34 DON’T LET THE SUN GO DOWN ON YOUR GRIEVANCES
Call it what you will, two sides of the same coin, unlikely or inevitable bedfellows, partners in crime. or whatever, promises and grievances were meant for each other. Optimists are tempted by promises, and the protests of pessimists are fed by grievances. Or that is the theory, except there are gentle political souls and not so timid Blairites that expect the world to move on with nothing but promises. For them grievances feel too much like aggression. And no less disturbing, promises talk about the future but grievances exist in the present. Traditional conservatives are not too keen on promises because, no surprise, they cling to tradition. They find the truculent grievances of the party-pooping left somewhat unsavoury. These grievances when uttered are regarded as a threat to Burkean harmony where people are supposed to be loyal to faith, flag and family and live happily ever after. Tories may have primitive macroeconomics but they can smell instability as well as anyone. Thanks to the Daily Mail and the Murdoch press we now even have people having grievances about people having grievances. People still have fun and swap grins but something has changed. The gentler British comedians of the past have been replaced by aggressive alternatives. Too often comic fun consists of audiences laughing at the others we hate.
Grievances are mentioned because three have defined the past week or perhaps they did before the resignation of Lord Geidt, the ethics advisor to Pfeffel. Whether that will have any impact will be seen in future days or weeks. Meanwhile these are the grievances. A bullying British billionaire was offended by a reference to suggested links to the Russian government, Pfeffel and his DUP mates are upset by the existence of an Irish Sea border between Britain and Northern Ireland, and Priti Patel appears to think one immigrant coming into the country is one too many. These grievances may produce different responses but they are rooted in concrete issues. Billionaire Aaron Banks wanted to redefine his relationship with critical journalists. The Brexit deal of Pfeffel may have enabled the blonde bomber to claim he ‘got Brexit done’ but it is already undermining the identity of a certain entity called the United Kingdom. And whether it is liberal or restrictive the immigration policy of Britain will or should at some point need both democratic approval and transparent processes. What is not just odd but somehow defines Britain after twelve years of Tory rule is the extreme reaction to these issues, how issues were immediately defined as grievances and the response to those grievances has been extreme rather than considered.
Aaron Banks took his own grievance to court and sued Guardian and Observer journalist Carole Cadwalladr. Summing up what happened is not easy. The judgement of the court runs to 416 paragraphs and more than a few of those paragraphs have sub-paragraphs. Neither can the report be commended to readers for its narrative grip. The consequences of Cadwalladr losing would have been serious. One determined investigative journalist would have been made bankrupt, a lot more would have thought about career moves, and their editors would have had disturbed sleeping patterns. Cadwalladr won but she squeaked through. Before the matter went to court the journalist Cadwalladr denied or retracted the assertion that Banks had links with the Russian government. The court then had to decide whether a single sentence in an eighteen minute lecture at Ted Talk and then a jokey tweet had ruined the reputation of the billionaire. Because the remark in the lecture was brief and subsequently retracted and because a tweet is just a tweet, the claim by Aaron Banks was dismissed. Banks is a critic of what is often called woke culture. He is not just rich but tough talking. In the world of macho Aaron we are all supposed to take it on the chin. In this instance the opinion of the ref was that if you are going to climb into a boxing ring then you should have something better than a glass jaw. The judgement of the court was that Cadwalladr had spoken truthfully about her unfounded suspicions of illegal funding of the Brexit campaign led by Banks and whether he had possible Russian links. The evidence presented by Banks was described as ‘mostly truthful’. Aaron Banks, though, was described as ‘lacking in candour in some aspects’. What is important is that the court decided that no harm had ever been done to the reputation of Banks. And if that is the case, why the fuss? Perhaps his peddling of grievances to advance the cause of Brexit has infected his spirit, as it has the rest of us. Banks felt aggrieved by a handful of words and was obliged to react. He was still reacting after the result in court. He tweeted that he won the result that mattered, the Brexit victory. The economy might be tanking but Mr Banks has sorted the ultimate grievance. The ego sleeps tonight.
A government that has to deal with a cost of living crisis would be forgiven for parking certain issues, especially those that are likely to create conflict with international neighbours. Even those in charge of healthy economies would worry about a trade war with the EU. Britain does not have a healthy economy. With no apparent economic remedy in sight for supply failures, wages that cannot keep pace with price increases and rapidly increasing personal debt, Pfeffel has presumably concluded why bother. Pfeffel has a grievance about how the Northern Ireland Protocol is working. Despite his signature being on the document and his triumphant cries when the agreement was reached, Pfeffel and his government are now proposing changes. The Daily Mail has blamed the EU but kept quiet about the amendments already recommended by the European Commission. These include the relaxation of controls on food and medicines and a proposal to extend this relaxation to all goods that would stay in Northern Ireland. I may be partial but that sounds generous even if the process of determining which goods are likely or not likely to remain in Northern Ireland sounds like an administrative nightmare for customs officials. None of this mitigates the grievance of Northern Ireland Protocol signatory Pfeffel. He wants all goods exported from Britain to Northern Ireland to be free of tariffs and checks. Pfeffel has also objected to the European Court of Justice overseeing the operation of the current agreement. For Pfeffel the protocol is nothing more than a piece of puff that he can blow away.
With that blowing comes a lot of bluster and a problem that has clearly taxed the intellectual skills of Liz Truss. The line she and the anything but constructive DUP punch is that the protocol is damaging the economy of Northern Ireland. The problem with this argument is that the Northern Ireland economy is now growing faster than the economy of Britain. And if looking at figures is anything but enticing for neoliberals then we have the business leaders in Northern Ireland demanding that the Protocol stay in place because it is helping them to make profits, and create jobs, of course, yeah, yeah. Reliable Liz Truss made a fool of herself on Sky News because she was obliged to present a grievance as an argument. The checks and tariffs stipulated in the protocol may inhibit trade traffic between the United Kingdom and Northern Ireland but the ‘province’ is doing just fine with its European market. The grievance of Pfeffel has nothing to do with economics. Pfeffel and the DUP are terrified of economic change being followed by political reform and Northern Ireland separating from the United Kingdom. Truss claims that the protocol does not have the support of the two communities in Northern Ireland. This is true but it has the support of one, all the folks that voted for Sinn Fein. You do not need to understand calculus to know that if you remove the protocol then you will only switch the support for the revised deal from one community to the other. Support from the two communities will still be lacking. Yet all this is supposed to be worth risking a trade war that will ruin a damaged British economy, an economy that belongs to a society that has run on overheated grievances for too long.
And now we have a certain aeroplane that has been standing for an awfully long time on a runway at Gatwick airport. The plane would have made more progress if it had joined the lorry queues at Dover. Even before the plane was grounded by a ruling from the European Convention on Human Rights that said the flight was illegal the lawyers were proving that the majority of passengers did not qualify for the glorious opportunity of having a new life in Rwanda. The European Convention on Human Rights exists independently of the EU. The Convention refers to fourteen basic rights that on its website are also called stories. We can take our pick as to which human right the stormtrooper Patel has broken or which story she has read with contempt. Four of the twelve that she might find informative are slavery and human trafficking, right to life, equality and torture, and ill treatment. One of the remaining stories is called privacy. No support from the phone hackers in Fleet Street for that one. Britain has received worldwide condemnation for its proposal to dump migrants and asylum seekers in Rwanda, and neither are the Americans too happy about what is happening in Northern Ireland. Pfeffel has suggested that Britain in the future will not be part of the European Convention on Human Rights. Winston Churchill was a key participant in its creation. It has been described as being his brainchild. The institution and its creation was a response by Churchill and others to the horrors of the second world war. This is not the first sensible idea from the post-war period that Thatcher and subsequent Tory governments have abandoned. The other country that refuses to participate in the European Convention on Human Rights is Putin led Russia. The events of this week are desperate enough to make us suspect that the politicians of this country do not just respond to grievances. They create and peddle them.
Howard Jackson has had thirteen books published by Red Rattle Books including novels, short stories, travel books and collections of film criticism. His latest book Long After This is now available here.