Monday, January 23, 2017

Brexit may turn Brits into Swedes as we all go lagom

Sweden is perhaps best known for ABBA, The Cardigans, IKEA, meatballs, and Volvos. But the word lagom has entered the British lexicon and is likely to become the epitome of 2017.

Austerity and recession have yet to hit the British economy despite claims by the Remain camp that a vote to leave the EU would lead to economic ruin. But the British pound has crashed since the referendum resulting in a gradual increase in the cost of living. In December inflation rose to 1.6%, up from 1.2% in November and the highest rate since July 2014 [BBC]. And many manufacturers and suppliers are beginning to increase prices as the cost of imports increase.

For those with fluidity and disposable income a rise in the price of fuel, Marmite and a plethora of products made by Unilever and Premier Foods will mean little [BBC].

But there is a certain 'clique' of society who, whilst not scraping a living, will be looking at ways to make cutbacks. And this is where Sweden is making an influence.

Before Brexit the only Swedish words people might have known would be have been those associated with IKEA products.

But in recent weeks there have been countless articles indoctrinating the British public into a very Swedish phenomenon, that of lagom.

Going lagom

Lagom roughly translates as 'just enough' or 'not too little, not too much'. In Sweden it is said to be the philosophy of life. But it is creeping into the UK.

Recently IKEA pushed out a sales pitch on the benefits of lagom entitled "Live Lagom" whilst a Daily Mirror article published last November reported that lagom helped one former student clear her overdraft.

Danny Robbins play Cold Swedish Winter, which focuses on the Swedish way of life and lagom in particular, is being rerun on BBC Radio 4

Meanwhile the Daily Mail reported in its Femail section that lagom has the benefit of bringing happiness.

Hype and conspiracy 

Apparently the Brits all went a little bit Danish in 2016 — snuggling up in hand-knitted blankets, lighting pine-scented candles and sipping hot chocolate.

"We were embracing the cosiness Danes call hygge", the Daily Mail declared. Hygge was, essentially, a lifestyle all about cosiness [BBC]. However some argued the phenomenon was more a conspiracy to sell everything from fluffy socks to cashmere cardigans, wine, wallpaper and vegan shepherd's pie [Guardian].

But whether or not hygge was ever in vogue in 2016 or a conspiracy to increase sales of fluffy socks, the buzzword for 2017 is most definitely lagom.

The year of lagom

Pronounced lar-gom it's one of the most frequently used words in Sweden — you'll eat a lagom amount of food, live in a lagom house and drive a lagom car. In other words, just good enough to enjoy life but not over-the-top or ostentatious [Evening Standard].

Swedes have taken this approach to life with a passion and little if any cynicism. But in a post-Brexit Britain embracing lagom could prove beneficial. It of course might be hard to swallow both for Remainers and Brexiters. Both might argue why one should be 'forced' to change one's lifestyle because of the EU referendum.

But sadly facts are facts - unless one is living in Trump's post-truth world of 'alternative facts' [BBC / Guardian / Independent] and post-Brexit Britain is going to get more expensive.

Apparently the Swedes are happier than us and much is put down to lagom [Huffington Post]. But can Brits embrace lagom?

Whether Living Lagom can sweeten the taste of leaving the EU or merely soften the economic blow remains to be seen. Whilst you mull over these thoughts why not just relax and enjoy another Swedish concept, that of Fika - a coffee break where friends gather, drink coffee and eat cake. Fika is perhaps one instance where you can have your cake and eat it [Evening Standard].

tvnewswatch, London

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Theresa May sets out her plan for Britain

Theresa May has set out her plan for Britain as she embarks upon leaving the EU [BBC]. But while her speech clarified some details in her Brexit plan, most notably her decision that she would not seek to retain access to the Single Market, other details were less than clear. Indeed for some the plan was more one of hopes and dreams than definite intentions.

No Single Market

In her address the British PM said the UK "cannot possibly" remain within the European single market, as staying in it would mean "not leaving the EU at all".

But the prime minister promised to push for the "freest possible trade" with European countries and to sign new deals with others around the world.

Such a plan would place the UK in a similar position as Canada which has recently signed a free-trade deal with Europe. However such a deal could take up to a decade or more to negotiate.

Customs Union

Whilst she abandoned the idea of retaining access to the single market she said she did wish to negotiate a customs agreement with the EU. Such a plan has been likened to an agreement Turkey has with the EU.

May failed to mention anything concerning the European Free Trade Association [EFTA]. A free trade area is one where there are no tariffs or taxes or quotas on goods and/or services from one country entering another.

The negotiations to establish them can take years and there are normally exceptions. So agriculture and fisheries might be exempted, certain industries protected and some goods may not be covered.

Also imported goods would have to comply with the law of the country they are being sold in. So, for example, you could have a free trade agreement with the US but still a ban on the import of GM foods or different safety standards for electrical goods.

There is a free trade zone in Europe, which the UK helped to create. EFTA, the European Free Trade Association, counts Norway, Iceland, Switzerland and Liechtenstein as members.

The EU has free trade arrangements with many other countries in Europe and beyond, including Turkey and Ukraine and countries that are applying to join the EU.

So how is a customs union different from a free trade area? The key difference is that the countries that club together agree to apply the same tariffs to goods from outside the union.

Once goods have cleared customs in one country they can be shipped to others in the union without further tariffs being imposed [BBC].

Complicated negotiations

But negotiations on such matters could be extremely complicated. Indeed such matters could well be delayed as the EU negotiating team has already stated that matters on trade might not be discussed during the two year period set aside in Article 50.

Last November Michel Barnier, the European Commission's chief Brexit negotiator, said the UK would have only 18 months to negotiate a deal and this would only cover some aspects of the 'divorce' [Guardian].

He made clear that any trade arrangement was of a "different legal nature" to a withdrawal agreement and would take longer to agree than divorce. "You cannot do everything in 15-18 months of negotiations; you have to take things in the right order," he said. The sequence of talks is significant because British ministers had hoped to complete a trade deal in short order with the EU, or at least have clarity on transition arrangements within the first year of Brexit negotiations at the latest, so that businesses have time to prepare [FT].

Thus it is still not clear what Theresa May can negotiate for in the 18 months following the triggering of Article 50, nor what she will be able to walk away with.

WTO option

Some have also raised concerns that the PM's approach could create friction with the WTO. Emma Reynolds, MP for Wolverhampton North East, tweeted, "PM's middle way on customs union could fall foul of WTO rules, customs union must cover the majority of trade between two countries."

This would not bode well for Britain especially if, as some believe, the country resorts to WTO rules, often referred to as a hard or diamond-hard Brexit.

May has already made clear that no deal, with the EU, is better than a bad deal. But should the UK fall back on WTO tariffs British industry could be hit very badly.

Speaking at the International Trade Committee Mike Hawes from the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders said going to WTO rules "could threaten the viability of the UK automotive sector" with some £1,500 added to the cost of each car sold.

Moreover, leaving customs union would result in additional costs because of delays to parts deliveries sourced from elsewhere in Europe. European manufacturers might see the European market as more important than UK market and thus EU manufacturers would "align with political imperative of their home country".

In addition current UK-built cars do not have enough "local content" to abide by free trade agreements, because of current level of EU made parts.

Political fallout

While the pound gained on the back of May's speech there was fallout too on the likely prospect Britain head for a hard Brexit. The Italian daily La Repubblica commented, "Out of the EU, out of common market, out of everything. It appears that Theresa May's intention through negotiations with the EU at the end of March is 'a hard Brexit' - a very hard Brexit indeed." [BBC]  

German firms were reported to scale back investment in the UK as it heads for a 'hard brexit', according to Germany's Chamber of Commerce and Industry [DIHK].

"There now will be less investment from German companies in Britain," Volker Treier, head of the DIHK's trade division, told Reuters.

He also said that a hard Brexit would impair growth both in Britain and the rest of Europe, and that the UK would probably become less important for Germany as export destination.

Meanwhile the Czech Europe Minister, Tomas Prouza, tweeted "UK's plan seems a bit ambitious" and appeared to criticise the apparent 'cake and eat it approach' espoused by May. "Trade as free as possible, full control on immigration... where is the give for all the take?" he asked.

May's plans were also criticised by Guy Verhofstadt, named as the European Parliament's lead negotiator on Brexit [Twitter].

It was an "illusion" for Theresa May to suggest "that you can go out of the single market, that you can go out of the customs union and that you can cherry-pick, that you can have still a number of advantages - I think that will not happen".

Michael Fuchs, a close conservative ally of German Chancellor Angela Merkel, also accused Theresa May of "cherry-picking".

Creating a tax haven

As for Britain's politicians they were essentially split into two camps with those in the leave camp waving flags whilst those on the other side sought to pick holes in the PM's speech.

Lib Dem leader Tim Farron was quick to criticise May's announcement that Britain would quit the single market, saying it would be bad for jobs and industry [Twitter]. Writing in the Guardian he added it amounted to "a mixture of vague fantasies, and toothless threats to our nearest neighbours."   

Meanwhile Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn said Theresa May was determined to use Brexit to strip away workers rights and turn the UK into a tax haven [Independent].

Theresa May might have a plan, but she is still stepping into a minefield with no clear path and no determinate length.

It appears clear to some however that May's vision might just be a tax haven on Europe's doorstep. In an interview with a German newspaper Welt am Sonntag, the Chancellor Philip Hammond said the UK is willing to do "whatever we have to" to bounce back after Brexit even if it meant ripping up its economic model and become the tax haven of Europe [Independent].

The Dutch daily Algemeen Dagblad called the prime minister's speech "not just a bit of Brexit but the full whack".

"Bye bye EU... the unspoken, big threat from London is creating a tax paradise in front of the gates of Europe," it said.

tvnewswatch, London

Tuesday, January 03, 2017

2017 - A not so happy start to the new year

Many people focus on the new year as a cause for celebration. But for a lot of people it can create more than a few problems. Some might look back on the year and, thinking of the bad or tumultuous events, will feel less than enthusiastic about celebrating.

One could also look back on a bad year and, after reflection, come to the conclusion that "things can only get better". 

The song with the same refrain was famously used when Tony Blair won Labour's 1997 General Election. But when it was recently played at a Labour party event the current leader Jeremy Corbyn was reportedly less than impressed, although some dispute these accounts [Mirror]. Whatever the truth of those events, Corbyn will be even less impressed by polls published soon after the new year celebrations which indicate Labour is on course to win fewer than 200 seats for the first time since 1935 in any future election [BBC].

2017 had barely started before violence marred the festivities. As the midnight clock chimed and the world welcomed in 2017 the celebrations were marred with violence as an Islamic State terrorist burst into a Turkish night club in Istanbul killing 39 and injuring many others [BBC / CNN].

Hundreds woke up in France to find their cars torched in what had become has become an annular display of protest in deprived cities across the region [The Local]. The figures were up on last year which had seen a drop in the number of such incidents [BBC]. According to the French interior ministry, the total of 945, which included cars that were either "totally destroyed" or "more lightly affected", amounted to a 17% compared to 2016 [Telegraph].

There were no such scenes of violence in London or across Britain, although there were some fights and drunken brawls [Daily Mail]. Meanwhile security services, concerned that terrorists might strike, prompted increased security patrols [The Sun].

While cars burned in France, it was the New Year performances by well-known stars that raised temperatures in Britain and the US.

In Britain the singer Robbie Williams welcomed in the new year with a live performance on the BBC. But even his fans felt somewhat disappointed especially by his singing which was rather flat and out of tune. "Wow, Robbie Williams nearly hit some of the right notes in that last song!" one viewer exclaimed on Twitter.

Jokes about his daughter's vagina and attempts at humour by swearing on the BBC were also considered somewhat poor taste and childish. "I'm sorry @robbiewilliams but that "vagina" gag was despicable" Mr J in the UK tweeted whilst Katherine posted, "I'm really confused as to why Robbie Williams decided New Years was the time to discuss not taking pics with fans & his daughter's vagina???"

Others were also perturbed over his use of hand sanitiser on New Year's Eve after shaking hands with fans. One viewer tweeted "Robbie Williams sanitising his hand after touching the public is the most hysterical start to a new year ever. The year of memes commences."

The singer has responded to the incident by posting a tongue in cheek video in which he hugs a woman before reaching for a large bottle of sanitiser and shudders as he rubs it into his hands [Evening Standard].

Hours later Mariah Carey created an even bigger reaction on social media after technical issues made her look less than professional as she struggled to lip sync to some of her well known hits [BBC / Telegraph]. Video footage of the disastrous performance has been pulled from many news websites over legal rights issues although clips are still on YouTube.

Of course such things pale into insignificance when looked at the backdrop of New Year terror attacks that struck Turkey and Iraq [Wikipedia / Reuters].

But wherever one was as 2017 began, it did seem to start on a rather sour note.

Let's hope that things do get better as the aforementioned song refrains.

tvnewswatch, London

Friday, December 16, 2016

2016 a dystopian year

Slate magazine asked back in July whether 2016 was "the worst year in history". Given the events of history, this was rather an exaggeration. But while 2016 has not been exactly one of the best years on records, it it certainly isn't the worst either.


However, 2016 has been a year that may prove pivotal in the course of history. The UK voted to leave the EU, a complex divorce that may take years to negotiate. Donald Trump was elected president of the United States in an unexpected victory. Europe's migrant crisis grew, Pokemon Go became a sensation and Deutsche Bank faced a fine of up to $14bn. All the while, oil prices plunged and surged while the British pound tanked.

Bad years on record

For the inhabitants of London 1665 and 1666 would probably top the list of particularly bad years, what with the Black Death and the Great Fire of London. For New Yorkers, 2001 is marked as probably one of their worst days in living memory, and 2015 is probably considered to be rather dire as far as Parisians are concerned after the dreadful terror attacks that brought carnage to the streets of the French capital. The Nice terror attack in 2016 however topped that.

It is all a matter of perspective, and where you are sitting at any particular moment. Sitting thousands of kilometres away from a marked event in history might make one feel somewhat insulated. But events halfway round the world can influence and change so many things.

The Great Fire of London changed the face of Britain's capital. Residential housing reduced significantly with the rebuilding of the city. But construction techniques improved and most buildings were brick built.

While calamitous, the Great Fire of London also helped to kill off some of the black rats and fleas that carried the plague bacillus, the Bubonic Plague, also known as the Black Death, and which had been known in England for centuries.

Plague had been around in England for centuries but in 1665 the so-called Great Plague hit the country – though it was Stuart London that took the worst of the plague. The plague was only finally brought under control in 1666 when the Great Fire of London burned down the areas most affected by plague – the city slums inhabited by the poor.

The plague which had spread from central Asia had itself created a series of religious, social, and economic upheavals, which in turn had profound effects on the course of European history.

The 9/11 attacks while only affecting a few cities in the US changed world politics and the social order. It precipitated war in Afghanistan and Iraq, the consequences which continue until today.

And the terror attacks across Europe throughout the following years, and culminating in the attacks in Paris and Nice has resulted in a reevaluation of how Europe controls its borders and immigration.

Political turmoil of 2016

While 2016 might not seem, on the face of it, to be the worst year in history, politically it has arguably been a game changer.

Britain's EU referendum divided a country after a little over half the voting electorate expressed a desire to leave the European Union.

Meanwhile Donald Trump's victory in the United States has been seen as a backslide towards far right politics which has also divided the country.

Meanwhile there is a growing fear that the far right across Europe will capitalise upon these events. The French far right candidate, Marine Le Pen, has seen Brexit and the Trump win as "a sign of hope" for France [CNN].

One of the country's leading philosophers says France may follow America's lead by electing National Front leader Marine Le Pen as its next president because people have lost interest in whether politicians tell the truth.

"If Trump is possible, then everything is possible," Bernard-Henri Levy, who was once hailed in France as its greatest living public intellectual, told the Telegraph. "Nothing, from now on, is unimaginable."

While the Remain camp Britain's EU referendum campaign could be accused of exaggerating the risks of leaving the EU, the Leave campaign could be rightfully accused of outright lies from promises of an extra £350 million for the NHS to untruths concerning some EU rules [bendy or bunches of bananas for example - BBC] and questions over whether Britain could still remain a member of the Single Market [BBC].

Trump, too, put forward impossible promises. Much of Trump's campaign rhetoric  might have been what people wanted to hear but it was also undeliverable. The Mexicans could never be coerced to pay for the wall Donald Trump said he would build between the two countries. His plan to bar Muslims from the US "until we know who they are" was unworkable from the outset. And already his plan to jail Hillary Clinton for her 'crimes' appear to have been shelved despite the slogan being such a crowd pleaser.

"The people listen less and less to policy and they even seem less concerned about whether the candidates are telling the truth or not," Levy reiterates. "They are more interested in the performance, in the theatrical quality of what is said than whether it is true. And as we know, a fascist can put on a very successful performance."

And it is a new rise of fascism that many people now fear.

Rise of fascism

The last wave of fascism led to probably the worst conflict the world has seen. And with the likes of Le Pen gaining ground the fear is Europe could once again tear itself apart.

In the lead up to the EU referendum former PM David Cameron said, "Can we be so sure peace and stability on our continent are assured beyond any shadow of doubt? Is that a risk worth taking [by a vote for Brexit]?" [Mirror]

It was a line of argument that afforded Cameron much criticism and ridicule. The assertion did bring some serious debate [Guardian]. But in general, Britain's decision to leave the EU as being a trigger that could set the ball rolling down a path to war was generally met with ridicule.

But with a Brexit win, a Trump presidency and questions over the future of Europe hanging in the balance, things don't seem quite to certain. There are contradictions over globalism as Britain claims it will lead the world in trade whilst Trump appears to be painting a picture of increased protectionism. A split of Europe would also bring about similar protectionist values.

These are things seen in the 1930s which also saw currencies fall and later led to conflict. Putting these risks aside however, 2016 has not been a good year on many other fronts.

Terrorism, war & natural disasters

Europe experienced terror on a scale it hadn't seen since the 1970s. In March 30 people were killed in attacks on Brussels Airport [2016 Brussels bombings-Wikipedia]. Then came the horrific murder of 86 people after a terrorist drove a truck through a crowd in Nice commemorating Bastille Day [2016 Nice Attack-Wikipedia]. The Orlando nightclub shooting in June was just one of many massacres in the United States [2016 Orlando nightclub shooting-Wikipedia].

For those living in South America the biggest threat came from the Zika virus, locust swarms which plagued Argentina, and record droughts in Brazil. Meanwhile in the Middle East the carnage continued with the death toll in the Syrian Civil War mounting day by day. There appears to be no end in sight to the conflict which has precipitated the biggest refugee crisis for more than half a century and seen more than 300,000 people killed.

Meanwhile the Islamic State inspired Boko Haram insurgency continues.

Celebrity deaths

For those of us not buried in politics and news, 2016 had many sad moments as we saw the death of people many of us had grown up with.

The year started almost as badly as it ended as it was announced that David Bowie had passed away. The pop world was shaken again after Prince died in April and in November Leonard Cohen passed away.

The world also lost sporting champion boxer Muhammad Ali died in June and the veteran actor Gene Wilder who passed away in August.

Magician Paul Daniels and comedians Ronnie Corbett, Victoria Wood and Frank Kelly also left us just when we perhaps needed a little light relief from all the troubles in the world. And Comic Relief was left without its long-time host Terry Wogan who died in January.

Not the apocalypse, quite yet

So was 2016 a bad year or not? Celebrities of course die every year, after all none of us are getting any younger. But perhaps the passing of certain icons may feel more tragic than the passing of others.

The Syrian conflict is horrific. But even since the end of World War II hardly a year has passed without there being a war or conflict. The US alone have been involved in countless military operations including the Korean War, the Bay of Pigs in Cuba, the Vietnam War, attacks in the Dominican Republic, Lebanon and Grenada, as well as the major operations in the Balkans, Afghanistan and Iraq [Infoplease].  

For most Europeans and those in the free West, war has not been that close to home, although there has been a growing and ongoing terror threat from both domestic and foreign terrorist groups. As such many feel insulated from such conflicts to the extent that even politicians often appear clueless. Who could forget the response from Gary Johnson, the former New Mexico governor and Libertarian Party presidential nominee, when asked about the Syrian civil war. Johnson revealed a surprising lack of foreign policy knowledge when his asked "What is Aleppo?" during an MSNBC interview [NYT / MSNBC-video].

What is different about 2016 is not the number of conflicts, disasters - natural or man-made, or celebrity deaths. 2016 is marked by the swing from moderate or liberal politics to one of intolerance, xenophobia, racism, insularity and protectionism. In this regard 2016 has indeed been a bad year. What remains to be seen is whether this trend will continue into 2017 or if rational behaviour develops to turn the ship around or at least weigh anchor and take stock of the direction we have decided to sail.

tvnewswatch, London




Friday, November 25, 2016

Black Friday frustration for online shoppers

Black Friday proved to be particularly frustrating for some as millions of people sought to purchase bargains ahead of anticipated price hikes in the coming months [BBC].

A weak pound that followed the Brexit vote in June has made imports more expensive. However many retailers have yet to pass on the costs to consumers, preferring to take a cut in profits rather than risking a loss of custom.

But price hikes are inevitable in the coming months as old stock dwindles and retailers seek to rekindle profits.

But before the price hikes comes Black Friday, an American import which the cynically minded would say is just a way of retailers getting rid of old stock. Nonetheless there are many who don't mind last year's model.

However, those seeking a bargain have encountered hours of frustration attempting to purchase items on crashing websites or battling through crowds of other bargain hunters.

Online hell

Thousands of people attempting to buy a Dell laptop reduced by nearly 50% were thwarted by constant timeouts and other errors. Those seeking to redress the problem through Dell's helpline found themselves in a very long queue.

Many potential customers took to social media to vent their frustration. "If @DellUK can't cope with people buying stuff from their store, how could they cope with a DDoS attack?" one annoyed Twitter user posted.

Some felt the whole promotion was merely baiting people who unable to buy what they wanted felt compelled to still make a purchase though for a much smaller reduction. "Don't fall for the Dell doorbuster bait and switch" wrote @Jellyf0x. "It's a bait and switch scam, they don't want your £200 they really want to sell you something else later" 

Others felt the online problems did not bode well for a tech giant like Dell. Indeed the Black Friday offer may have backfired. One hopeful buyer glumly suggested he might opt for a Lenevo laptop instead. Others aired similar grievances. "Your Black Friday treatment has been nothing short of disgraceful...I'm taking my money elsewhere & advise others to do likewise!!!" Simon Church posted on Twitter.

Many people were sceptical as to how many laptops were even on sale. Dell on stated there were a 'Limited' number. However given the issues so many people experiencing and the fact that Dell said the offer was closed within an hour of going live, some questioned whether there was even one laptop available at the stated £199 price tag.

Stabbing and overspending

In the physical world things weren't doing too well either. Many shoppers found themselves stuck in heavy traffic as they headed to out of town shopping centres. For some the bargains were not cheap enough though and one off duty police officer was stabbed after attempting to apprehend a shoplifter in Leeds [Sun].

Shoppers grabbing bargains have been cautioned against overspending, especially given the uncertainty of the British economy.

"The key is to make sure you only buy items you were looking for anyway, and not because you fall for the marketing hype," said Gary Caffell, from Moneysavingexpert. "There are some great deals out there but make sure you do your own price comparisons, as prices can fluctuate wildly from store to store - don't just take a retailer's word for it that something is a bargain."

While there will be many who have walked away with a bargain, there will be a far greater number who will have increased their debts by loading expenditure to credit cards. Others will have been left bitter by the whole frustrating experience.


tvnewswatch, London

Sunday, November 20, 2016

40 years since punk rock hit the UK

It is 2016 and some 40 years since punk rock emerged on the London music scene. Anarchy in the UK was released on 26th November 1976 and so began one of the most momentous changes to music and culture. In celebration the London Mayoral office and the National Lottery of all bodies are funded and backed a series of events to mark the occasion [Punk London]. An irony given the furore the Pistols and their contemporaries created with the then Greater London Council and how the punk movement as a whole rejected the nature of capitalist ventures as would include such things as the National Lottery.

But aside of the commercialisation of the event, it is perhaps important to reflect on the importance of the punk phenomenon and its influence on culture and music, be it good or bad.

They couldn't play - or could they?

"Find four kids. Make sure they can't play," Malcolm McLaren espoused in the Great Rock'n'Roll Swindle, reinforcing the myth that most punk musicians couldn't play and that most could only bash out three or four chord riffs.

However, a listen to some of the best punk albums released nearly 40 years ago soon dispels such notions. Indeed some of the musicians were extremely accomplished.

Never Mind the Bollocks here's the Sex Pistols was far from bollocks. And Siouxsie and the Banshees 1978 album Scream is both haunting and complex with its melodies and rhythms.

The Clash's first LP of the same name, while raw also has some incredible moments. Take White Man in Hammersmith Palais for example or Police and Thieves with their strong reggae influences and heavy bass lines.

And while occasionally despised by many in the punk scene, how can one ignore the Stranglers with their wandering bass lines courtesy of Jean-Jacques Burnel and the haunting keyboards of Dave Greenfield.

Gone but not forgotten

Sadly many of those old punks are no longer with us. And not all of them met an unhappy end like Sid Vicious who found his way to taking a heroin overdose after allegedly dispatching his girlfriend Nancy Spungen with a knife in a New York hotel.

Lead singer of X-Ray Spex Poly Styrene passed away in 2011, at the age of 53, after a battle with breast cancer that spread to her spine and lungs. The guitarist Jak Airport also succumbed to cancer and died in 2004 aged 49.

The Clash of course lost their frontman and rhythm guitarist Joe Strummer in 2002 when he became the victim of an undiagnosed congenital heart defect. He was 50.

Lead singer Ari Up of the Slits meanwhile died of cancer in Los Angeles, aged 48.

And who could forget the Ramones who by 2014 had lost all four of the band's original members. Lead singer Joey Ramone died of lymphoma in 2001, guitarist Johnny Ramone died in his Los Angeles home in 2004 at the age of 55 after five years battling prostate cancer, bassist Dee Dee Ramone succumbed to a heroin overdose in 2002 and drummer Tommy Ramone passed away in 2014 aged 65 following unsuccessful treatment for bile duct cancer.

Moving on

Whilst some old punks have died others have simply moved on. John Lydon, aka Johnny Rotten is still knocking out records at 60 but many of his contemporaries left the music scene some time ago.

Former drummer with the Clash, Terry Chimes is now a chiropractor while Steve Ignorant, lead singer of the anarcho-punk group Crass is now a lifeboatman. Meanwhile punk fashion icon Jordan has since become a veterinary nurse [Guardian].

Such changes in career might not seem very punk, but what's wrong with helping saving the lives of animals, fishermen lost at sea or relieving someone's back pain? After all punk was as much about community and helping others as it was about DIY rock music and sloganeering.

In the end we all have to move on with our lives as a Guardian photo gallery of old punks shows [Guardian].

Nostalgia

For most people punk is little more than nostalgia [Guardian]. There are some groups that continue to tour, such as the Damned, albeit with different line-ups. But there are many who scorn the flogging of a dead horse and the commercialisation of punk.

Indeed, Joe Corré, son of Malcolm McLaren and Vivienne Westwood, has said he he will burn £5 million worth of punk memorabilia in public in reaction to the commercialised Punk London celebrations. "Rather than a movement for change, punk has become like a f***ing museum piece or a tribute act," Corré is quoted as saying [BBC / Telegraph / Guardian].

But at the same time one cannot ignore the influence punk has has had on music, fashion and culture. From the new wave groups of the late 1970s and Gothic bands ranging from Bauhaus to Marilyn Manson, punk has changed the face of music.

Distressed jeans have almost become socially acceptable some four decades after torn clothing was a fashion statement, though bondage trousers have faded away to little more than a distant memory. Nonetheless to have coloured hair hardly raises an eyebrow as it did in the mid-seventies. In fact punk has become a commodity and a symbol of London as much as its red phone boxes, black cabs and the Queen with postcards of snotty youths with green mohicans sitting alongside those depicting Beefeaters and the Queen Mother [FT].

Shifting politics

The politics has also shifted somewhat. Punk was initially defined as being a subculture largely characterized by anti-establishment views and the promotion of individual freedom. However, now, more than ever, most youngsters are driven by materialistic desires than by politics. And the only freedom sought by many is in the pursuit of entertainment and leisure activities.

To coin a phrase from one of punk's first anthems Anarchy in the UK, "Your future dream is a shopping scheme." Bear that in mind if you start shopping on Amazon to rebuild your old punk collection on CD.

Punk London is conclusive proof, if needed, of the French situationist Guy Debord's assertion that consumer capitalism drains authentic lived experience of meaning. "All that once was directly lived," wrote Debord in 1967, "has become mere representation."

But not all the old punks have forgotten their roots, even if some claim they've sold out such as John Lydon - aka Johnny Rotten - with his butter adverts.

Concerning Corré's intention to burn £5 million of memorabilia, Lydon is highly critical.

"He [Corré] is into lingerie isn't he? Well I think he'd be better off burning his bra," Lydon quips. "It's pathetic and he's going to ruin the environment with all those toxic fumes."

"If you've got £5 million of anything, donate it to charity," he adds on a more serious note, describing the act as "pompous, ludicrous and unfortunately what Britain seems to be full of."

He has also slammed Brexit as ludicrous. "To leave it [the European Union] would be insane and suicidal," he resolves. "We're never going to go back to that romantic delusion of Victorian isolation, it isn't going to happen."

"There'll be no industry, there'll be no trade, there'll be nothing – a slow dismal, collapse. It's ludicrous."

"It's an act of cowardice really, it's running away from issues instead of solving them." [Metro]

Indeed for this old punk rocker it rather reflects the anthem from a song he penned 40 years ago when he suggested there would be "no future".

tvnewswatch, London, UK


Monday, November 14, 2016

Sleepwalking into a new era of fascism

A little over 80 years ago an outspoken Austrian seized power and took Germany on a course few will ever forget. That man was of course Adolf Hitler.

His rise to power came after the 1932 German general election. Although he had no absolute leadership at the time, Hitler managed to oust Hindenberg as his party grew. Two successive federal elections left the Nazis as the largest party in the Reichstag and anti-democratic parties in control of a majority of its seats. Under this political climate, Hindenburg reluctantly appointed Hitler as Chancellor of Germany in January 1933.

Soon after judges were forced to sign allegiance to the party and the so-called People's Court was established. There was no presumption of innocence, and most cases brought before the People's Court had predetermined guilty verdicts.

The court was established in 1934 by order of Adolf Hitler, in response to his dissatisfaction at the outcome of the Reichstag fire trial, in which all but one of the defendants was acquitted.

Newspapers of the day such as the Völkischer Beobachter and the associated publication llustrierter Beobachter followed the party line of criticising the verdict and labelling socialists, communists and others as so-called enemies of the people.

And so began the erosion of civil rights and a consolidation of power  by the Nazi party led by Adolf Hitler.

Sleepwalking into a Fascist state

Post-Brexit, and more recently post-Trump, there has been some concern that the democratic West is sleepwalking into new era of fascism.

There are those that would say such claims are exaggerated. Neither May's government nor Trump have yet seized absolute power, nor have people's rights yet been eroded. The police are not wearing jackboots, there are no concentration camps and the judiciary is still independent. But there is a language coming from today's politicians that has strong echoes of Germany's dark past.

The vote to leave the European Union was partly won on the back of arguments surrounding immigration, and some might say outright racist language.

Unnerving parallels

UKIP's Nigel Farage in particular was criticised for his campaign where he focused on the large numbers of refugees fleeing war zones such as Syria.

One particular poster caused outrage with many likening it to Nazi propaganda [New Statesman].

Hours after the vote to leave the EU was announced racist attacks increased dramatically. Poles in particular received a barrage of abuse, but Muslims, Jews and others also found themselves in the line of fire of emboldened racists.

It certainly wasn't a state-sponsored Kristallnacht but for those on the receiving end of the attacks this mattered little. One Pole was murdered in one Essex town after being set upon by youth apparently for simply speaking in a foreign language.

During the Tory Party conference Angela Rudd suggested employers keep records of all foreigners they employed [Guardian / BBC].

Even members of her own party aired their concerns. "This kind of divisive politics has no place in 21st Century Britain," the Conservative MP Neil Carmichael, chair of the Commons education select committee and member of the Open Britain campaign, said. Meanwhile Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn said "drawing up lists of foreign workers won't stop unscrupulous employers undercutting wages in Britain".

Her full speech was carefully worded to avoid accusations of extremist ideology [Spectator] However, many felt the overall feel was one that drifted further towards the politics seen only a few decades ago in Nazi Germany.

LBC radio presenter James O'Brien likened her speech to the rhetoric found within the pages of Hitler's autobiographical treatise on political ideology Mein Kampf [Independent].

"For the state must draw a sharp line of distinction between those who, as members of the nation, are the foundation and support of its existence and greatness, and those who are domiciled in the state, simply as earners of their livelihood there." [Adolf Hitler-Mein Kampf]

The lines from Mein Kampf seen by themselves are not far removed from the rhetoric coming from certain right-wing politicians.

"Enemies of the People"

In early November a High Court ruling was announced that said the British parliament must have a free vote before Article 50 - which triggers the negotiations to leave the EU - is invoked.

The anger that followed, especially in the right-wing pro-Brexit press, was staggering. The Daily Mail led the pack calling the three high court judges "Enemies of the People".

The irony was not lost on some who likened the headline to those seen in papers that once backed the Nazi party in the early 1930s. "Compare and contrast Nazi Illustrierter Beobachter 1933 and the Daily Mail 2016" @HistoryNed said in a tweet.

The headline was essentially the same, although many misread the pictures of those in the Illustrierter Beobachter to be judges . They were in fact journalists, political activists and lawyers, as FullFact later pointed out. However, the comparison was clear. Many newspapers, especially post-Brexit, had become even more right-leaning and had now begun to attack the same enemies once attacked by the Nazi party.

Immigrants, refugees, left-wing journalists, political activists, the so-called liberal elite and judges have all been attacked in British media. Immigrants and refugees have been blamed for all number of ills while political activists, the so-called liberal elite and judges have been lambasted for daring to question the EU referendum.

Meanwhile Nigel Farage proclaimed there would be "anger on the streets" should Brexit be hindered and called for a 100,000 strong march on the Supreme Court when the government appeals the decision. At the same time UKIP's Suzanne Evans said she felt that judges "should be subject to some sort of democratic control" or even sacked.

Post-Trump

Britain is not the only country that has swung to the right. The presidential election in the US, which saw Donald Trump elected as the 45th president, has stunned the world.

Britain's foreign secretary Boris Johnson has described the Trump victory as a "Good thing for Britain" and a "Moment of Opportunity". But Trump was a man who came to power on an almost overtly racist, misogynistic, anti-immigrant, anti-gay, protectionist ticket.

Trump has been on record as wanting to ban Muslims from entering America. He has called Mexicans rapists and criminals. And he has dismissed accusations of sexual assault as "locker room banter". He has also called for his Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton be locked up for her crimes, something that has echoes of Ernst Thälmann's incarceration soon after the 1932 German general election.

"Make America great again"

Trump's main slogan was "Make America great again" which raised the question as to when America wasn't great.

One could dismiss some of what Trump said as rhetoric, merely saying things to whip up a crowd who feels disenfranchised.

One core view appears to be one of isolationism and protectionism. He has called for TTIP [Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership] to be abandoned. He has suggested the US might pull out of the WTO and called NAFTA the "worst trade deal ever.". And he has threatened a trade war with China. For what is a globalised world, the Trump victory on the face of it does not look good.

He has questioned NATO's role and also the role the US plays in its policing the world. But he is also seen as a dangerous individual who may go as far as pressing the nuclear button.

Concerning civil rights he is known to be pro-life [anti-abortion]. He has expressed what might be construed as anti-gay message and is opposed to same-sex marriage [BBC].

The ghost-writer Tony Schwartz, the journalist who authored "The Art of the Deal," Donald Trump's best-seller, has called Trump a sociopath [BBC / YouTube / New Yorker].

There are others that are concerned over Trump's association with the likes of Alex Jones [ABC / JonRonson / Amazon / YouTube].

Trump's other bed fellows have included UKIP's Nigel Farage who was the first UK 'politician' to meet with the president-elect.

This raised eyebrows in Britain where some Tories suggested Farage might even act as a go-between the UK and Trump [Sky News / Guardian / Time].

"Big change in the world"

Johnson's assertion that Trump's win has brought about a Big change in the world is not wrong [Guardian]. But whether it's a good change is debatable.

The win has emboldened the far-right with the KKK in the US claiming victory on the back of Trump's election and the likes of Marine Le Pen in France, Geert Wilder in the Netherlands and Norbert Hofer in Austria seeing it as their chance to capitalise on the back of a growing disenfranchised electorate with populist, and, some might argue, racist politics.

Trump proclaimed his victory would be "Brexit, plus, plus, plus". However Brexit has come to mean any number of things since 24th of June 2016. For some it is the banner of taking back control, of reclaiming sovereignty and independence. For others it has become a symbol of increased government control, a dissolving of sovereignty and intolerance. Some Brexit campaigners have claimed that the European Union was trying to achieve what Hitler had failed to do by creating a federal Europe with more integration. However, the Brexit vote has given ammunition to the hard right and fanned the flames of Fascism. Europe too is in danger of becoming sucked into the populist nationalist fervour that has so far taken over both the UK and US.

Lessons of history

It is often said that man should learn the lessons from history. Sadly however, people very quickly forget the past. The warnings are more than clear as movies like Schindler's List, Labyrinth of Lies and The Pianist indicate. Lincoln's dreams of bringing together America also seem lost. There is, as Alex Jones seems so willing to convey, a New World Order developing. But it may well be far darker than he envisaged.

It is time the free world wakes up before it's too late and walks into a new era of Fascism [BBC / Guardian / Independent / Seeatblogs]

tvnewswatch, London