Recession gloom

So, I’m back from the US, after a pleasantly extended sojourn spent catching up with old friends, revisiting past haunts, and exploring some new ones. Naturally enough a lot had changed since my last visit back in the 90s, but there was enough reassuring familiarity that I was able to properly relax. Apart from some anticipatory anxiety as I stood in line at immigration, I can’t recall a single tense moment. I guess it helps that I’ve slowed down a bit over the last 30 years, and am content to spend a whole morning taking a gentle stroll through a gallery, or sitting outside a cafe watching the world go by, rather than rushing around trying to see every attraction on offer in whatever locale I happen to be passing through. If I did have a minor complaint, it was that the cost of living was much higher than I remembered – $30 for a beer and a burrito! – though I suspect this is mainly because I stayed in nice hotels and ate at classy restaurants, unlike my younger self, who was happy with grubby hostels and cheap burgers. I tip more these days too.

Anyway, back to reality. I had planned to have a bit more downtime before returning to work, but the latest news on the economy has spooked me a bit, and I’m thinking that I should probably get some money coming in sooner rather than later. I might be more relaxed if I had any confidence in the government, but since our nominal Prime Minister has chosen to spend his final days in office sulking rather than running the country, as his would-be successors vie for the hearts and votes of Tory party members by promising ever more outlandish fantasies of low taxes and reactionary social policy, it seems likely that things will get very much worse before they get any better.

Of course any worries I might have are insignificant compared with those facing the 50%+ of the population who are forecast to find themselves in fuel poverty going into the winter. It seems inconceivable that the political pressure generated by such widespread hardship will fail to push whoever ends up in Number 10 into some sort of action to inject some more spending power into the economy, whatever fears they may have about the effect that might have on inflation. Some combination of price controls and a boost to Universal Credit would probably cover it, but that may be too much to hope for, and a limited expansion of the already-announced fuel credits is a more likely outcome.

It remains to be seen whether the Tories, following their instinct for self-preservation, will unite behind their new leader, or if continuing internecine conflict will tempt Truss/Sunak to seek a personal mandate from a General Election. From a democratic viewpoint that would be a welcome development, but I suspect that dealing with a fractious party for a couple of years while hoping the economy picks up will look like the lesser evil when compared to inviting the judgement of the electorate in the midst of a cost of living crisis, so there will be no semi-competent technocratic administration riding over the hill to save us any time soon.

And these are just our local problems – I haven’t even touched on the war in Ukraine, US-China tensions, Middle East instability, climate change… I may need another trip to the calming oceanside sooner than I think.

Going, but not gone

So Boris Johnson finally read the writing on the wall, and grudgingly agreed to step down as Prime Minister, though not quite yet. He will stay on until a successor has been identified, which may take until October. In the meantime he has promised to run a lame-duck administration, though how exactly that will differ from the current rudderless government isn’t clear.

There is no obvious front-runner in the race to replace Johnson, and the field isn’t exactly inspiring, so it looks like the country will continue to slide into disorder, as various national and international crises pile up. A General Election might provide some respite, but I can’t see any of the potential new PMs being reckless enough to call one, so, as has been the repeated pattern over the last few years, things seem likely to get a lot worse before they get any better.

Farewell Boris?

Meanwhile, back home, it looks like Boris Johnson’s time as Prime Minister may finally be drawing to a close, as once-loyal ministers reportedly gather to tell him that the game’s a bogey.

The time difference makes it a bit difficult to keep up with all the latest developments, and, to be honest, sitting here in the Californian sunshine, I’m finding it hard to care that much. There will be plenty of time to catch up when I’m back.

Los Angeles, July 4th 2022

With my characteristic good timing, I’ve chosen a moment when the US seems to be entering one of its periodic spells of paranoid reaction to pay my first visit to the country in nearly 30 years.

Fortunately I’m in California, visiting some old radical buddies, so I doubt I’ll experience anything too illiberal. If anything, the recent developments seem to have energised the left, around here at least, though I suspect that what I am observing is just one side of the country’s deepening polarisation, rather than a more general progressive shift.

Whatever; my trip is a social one, so I’m going to leave the politics for another day, and focus on catching up on a personal level with some people I haven’t seen for far too long. As you might imagine, my friends are not the most patriotic of citizens, but we’re going to settle back tonight with some beers, and a joint or two, to watch the fireworks, and dream of a better future.

Rowing back progress

Although today’s US Supreme Court ruling overturning Roe vs Wade had been leaked some time ago, the reality of it still came as a shock. Even as economic inequality has deepened in the last decade or so, the left has been able to console itself with the idea that the social gains of the last 50 years or so were more or less secure. It’s harder to believe that now, with the Conservative wing of the Court openly gunning for every progressive gain from voting rights to interracial marriage.

On the other hand, the fact that this decision is so clearly out of step with US public opinion, and has only come about as a result of the flagrantly undemocratic packing of the Court, might be the straw that finally breaks the unfathomable reverence US liberals pay to the Constitution, a document drawn up two centuries ago by white male slaveowners to preserve their dominance over society. If that is too much to hope for, then at least the elections in November might see some blowback against a Republican Party which engineered this assault on the civil liberties of 51.1% of the population.

Boris lives on

As expected, Boris Johnson managed to rally enough support to survive the confidence vote, but the fact that 41% of his MPs felt unable to back him is rather awkward, to say the least.

Instant reaction in the liberal press is leaning towards the view that this result leaves Johnson badly wounded, and that disquiet in Tory ranks seems set to grumble on, but few are predicting that he will go any time soon. A more plausible scenario is that he will attempt to shore up his support on the right of the party by doubling down on the reactionary populism that got him into Downing Street in the first place. That might not do much for the Conservative Party’s chances of winning the next election, but that poll could be two years away, which would be a long time for the country to be without responsible government.

Boris on the edge

In a development that has been prematurely predicted so many times that it seemed it would never happen, a sufficient number of Conservative MPs have rediscovered their sense of decency to trigger a vote of no confidence in party leader and Prime Minister Boris Johnson.

Ballots are being cast as I write, with the result due to be announced later this evening. The smart money seems to be on Boris managing to hang on, but with his already precarious authority further diminished.

Most politicians would take this as a signal that it was time to retire with at least some dignity intact, but Johnson is shameless enough to portray the narrowest of victories as a resounding mandate, so I expect we will be stuck with him for the foreseeable future. He will have to devote his entire attention to party management, rather than running the country, but, given the mess he has created with his Statesman cosplay so far, that may not be an entirely bad thing.

Platinum indifference

I had a vague memory that I had written a post a decade ago to mark the occasion of the Diamond Jubilee; a quick search through the archive confirmed this, though it was a bit less profound than I remembered. I suspect the deep and insightful piece I was thinking of was actually this one, penned on the day Queen Elizabeth II became our longest serving monarch, though again my recall had perhaps exaggerated its intellectual heft.

I thus feel obligated to post something on the subject of the Platinum Jubilee, but, to be honest, I’ve found the whole thing rather underwhelming. I’m not exactly the target audience for the pageantry of the last few days I guess, but it hasn’t even inflamed my republican passions beyond a mild sense of disapproval. While, on an abstract level, my opposition to the institution of the monarchy remains as strong as ever, the concrete reality is that Elizabeth’s longevity has resulted in her becoming personally identified with the role to such a degree that to criticise it feels like giving an old and infirm woman a needlessly hard time.

So, like most of the population, I’ve spent the weekend enjoying the good weather, and trying to forget about everything else that is going on the world. There will be plenty of time for anti-royal agitation when Charles III is on the throne.

Fifteen Years Ago

Second Life Shrink made its debut on May 26th 2007, an exciting time when technology promised a future of unlimited opportunity. The must-have communication gadget was a BlackBerry, all the cool kids were on MySpace, and it was still possible to dream of making a living by blogging.

A decade and a half later, after nearly 700 posts, we’re still going strong, or still going at least. This would seem like a good opportunity to reflect on how the dream of internet liberation degenerated into the post-truth social-media dystopia that we live in today, but that sounds like hard work, so in true SLS slacker style I’ll just do what I did on our fifth and tenth birthdays, and list my favourite posts from the past 5 years:

2017

2018

2019

2020

2021

2022

Perhaps this review will inspire me to post a bit more frequently again; we’ll see. In the meantime I’ll revive a favourite feature that has lain dormant since 2017, the post-title-related music link.

Outlaw government

As the war in Ukraine looks set to grind on through months of attrition, a scenario which, as we’ve previously noted, Vladimir Putin probably won’t be too unhappy with, domestic attention is already turning back towards more local matters. After the revelation last week that Chancellor Rishi Sunak much prefers taxing the poor to paying any himself (not to mention the fact that he has so little faith in the economy he is nominally in charge of that he maintains a personal plan B involving a US Green Card), Westminster has today been shaken by the news that Sunak, and his boss, PM Boris Johnson, have each been fined for attending illegal social gatherings during lockdown.

The liberal press is naturally calling for both to go, though there is a definite air of resignation around the editorials, as if the entreaties are made for the sake of form, rather than in any expectation that Johnson and Sunak will do the decent thing, either of their own volition or at the behest of their party. Mendacity is so baked into our political system that the idea that a Prime Minister who breaks a law that he himself has promulgated, then brazenly lies to Parliament about it, should see these transgressions as a resigning matter seems like an echo of a distant, more honourable past.

In anticipation of today’s events Johnson’s allies have been spreading the message that his misdeeds were of a nature so trivial that he cannot be expected to quit, especially at this time of national and international crisis. This argument might be more plausible if the current administration displayed any signs of competence, but, as shown by their shambolic response to an energy price spike that threatens to plunge millions into poverty, Johnson and his cabinet would probably do the country a favour by spending from now until the next election drinking in the garden of Number 10, well away from the levers of power.

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