It’s that time again: Eurovision!
Every year it disappoints me, yet every year I return. And once more, the Eurovision Song Contest is upon us. For the uninitiated (though I can’t imagine there are that many people unaware of exactly what this affair entails), I have selected some of my favourite Eurovision winners from ABBA to Loreen, both of whom are Swedish, by coincidence I presume. My selection indicate two things: first, that Eurovision had a kind of musical peak between 1974 and 1982; and second, I started watching Eurovision after 1997, and in spite of the overall decline in quality, I keep doing so.
ABBA, “Waterloo” (Sweden, 1974)
Marie Myriam, “L’oiseau and l’enfant” (France, 1977)
Izhar Cohen and the Alphabeta, “A-Ba-Ni-Bi” (Israel, 1978)
Johnny Logan, “What’s Another Year”(Ireland, 1980)
Nicole, “Ein Bisschen Frieden” (Germany, 1982)
I’ve just spent the past hour or maybe two reading through today’s copy of The Times, which while extremely thorough and well-reported but on the balance of things was decidedly glowing. Thus, thoughts inevitably turned to how to make the left critique of Thatcher’s Britain, or indeed Britain’s Thatcher. In The Independent, Owen Jones demonstrated perhaps how not to do it:
Thatcherism was a national catastrophe, and we remain trapped by its consequences. …We are in the midst of the third great economic collapse since the Second World War: all three have taken place since Thatcherism launched its great crusade. This current crisis has roots in the Thatcherite free market experiment, which wiped out much of the country’s industrial base in favour of a deregulated financial sector.
Jones’ critique comes very much from the socialist left, the perspective of the working class, and when he goes onto highlight the loss of skilled industrial jobs, a paucity of decent social housing, and growing income inequality, he isn’t incorrect. These are the consequences of Thatcherism, and those on the right who deem her to be something of a mix of Boudicca and Jesus of Nazareth might do well to recognise that while Thatcherism had its winners, it had its losers too.
Jones’ problem is that his critique of Thatcherism almost exists in a vacuum. He fails to recognise that deindustrialisation in the north of England was somewhat inevitable. He does not which to discuss the negative impact of the power undemocratic, unaccountable trade unions. And, he seems unable to acknowledge that her policies of deregulation, modernisation, and privatisation were a perfectly reasonable response to ten or more years of economic stagnation that had made the United Kingdom a sick man within Europe.
Whatever the Sickly Media Coverage, the Monarchy Remains Important (For Now, Anyway)
News such as a royal pregnancy (or better yet, a wedding!) gives the British an opportunity, as Christopher Hitchens once phrased it, to “bid adieu to every vestige of proportion, modesty, humour, and restraint”. Indeed, as I was pursuing the newsstands one day last week, I could not help but notice and be a little disappointed by the sight of the forced smile of Duke of Cambridge inked onto the front pages of every rag, highbrow and low, accompanied by a feast of flattering headlines.
Full-on royal hysteria – commemorative tea-towels and camping outside Westminster Abbey in the rain – is alien to me and somewhat disappointing to boot. The nine months of inane coverage which will almost certainly follow the Duchess’ joyous announcement – What will they name it? Diana?! Good heavens! – will cheapen the national discourse and will in turn only serve to obscure the important and understated role the monarchy plays in the United Kingdom’s political system.
The UK’s constitution has one great advantage and one obvious flaw: that it is not contained in a single document. Its main defect is that whereas the rights of the individual in the United States are carefully codified in the Constitution, the Bill of Rights, and the subsequent Amendments, in Britain they must be sought in a hodgepodge of parliamentary statutes, legal precedents, and international treaties that have come into effect over the course of nearly a thousand years.
What Ted Kennedy Didn’t Get About Northern Ireland (And What the United States Still Doesn’t Get Today)
“What answer from the North?
One Law, One Land, One Throne!
If England drives us forth
We shall not fall alone.”
— “Ulster 1912”, Rudyard Kipling
Being convinced that Irish self-rule would have been “disastrous to the material well-being of Ulster”, 500,000 men and women signed a covenant and declaration on September 28, 1912, pledging “to stand by one another in defending our cherished position of equal citizenship in the United Kingdom” – “using all means which may be found necessary”. One hundred years later, 30,000 unionists marched through Belfast this weekend past largely without incident, save complaints that one drummer relieved himself on a Catholic Church in the east of the city, an action already condemned by the parade’s organisers. Additional accusations that loyalists ignored proscriptions on the signing of unionist hymns including “The Sash” near St Patrick’s Church are currently being investigated.
That the march passed off as peacefully as it could have is attributable in no small part to the work the United States undertook during the peace process of the 1990s. Lawmakers including President Clinton and Sen. Ted Kennedy were instrumental in aiding Tony Blair and others in forging the Good Friday agreement. This compromise between Ulster unionists and Irish republicans allowed for the formation of the democratically-elected Northern Ireland Assembly and autonomy over a number of policy areas including education, healthcare, and most recently policing and justice. It is no mean feat that the executive branch is headed by a grand coalition led by First Minister Peter Robinson of the Democratic Unionists, and his deputy Martin McGuinness of Sinn Féin.
Yet it was not always that case that U.S. lawmakers held such equitable and peaceful views on the conflict in Northern Ireland. After all, it was Sen. Kennedy who proclaimed in 1971 that the presence of British military forces in Ulster was akin to the American occupation of Indochina. Not only that, but Protestants and unionists in Northern Ireland should, Kennedy believed, be given “a decent opportunity to go back to Britain”, as if fifty percent of Ulster’s inhabitants were but squatters in republican, Catholic territory.
You can tell this was written by Mitt Romney, or possibly a ghostwriter with a fantastic knack for mimicry. The awkward stiltedness of the astonishing boring and banal line, England is just a small island — its roads are and houses are small, bears an uncanny resemble to the queer, benign observations Romney would later make on the stump in Michigan:
I was born and raised here. I love being in Michigan. Everything seems right here. You know, I come back to Michigan; the trees are the right height. The grass is the right color for this time of year, kind of a brownish-greenish sort of thing. It just feels right. I like seeing the lakes. I love the lakes. There’s something very special here. The Great Lakes, but also all the little inland lakes that dot the parts of Michigan.
I can only apologise to Gov. Romney on behalf of the whole nation that our roads and houses are too small for his taste. Unfortunately, not all of us are in a good enough financial position to be able possess four large piles dotted across the United States, including one in La Jolla, Calif., currently being remodeled in order to accommodate a $55,000 car elevator.
You can also tell the words came from Romney’s ivory-embossed pen because his thoughts (or, to put it more accurately, brain farts on the page) are ignorant, vapid, and all above exceptionally uninteresting. It is true that the United Kingdom has moved from a secondary to a tertiary economy in large part, but industry and manufacturing of items people too in fact wish to buy still constitutes 21.4pc of the country’s economic output. Even a cursory glance at the CIA World Factbook, produced by his own government, would have informed him of that.
And on the small matter of the War, Romney should know better than the raise that subject whilst questioning the United Kingdom’s record. After all, the United States did not care enough to enter that sanguinary conflict in any serious way until 1944, leaving it to the Soviet Union and Great Britain as the only two combatant states standing between the ambition of the Nazi regime to conquer Europe entire. His thoughts on this matter — that victory in the Battle of Britain and later on D-Day was purely down to luck and location — rather undermines his professed love of Winston Churchill, whose single greatest achievement was leading his nation during its both its shining and darkest hours.
This oddity on Romney’s part can be extrapolated as to fashion a larger question. These remarks come from Romney’s 2010 book, No Apology: The Case for American Greatness, in which he pushes back a President who Republicans believe has spent a good deal of his first term travelling the world apologising for the United States. One the essential tenets of a Romney foreign policy is the need to stand by friends and allies. And, we know from prior remarks that he believes President Obama has disrespected the United Kingdom and diminished the value of the Special Relationship. In contrast, as one of his advisers so illiterately put it, Romney “feels that the special relationship is special”.
If we believe this to be the case, then why would Romney think it wise to make these crude and ill-educated remarks, in a book written under the explicit knowledge that he was running for the presidency of the United States? Did he not think people would read it? Or does he really believe that his country’s most “special” ally is but a “small island [which] doesn’t make things that people in the rest of the world want to buy”?
The emergence of this extract from No Apology helps to complete the picture of a contender for the presidency absent of tack and guile, deaf to history, and with little to no knowledge of foreign affairs or the art of diplomacy. After the insult that was Sarah Palin, the Republican Party is thumbing its nose at its electorate and its friends once more. Better, then, to do business with President Obama — who whilst cool on Europe maintains cordial relations with David Cameron and Her Majesty — than Gov. Romney who can talk a good game to our face, all the while stabbing us repeatedly in the back at home.