Thursday, January 12, 2017

‘You pays your money and you makes your choice’

I think pretty much everyone reading this blog is familiar - not least because I have resorted to using it several times - with the old Chinese curse of ‘may you live in interesting times’. The implication is, of course, that there’s nothing intrinsically interesting about times of peace and stability because everything and everyone is wending their own contented way and there seems to be little trouble on the horizon.

But when things aren’t half as rosy, well, look out: the interest lies in wondering whether - in old China, at least - having fallen foul of some civil service penpusher or other you would still be alive by teatime. Admittedly, such a fate these days is hugely unlikely, although don’t get too smug: barely 80 years ago in Germany and more recently in the old Soviet Union just such a situation was still possible. And just such a situation is still possible today in countries not so far from Europe.

Well, what with Brexit and the election of Trump and coming presidential/parliamentary elections in France, Germany and The Netherlands (as well as Hungary, Albania, Armenia, Serbia, Slovenia, Norway, Liechtenstein and the Czech Republic, he writes, after a quick crib on Wikipedia), 2017 looks to be very interesting indeed, not to say unpredictable.

The various elections, many in countries which are members of the EU, are especially interesting given that Madam Guillotine herself, Marine Le Pen, the leader of France’s National Front (or Front National as they care to name it - why swap the order, you wonder, but then that’s a silly question in a country which habitually eats cheese before pudding) is considered to have half a chance to become elected as the new president of France.

To those who said ‘no, she doesn’t’, I would respond ‘nor did Trump have a chance of becoming US president when the whole primary season kicked off last year’ and ‘nor did Leicester have of playing in the Champions League when they narrowly escaped relegation in 2014/5’.

The thing is that if Le Pen is elected, France might well leave the euro, and that would not be good or welcome news for le projet. The conventional wisdom is that because of the French system of voting in two rounds when they elect their president, with only the two leading candidates from the first round standing, the Left and the Right would stand behind whoever is opposing Le Pen in the second round to make sure she loses.

But I have heard several commentators claim that the mutual loathing of the Left and the Right in France is such that such a cosy arrangement wouldn’t happen and that Le Pen really could slide in. And then there’s the fact that the conventional wisdom predicted that Britain remaining in the EU was a dead cert and that Donald Trump did have a snowball’s of being elected US president.

So let’s put conventional wisdom in the corner for a moment and consider other possibilities. There seems to be less angst about the German and Dutch elections, although the question in Germany is not just how well will the Alternative für Deutschland do at the national level after doing rather well in regional elections, but will Angela Merkel (or Andrea Gerkel as my son called her recently) retain the chancellorship.

The elections in The Netherlands are interesting in that there is said to be a growing anti-EU sentiment and a certain nasty piece of work called Geert Wilders has been proving popular with some Dutch, but I think the election to watch is in France.

As for Brexit and what is to become of it - and what is to become of the EU - well, that is pretty much anyone’s guess. It really is a question of ‘you pays your money and you makes your choice’: just yesterday Mark Carney, the head of the Bank of England, declared that Brexit is no longer the main threat to the British and that it would do better than the Bank had previously forecast, while the president of Malta ominously, and rather maliciously, I should think, bearing in mind that country’s past relationship with Britain, vowed that there was no way Britain should be allowed to be better of out of the EU than had they remained a member. That last threat is disarmingly vague in substance, but it is the sentiment of it which should concern Britain. There is more than a hint of vindictiveness about it.

As for Carney, the man really has changed his tune: where before last June’s Brexit vote he predicted the birds would all fall from the sky if Britain voted to leave the EU, yesterday he claimed a ‘hard Brexit’ would harm the EU economically more than Britain. As it is the London stock market Well, which is it? As I say, you pays your money and you makes your choice. Me, I think just how Brexit will affect Britain’s economy will not become apparent for a year or two at the very least, and furthermore will depend on several other factors, including just how well the EU will survive without Britain, but also what happens in the rest of the world. In a sense it is a nonsense to use the phrase ‘and all other things being equal’ because all other things are never equal. And this, rather neatly brings me on to Trump.

. . .

The man has not yet been sworn in as president and it’s all beginning to look ever more murky. Yesterday was an entertaining day in the Trump soap, although I suspect we might soon be obliged, in matters Trump, to consider that the old Chinese curse I quoted earlier might well be rephrased ‘may you live in entertaining times’.

The allegations what The Donald was filmed by the Russian secret service getting down and dirty with a few Moscow whores and that the footage has been or can be or will be used to blackmail him into doing Vladimir Putin’s bidding are another candidate for all of us to pay our many and make our choice. Trump has naturally denied they are true and declared them to be phoney. And given that no corroborating evidence has been supplied, which is why media outlets offered the allegations several months ago decided to ignore them, they might well be complete bollocks, shockingly true or somewhere in between.

The story broken by CNN yesterday was rather oblique: it merely said that at the briefing given by the US’s security services to president-elect Trump last week, they simply told him that these allegations had been made and thought he should be aware of them. The ploy, of course, was for CNN to be able to make the allegations public without actually being thought to endorse the story - after all, there was no corroborating evidence.

As for the allegations themselves, it seems they were made by former British MI6 agent who now runs his own business spying agency (Orbis Business Intelligence - ‘Orbis is a leading corporate intelligence consultancy We provide senior decision–makers with strategic insight, intelligence and investigative services’) and named as Christopher Steele. He, or rather his business, had been hired by Clinton supporters to dig up dirt on Trump.

His report was passed on to Senator John McCain, a Republican who thinks Trump is the very definition of nine-dollar note, who passed them on to the FBI. And, of course, everyone involved has an axe to grind, though that is not to say they are not true. There again they might be complete cobblers. As I say, yet again you pays your money and you makes your choice. Interesting, eh?

Steele has been variously described as ‘reliable, meticulous and well-informed’ with one ‘source’ quoted by the Daily Mail saying he was ‘deeply expert’ on Russian affairs. There again he has also been sniffily dismissed as ‘slightly more showy and less grounded in reality than you might expect a former SIS person to be’, with another source saying he was not ‘hugely impressed’ with Steele’s expertise. So, a fair selection of opinions to choose from, and which description of Steele you believe will most likely rest on whether or not you want the allegations against Trump to be true or not.

. . .

In other news a slight flurry of snow is predicted to hit Derbyshire’s Peak District tomorrow, so we can expect the country to grind to a halt and for Fleet Street’s finest to resort to some of their more dramatic headlines when reporting matters.

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