The Shoe Leather Express

Writing and Comedy from James Harris

Category: Politics

An absurd election

The best analogy I could make for this British election is that it is like a patient who has received a diagnosis. They have a terminal disease, but it is not yet visible, so they begin to make up a vast series of plans which they will in all probability never be able to realize, or indeed afford; at other times they are defiant and resolved to beat the illness. In reality their later death – evident for now in only the odd palpable niggle – is inevitable, but the patient, and those who love it, cannot bring themselves to spoil this period, perhaps its last one before reality bites, by mentioning the fact.

So the central absurdity of calling an election because of Brexit but never discussing Brexit, or if doing so, employing only the most vapid terms, such as our Prime Minister’s claim that if we only believe in Brexit enough everything will be alright. Presumably we have to click our heels together three times while doing so. Post-Brexit Britain may indeed be like Oz, only this time Scarecrows lose even more brains and the Yellow Brick Road is made of horseshit. Such fantastical stories are now, to the extent that it can be said to have anything so rigid, the backbone of British politics. The parties and their supporters seemed locked in curious reveries of historical revival, either 19th-century nationalism, or the protective huddle of the post-war settlement; presumably these latter are people for whom the 1950s were a glamorous time. It seems to me sometimes that there is no period of British history sufficently dreary to not at some point give birth to a nostalgia industry.

Nonetheless there are still some of us living on this island who care deeply about Brexit. There are people for whom a Britain outside the EU presents a fundamental challenge to their identity. Of course, Brexit fans, ever reliable in their delivery of their three or four arguments, will say that Europe and the EU are two different things. This is true. But to my particular tribe, the EU is first of all a tool to allow us to easily live our lives as Europeans; to travel, study, and work, across Europe’s countries, to deepen our understanding of the continent.

When I say my tribe, which one do I mean? My tribe is perhaps defined as being that of the people who are not particularly keen on the idea of tribes. Who cross between cultures, who exchange, who are proud citizens of the world. We are, by dint of the complexity of such identities, small in number, but we do nonetheless have the right to represent ourselves and be represented. We have a shared knowledge of Europe which binds us and breeds our closeness, and to us, this British election and its language seems more foreign than living abroad. We have more in common with Emmanuel Macron than Theresa May. We find the language of being ‘pro-Europe’ very strange, because Europe is just the place we live in, with all its drawbacks and positives. How can you be ‘pro’ or ‘con’ a geographical region?

I admit freely that my tribe’s cosmopolitan identity is an elitist one. I myself was only able to move to Germany as a young man thanks to subsidies from my parents for language courses and rent. Clearly, not enough people in this country enjoyed similar opportunities, or they would never have voted to squander ones so precious. If the EU is an attempt to create transnational solidarity between European citizens, it has not, for most people in the UK, worked. But still – our elitist identity is still an identity, and an identity is how you make sense of the world. And what I am asking myself at this election is, as no one else is going to, What is the future of this, my tribe, in the UK?

In the recent Dutch election there was a party called ‘Denk’, formed to represent immigrants and their rights by immigrants themselves. If ‘Denk’ were running in the UK it would have my vote in a flash, not just because any party which translates as ‘Think’ would be a welcome addition to the British political scene. At a basic level, I want my country to start being kinder to immigrants, to stop demonizing them, to become more welcoming again. Even more than being in or out of the EU, I realize, I want to live in a country which welcomes foreigners, and certainly not one that seems to believe it has nothing to learn from them. I want to live somewhere open to the world.

On offer is the contrary. The immigration crackdown the Tories propose is predictably draconian but nowhere more so than in its proposal to raise income thresholds for marriage spousal visas for non-EU citizens from their current, ridiculous level of 18.6 thousand a year, a sum that is to be earned solely by the party who is a British national. The idea that only by earning more than a particular amount am I allowed to marry the person I want is both absurd and cruel. The undermining of the right to marriage alone deserves to lose the Tories the election; conversely, Labour, which proposes to abolish the thresholds, deserves to win on that basis. Such harsh immigration laws are a calculated insult to my tribe: ‘How dare you fuck foreign!’, they say. They make many of my us, I am sure, desperate to take our business elsewhere; our taxes, our children, and our expertise.

Meanwhile, the absurd election continues. Some promise vast sums of public money the coming economic contraction will render impossible; others boast of a crackdown on the workers that the new country will desperately need to even just stay afloat. Hard facts are scant, and as for serious thinking; well, let’s just say that there’s never been a better time in England to be an utter bonehead. Hard, seeing this, not to feel profoundly alienated, and to feel little love for a country threatening to become both the only country in Europe my tribe would never want to live in, and the only place we will be allowed to. If we do indeed leave our country, as the online Brexit army frequently request of us, it’s hard not to see British life in our absence becoming even more insular and adrift, more snug in its monolingualism, hostility and ignorance. Many of us feel this to be precisely the reason we should stay. But that means accepting that the country we want to live in, Britain in the EU, is not going to exist anymore.

Europe goes on. Recently I was in Brussels when I saw a shop selling EU memorabilia. I went inside and bought a small EU bracelet, and a flag. I was thinking that as I ordered the flag, using the French which I taught myself and practiced by working across the continent this gesture was, for a middle-class bloke from Nottingham, an act of resistance of sorts. Of course, what it in fact was identity politics, albeit the identity politics of an elite. It was an elite that a great many people and not quite enough of them had been offered the chance to enter. In Britain our elite identity, in its complexity, has been rejected. But once you had joined this elite, there was no going back. It was who you were.

Union_Jack_and_the_european_flag

Photo by Dave Kellman on a Creative Commons License 2.0.

How the EU saved my life

In Britain’s upcoming EU referendum, I am a passionate supporter of the #Remain campaign, for both pragmatic and sentimental reasons. Watch me explain why in this short video, made with help of my friends Jenny Chamarette and Paula Varjack.

Currency exchange

Scene: A currency exchange. The Customer enters.

Customer. Hi, I’d like to exchange some lives please.

Employee. Sure – what have you got?

Customer. I’ve got 132 Iraqis and I’m looking to change them to Germans.

Employee taps calculator.

Employee. Okay, 132 you said – Iraqis gets you… two Germans.

Customer. Germans are strong, huh?

Employee. Very strong at the moment, sir.

Customer. Ok, let’s do it. Germans always come in handy. And before I forget I’ve got three Canadians here and am looking to buy Russians.

Employee. Going to Egypt, sir? Well, let me see… As of today three Canadians gets you 55 Russians.

Customer. Wow – that’s fallen too. I remember when three Canadians got you 100 Russians. I went to St. Petersburg in the 90’s and I only spent ten Canadians the whole time; I didn’t even spend any men! Just out of interest, how many Americans would 155 Afghans get me?

Employee. One moment… 155 Afghans would get you 0.01 of an American. Namely a hundreth. That’s actually improved in the last few years.

Customer. So that means… 1 American equals 15,500 Afghans?

Employee. And don’t forget there’s no commission on Afghans either. But between you and me, even Americans aren’t what they were; 1 American only gets you 0.9th of a Canadian these days.

Customer. Wow. The times they are a-changing. Canadians worth more than Americans!

Employee. Indeed, sir. We do indeed live in interesting times. Pretty soon the only thing that’ll be reliable is a Swiss. Now, here’s your two Germans at a commission of 12 Iraqis, your 55 Russians at an exchange rate of just over a twentieth of a Canadian and your receipt. Keep that in case you have any bits of German left you want to bring back to us. Their brains are particularly useful.

Customer. Well – what do they say? Vielen Danke!

Employee. A pleasure doing business with you sir. Enjoy your trip, and don’t spend all those Germans at once!

Sleeping

‘A child sleeps outside a mony exchange in Chinatown, Bangkok, Thailand’ by victoriapeckham is licensed under CC BY 2.0.

America could switch to horseshit powered economy

Chicago, Illinois. Bertis Cresswell, Head of the Chicago Horseshit Alliance, has a vision. ‘Everyone knows we need to make the transition to a clean energy economy,’ he says at the Alliance’s Downtown headquarters, ‘and horseshit is the secret ingredient in that.’ Indicating a stack of newspapers and magazines in way of illustration, he states that no other developed nation produces as much horseshit as the U.S. ‘The media gassing, the airy gossip of our citizens, our self-inflating justifications for deadly military escapades: all rich sources of horseshit,’ says Cresswell. ‘In 2011, just the horseshit talked about President Barack Obama was enough to meet the energy needs of the entire Pacific Northwest.’ Particularly horseshit rich states include Arizona (horseshit about immigrants), California (horseshit about celebrities) and Texas (horseshit about climate change), not to mention Montana (horseshit from horses). ‘We reckon America could run entirely on horseshit by 2050,’ Cresswell goes on. Supporting horseshit in the energy mix would be bullshit and talked crap.

Ron Paul and the hipster delusion

Here’s a clip which shows why I think the Ron Paul-hipster love affair is so misjudged.

In the excerpt, Congressman Paul is presented with evidence of government providing a service, in this case public transportation, which provides a public good and societal amenity regardless of the profit it makes. The D.C. Metro averages over a million riders a day, a million riders coursing through the city, or, to put it another way, a million trips which might otherwise have been made by car. Surely even Ron Paul would admit that the entire surface of D.C. being covered in cars might be a problem for intracity mobility. But ideology is rarely practical; reality keeps getting in the way. Whether the Washington Metrorail turns a profit or not, the benefits it offers to its host city are enormous; perhaps a campaign to get Mr. Paul to take a ride on it should begin here.

It’s become apparent that for your average, bicycle-riding, big-glass wearing city hipster  or discharged, war-saddened soldier, Ron Paul is a cult figure. And he does have a certain caché, a bit like smoking dope in your Grandad’s bedroom and watching him, high on passive fumes, embarking on ever wilder flights of fancy which you, baked, lap up. But does anybody, even his supporters, really believe, in a country where public goods have been systematically undermined for the last 30 years and the outside observer struggles to find a non-privatized park bench, that what is needed is more profit motive and more selfishness in the U.S.A.? And surely to argue for less financial regulation three years after a crash which, motivated by bandit capitalism and financial whizzkiddery, i.e. fraud, wiped out billions in savings and lost people their homes, suggests that Mr. Paul does indeed come from another planet or as he calls it ‘Texas.’ He is also, and this should identify to anyone doubting exactly where Ron Paul fits on the political spectrum, a global-warming denier. To me, global warming denying, along with a lack of concern for climate change in a wider sense, is a moral wrong, equivalent to, when your child tells you what they want to be when they’re older, mockingly sneering and saying, ‘Sorry – you don’t get to grow up.’

Ron Paul is right about two things and two things only: the U.S.’ ‘War on Drugs’ is idiotic, and the States has to stop embarking on expensive and pointless wars. When he sticks to those points, as below, he can be very good indeed. For the rest of the time he can and should be ignored while the search goes on for someone who opposes the war on drugs, wants to slim down America’s military and who will honour the social contract that, if we wish to have a civilisation, we automatically enter into by being born into a given society at a given time. It’s out there and in droves. Try Rocky Anderson for starters.