No plan B

I’ve been out of the country for a few days, on a trip that I planned back in the summer, before I knew that there would be a constitutional crisis to enjoy this month, and have thus been unable to keep up with the news.

I was sure that I would have missed some important development while I was away, but it turns out that I needn’t have worried, since the situation has been more or less static since the tumultuous events of last week. Theresa May has abandoned her brief flirtation with reasonableness, and returned to peddling her discredited plan, while the opposition has yet to coalesce around a workable alternative. The EU remain disinclined to grant any further concessions. Time, and warehouse space, continues to run out.

There is talk of a cross-party group of MPs seizing control of the agenda, and forcing at least a delay to the leave date, but it’s not clear that they actually have the votes to do this, or that the government wouldn’t be able to just ignore them. In any case that would just put off the day of reckoning, with no sign that any realistic plan would emerge in the extra time.

Labour do seem to be edging towards support for a second referendum, which at this point looks like the least-bad option; if they do back it there might just be a majority in favour of this course of action when amendments are voted on next week. Again though, the government maintain that such a resolution would be non-binding, and they might continue to run the clock down; no meaningful vote is due until next month, by which time is may be too late to turn back from the cliff edge.

Customary deadlock

Having survived the second attempt to depose her in a little over a month, Theresa May addressed the nation from the steps of 10 Downing Street tonight, and reiterated her new-found willingness to listen to all shades of opinion on Brexit. However she also made clear that she would not move on her opposition to a Norway-style customs union, which looks to be the only position that has even the remotest chance of gaining a majority in Parliament, so the current impasse seems as insoluble as ever.

The government is obliged to present an alternative plan next week, but May seems to have no fresh ideas, other than gambling that the EU can be induced to back down on the Irish backstop by the threat of a disorderly Brexit, thus resuscitating her deal. This is completely detached from reality, not to mention wildly irresponsible, but it’s what passes for statecraft in this country these days.

Attention now shifts to the opposition, particularly Labour, and how vigorously they will promote a second referendum. Jeremy Corbyn has been lukewarm on this, though his party is firmly behind it, but he may become more enthusiastic now that his preferred option of a general election is off the table. There is talk that the EU may look favourably on a request to suspend Article 50, which would buy enough time to organise a second vote. There are many other obstacles though, so it’s still a long shot. Which is a shame, because I can’t see any other way of avoiding disaster.

No-deal looming

So, as widely prophesied, May’s Brexit plan failed to win approval in the Commons, though the scale of the defeat – by 230 votes, the worst for a government in modern political history – was surprisingly dramatic.

May had actually delivered a reasonably inspiring speech to conclude the debate, in which she once again pointed out that, terrible though her plan may be, the only other realistic option is no-deal, which would be considerably worse, but to no avail, her attempts to woo, cajole and threaten wavering MPs over the last month apparently only having served to harden the opposing positions.

In any other place or time a premier suffering such a blow to their authority would surely have fallen on their sword, but we do not live in normal times. To be fair, May did acknowledge the wound she had received, and invited the opposition to table a motion of no-confidence, an offer immediately taken up by Jeremy Corbyn, but this seems unlikely to be carried. May went on to pledge that, if she survives, she will try to build a consensus around an alternative plan – raising the question of why she didn’t do that before the situation reached crisis point – but with her next breath she undermined this fine sentiment by reiterating the inflexible red lines that doomed her last attempt at a solution.

In any case the EU have remained firm in their position that the deal cannot be substantially renegotiated, so there is no scope for coming up with any scheme that might break the deadlock. This would be equally true for any other government that might emerge after a general election, should May be deposed.

So, since no deal can be agreed, no-deal begins to look like the most probable outcome. Another referendum might head that off, though it would possibly be even more poisonous and divisive than the last one. Nevertheless, I think a fresh vote might just be the least-bad option, but with every day that passes the likelihood of such a solution being practicable diminishes.

I really can’t see this ending happily…

Not long now

In about 5 minutes we will know how Theresa May’s Brexit deal has fared in the much-delayed parliamentary vote.

Will that clarify anything? Probably not. I’ll come back with some comment when the result is in.

Post-reason politics

On the face of it, today’s Commons defeat for Theresa May, the second in a week which started badly and is steadily getting worse for her, seems like good news for Remainers, since it obliges the government to come up with a new Brexit plan sooner rather than later. Whatever they propose will then be open to amendment, and, as opposition to no-deal is the one position that can just about command a majority, that would seem to rule out the worst of the imaginable outcomes.

However this potential escape plan will only be triggered if, or realistically when, the vote scheduled for next week is lost. May still has the option of avoiding this by postponing the vote again. This would surely trigger a no-confidence motion from Labour, but May could be calculating that her backbenchers are not quite angry enough to bring down their own government, so the only consequence would be that a bit more time was wasted.

How any of these machinations serve the national interest is far from clear. At this point it seems to have become an abstract game, with players who are only interested in the act of winning or losing, and not what the actual meaning of victory or defeat might turn out to be.

Of course there isn’t really a unified “national interest”, and anyone claiming to be acting in the name of one is usually looking out for just one side of the class divide. Still it’s hard to see that anyone will benefit from a disorderly exit, so I had expected that the bourgeoisie might have come up with a more sensible solution. Not for the first time in this saga it looks like we may be beyond the realm of rationality altogether.

Fragile hope

Another day, another defeat for the government in Parliament. The practical effects of losing this vote are apparently limited; its significance lies in the demonstration that there is a cross-party coalition determined to avoid a no-deal outcome, which seems to have enough support to prevail.

There might be some sort of consensus emerging around the proposal to suspend Article 50 (though some doubt whether it is even possible); however there is nothing like agreement on what to do with the extra time that manoeuvre would buy. The more optimistic Remainers want to organise another referendum, while more pragmatic pro-Europeans and soft-Brexiters would like a chance to negotiate a better exit deal. Such divisions may well sink the nascent alliance before it gets started.

If May’s proposal goes to the vote next week as planned – and that is far from certain – and suffers its expected defeat, then it looks to me that the most likely outcome will just be more chaos and paralysis, which plays straight into the hands of the no-deal zealots. Similarly, it’s hard to imagine that another postponement will calm anyone down.

So it looks like we’re doomed is what I’m saying. Unless there’s some sort of unexpected development in the next few days…

Back to work

I managed to wangle myself a fairly extended holiday this year, but all things must end, and I’ll be resuming my quotidian routine tomorrow, which, I fully intend, will include my blogging duties.

UK politics has been essentially deep-frozen over the last two weeks; the Brexit debate in Parliament is set to start up again on Wednesday, but with no sign that there has been any significant shift in the number of MPs willing to support the government position. It seems inconceivable that the vote could be put off again, but it was equally inconceivable last time, and it still happened. The appetite for compromise, at Westminster, and in the country as a whole, seems to be shrinking fast, and it looks as if there are only two possible outcomes; no-deal, or a second referendum. Of these the former appears far more likely, since there is so little time left to arrange an alternative. It’s all very disheartening.

Meanwhile, the crisis that has been brewing in the US since the midterm elections seems to be coming to a head, as the government shutdown drags on, and Trump hints at declaring a state of emergency. Such an autocratic move would be blatantly unconstitutional, and I’m fairly sure that the US ruling class isn’t really up for the chaos that would ensue, so I expect that the President will be forced to back down.

Anyway, there should be plenty to write about over the next week or so; perhaps my New Year resolution will make it to the end of the month after all.


I’m not a huge believer in New Year resolutions; experience has taught me that, once you get past about 30, making a serious change to your life takes more effort than simply deciding to do it, and being too ambitious just sets you up for disappointing failure.

However this time last year I did resolve to alter my behaviour, albeit in a fairly trivial way, by giving up looking at Facebook, which had been consuming an inordinate amount of my time for very little reward. I’m pleased to report that I was entirely successful in this endeavour, having maintained my abstinence for the last 12 months. I didn’t take the obvious precaution of deleting the app from my phone, figuring that maintaining some temptation would make the achievement more satisfying, though I have got rid of it today, just in case complacency undermined my forbearance. In celebration I’m allowing myself this one post to crow about it, but I promise that I’ll never mention it again.

Buoyed by this minor act of self-improvement, I’ve been trying to think of a resolution for this year. Unfortunately, very few of my remaining shortcomings, which are legion, lend themselves to so straightforward an answer.

It’s a well-recognised psychological maxim that the best way to stop unwanted behaviour is to substitute some more positive action, but that tends to work best for circumscribed habits like smoking, rather than more nebulous problems like “being a slacker”. I’m leaning towards a target of doing more writing, but I’m sure that my subconscious is making up excuses for my failure already. I guess that I could see how my blogging productivity holds up over the next few weeks before deciding whether to start working on a novel.

2018: The Year in Review – Part 2: Blogging

We’ll start with the facts; our top ten posts of the year, by traffic:

  1. Second Life demographics – a brief review
  2. Free Pussy Riot!
  3. Watching the Okhrana
  4. Five Hundred
  5. There is no land beyond the Volga
  6. From Off the Streets of Cleveland
  7. The future is now
  8. Drone on
  9. Ladies and Gentlemen We Are Floating in Space
  10. On Second Life and addiction

As has been the case for the last few years most of these are from the archive; the demographics piece is perennially popular, but I have no idea why some of the other posts are still getting hits, years after they were published. Three entries from 2018 did make it onto the list, including our look back over our first 500 posts, and what I thought was our best piece of the year, my reflection on the passing of Ursula K. Le Guin. I can’t say that any of our other posts were particularly noteworthy, except perhaps our celebration of Marx’s birthday, or our obituary for Pete Shelley.

We received visitors from 47 countries, the same as last year, but down a bit from the global reach we had back in the day; here are the top ten:

  1. United States
  2. United Kingdom
  3. Canada
  4. China
  5. India
  6. Germany
  7. Belize
  8. Australia
  9. Portugal
  10. France

These are more or less the places we have always been popular, apart from Belize, from where we had an inexplicable surge of traffic for a couple of months in the summer. I’d like to think that there’s a small community of hard-core SLS fans hiding out in the Central American rainforest, but I guess it’s more likely to have been Russian hackers trying to infiltrate WordPress to subvert the US midterm elections or something.

Readers will have noticed that this blog has undergone something of a renaissance in the past few weeks; we’ve posted more pieces in the last month than we managed in the previous eleven. This has been fuelled by anxiety; as we’ve noted a couple of times in the past blogging can be a therapeutic response to situations that are outwith our control. Since there is no indication that the political crisis is going to get any better in the new year, I expect our current purple patch will continue for a while yet.

So, on that sort-of-happy note, I’ll wish you all a peaceful and prosperous New Year.

2018: The Year in Review – Part 1: Culture

Time for our annual run through my cultural highlights of the year – as usual everything is on our Tumblr.

Music – buying records has become my main cultural pursuit over the last few years; I’m fortunate enough to have the resources to purchase anything that catches my fancy, and, since nothing is more than a click away these days, I do get a lot. That said, the stuff I actually end up listening to regularly doesn’t tend to vary that much. Here, in no particular order, are my top ten albums of the year:

  • Floating Features – La Luz
  • Wide Awake! – Parquet Courts
  • Goners – Laura Gibson
  • Quit the Curse – Anna Burch
  • Future Me Hates Me – The Beths
  • Paycheck – Pip Blom
  • Fall into the Sun – Swearin’
  • Possible Dust Clouds – Kristin Hersh
  • Clean – Soccer Mommy
  • The Lookout – Laura Veirs

I kept up a fairly regular rhythm of gig-going; my favourite show was Parquet Courts, though La Luz and The Beths were a lot of fun too.

Film – I had a pile of DVDs I wanted to watch this year, but didn’t get around to; I don’t seem to have the time, or perhaps the attention span, to sit through a whole movie very often these days. Of the few I did see, The Love Witch was my favourite. My few cinema trips were mostly social affairs – I saw The Greatest Showman, and Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again, neither of which I would have chosen to go to alone, but both of which I enjoyed unironically. Far and away the best film I saw all year though was one I did go to see of my own volition – Wes Anderson’s Isle of Dogs.

Books – I’ve been reading a lot about existential philosophy in the last half of the year, no doubt because I’m getting older, and struggling more with the absurdity of life. Mostly it’s been articles in places like the Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy, but also The Myth of Sisyphus by Camus, and de Beauvoir’s The Ethics of Ambiguity. It’s not an area that I was unfamiliar with, though I hadn’t read much of the original material before, but it does seem a lot more relevant now than it did when I was in my 20s. My fiction highlights were completing my annual volume of Proust, The Sweet Cheat Gone (only one more to go for the set), belatedly catching up with Shark and Phone, the sequels to my favourite book of 2013, Will Self’s Umbrella, and taking a rare dive into poetry with one of the Booker Prize nominees, The Long Take, by Robin Robertson. My favourite read of the year though was more existentialism; Simone de Beauvoir’s 1954 novel The Mandarins. Although the questions debated by the characters in the book may seem to be dated – there’s a lot about the Soviet Union – the underlying message, of the responsibility we have to engage in political activity to at least try to change the world, couldn’t be more relevant in today’s troubled times.

Next up: The Year in Blogging.