From David Maughan Brown in York: Britain’s Got Talent At Being Racially Offensive

Cecil Rhodes from Punch 1892 (wikicommons)The Rhodes Colossus: Caricature of Cecil John Rhodes, after he announced plans for a telegraph line and railroad from Cape Town to Cairo.

June 18th Scientists the world over are using their analytic skills to discover more about Covid-19 every day, but they appear not, as yet, to have come to any conclusions as to why the virus, or perhaps the resulting lockdown measures, appear to be having a seriously detrimental effect on the intelligence of prominent ‘leaders’ in our society, even when they don’t show other symptoms.  The last couple of days have evidenced so highly-charged a competition to see who can make the most offensively tone-deaf statements about the ongoing manifestations of the Black Lives Matter protests that one could be forgiven for thinking that one had inadvertently dropped in on the preliminary rounds of a national Britain’s Got Talent At Being Racially Offensive competition.   Boris Johnson’s scintillating record in the field would obviously have guaranteed him a pass directly into the final.

On the off chance that anyone can begin to compete with Boris when the competition gets to that final, my bets are currently on Dominic Raab to come third, and the light horse in the field, Louise Richardson, the current – for how long one wonders – Vice-Chancellor of Oxford, to come second.

Dominic Raab, our Foreign Secretary until such time as the Tory party changes the designation because ‘Foreign’ is such a dirty word, has just been gifted the Department for International Development by Boris because ‘International’ and ‘Development’ are also dirty words, and our English Nationalist Cabinet apparently thinks charity should begin at home.  Other people might think it is ‘Dominic’ that is the dirty word.   Anyone but Boris might even think that a degree of racial sensitivity could be a good idea in a Foreign Secretary, even when his role must be assumed now to include doing away with foreign aid.  But Raab’s latest entry in the competition involves suggesting that the Black Lives Matter symbolism of  ‘taking the knee’ derives from ‘Game of Thrones’ and asserting that he would only do it for the Queen (having once done it for his wife).   That level of crassness does, of course, equip him very well to lead a Little Englander drive to limit International Development. A drive that is so unutterably stupid in its long term implications as to rival the Tories’ parallel obsession with Brexit.   The only way to stem the tide of people flowing towards Europe from Asia and Africa, whether fleeing wars and oppression or driven by climate change, is somehow to make staying in their own countries a better option than trying to get to Europe.   Cutting the funding for foreign aid and international development is a very peculiar thing to do for people in Europe who dislike foreigners and are paranoid about immigration. 

Professor Louise Richardson’s entry for the competition this week was by way of invoking the name of Nelson Mandela as an ally in her argument that the Rhodes statue high above the entrance to Oriel College should not ‘Fall’.  This was in spite of the fact that, after four years of resistance, the governing body of the College has finally voted to remove it.  The Independent carried a report today to the effect that Professor Richards was arguing that Rhodes was a man of ‘great nuance’ and that Mandela had recognised “that we have to acknowledge our past but focus on the future,” and said that hiding history was not the “route to enlightenment”.   Museums, as Professor Richardson obviously knows full well, are buildings which exist for the purpose of ‘storing and exhibiting objects of scientific, cultural and historical interest’, as the OED puts it.   Far from ‘hiding history’, putting that statue, like the infamous Cape Town one, in a museum, would make it possible to contextualise it and confront and understand that history, in all its ugliness.   You can’t do that when the statue is stuck in a niche high above the street, usually noticed only by those who find it profoundly offensive.

Professor Richardson’s enlisting of Mandela in her defence of the Rhodes statue is deeply offensive not just to black people but to all those of us, particularly those of us who were lucky enough to know him, who regarded Mandela with boundless admiration and affection.   He was for many of us, pace the boarded-up statue of Churchill, without question the greatest moral and political leader of the twentieth century.   In response to the ‘hiding history’ brigade, I’ve heard it argued that Germany does not need to have statues of Hitler all over the place in order to confront its 20th century history.  That is obviously true, but the analogy is worth dwelling on.  Rhodes was not responsible for anything equivalent to the holocaust, but it is a fact that he was greatly admired by Hitler who is on record, according to Rhodes’ biographer Antony Thomas, as saying that Rhodes was the only person who understood the historical conditions for maintaining British supremacy, but had been ignored by his own people.  According to the same source, Hitler’s admiration for Rhodes is further evidenced in the former’s statement of his belief that ‘the German people are called by the divine destiny to be the leaders of the world for the glory of the German being as well as for the human race.’  This was, word for word, but for two key words, a direct quotation from the ‘nuanced’ Rhodes:  Hitler had replaced Rhodes’ ‘English ‘ with ‘German.’   Professor Richardson should have known better.

From David Maughan Brown in York: Bears of very little brain

April 16th

Today is the big day when the Government in the person of the Foreign Secretary, Dominic Raab, who is deputising for the Prime Minister while definitely not being a Deputy Prime Minister, gets to tell us that the lockdown is going to be extended, not lifted.   Everyone knows that.  It has been hinted at by everyone with any authority in such matters for several days.  But we still need to be subjected to the ritual of a formal announcement.  Because the journalists who get to ask questions at the daily press conference worked out some days ago what the announcement will be, they have been pressing Raab to let us know what will happen after this extension, and they will continue to do so.  What is the exit-strategy from the lockdown?

This is going to continue to be really irritating for the government.  People who keep asking about the strategy are so annoying, in fact, that no less a person than the Minister for Health, Nadine Dorries, has issued an instruction to journalists to stop asking that question. It may need to be pointed out for the uninitiated that although she is Minister for Health, who would be top-dog in many countries, Dorries is only the Under-Secretary of State (for Mental Health, Suicide Prevention and Patient Safety), to distinguish the office from that of the implicitly Upper-Secretary for State for Health and Social Care, Matthew Hancock.  The implicit ‘Upper’ bit in the latter’s title is silent, left unspoken, lest the title should sound too pompous.   Prior to being elevated to her present status, probably even now, Dorries is best known for having been suspended from the Conservative Party for taking part in the TV show ‘I’m a celebrity …Get me out of here!’ without getting the permission of her Chief-Whip.  This was clearly an ideal qualification for the ‘Mental Health’ part for the portfolio, and Dorries very quickly demonstrated her ‘Patient Safety’ credentials by becoming the first MP to contract Covid-19.

Why is the exit-strategy question so irritating?  Dominic Raab has painstakingly explained to the masses that the Government is absolutely not going to engage in any discussion of an exit-strategy because that would serve as a ‘distraction’ from staying at home during the lockdown.  We, the great British public, are bears of so little brain and such intemperate urges that even the merest mention of the honey-pot of going shopping for non-essential items is likely to compel us to burst out of our social-isolation to indulge in an orgy of non-socially-distanced socializing.  The cynics among us are inclined to believe that the government is finding questions about an exit-strategy so irritating because, quite simply, there isn’t one.  It is rumoured that the cabinet is split down the middle between those who are, understandably, desperate to get the economy going again and those who are, equally understandably, fearful that lifting the lockdown will result in a second wave of Covid-infected patients hitting the hospitals.   A split cabinet is not conducive to the formulation of any kind of strategy.  In the meantime our government apparently hopes that it can buy itself some more time by telling us not to bother our little heads by trying to think about more than one thing at a time.