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.

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.

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. 

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.

Thought you knew how racist the Daily Mail is? Think again.

No one else seems to have commented on this particular instance of synchronicity, so I may as well do so: this year the Turner Prize was won by a (brilliant, black, British) artist (Lubaina Himid) who, amongst many other things, highlights Guardian front page images and the adjacent headlines in order to draw attention to hidden racist assumptions. Today, some sharp-witted Twitterer spotted this (see screenshot) stark bit of pre-1970s racism on the front of The Newspaper That Hates Britain. It echoes the Sun front page of May 2015, which clearly spelled out JEW to anyone tempted to put that incompetent bacon-sandwich eater Miliband into power. Anyone inclined to dismiss either front page as an accident would do well to look up Freud’s work on slips of the tongue. Whether it was a conscious choice or not, if the Mail were anything other than a racist newspaper someone in the chain of command would have spotted the juxtaposition and removed it. Instead, they all nodded it through in that mini-Wannsee conference held daily at 11am in South Ken. 

It’s also worth bearing in mind that the article in question was written by the wife of a leading cabinet minister and Brexit acolyte. No wonder Michael Gove hates experts; I wouldn’t imagine he’s much of a fan of contemporary art either. The Shock Doctrine mentality of politicians such as him, Farage and Hannan, all of whom see Brexit as their chance to rip it all up and start again, has long reminded me of the Khmer Rouge, who, right from Year Zero, made it clear that they saw artists as, to borrow a not-entirely-random expression, ‘enemies of the people‘.

Corbyn has spent his career challenging ‘the will of the people’. What changed?

Here is a brief list of policies of Britain’s democratically elected government that the backbench MP Jeremy Corbyn opposed on the basis of his principles:

  • The Falklands War
  • The invasion of Iraq
  • The Poll Tax
  • Trident
  • Post-2008 austerity

Additionally, throughout his backbench career Corbyn espoused and actively supported laudable causes in which both the general public and his party leadership showed little interest, including climate change, Palestine, an equitable peace settlement in Northern Ireland, Latin American solidarity, and LGBT rights. All of the above have been minority concerns in mainstream British politics for most of the last thirty or so years.

So Corbyn’s own career as a politician is an embodiment of the principle that the people can be wrong, that in any case its will can be misrepresented, and that it is the role of politicians to shift the voting public round to their point of view. Some people get involved in politics in order to pursue their self-interest; many on the right espouse a politics of self-interest in order to justify their own greed. We had been led to believe that Jeremy Corbyn believes in politics as a means of changing the world for the better for ordinary people, particularly for those whose interests are usually marginalised. 

That Brexit was a right-wing scam carried out in order to remake the country in line with the interests of Robert Mercer, Rupert Murdoch and Aaron Banks and in keeping with the ideological zealotry of Daniel Hannan, Douglas Carswell and Nigel Farage is now undeniable. It was never a case of exit, stage left. The mantra that the Brexit vote is an inviolable embodiment of the ‘will of the people’ is thus cynical and unprincipled. Labour has a moral and political duty to convince its supporters who voted leave that they were duped, and to persuade them that the EU, far from being the cause of their woes, was merely used as a scapegoat by self-interested businessmen and ideologically-motivated politicians. In the face of decidedly unpropitious international circumstances, Corbyn supported the people of Nicaragua against deeply reactionary imperialist right-wing forces in the 1980s – he needs to use his very real political influence to oppose those forces in the UK in 2018.

This is the aspect of Brexit that I find most puzzling

In another age, disgraced government ministers, having let down their country in her hour of most dire need, finding themselves bereft of dignity and honour, would lock themselves into their oak-lined studies, sit down on their creaking maroon leather chairs at their vast, sturdy desks passed down from generation to generation of statesmen, take out their favourite fountain pen and some thick monogrammed writing paper, and compose a valedictory letter to their loved ones apologising for their failings and explaining that their was only one course of action left open to them, one final act which may eventually serve to redeem their family name. They would then remove from a locked drawer a bejewelled revolver, place the barrel between their bewhiskered jowls, briefly contemplate a cherished memory of a lovelorn glance exchanged on a collegiate boating lake many years before, sigh wistfully and then pull the trigger. 

How the fuck are Boris Johnson, Michael Gove and David Davis still alive?!

Does Farage see Brexit as his Reichstag Fire?


I’ve long had a hunch that Brexit is essentially impossible. It would take years to disentangle the British State from its interdependences on the European Union, indeed probably longer than it took to join in the first place. It would involve very detailed preparation by experts in all sorts of fields in order to predict and mitigate the effects, such are the numbers of known unknowns and unknown unknowns involved.

It was already clear before the vote that neither of the Leave campaigns had done that preparation. They were so careless about the consequences as to try to quash serious debate entirely, up to the point of ridiculing experts and rejecting evidence and doubts out of hand. Since then, and very obviously of late, it’s become blindingly obvious to anyone not willfully myopic that pro-Brexit politicians are completely unprepared for what lies in store.

Now one of those myriad impossibilities involved has become clear: the Irish border. Regardless of any amount of vacuous rhetoric about Taking Back Control Of Our Borders, the UK has a back door which it is, pace the Good Friday Agreement, 100% politically, legally and morally obliged to keep open. (Not to mention that a fact that it can’t have a ‘soft border’ (what?) for trade and a ‘hard border’ for people.) This is an intractable problem, and one which, given that the Republic has, like all EU states, a veto over the final deal, will scupper the whole project. Not that the Brexiteers are short of solutions, you understand: Kate Hooey reckons that Ireland will just have to leave the EU and various Andrew Lilico types in the Daily Telegraph are proclaiming that ‘Eire’ will have to forget about being a sovereign and independent entity. James Connolly wrote of a ‘carnival of reaction’ after Irish partition: the UK’s partition from the EU is provoking a carnival of outright trollery.

Nigel Farage presumably knew about such impossible aspects, but I increasingly suspect that he sees it as grist to the mill. Farage is a trickster: a Pied Piper type, an agent of chaos for its own sake. Any simple Occam’s Razor join the dots analysis also confirms that he is, from his days of marching round his boarding school singing Nazi marching songs to goosestepping onto the stage at the AFD conference a few weeks ago, a lifelong fascist. Unlike Trump, who presumably kept a copy of ‘Mein Kampf’ by his bedside to show off what an edgelord he was, Farage will, like Steve Bannon, have read up on how the Nazis managed to get into power. It doesn’t take much insight to recognise the role of the Reichstag Fire in allowing Hitler to seize control.

This is a mere blog. I have no claims to be a journalist. Like most such sites, it is a collection of overgrown below-the-line comments. Unlike some, it doesn’t hold with or promote paranoid and simplistic conspiracy theories. My opinion of such theories is influenced by a book I read long ago: ‘In Dubious Battle’, J. Bowyer Bell’s analysis of the (probably) MI6-sponsored 1974 Dublin and Monaghan bombings. In it he points out that anyone expecting to be able to track down signed and sealed confessions from the participants in such plots is probably deluded. Underhand collusion between nefarious interests does obviously exist, but it tends to be in the form of tacit suggestions, nods and winks, not formalised agreements. No one is likely to find a payment in roubles into Farage’s Nationwide Flexaccount, to choose a not-entirely-random example.

This piece was thus inspired not by a top-secret document handed to me by a stranger in a public park, but by a post I came across from a random person in the gossip mill of social media. The tweet includes no sources, referring vaguely to ‘rumours’. This is what it says:

Rumours circulating that the only thing making the govt determined to continue with this ludicrous Brexit charade is the threat of civil unrest from the loony right. Police and HO advise that they might not be able to cope.Govts abhor civil unrest, and right threatens violence.

There’s no reason to give credence to such a source, but without wanting to sound like Sarah Sanders, it does have a smack of truth to it. While Farage may be the only full-on fascist among the key Brexit zealots, it’s worth bearing in mind firstly that First World War-enthusiast Michael Gove has long been publicly hostile to the Good Friday Agreement itself, and secondly that the gunboat-style free trade imperialism propounded by Hannan, Rees-Mogg, Carswell, Patel, Johnson et al is so extreme and anathema to modern democracy as to necessitate a Year Zero approach. I suspect that to various degrees none of the above were particularly serious about Britain’s leaving the EU per se. They instead saw it as a means to an end, and thus regard the chaos that will inevitably ensue as akin to sweeping all the pieces off the board to create a tabula rasa. In the case of Farage, the referendum result is an opportunity to turn the UK into an authoritarian state, with scapegoating as its organising principle. The Conservative Party, out of conceit and complacency, fell into the trap that he had, with very great patience and guile, set for it. His ubiquitous media presence, from the Question Time panel to the LBC studio, from Andrew Marr’s sofa to Good Morning Britain’s, from the LBC studio to Loose Women and back to Question Time again, is part of his ongoing attempts to force the country into line with the Nazi ideology he professed as a schoolboy and has kept largely concealed ever since.

Britain First is a terrorist organisation

Although definitions of terrorism vary and often conflict, you’d be hard-pressed to find any that didn’t contain the notion of political violence combined with the threat of further political violence. Just before the Brexit referendum, a member of the British parliament, Jo Cox MP,  was shot and stabbed to death by a political activist. We know he was a political activist because he had been photographed campaigning with the group Britain First, and it was the name of that organisation that he shouted as he murdered her. In court he shouted slogans calling her a traitor.

Of course, there are no documents proving that Thomas Mair was a formal member of Britain First. In much the same way, there doesn’t seem to be such as thing as an Isis membership card. Both organisations seem to recruit principally via the Internet, where affiliations are notoriously fickle and rarely formalised. Mair’s proximity to the leadership of Britain First is much more remarkable than that of any number of European-grown Islamic terrorists is to the leading figures in Isis. No media outlet automatically absolves Abu-Bakr Al Baghdadi when one of his distant disciples ploughs a truck into pedestrians in Catalonia or shoots up a Parisean theatre. Much like both Isis and the EDL, Britain First is an online operation spilling onto the streets. Those who create its violently hateful propaganda are responsible when someone responds to their exhortations to murder ‘traitors’.

Yet somehow, in the furore about Trump’s retweeting of three fake videos posted by one of the group’s leaders, the terrorist angle hasn’t been mentioned. This is odd, given the irony that in supposedly making a statement against terrorism, Trump was promoting it. He won’t face any action by Twitter, as he is their number one star player. Given that Twitter more or less did the decent thing by removing and decredentialing other far-right hate preachers a couple of weeks ago, a concerted campaign to get Britain First removed from the platform might succeed, and would cause huge embarrassment to Trump – or, given that he seems immune to such emotions, his cause.

It’s also important to expose Nigel Farage’s links with BF. Although he has now denounced them as neofascists, Golding et al were very open in the past about their connections, even boasting in this video of attacking anti-UKIP protestors on his behalf. Anyone who was unfamiliar with Britain First but who still finds Farage’s shtick amusing also needs to be reminded that in the wake of the referendum he boasted that it had been won ‘without a shot being fired’. We don’t need to delve into his apparent family history in the National Front to see that his disassociation from the explicitly nazi movement is disingenuous at best. If Trump hadn’t come across Britain First before, it’s no thanks to Nigel Farage, who surely has Golding and Fransen among his email contacts, along with Robert Mercer and Julian Assange. In any game of Six Degrees of Separation starting from any figure in the international fascist movement, Farage’s name won’t take too long to crop up. His comment about the referendum was an implicit statement of allegiance with a terrorist organisation which murdered an elected MP in order to stop her campaigning to help people fleeing war. The name of that terrorist organisation is Britain First.



Although this site has been going for over a year, I’ve never made a single penny, cent or centesimo out of it. It contains no advertising and never will. That doesn’t mean I haven’t tried to take advantage of the merchandising opportunities its partial success has afforded, but sadly no one went for the mugs.

No matter. Onwards and upwards. Undaunted by business failure, unwilling to accept defeat in the face of commercial indifference, I reckon I’ve spotted another massive gap in the market, and here it is: it’s undeniable that those of us on the left who opposed it have been proven wrong about the Brexit/Lexit project. The negative projections of the so-called experts were way off the mark, and the negotiations with the EU are going swimmingly, particularly around the question of the Irish border. The planning and preparation conducted by our elected representatives has been exemplary, and revelation after revelation has confirmed to those of us who were cynical and/or naive to suspect otherwise that the referendum itself was carried out under conditions of utmost reputability, free of manipulation by foreign powers or nefarious private interests. As for the issue of EU citizens in the UK, those who are still here are regularly reported to be delighted with the transparency and above-boardedness of the whole enterprise.

What’s more, we owe a profound apology to those comrades who predicted, much to our unwarranted frustration and scorn, that a vote to leave the EU would inevitably lead us up to the sunny uphills of socialism, rather like Julie Andrews in the Sound of Music, our lungs bursting with song and with pride as we looked down into the valleys and saw the pillars of neoliberalism tumble one after another, or something (I’m paraphrasing). The last seventeen months or so have been a joy to behold to anyone who remains true to egalitarian values, as our cause has stormed bastion after bastion of entrenched privilege, just like in the glorious soviet revolution of a century before. By March 2019 we will be living in a verdant utopia, enjoying a abundant common wealth of public provision, and all because the British people stood up and threw off the shackles of hidebound deference to our so-called betters (paraphrasing again). There is not a person alive now whose heart is not bursting with optimism at what lies ahead. Capitalism, autocracy and oligarchy are dead and buried, and fascism, racism and nationalism are confined for once and for all to the fetid dustbins of history. Bliss was it in that dawn to be alive.

Under such circumstances, then, I feel that the time is right to launch a garmet which millions will sport with pride, wearing their now-vindicated convictions on their chests rightly inflated with a renewed sense of self-respect. It will make an excellent Christmas gift for all the family, especially for those who, though they were at the time momentarily blinded to the promise of freedom, have now seen the light.

The t-shirt retails at $99, with a special bumper package including a framed commemorative ‘WE ARE FREE!!!’ edition of Socialist Worker available for only $250. We are not responsible for any ridicule, abuse and/or violence the wearer of the item may suffer. It is recommended that any of our clients finding him or herself subject to such unsavoury treatment defend him or herself by shouting out some utter fucking nonsense about ‘neoliberalism’ followed by some even more specious horseshit about the Irish border. FFFS.