5 things about this week (17 June 2018)

by Stephen Tall on June 17, 2018

I’ve been ignoring all things Brexit. Well, that’s not strictly true; I’m not on Love Island. Eg, I know David Davis threatened to resign (yes, again) over whether the backstop agreement between the UK and the EU over the Northern Irish border is time-limited. I also know that a handful of Tory Remainer rebels threatened to rebel against Theresa May (yes, again) before being shafted agreeing to a compromise that was denied as soon as their votes were in the bag. And so it goes on, and on.

As a pragmatic Remainer, here are my priors on Brexit:
1) it was a stupid decision driven by a number of factors, including racism (a subset of anti-immigration, but a decisive one in such a close vote);
2) it’s officially already made our country poorer, just as predicted;
3) nonetheless, we have to go ahead with it, if only to prevent a future betrayal myth springing up;
4) it’s unlikely it will be a disaster (though, admittedly, Theresa May’s cak-handed approach means we can’t rule that out), most likely we will realise in a few years’ time that quite simply we’ve been diminished;
5) we’ll spend the next few decades gradually opting back into bits of the EU (at great expense) until we end up pretty much where we are now, or perhaps even re-joining.

In short, I see no way of preventing Brexit and don’t think we should try; but the softer it is, the better it will be and the less humiliating it will be for us to reverse. And if my priors are wrong, and Brexit does unleash some hitherto unseen Global British greatness, well we can always go harder later.

I’ve been watching BBC2’s Germaine Bloody Greer, a fascinating, revealing documentary marking the almost half-centenary of The Female Eunuch’s publication. While the images of Greer now (79, unsteadily tramping the woodland at her home) were designed to deliberately contrast with Greer then (31, a smoulderingly vivacious whip-smart intellectual) what it also highlighted was the consistent iconoclasm of her beliefs. She’s not an ‘equality feminist’ if that simply means inheriting equal shares in a man’s world; true female freedom has to be much, much more than that. The film also reminded us why she’s a telly-dream: always caustic, always candid, always interesting, whether talking #MeToo, transgenderism, or pornography. A quite remarkable woman who it seems really doesn’t care what people think of her. We need more of them.

I’ve been listening to Ben Macintyre’s A Spy Among Friends, an entertaining account of Kim Philby’s role as ‘The Third Man’, double-agenting for the Soviet Union. It shows how far you can get with a slice of luck, masses of chutzpah, and the benefit of the doubt which comes from being a clubbable chap who’s “one of us”. Interestingly, Macintyre suggests MI6 engineered Philby’s defection to Moscow, preferring to appear incompetent in letting him escape their clutches than having to deal with the fall-out from his arraignment for spying.

Macintyre does his best to show the consequences of Philby’s treachery; hundreds, perhaps thousands, of people died because of the secrets he betrayed. Yet there’s an inescapable glamour to spying — risky undercover lies in the name of a greater good, your ideology – which somehow elevates this crime above the plainer ‘conspiracy to murder’ reality. Even the terms “treachery” and “betrayal” feel somehow quaint now, rather than the utterly damning insults they once were. Philby’s second wife bluntly asks him once, “Which comes first for you: your family or the Communist Party?” He didn’t hesitate before answering “The Party”. Admirable or chilling? A bit of both, is my honest answer.

I’ve been obsessed by the World Cup. No, I don’t like that it’s being hosted in the autocratic kleptocracy that is Russia; but it’s a festival of football which I find joyous to watch. Of the top 4 teams — Germany, France, Brazil and Spain — so far only France has won (squeaking past Australia). I still wouldn’t bet against them being the final 4, but that they’re being put through their paces is all part of the fun.

One question still puzzles me. In political programmes, we don’t rely solely on ex-MPs to be pundits: journalists and other hangers-on who understand the game, and can analyse it perhaps more dispassionately, are also asked their views. Yet in football, it’s always ex-footballers (with varying levels of coherence). I’m a fan of the introduction of VAR; in part because we now get to hear from referees clearly explaining the real-time thought processes of those interpreting the laws of the game. That addition has brought a new dimension to watching a match. Maybe next they could get some football writers on, like Sky Sports’ always fascinating Sunday Supplement. Why not aim for a plurality of voices?

20180611_113427I’ve been enjoying Father’s Day at what is the beginning of my sixth week of shared parental leave. It’s often seen as a somewhat nouveau interloper — when I was a child, we bought my mum a card and present on Mother’s Day, but only a card for my dad on Father’s Day — though their historical origins are roughly equivalent (according to Metro anyway); both trace their genealogies back centuries before becoming popularised in the US c.1908.

I’m glad we have it; though obviously I have to declare an interest. But society has a long, long way to go before parenting is regarded as an equal shares responsibility between mums and dads. Any nudge in the right direction is welcome. Also I got cake for breakfast.

Anyway, I finish with my favourite photo of the week: my ‘threenager’ being a snail.

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