a celebrity lifestyle following the Olympic success, kept his weight down the right side of 17 stone and acknowledged that other fighters had at least as much to be worried about as he did, usually more so (perhaps Haye and Wilder, at least at the time he fought them, are the exceptions to this).

Could A-Force have left a Klitschko or Lewis-style legacy in the Heavyweight division, as he claimed he would upon turning pro? The answer to that has to be negative. Sooner or later, Audley's less than granite jaw would have caught up with him and at best rendered him a former champion, a temporary custodian of one of the alphabet straps. However, in the era of Maskaev, Chagaev, Liakhovich and Rahman I don't see any rational case for suggesting that Harrison could not have claimed a portion of the title, albeit briefly, given a different set of circumstances. There were glimpses of what he could have done but these were not frequent or consistent enough, sadly.

If you disagree with me then please feel free to add a comment below.

Many thanks for reading and I'll leave you with the only appropriate music I can think of - thanks Audley for all the memories and I'll catch you next time.