There is a simple way to deal with the rise of neofascists like Salvini, but it’s not what you might expect


Our 13-month-old daughter has developed a new screech which is not just far louder and more grating than anything she’s previously produced, but actually more unpleasant than any noise heard in the universe since at least the Big Bang. Although it’s incredibly upsetting to be exposed to her it’s just her way of remarking that she’s feeling a little peckish, could do with a sip of the old H20, has done yet another poop or wouldn’t mind a bit of a nap. She has had a challenging few weeks during which we’ve moved back from Italy, she’s started nursery and her molars have started to erupt. Plus, over the last few days, thankfully unbeknownst to her, a gang of fascist thugs have moved perilously close to power in her homeland, something which has, whether we like it or not, put her parents’ nerves on edge.

How do we deal with her outbursts of nerve-shredding fury? By giving her exactly what she seems to want: either lots and lots of affection, a fresh nappy, chunk after chunk of banana-wana until she finally stops pointing in the vague direction of the fruit bowl, or by insisting as tenderly as possible that she curl up with her favourite cuddly toys in her sleepy-deepy placey-wacey. As much as she seems to want us to, we never respond with expressions of frustration or impatience; as hard as it gets, despite all the apparent provocation, we accept that she has no understanding of the causes or consequences of her tantrums, and treat her accordingly. She is, after all, just a confused, helpless being in a frightening universe with no other means of articulating her most basic needs, and we are, after all, the only family she has.

As for dealing with fascists, well that’s different, obviously. A combination of physical violence and public humiliation is probably the best bet. They’re not babies, fffs.

The Left could easily win a re-run of the Italian election. Here’s how.


The results of the Italian parliamentary election are depressing not just to those of us with a progressive mindset but also to anyone who values democracy over violence as a means of governing human societies. The most likely Prime Minister is Matteo Salvini, an explicit apologist for racist terrorism*, as his party is the largest in a (ahem) ‘centre-right’ alliance led by the media oligarch, disqualified fraudster and convicted pedophile/mummified megalomaniac ex-PM Silvio Berlusconi. The largest single party is the populist 5 Star Movement, which has declared it will not enter a coalition. However, given that the notoriously incoherent organisation is led by the (also disqualified) multi-millionaire trickster/friend of Farage Beppe Grillo, who is on record as indifferent to fascism, there’s is a distinct chance that it will hoist the far-right into power.

Luckily the best minds (well, me) have identified a potential escape route out of this nightmare. It starts from the realisation that, despite its appalling result, the governing Democratic Party (PD) still got more votes than Berlusconi’s Forza Italia or whatever it’s called this fortnight. The Left got more support than the Right and would easily win a possible post-horsetrading second round of the election in a couple of months, providing three conditions were met:

  1. Salvini and the other fascist leaders will have to be physically eradicated. Italy has both a proud tradition of doing this, and an explicitly anti-fascist constitution. Nobody since 1945 can pretend they don’t know what fascists are, and that it is necessary to use all means necessary to eliminate them. An amendment to the Constitution could then introduce a 100% electoral threshold preventing the political participation of such groups. Then there are the Lega’s fellow travellers in the Nazi groups Casapound and Forza Nuova (last seen posting threatening messages on their front doors of their political opponents, a la the Mexican narco gangs with which they have so much in common). According to this ‘hey, let me introduce you to my new best friends in the Casapound’ article in the Guardian, there are hundreds of thousands of (almost exclusively male, overwhelmingly filgi di papà) members of such groups. That’s frightening, but their numbers can be used against them. Simply pack hundreds of them at a time onto rickety dinghies with a maximum capacity of 12 persons (including crew) and push them out into the Mediterranean. Perhaps their alt-right comrades could rescue them when the inevitable happen, and then carry them off to Libya where they would quickly find they actually have rather a lot in common with Isis. Then, and only then, we could, as the Casapound has proposed, bomb Libya.
  2. The voting age in Italy is 18. As is the case elsewhere, it is believed that by that age citizens have reached a sufficient level of maturity and responsibility to make considered decisions about how society is run. However, in these elections millions of people did not make a mature and responsible voting choice. They voted instead for an inchoate ‘anti-political’ political party led by a comedian and convicted drink-driver who uses his blog to spread buffale (fake news) about vaccines, immigrants and much more besides. The anarchist collective Wu Ming several years ago nailed Grillo’s role perfectly. His cult is based around ‘a chaotic programme where neoliberal and anti-neoliberal, centralist and federalist, libertarian and authoritarian ideas coexist’. It feeds parasitically on genuine anger about austerity, and has held back more radical forces such that Italy had no equivalent to the Spanish indignados or the Occupy movement. Its vacuity and naivety has meant that it has acted as a placeholder for the fascists, and in 2018 no one who voted for it could have done so in the belief that its leaders’ promise not to enter a coalition with anyone including the far-right was sincere.
    Unless, that is, they lacked a basic political education, and had developed their understanding of the world on social media, never acquiring the mature relationship with serious adult media which is essential to basic citizenship. Now, as it happens, the exam which all Italians (at least those who finish school) take at 18 is called the Maturità. It seems obvious to me that M5S voters, with their puerile understanding of the world, would benefit from the introduction of a compulsory reschooling phase** during which their would obtain an adequate appreciation for the importance of democracy and their responsibility for perpetuating it. Once they had completed such a course of study, their right to vote should be restored, provided that they take a legally-binding oath to read an actual newspaper at least twice every five years.
  3. The third thing that would reverse the tide of shit that has overrun Italian politics is to ban anyone with the name Renzi from taking part in election for a period of at least 10,000 years. The same goes for anyone (including Gentiloni) who thinks that half-heartedly repeating a neoliberal mantra of ‘crescita, crescita, crescita’ (‘growth, growth, growth’) as if they were praying for rain is a meaningful response to a world in turmoil.  Their replacements could – anzi, must – explore new and radical ideas: degrowth, a universal basic income, and much more. They could even start to face up the challenges of a collapsing climate***. This would be far better than allowing the Left to be constantly hijacked by egomaniacs much more concerned with their own power than improving society. It would mean that the the intellectual vacuum inside the PD (of which the M5S’s vapidity is a contorted and witless pastiche) could be filled with the ideas and spirit necessary to combat the simplistic prescriptions of the fascists. What will in reality happen, of course, is that (although concerted pressure from further left will hopefully have a meaningful influence) the PD will move in a more avowedly anti-immigrant direction. In the words of W-B. Yeats, “i migliori perdono ogni convinzione, mentre i peggiori/ sono pieni di appassionata intensità”. A more inspiring quote for today comes from an anonymous source: “L’unico fascista buono è il fascista morto”.

*The BBC’s Italy correspondent on this morning’s Radio 4’s Today Programme chose to refer to the Lega as an ‘anti-illegal immigrant party’, conveniently omitting to mention that in the attack in Macerata the racist terrorist didn’t ask for the documents of the Africans he tried very hard to shoot dead. Thus did a BBC journalist (whose name I didn’t catch) out himself as a fascist and therefore a terrorist sympathiser. Of course, the Macerata attack didn’t draw nearly as much attention in international and on social media as it would have if had the victims had been white. Maybe, given the almost-universal level of indifference to their fate, #siamotuttisalvini should have been trending worldwide.
** There is irony in the fact that so many M5S supporters are teachers. Well, “teachers”.
***Only joking. That would be of course be ‘political suicide’. Much easier instead to blame outsiders for changing weather patterns and failing crops. Human societies have been doing that for thousands of years.

Moving back to London in the age of Brexit


Roy Porter points out in the very first sentence of ‘London: A Social History’ that London is  ‘not the eternal city’. Thus it is distinct from Rome, where I and my family have been living for the last 18 months or so. London won’t even be in the EU in a year’s time*, which might make it appear odd that someone (me) who spent the few weeks after the Brexit vote listening to this on repeat is actually quite pleased to be back in the UK capital. To its credit, my home country is not (unlike Italy) on the verge of electing a mummified pedophile oligarch hand in hand with two actual fascists/supporters of racist terrorism to political power, but given the seemingly unstoppable influence of this walking answer to the question what-might-a-British-equivalent-of-Hitler-have-been-like?, the March on London can’t be too far off.

Others have pointed out the incongruous but not quite coincidental fact that many of the main Brexit conspirators (Hannan, Carswell, Banks, etc) have colonial origins. They are, after a fashion, foreigners, resentful outsiders determined to destroy what they’ve never understood (making them, in that sense, not all that different from Isis). They’re presumably sick of being asked by taxi drivers puzzled by their obvious distaste for and ignorance of their own culture, ‘Where are you actually from, guv?’.

Although many Londoners are (rightly) proud that it didn’t vote to excommunicate itself from the EU, it is where the process is being orchestrated from (however haphazardly), and a quick peek beneath the surface of recent British political history reveals the deep hydraulic fractures which caused the fissure: the burning resentment occasioned by the illegal War in Iraq, nearly a decade of ideologically-inspired austerity, and continuous agitation and scapegoating by the xenophobic hard-right of the Tory Party. The ideology espoused by the Brexiters (a deregulatory Year Zero, back to the good old days before the godawful NHS and the horrors of the Welfare State, to the time when we could still sell slaves, opium and cupcakes to whoever we damn well chose) is actually not too far off the policies put into practise over the last eight years; they just want to go so much faster.

One wonders how Daniel Blake would have voted had he still/ever been alive.  The notion that the referendum represented a peasant’s revolt even though it was directed and armed by the lords of the manor is still depressingly, but understandably, prevalent. The ruling class was split, and some of its most visible representatives were pushing the notion that the status quo is essentially fair and just. This is a global problem, because regardless of the causes, the way things are is not the way they should be. For all their undoubtedly sincere commitment to liberal principles, the economic neoliberalism of Macron and Merkel is not going to protect us from evil forces pushing easy (and evermore violent) solutions. Anyone still wondering how Brexit came about is advised to have even the slightest contact with Jobcentre Plus. I called them the other day on the mistaken understanding that they could provide me with an apparently-essential piece of paper with my NI number on it, and received a salutary lesson in the mixture of infuriating condescension (“did you know that you could look at our website?!” repeated ad infinitum) and callous indifference (“If you haven’t received a payment due to you, why don’t you wait for a few more days?”) to which society’s most needy are systematically subjected to.

Many argue that London is immune to and not responsible for all this cruelty and chaos. London isn’t really the UK, it’s tempting to think, or at least hope. It’s a successful, global city – just look at all those who want to own property here! Well, yes, that’s all very nice for those who can afford it. As for those who were born in London and/or have spent decades of their lives here…well, maybe they were never really Londoners, or at least don’t deserved such a hallowed status. To look for a potential silver lining in the mountain of shit to be dumped on us over the coming years, perhaps London will become less attractive to those who have no actual interest in living here, but do possess an apparently unrestrainable desire to make lots of money by depriving those who do of floors, walls and ceilings; maybe all those bankers will piss off and make the city more equitable and affordable. Conversely, it may be that those bankers, thanks to the finance industry’s insistence that the government not do a full Jim Jones, save us from the worst of Brexit.

So, clearly we didn’t move back to London out of any sense of political optimism. No one quite knows quite what effect the impending changes will have, least of all those who are (ahem) ‘planning’ them. Nobody, that is, who’s never watched ‘Children of Men’ or seen the government’s secret economic projections. My former area of employment (English as a Foreign Language) seems to have  already collapsed in anticipation. How whatever-is-going-to-happen will affect higher education is anyone’s guess. Very badly, at a rough estimate, at least for those who are trying against all the odds to do meaningful jobs in an increasingly absurd environment. Meanwhile, the privatisation of the state school system continues apace; my own most immediate work prospects seems to involve being part of that very process.

According to my honoured neighbour Iain Sinclair, one must belong to a place before writing about it. Do I belong in London? After all, it’s not my hometown, nor that of my wife, although she does hold a British passport and has just got a new job which makes our lives here viable. I’ve come to live in London twice before, once for a disappointing post-university stint in the dim light of which I exiled myself in Dublin, Lisbon, Dalian and Madrid for a total of twelve years. I returned in 2006, sort of by default, always feeling a little like an outsider. If I wanted to be poetic, I could make out that the interim period between Mexico City, Bangkok and Rome was a Marco Polo-style learning trajectory, allowing me to reflect on issues of inequality, gentrification, immigration, belonging, centrality and my own place and role in the world.

I’m happy to admit that right now I feel excited to be here, to the point that it feels a little like moving here for the first time. Partly as a result of having lived elsewhere, knowing something of the place, having time to explore, and reading (after several failed attempts) Sinclair’s lengthy, rambling, and often deeply frustrating tome about Hackney, I feel oddly cheerful about being back in the same city as both him and, er, David Davies. Compared to Rome, the buses here run regularly and on time (any hopes that Salvini will do the same for the trains are probably moot); just like in Rome, there are abundant museums and galleries, but they are free to enter. All of these things are, of course, contingent, and very much under threat. Trump’s equivalents in the UK will try to destroy all that cannot be readily converted into shareholder value: frack under our houses, privatise our schools, monetise our future ailments caused by the rolling deregulation of everything that makes life livable.

But for the time being, the cultural and social possibilities within close range of our flat are endless. There are bookshops just metres away from my door which seem designed for my particular sensibilities. Browsing their latest additions I feel that they’ve read my mind – until, that is, I realise that they’ve written it. I’ve been primed, by the Guardian and the LRB, to want to read certain kinds of books, and thus to buy more than I could ever hope to actually get through. I’m not merely the object of marketing pressures, my tastes are the product of factories of desire. In my case, it’s books rather than branded sportswear which make me most likely, if I were to be denied them by cruel and capricious circumstance, to hurl bricks at shop windows. Zygmunt Bauman categorised those involved in the London Riots of 2011 as ‘frustrated consumers’; perhaps my role in London is merely that of a consumer, of culture, of property, of space and time. I’m free, for the time being, to be a tourist in my ‘own’ city.

In terms of being productive, previous generations of Italian emigrants were restricted in their career choices to the purchase of a barrel organ and a dancing monkey (which is actually not too far from what I was reduced to in Rome, entertaining children under the pretence of preparing them for an exam that they didn’t see the point of). In London the available jobs in education are of a not dissimilar nature, but at least I’m more familiar with the territory and the language and therefore more likely to bite back if poked with a stick. A further irony of Brexit is that the UK’s innovations in the forms of privatisation have been copied across the continent – it was after all a UK qualification that I was pushing in Rome. Having spent years studiously avoiding learning too much about the mess of academies, grant-maintained, faith schools, and so on, I’ll soon be in the midst of it all. Many schools are, largely as a result of PFI, struggling to survive, and surely shouldn’t be spending as much as they do on supply teachers, but what the hey, I need a job. What the Tories said about Labour was, in a twisted way, true – the amount they spent on essential infrastructure was irresponsible (although it wasn’t the reason for the bailout of the banks), only insofar as it was based on borrowing from the ‘private sector’ at unsustainable rates – a policy which was started and has been continued by the Tories. Schools, hospitals, and entire councils are now being pushed into bankruptcy as a direct result of the ‘financial innovative’ pyramid schemes run by loan sharks far too powerful to threaten.

And yet, despite all these hazards and hypocrisies, and without wanting to sound like Nigel Farage complaining about people speaking foreign on trains language it is pleasant, after a couple of years being an obvious outsider and struggling with self-consciousness every time I open my mouth, to be immersed in my ‘own’ language again. It’s also enjoyable to hear and be able to identify a range of accents and languages, especially as I move around London, from Turkey, Jamaica, Bangladesh, Nigeria. I benefit from and treasure this diversity. (You can’t get jolloff rice in Rome…) Reflecting on this, and on how the things I most enjoy about cities (diversity, multiculturalism) are those that inspire rage attacks in those with willfully provincial attitudes gives me a sense of…pride? That is, I would argue, a problematic term.

Although I wouldn’t want to live elsewhere in the UK, I do suffer from that metropolitan arrogance and its reverse, a certain chippy northerness. The notion (mooted on social media post-referendum) that London should ‘declare independence’ from the rest of the UK displays a willful ignorance of how the levels of infrastructural investment spent and the political choices made in the capital have systematically worsened the life-chances of the rest of the country. If London is more diverse and culturally richer, it’s partly because it can afford to be. So many want to come and live here even though so many others are being or have been forced to leave. Such thoughts may contribute, sooner or later, to a change in my mood; I am, after all, in a honeymoon period – any more contact with Richard Branson’s megalomania, whether taking a train back up north, sorting out the internet (Murdoch’s megalomania or Branson’s? What a choice!) or having a kidney removed will renew my antipathy to all that this city and country stand for, and that’s even before the shock doctrine/national suicide of Brexit kicks in.

Certainly, few writers would view the current state of London as a reason for cheerfulness. Iain Sinclair’s latest book is called ‘The Last London’, whose pessimistic prognosis that the city’s future has little to do with the more laudable or interesting aspects of its past is not new, even in the recent past – China Mieville published an essay called ‘London’s Overthrow‘ in 2012. Sinclair implies that the truth of Will Self’s observation that most people live on the tube map of London rather than in the city per se has become even more stark in an age where so many experience the city at a distance, floating above it on their devices, with little regard for its intimate histories or deeper geographies. he also suggests that when the pace of turnover of buildings and people reaches a certain critical mass, when so many who have made their lives here – no matter where they were born – are being forced to leave or hanging on under immense pressure, the notion that the city continues to be the same place in any meaningful sense is problematic. To live here and enjoy doing so, to see oneself as a ‘Londoner’ in such a context involves being riven by contradictions, particularly when one’s very presence usurps what was there before. On Google Streetview I can, from the comfort of our brand new building, take a walk down the street below as it was eight years ago when it was a council block awaiting demolition, before, in the same breath, watching a (moving and enraging) film made by a local artist documenting the subsequent destruction of an entire way of life. (I could then, also on my laptop, pontificate online about cities as sites of psychic energy, haunted places, without reflecting too deeply on the implications.)

The area we live in is, truth be told, an emblematic example of gentrification. A few years ago, back when I was living in the considerably less cool environs of Stratford, I joined a walking tour called ‘Keep Hackney Crap’, which was the tongue-in-cheek response of a group of local housing activists of the local mayor, who had publicly accused those critical of his council’s ‘regeneration’ schemes of defeatist thinking. After we’d been led from horror to horror, from entire burnt out rows of houses to million pound developments built on the crushed remains of 1960s developments with nary a concern for the fate of those who used to live there,  we ended up at Broadway Market, sneering at the yuppie scum sipping surreally expensive lattes and absurdly overpriced almond croissants. The thought struck me that were I not to be spending Saturday morning learning about inequality, I’d very much have liked to be sitting in one of those very cafes reading about it in The Guardian. Regardless of how expensive and exclusive they are, the hipster cafes which characterise Hackney nowadays are much nicer than the fried chicken places they replaced. Nevertheless, anyone tempted to conclude that gentrification is therefore natural or harmless try to see how many non-white faces there are around Columbia Road market on a Sunday morning, or how many truly local people, ie from the neighbouring estates, use the reservoir up at Manor House. Social cleansing as practised in London has a very powerful inbuilt element of racism which is not disguised by the promoters of luxury apartment developments remembering to photoshop the odd black face on their advertising billboards for their (and our) neoliberalised dreamworlds.

Of course, other forms of exclusion and violence are less insidious, more direct and thus easier to recognise and condemn. The attacks that took place in 2017 around Borough Market are a reminder that regardless of wherever they operate Isis/Al Qaeda et al habitually target street markets as a means of causing maximum carnage and thus gaining maximum attention. Of course, it’s easier to attack the poor where they live and shop, to get at physical stalls on actual streets where cash is being exchange for material goods, than it is to reach and damage global circuits of exchange. The word ‘market’ is, after all, a poor metaphor for how the global economy operates. Ridley Road, for example, is a market, whereas the way housing is distributed in London is nothing of the kind. The ‘housing market’ in London has little to do with demand for places to live, but is rather a parasitical trade in a certain asset class which, misleadingly, goes by the same name and happens to involve both bricks and mortar. In a functioning city (London, so often trumpeted as a ‘successful’ city, is certainly not so when it comes to housing), a place to live must be recognised if not as a right then at least something with use value. In London, on the other hand, houses and pubs are being replaced by blocks of empty ‘luxury’ flats, desert city architecture which will never be and never have been inhabited, devoid even of ghosts. Thus, as Sinclair argues, the link between generations is being lost, in return for money which ebbs and flows within global networks encompassing terrorism and crime. Surely a lesson from McMafia must be that the notion  of criminal groups including Isis as marginal, outside the global economy, must, by the nature of the way such things operate, be mistaken. It’s integral to how financial hubs such as London operate. Not for nothing did Roberto Saviano name the UK as the most corrupt country in the world, and Brexit is destined (and given the very active involvement of shady tax-dodging financial interests, partly designed) to allow for even more of this particular type of ‘deregulated’ financial activity.

When terrorist attacks have taken place in Western cities, there has been a spate of hashtags called things like #wearelondon. The Museum of London is using that very slogan in his fundraising efforts, and there’s a (quite staggeringly trite) Madness song with the same title. I understand the need of young people in particular to be proud of where they’re from (this Nike advert inspires even me to take a certain pride in lifestyles and scenes I can’t exactly claim any credit for or part in). Nonetheless, when I see such slogans I can’t help feeling a certain cynicism, thinking in particular of those who’ve been priced, burnt or brexited out of the city over the last few years. Should ‘being a Londoner’ be a source of pride nowadays? Or is it rather a badge of unwarranted privilege?

To be proud of something, you have to be part of it in some meaningful way. On previous occasions moving to London, I was desperate to be involved somehow in the nightlife. Thankfully nowadays that’s no longer an issue. Tempting to say it must be better than Rome, but then to be fair we went to Italy to have a baby and only ever left the flat after dark to stock up on emergency nappies. The prospect of returning to London filled my head with fantasies of late nights and favourite drinking haunts. There will be few late nights, but then most of the pubs have shut down in any case. I will only experience a ever-depleting fraction of what this city has to offer, in both a positive and negative sense (I hope I never live through the kinds of migration, housing and work-related horrors described by writers such as Hsiao-Hung Pa, Ben Juddah, and Anna Minton). Nonetheless, our daughter, who sadly so far has shown little interest in exploring the grime haunts of East London, will grow up a Londoner, at least for the foreseeable future. I hope she feels that the city is hers and lucky to  live , but not that it belongs to her alone.

It is, of course, a luxury to escape a situation of political discomfort and economic despondency (even if it means jumping onto another rapidly-shrinking iceberg). Regardless of the outrageous limbo in which EU citizens in the UK find themselves, there’s something slightly tasteless about British people discussing where they can escape to after Brexit, especially when you consider how few Syrian refugees the UK has taken in. Few born here are in any physical danger because of Brexit, and maybe instead of looking to carry on our lives elsewhere unhindered by history there’s something more useful, indeed responsible we can do: After all,  we will not be not the main victims of Brexit, and in any case the world was not by any means a perfect place before June 23 2016. The lesson for me involves learning to engage, not to be a tourist who’s just here to consume. One aspect of Brexit is that many of us (assume that we) will be shielded from its consequences, just as we’ve been sheltered from the direct impact of austerity to the point where we can condemn those who voted for Brexit without taking due account of the myriad ways in which our life-chances have enabled us to make more responsible and rational political choices. Maybe one way of overcoming our  anxieties about our own fates is to join forces with those for whom complacency is another manifestation of privilege.

*Although I suspect that now they realise that Brexit is basically impossible, the sane members of the Government will try to get a transition period of at least 300 years.

What to say to Italians to stop them voting fascist

italian-flagMy family and I recently became economic migrants, emigrants from a country (Italy) where there are fewer job prospects and where working conditions are generally atrocious. Brexit notwithstanding, at least in London there are jobs, even some with decent conditions, and the public transport and rubbish collection systems work, while the referendum has certainly revealed an extremely unpleasant undercurrent of hostility to foreigners and the status of many who’ve lived here for decades is still entirely and appallingly uncertain, the UK is not, unlike Italy, right on the verge of electing an electing an explicitly fascist government.

Immigration has been the main theme in the Italian election debate, and the direct involvement of the extremist Northern League in a terrorist attack on Africans has received the full approval of their political sponsor, the mummified, mafioso, pedophile, tax-skiving Bond villain Silvio Berlusconi, a creature whose political views and history of corruption on every conceivable level make Donald Trump seem like Joni Mitchell. There is a chance that not only will Berlusconi’s coalition win most seats, but that he, who, given his multiple criminal convictions is unable to serve in government, will choose Matteo Salvini, the genocidally racist leader of the Lega Nord, as Interior or even Prime Minister.

Who am I to tell Italian how to vote? Well, I lived and worked in Rome until two weeks ago, and my wife and baby daughter were both born in the country. (No one in Rome suggested that my daughter was using up resources destined for those who’d been there longer, or that she should go back where she came from. Che strano.) Many of my friends are Italian and/or still live in Italy, although none of them will have considered voting for the far-right. Or at least I should bloody well hope not. This post is offered in a spirit of solidarity – I know that millions of Italians are out on the streets and arguing with their colleagues, friends and neighbours, trying to provide an antidote to the racist poison broadcast nightly on the TV news. Cioè, spero bene.

Although I spent the first week after the Brexit vote listening to this, I’ve come to accept that, regardless of the catastrophic consequences of their actions, many who voted for it were not expressing affiliation with a far-right agenda. The utter contempt and profound cruelty with which the Cameron/Osborne government treated the bulk of the population generated a predictable response in which many thought they were taking part in a new peasant’s revolt rather than a faux-rebellion led by a former stockbroking fascist backed by billionaires. Thus there are reasons excuses for having voted for Brexit, and even (to a far lesser extent, and although I would happily spit on anyone who actually voted for him) Trump.  This is not to make excuses for my own country’s racism, but to stress that there are no excuses for voting for the euphemistically-referred to ‘centrodestra‘ (centre-right, which includes the fascists). As it happens, Farage’s best friend in Italy is not Salvini, but Beppe Grillo, leader of the Five Star Movement. While Spain had the indignados, Italy had this group of ingenues, a movement based on a deeply naive opposition to not just corruption but politics per se. Grillo is a master manipulator, and egomaniac and a trickster, and the fact that his blog has been called Europe’s main source of fake news is largely responsible for a situation where even people who see themselves as progressive will tell you with a straight face that vaccines cause autism and that George Soros has a plan to flood Europe with Muslim immigrants. As for the movement’s stance on racism, its leaders declaration that ‘Anti-fascism is not my job’ and his welcoming of members of the even-more-nazi-than-the-nazis Casapound movement has been reflected in the party’s response to the attack in Macerata, which lies somewhere between pathetic and complicit.

The country wouldn’t be in this situation if the governing Partito Democratico had any courage or principles, instead of being unhappily married to a half-hearted and discredited form of neoliberalism, one which involves repeating the mantra of crescita (growth) like they’re invoking rainfall. The Left has at last tried to remake itself, but often seemingly on the basis of personal ambition rather than principle. (The smaller left parties have declared they won’t form a coalition with the PD, but hopefully that’s just electoral posturing.)  The widely-despised gurning former PM Matteo Renzi’s insistence that he should continue as leader of the ‘Left’ is suicidal – or rather homicidal, given that his political career will no doubt continue. And speaking of murder, there is also his cowardly response to the attempted massacre in Macerata. Few will vote PD with any enthusiasm, but let’s hope that as many as possible do. Anyone who argues that the parties are ‘all the same’ on this occasion could only be speaking out of profound ignorance of undiagnosed sociopathy.

In previous elections over the last year or so I’ve used this space to share translations of phrases which might persuade people with a vote not to vote for the right.  It worked well in the case of the French elections (ahem…) and I regret not doing so before the German ones. This time it’s not all that tongue-in-cheek. The possibility of a fascist victory is extremely terrifying and very real. One hopes that the Italian State, given that it has an explicitly anti-fascist constitution, will refuse to allow a government including Salvini and Giorgia Meloni (aka the blonde Traini) to take power; failing that, there will need to be a popular revolt involving extreme civil disobedience to resist such a prospect. In the meantime, anyone who has a vote, wherever they may be, needs to be warned of the consequences of voting for the right. The phrases that follow are not polite ones, but I find it impossible to think of those who might knowingly allow the return of fascism in the country that invented it with anything other than contempt.

  1. You do know that Italy is a country of emigrants, right? Sai che l’Italia è un paese di emigranti, vero?
  2. Do you think that countries such as the US and the UK should deport all their Italian immigrants? Credi che paesi come gli Stati Uniti e il Regno Unito dovreberro mandare via tutti i loro immigrati italiani?
  3. Will you be happy to see the Italian tourist industry collapse overnight? Saresti contento/a di vedere l’industria turistica crollare di un momento al altro?
  4. Do you think it’s necessary to shoot all foreigners, or just the black ones? Are you planning to go to the Colosseum and murder all the tourists? Pensi che bisogna sparare a tutti gli stranieri, o solo ai neri? Hai intenzione di andare sotto al Colosseo e uccidere tutti i turisti?
  5. Salvini is a terrorist, Berlusconi is a pedophile.  Salvini è un terrorista, Berlusconi è un pedofilo.
  6. What attracts you most about the Arancini coalition: the terrorism, the pedophilia, the fact that one of its leaders has blonde hair, or just the fanatical racism? Cosa ti piace di piu del cosidetto centrodestra: il terrorismo, la pedofilia, i capelli biondi di una dei leader, opurre solo il razzismo fanatico?
  7. Would you vote for Isis? Votaresti per Isis?
  8. Have you perhaps considered voting for a non-fascist party? Che tipo di stronzetto sei, cazzo?!

I’ve started donating to Oxfam. Here’s why.


I’ve never worked for Oxfam, and – although I’m on nodding terms with some of the staff in the extremely well-stocked Dalston outlet – I don’t know anyone who currently does. The moment I realised that most of the concern about Oxfam’s hamfisted attempts to handle allegations of inappropriate behaviour by individuals within its employ was when a local newspaper harrassed volunteers in a local shop, and then tried to present it as part of a cover-up – a ‘wall of silence‘.

It is puerile, salacious and utterly irresponsible to take serious events and present them in a way which will encourage misunderstanding and subsequent condemnation. While Harvey Weinstein was a Hollywood movie producer whose career ended suddenly when it was revealed that he had a sordid history of sexually abusing woman and had made concerted efforts to cover it up, Oxfam is not an individual celebrity. It is a huge organisation operating in all sorts of ways and which sometimes makes mistakes. That is the complex reality behind the prurient headlines and the gossip which follows them.

A moment’s reflection confirms that the suggestion that Oxfam as an individual organisation is engaged in a systematic campaign, at every level from senior management to volunteers in local shops, to abuse vulnerable people within its care would be risible if it didn’t have such deadly consequences. Today it transpires that the Swedish Government is to withdraw its funding from the organisation. Now, I don’t believe the world will be righted through acts of charity – most people who work for NGOs probably don’t believe this either. With some notable but dishonourable exceptions (as in any cause), they are intelligent and sincere people doing the very best they can in a partly haphazard fashion. In Oxfam’s case, of the handful of arseholes who behaved irresponsibly, the procedures to identify and hold them accountable could have been more rigorous and transparent. But that doesn’t make for a very good headline – and as the organisation’s CEO has said, some of those asking questions about what happened, particularly on the BBC, don’t seem especially interested in the answers.

The characters who are doing most to promote this story and spin the original allegations out of all proportion and context do not believe in foreign aid. Sensible people should be able to see through their agenda. It’s likely that the attacks on the work – indeed the very existence – of NGOs will continue. A mostly insincere prurient interest into the machinations of individuals employed by them will almost certainly play a major role in disarming vulnerable people of this weapon employed (admittedly, on their behalf) in the fight for justice and survival. Other lines of attack will emerge, partly through a media which the global far-right – from Jacob Rees-Mogg to Donald Trump – will happily dismiss as ‘fake news’ the moment it turns its attention to its figureheads.

Discrediting NGOs is part of the same act as defunding international organisations, and part of the same ideological sweep which urges the public to disregard the work of serious news organisations. We could also link it to the way in which anger at the financial system and at those who had encouraged its profligacy was rapidly diverted into rage at public representatives, how fury at million dollar bonuses was converted into outrage at hundreds wasted on duck houses. That masterstroke by the defenders of privilege and inequality was one source of the disenchantment with the entire democratic system which led to Brexit. So it’s no accident whatsoever that those who successfully scapegoated the EU and are dead-set on seizing their chance to create a deregulatory Year Zero are gunning for NGOs. As I mentioned above, I don’t believe that organisations such as Oxfam will ‘save the world’, just as I don’t think that the EU is all that it could or should be. I do believe that huge bureaucracies dedicated to protecting vulnerable people should ensure that their staff behave in accordance with their principles. That’s a no-brainer. But it’s not what these attacks on Oxfam are about.

America: Your political stability is secondary to the survival of the human species


Although I don’t come from nor live in the US, I have written before about how much I enjoy visiting and meeting its people. What follows is written in a spirit of friendship as well as frustration.

I see that #howtofixtrumpinfivewords is currently trending. Here’s my suggestion:

Lincoln, Garfield, McKinley, Kennedy, Trump.

This is the thing: I don’t understand why Donald Trump is still alive. I can’t work out how, in a country which has so many weapons and where people are supposedly so attached to the constitutionally-hallowed ideals of Freedom and Democracy, no one has had the courage to act in accordance with those values.

The US is known as the Land of the Brave. Well, America, that’s not how it looks from the outside. I’m getting the impression that your population is made up of 280 million cowards. Maybe you’re all hoping that some aggrieved Haitian or Salvadoran will redeem you. Well, that would make sense. Contract the jobs you can’t be bothered to do out to some ‘shithole’ third world country.

I guess you’re concerned about the possibility of another civil war. Well, I’m worried about a world war. I’m terrified about a planet run by and for criminally insane demagogues with genocidal racist belief systems and access to infinitely destructive weaponry. This is something you have to stop happening. At this point, it doesn’t really matter how you do it. This has gone too far. Trump speaks and acts in your name.

I had an odd thought today: how many movies have I seen, stories have I read, conversations have I been part of on the theme of if-I-had-a-time-machine-I’d-go-back-and-kill-Hitler. Well, here we are. What do you need*? More target practice? Are you waiting for someone with a loudhailer to shout ‘action’? Do you think that people in the mid-’30s put all their hopes in the mid-terms, or prayed that the judicial system would stave off tyranny? Would that have been enough?

There’s a press conference taking place right now in the White House. Various correspondents are reporting on Trump’s (predictably) hypocritical words about MLK. They don’t seem to have realised that the event is being broadcast live, so their on-the-spot reports are moot. Keen to preserve their precious status as insiders, they’re silently expressing their dissent via Twitter. Hence, no one has had the courage to make a scene.

America: forget Twitter. That’s Trump’s chosen medium. It suits him perfectly – regardless of how many seditious hashtags trend, he comes out winning within his bubble, and so do you. It’s no more real than shadows on the wall of a cave, and as forms of protest go it’s only slightly more meaningful than shouting at the TV – in fact, the very best moments on Twitter can usefully be compared to the joy of doing so collectively. If you insist on restricting your political activity to social media, you will always lose, even as you believe otherwise. You need to be braver.

How then should you respond? Take a risk: put up posters, distribute leaflets and form a resistance group in the area where you live. Put social media to good use by connecting with other such groups to organise a massive march on Washington. This will require direct occupation, confrontation  and personal danger, and you need to make sure you don’t face it alone.

Please, don’t sit and wait in hope that November will bring the nightmare to an end. Historically, for the sake of the past and the future, and geographically, on behalf of all of us who don’t live in the US and whose own struggles and life chances are being jeopardised in your name, you have no right to be so blasé and passive.

Alternatively, try taking your cue from Hollywood, from all those movies that preach political violence as a form of redemption. So many heroes and superheroes risking their individual lives and freedom for their ideals, blasting their enemies to smithereens in the process. It doesn’t happen very much in real life, but maybe something like it needs to happen now. Perhaps one of those individuals who argued, against the pleading of their more circumspect peers, that it ‘didn’t matter’ who won the election might like to, you know, step up and try to redeem themselves. America is, after all, in desperate need of a hero.

*Some have argued in response that such a suggestion is ‘immoral’. Well, here’s a short extract from a conversation that has never, ever taken place:

Person 1: You know what I’d do if I had a time machine? I’d go back and kill Hitler.

Person 2: But that would be immoral/might lead to a catastrophic outcome/etc.


​A Worker Reads History

Who built the seven gates of Thebes?
The books are filled with names of kings.
Was it the kings who hauled the craggy blocks of stone?
And Babylon, so many times destroyed.
Who built the city up each time? In which of Lima’s houses,
That city glittering with gold, lived those who built it?
In the evening when the Chinese wall was finished
Where did the masons go? Imperial Rome
Is full of arcs of triumph. Who reared them up? Over whom
Did the Caesars triumph? Byzantium lives in song.
Were all her dwellings palaces? And even in Atlantis of the legend
The night the seas rushed in,
The drowning men still bellowed for their slaves.

Young Alexander conquered India.
He alone?
Caesar beat the Gauls.
Was there not even a cook in his army?
Phillip of Spain wept as his fleet
was sunk and destroyed. Were there no other tears?
Frederick the Great triumphed in the Seven Years War.
Who triumphed with him?

Each page a victory
At whose expense the victory ball?
Every ten years a great man,
Who paid the piper?

So many particulars.
So many questions.

(Berthold Brecht)

(Fernando Pessoa, ‘The Book of Disquiet’)

People who wouldn’t dream of denying the Holocaust or Climate Change are denying the war in Iraq

Fifteen years ago my country participated in an illegal invasion which killed hundreds of thousands of innocent civilians, orphaned countless numbers of children, created millions of refugees, and wholly undermined and discredited international institutions and the global rule of law. On the basis of very many conversations with compatriots over the years, I believe that the sense of disillusionment with parliamentary democracy which it generated also contributed to the fateful decision of my fellow citizens to leave the EU.

Yet, in 2018, I see people who regard themselves as progressives denying that the war had anything other than minor consequences. Defenders of one of the war’s main architects seem keen to dismiss it as little more than a detail of history, a minor stain on Blair’s otherwise spotless record. I have even seen one person claim that those who opposed the war were delighted that it took place as it served to discredit Blair. We are regularly accused of having an unhealthy, irrational and bizarre fixation, of ignoring the Labour governments’ record on all other issues in order to pursue a personal and petty vendetta.

I’m used to British people denying their own history, playing down the horrors of the slave trade, the opium wars, the brutal repression of colonial populations and so on. Doing so is generally a preserve of the right. Over the last few years it’s been disheartening to see how ubiquitous empire, climate and even holocaust denial have become on the now less-remote fringes of British politics. It’s an ideology according to which the suffering of others is not worthy of consideration or concern. The progressive traditions in British society – both liberal and Labour – are supposed to stand for something better.

Blair’s position on Brexit is, I believe, a sensible, even laudable one. Britain has been led to the edge of a cliff and is showing every sign of hurling itself off. However, there are very solid reasons why he is not widely trusted, and thus his role in creating the circumstances that led us to Brexit cannot be ignored. They partly lie in a refusal to address our history. Farage et al dismiss the blood-soaked legacy of the British Empire, based on an ideology that says the experiences of foreigners is a minor price to have paid for far greater glories. Insisting, as I have seen many do online, that the consequences of much more recent violent adventurism by the British State in our name are of little concern and that Blair’s reputation must be evaluated independently of them, implies not only a failure to acknowledge certain inconvenient truths about how Blair is – despite his undoubted success in other areas – viewed throughout British society. It also represents a deeply obnoxious and very British refusal to face up to our historical responsibilities. It betrays a set of values which aren’t actually all that remote from those of the unapologetic neo-imperialists who have, by concocting a venomous slow-cooked stew of deep-seated xenophobia mixed with legitimate resentment, suspicion and frustration, led us to Brexit. And as for those who argue that the Iraq War was ‘a very long time ago’ and has no relevance today, one can only assume they have never lost a child nor learnt a single thing about history. 

I’ve seen it for myself: Corbyn’s thugs are getting even younger, and becoming much more dangerous

Difficult as it is to write, I’ve come to believe Ben Goldsmith. He recently gave a shocking account, much derided on social media, of how a West London social gathering he was attending was rudely gatecrashed by a gang of Corbynista hoodlums, fresh from commemorating the Grenfell tragedy in their inimitably rowdy fashion.  Like most, I doubted from the lack of evidence that events actually took place in accordance with his retelling of them, but now I’ve seen up close how the Momentum faction operates and just how young some of its firebrand activists are, I feel inclined to believe that he may have been telling the truth.

Here’s what I experienced. I’d ask that you reserve judgment of me and my story until you’ve read what I have to say and seen the photographic evidence for yourself. I’m not by any means what anyone would regard as a Tory and I wouldn’t fit comfortably into any meaningful definition of a ‘centrist’. I’m a Labour Party member, I voted for Corbyn in 2015 and I’ve read the Guardian religiously all my life.(Possibly too religiously, if my shrine to Aditya Chakrabortty is anything to go by.)

As it happens, this whole furore started because of newspapers. I’ve recently been trying to vary my media diet (with mixed results), and so when I happened upon a copy of The Times in a local (Islington) café, I started to peruse the news section. Now, I’d be put out if anyone took me for a regular reader, but I was still entirely unprepared for the (in my opinion) utterly unwarranted response of a very young person who was sitting nearby. She or he (it’s getting hard to tell the difference nowadays!) wasn’t wearing any visible insignia of allegiance to Corbyn’s sect of ruffians, but from her age and rebellious demeanour it was clear that she had been seized by some sort of radical fervour.

You may feel disinclined to doubt my words. We do after all live in an age of fake news and highly sophisticated ideological manipulation. I can only urge you to believe the evidence of your own eyes; the following photos constitute an absolutely accurate and unadulterated record of exactly what happened. 

Happy new year, fuck the Tories.

Merry Christmas, f*ck your blue passports!!!


I’m at Fiumicino airport queuing to get on the plane to go back to the UK for Christmas. Word comes down the line that there isn’t enough space for all the hand luggage. This makes sense. Most people travel with far too much stuff these days. Between me, my (Italian) wife and her parents (who’ve gone on ahead) we’re transporting seven bags of various shapes and sizes, containing not just the standard four hundred adaptors and chargers and six hundred panettoni but also rabbits, bears, elephants, one human infant and enough nappies to feed a nappy-eating army.

However, the news that our suitcases will need to go in the hold doesn’t go down at all well with the people ahead of me in the corridor, particularly with a posh-sounding woman and her friend from Liverpool, which is where we’re flying to. They’re annoyed at the apparent incompetence of the staff, who should (how?) have anticipated such an eventuality.

Someone of the attendants come to explain. Although it’s a Romanian airline, both the attendants seem to be French and don’t appear to speak Italian. This also makes sense, because English is the international language of air travel, and they probably spend their days dashing round between random European cities. It’s not a problem, or at least it shouldn’t be, because the queue is mostly composed of people flying home for the holidays.

Personally I’m not bothered by the slight inconvenience. We’ve got to pick up check-in luggage at the other end anyway. But behind me there’s a bald man in his forties with a strong English accent, which is unfortunate because he’s insisting on speaking Italian even though the flight attendant doesn’t understand it. Yoh facho kwesto veyagio chentoh voltey per anoh, he’s complaining. I-ya nev-ah ave-ah such-ah an-ah aysperience-ah. It’s basically the equivalent of the unwittingly hilarious foreign accents that we British love to take the piss out of, and I’ve done so in the past in class, for example by getting Spanish students to speak English with the strongest Spanish accents they can muster in order to focus on the differences. My compatriot fellow passenger sounds like someone who Has Mastered The Language, Thank You Very Much, and now expects to be honoured for it, even when (as in this situation) using it is redundant to the point of farce.

The attendant who is patiently dealing with his unreasonable requests speaks perfectly servicable English, albeit with a mild Inspector Clouseau accent. He’s polite and helpful. However, the Liverpudlian woman in front of me is also complaining about the situation, which she says typifies Italy, and she should know, because She Lives Here. She emphasises this point by repeatedly telling any Italians within earshot that ‘Non c’è logico in questo paese‘ – there’s no logic in this country. Beh, maybe she needs to focus a bit more on her grammatico. Or, as the Italians say, grammatica, which is their word for grammar, much as their word for logic, a word which their civilisation derived from Greek, is logica. Maybe she should just say what she wants to say in English, which after all is her language and which everyone present seems to speak perfectly well. Perhaps, while she’s at it, she might want to avoid making crass generalisations on the basis of a specific situation which doesn’t even have much to do with Italy per se.

In fact, another fellow passenger (Italian) helpfully intervenes, in perfect English. He explains that it’s not unusual and not really an inconvenience. It’s happened to him a dozen or so times. (He actually uses the word ‘dozen’.) She’s listening to him (I think she, you know, gets the gist) but is still responding in the language of Dante Alighieri and Joe Dolce.

I suspect that the woman, whose command of Italian is actually pretty commendable (quite possibly better than mine), may work as an English teacher. I’m basing on two things, which are actually one: 1) I myself am an English teacher 2) I’m given to projecting my own bad habits onto others. I have, on countless occasions in the past, bolstered my sense of self-worth by insisting on speaking foreign languages when it was completely unnecessary to do so, even though I make my living by helping, indeed encouraging, foreigners to speak English.

The friendly Italian man is presumably choosing to speak English in case there are people present who don’t understand Italian. It’s completely reasonable to assume that I might be one of those people. After all, you don’t get much more an international environment than an airport. Plus there’s the not-insignificant fact that we’re boarding a plane to England. (Maybe he even lives there.) It’s a linguistically fraught situation for those who see their command of foreign languages as a notch on the bedpost of their identity. I’ve written before about my own anxiety around language borders, whether in Portugal, Germany, Mexico, or Italy. I feel belittled and rejected when I’m trying to speak another language and someone switches to English. When I speak another language I feel like I’m making a claim, and desperately want to be recognised, validated. Who, after all, wants to be bloody British?!

The woman’s comment about ‘this country‘ also riled me, because in its petty-minded resentfulness I recognise my own bad habits. I’ve said things like this, probably even this week. Two hours ago I was stomping around the airport looking for a non-existent Terminale 2, cursing whoever designed the airport. Last week doing my application for citizenship I was damning in the strongest terms whichever stronzetto had devised the seemingly interminable and irrelevant questions. While doing my tax documents in Mexico a couple of years back I probably at certain points sounded to any purported eavesdropper like a proto-Donald Trump. It’s very, very easy to essentialise, to attribute any minor inconvenience to the entire people and culture of the country where one finds oneself.

She’s now explaining to us in English, from the perspective of someone who knows everything about Italy, that it takes some adjustment to live here. In England things work…differently, she says. Meaning: better. Meaning: My country is better than this one, the one I’ve chosen to make homeNon c’è logico, she repeats. But it looks beautiful and tastes nice, and that’s all that matters.

I’ve derided the expat mentality before, and it seems that here we have a living and whining embodiment of it. But maybe I’m being unfair. Perhaps she’s had a bad morning. Travelling is stressful, especially when at any given moment someone might – horror of horrors! address you in your own language. So I respond, in a jocular but pointed fashion, that at least people here don’t get worked up about the colour of their passports.

She might have laughed, but maybe she’s not from the same tribe as me. Apparently someone tried to have a ‘Brexit conversation’ with her in her hotel this morning at 7.30. I feel tempted to point out that it’s a very common topic of conversation. People around the world are confused by a country whose good sense they respected doing something so clearly harmful to its own interests. A lot of people in Italy look to all northern countries as emblematic instances of organisation and good sense. I could point this out, but the stewards are here with the sticky labels for our bags. I thank them profusely in English, a language I’ve spoken all my life and taught for the last twenty years. Such people have been funding my lifestyle for two decades; it’s also foreign students that keep my hometown (Sheffield) in existence.

I get on the plane and tell my wife about what happened. It strikes me it would make an entertaining thing to write about on the strictly (well, hopefully) non-whiny expat blog that I keep. I start to take notes but then remember that we have parental duties to attend to and also that we have a long journey ahead and my phone only has 48% of battery life left. What a depressing number.

The girl next to us looks Turkish but turns out to be from Moldova. She speaks no English or Italian and my Romanian is limited to place names and words like seatbelt and fasten which I can see translated on the back of the seat in front. She seems not to have flown before, judging by her confusion upon that she can’t make phone calls once we’ve taken off. Despite the linguistic barriers, she’s brilliant at engaging with the baby and distracting her from her favourite game of Let’s Take Daddy-Waddy’s Glasses Off. (Her other hobby on aeroplanes is ripping up  inflight magazines, publications which I had thought existed in order to sell high-end nick-nacks and trips to more glamorous destinations, but whose main purpose is I now realise, to give parents a bit of a break.) Across the aisle there’s a guy reading an article in La Repubblica headlined ‘Russia, Iran e altri exploit del gaffeur Boris Johnson’. I wonder what the girl next to is off to do in the UK. It’s wrong to essentialise, but I know that Moldova is often associated with sex trafficking. Still, I hate when people make negative judgments about me on the basis of where I happen to be from to me. Like assuming that because I’m English and live abroad I must be a self-centred, self-hating, whiny and overly judgmental English teacher who thinks they’re some sort of uniquely gifted linguistic genius because they’ve sort of half-mastered a foreign language and who believes themselves to have a God-given right to more and better working options on the basis of their national origin. That’s actually, I hate to admit, not 100% wide of the mark. But I’ve got no interest whatsoever in acquiring a blue fucking passport.