Beware the ides of March

My initial plan for this week’s blog was to raise the question of political leadership. What makes a good political leader? This question has been lurking around in my thinking for some time but was brought out of the shadows by The Guardian reporting that Boris Johnson’s “personal approval rating has surpassed that of Keir Starmer for the first time since last May”. I have no idea how accurately this poll reflects actual public opinion, but I think it very obvious, and deeply frustrating, that Starmer is failing to expose, and bring to the public’s attention, the not insignificant shortcomings of both the incumbent Prime Minister and his government. Surely this cannot be too difficult a task for someone with Starmer’s skills, a barrister with experience of clinically exposing the flaws in other people’s arguments?

That was my plan. But on reading this morning’s news a number of other items have emerged which I find even more disturbing. One is the ‘Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill’ that started its passage through Parliament yesterday. This bill is obviously aimed at groups like Extinction Rebellion. Under its many powers, if passed, police will be able to stop a protest if the noise of this protest will “result in serious disruption to the activities of an organisation” or “on persons in the vicinity”. Really? Can you think of any major protest, a protest that has helped bring about major changes to civil rights or equal opportunities legislation for example, that has not had these results? What exactly is the point of a protest that does not? This is a potentially very serious erosion of a citizens’ right to protest in a democratic state, and must be opposed.

Another was the Metropolitan Police’s reaction to vigils that took place to highlight the violence so frequently perpetrated on women by men, vigils that were a reaction to the sad death of Sarah Everard. Had the officers in charge of policing these events no sensitivity? A serving police officer has been arrested and charged with the kidnap and murder of Sarah Everard, and they respond by forcefully breaking up these totally peaceful events? They allowed a photograph of a police officer pinning a protester to the ground by the neck onto the front pages of the morning papers? Have they no concept of how their response simply appears to endorse male-on-female violence?

Yet another was this morning’s report on the BBC website about how a Post-Brexit UK plans to reshape its foreign policy so that it’s aligned with “the UK’s interests and values”. What are the UK’s interests and values? More to the point, whose interests and values are they? I doubt very much that they are my interests or values, nor any of those of the 48% who voted against our leaving the EU. Or, on a more philosophical point, how can a collective such as the UK have a definitive set of interests and values? Sorry, this is an issue that always sparks a reaction in me. In philosophical jargon it’s termed the problem of collective intentionality. Put very simply, the issue is that because only individual people have things like values it’s very problematic to talk about a collective having them. At best we can talk about the majority view or opinion. At worst it becomes shorthand for the value of those in power who somehow have come to the opinion that they represent the whole population.

This same report went on to suggest that there will be a foreign policy shift of focus towards the Indo-Pacific countries. Please, can someone explain the logic of this? We have been historically and culturally part of Europe for about two thousand years. We have a major market for goods and services right on our door step, one (in terms of international trade) that involves the absolute minimum of travel (and hence the minimum of carbon emissions and financial cost). So instead of aligning ourselves to the EU, an alliance that also provides major security benefits, we choose to shun them and focus on trade with countries on the other side of the globe – countries that we have few cultural or historic links with, countries that alliances with will do little (if anything) to improve our security, and countries that the trade of goods with will involve the maximum amount of carbon emissions! So, someone, anyone, please explain the thinking behind this.

The final nail in the coffin of my morning mood was the line that this review of foreign policy “also paves the way for an increase in nuclear warheads”. What the fuck? So just in case we haven’t got enough to worry about by shunning our close allies and opening up alliances on the other side of the world, and in the process maximising our carbon emissions just so that we can ensure that the rise in global temperatures will make many areas of the Earth uninhabitable (producing massive food shortages and flows of migrants who will be unwelcome in the UK), we also initiate a nuclear arms race so that we can protect our shores from those global citizens who may want some of our food or a place to live! And (nearly finished, honestly) the prime minister leading this government is still more popular than the leader of the opposition? What hope do we have? Yesterday was the Ides of March. Draw your own conclusions.

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