Why Brexiters need to take Maggie to task

Back in the day

Back in the day

This morning on Twitter, people were sneering at George Soros and David Beckham for coming out in favour of the Remain vote in the UK referendum membership of the EU, as they were ‘part of an elite’. Well actually, Beckham started out as a working-class East London boy and Soros couldn’t attend school in Nazi Hungary in WWII because he was Jewish so nothing was handed to them on a plate. Part of the reason they thrived is because of a free market ideology and the idea that anyone from any background can get on in life.

Here we often refer to such an ideology as ‘Thatcherism’. It has been the defining ideology of our modern times. Free market ideology also goes hand in hand with the idea that people like Beckham and Soros are free to move to and live in other countries as they have done in order to further their lives and their happiness and their career. Much as the forefather of Thatcherism, economist Friedrich Hayek, was (rightly) given citizenship and refuge here in the UK so he didn’t have to go back to the tyranny of Nazi rule under Hitler in Austria.

By the same logic, much has been made of the idea that Eastern Europeans can easily travel here. Again, look to a thing called ‘Thatcherism’. It promotes the idea that communism, as seen in Eastern Europe from the end of WWII to 1989, is the greatest form of tyranny and that what ultimately matters is individual liberty in order to foster economic success.

Admittedly Tony Blair encouraged immigration from the early 2000s in a way that Mrs Thatcher didn’t, possibly because she resigned before the issue of migrant labour in Europe really took off, but broadly speaking, the Polish plumber or the Czech cabbage picker in this country is the natural consequence of Thatcherism taken to the next level, though such people are of course not necessarily right-of-centre in the way Mrs Thatcher was.

By the same logic, much has been made of the idea that we unduly prefer workers from Europe over people from other continents who might be more skilled workers. Again, look to a thing called ‘Thatcherism’, or more specifically, Mrs Thatcher herself. She was reluctant to take in Vietnamese boat people at the start of her premiership because she felt that Eastern Europeans, for example, would assimilate better.

(Personally I am a lefty pinko colour-blind type on this point and I love all my friends of Eastern Europe and other countries without discriminating – but I do perceive that it puts her seriously at odds with certain Eurosceptics who feel they are honouring her legacy.)

By the same logic, much has been made of the idea that workers from other countries are taking away the jobs of British workers. Again, look to a thing called ‘Thatcherism’. It promotes the idea that nobody in life is owed a job and that they have to roll up their sleeves and get on with it if they want to get on in life. Irrespective of their background.

By the same logic, much has been made in this referendum of our industrial decline. Again, look to a thing called ‘Thatcherism’. It promotes the idea that if you raise interest rates high and strangle the money supply and reduce investment in businesses then they will be forced to become more competitive. This is why we ended up with a collapse in manufacturing and mass unemployment in the 1980s and social scars which have possibly never properly healed – not least because the timidity of Mrs Thatcher’s four successors as Prime Minister in challenging her legacy.

By the same logic, much has been made in this referendum of the idea that communities and society as a whole is at breaking point. Again, look to a thing called ‘Thatcherism’. It promotes the idea that there is no such thing as society and that people must look to themselves first.

By the same logic, much has been made of the idea that we have ceded so much power to Europe over the last forty-odd years. Again, look to Mrs Thatcher:

She enthusiastically campaigned for Britain to remain in the European Economic Community in 1975;

She stood on a pro-EEC platform in the 1983 general election when her Labour opponents campaigned to leave – and she won a smashing election victory whilst Labour tumbled to the most disastrous defeat in their history;

She agreed to take us into the Exchange Rate Mechanism in 1990 – a move which ultimately resulted in much rancour and bitterness among Eurosceptics who took up her cause (or thought they were taking up her cause) in the years that followed her resignation;

Most pertinently of all, she signed the Single European Act in 1986, a move which codified European Political Cooperation and therefore hastened the arrival of the European Union itself.

Obvious questions then:

Why are the chief proponents of the campaign to take Britain out the EU, Nigel Farage and Boris Johnson, attacking Europe so much instead of concentrating on how Thatcherism has got us to where we are now?

Are they scared to attack Mrs Thatcher because they can’t reconcile their admiration for her with these points and because it wouldn’t look patriotic?

Why are they banging on about lack of democracy and Europe bossing us around when Mrs Thatcher set us on the way to where we are now by winning three elections and then going about doing what she wanted, not what her counterparts on the continent were doing?

If the whole idea of Brexit is that our nation’s history and heritage is so important, why are we being so wilfully blind about a path in recent history which we have chosen ourselves?

If what has happened to our society owes so much to Thatcherism, who – especially in the Brexit camp (though, to their credit, not principled consistent left-wing patriotic Eurosceptics) – is going to have the balls to stand up and say that as the system that has prevailed since 1979, that it is in so many ways what they are complaining about?

If they are complaining about the natural consequences of Thatcherism, why are they exclusively blaming Europe and not Mrs Thatcher and those who followed in her path?

If Nigel and Boris and co can’t actually come up with a decent positive alternative to Thatcherism other than blaming Europe and others for everything that goes wrong, how are we expected to positively thrive as a nation?

This has been a bitter referendum, but it seems to boil down to two choices. Vote for trying to be nice to one another in the wider world and share and solve our problems together. Or vote for pretending your history didn’t happen and pressing fruit machine buttons in the hope the three cherries will come up.

I prefer the former.

And in case you think I’m a fence-sitter, on the issue of championing individual liberty, I think Mrs Thatcher in many respects had a point. Like her or hate her – we are dangerously playing with fire if we pretend her legacy doesn’t matter.

 

Still frothing over Trapped: the wonderful Andri-Hinrika dynamic

We’ve been increasingly drawn to the plays of Anton Chekhov in the last week or so, possibly because they are so naturalistic and unprepossessing (yet so beguiling). More than a century after they were written, they still make their mark as they are such a counterpoint to all the more obvious ‘classical’ drama that came in the centuries before.

Could it be, we wonder, that our simultaneous fascination with Trapped stems from the fact that is the Chekhov of Nordic Noir compared to the Shakespearean tomes that are The Bridge, Borgen and 1864? It has plenty going on (certainly a greater body count than in Chekhov’s plays) but in purely relative Nordic Noir terms, it’s not grand drama with grand set pieces, and there aren’t any obvious characters with all-too observable Shakespearean tragic flaws in the same way that there are in other Nordic Noir dramas. The world of Trapped is rather more shaded and restrained in terms of dramatic denouement.

And yet somehow Trapped has upped the ante for Nordic Noir in terms of an intangible ‘big things from a small country’ artistic equation. Few could quite believe that Denmark, with a population of less than six million, could produce such compelling television drama for the 21st century. Now we have to mentally readjust to ask how Iceland, a country with a population smaller than the London Borough of Croydon, can produce something which takes the very idea of Nordic Noir to new levels – or puts it in a completely new cultural and geographic place.

We already offered five reasons why Trapped hit the bullseye in terms of viewing pleasure. We don’t even know where to start in terms of offering more reasons, but one has to be the wonderful Andri-Hinrika dynamic.

The quiet, subtle emergence of the Andri-Hinrika double act – or, indeed, the subtle emergence of Hinrika as a strong character in her own right, over the course of several episodes, is a key component of the show. As strong as The Bridge and The Killing were, there was a very obvious cop double-act identified and put in place very early on in the proceedings, with the emphasis on the female lead. But look what happens in Trapped. Initially, we become used to the idea that the burly, brooding Andri is ostensibly in charge of the whole shebang of sorting out the multiple whodunnits in the remote Icelandic fjörd town where the action takes place. How can he not be in charge when he’s chief of police?

But then we notice that undemonstrative, stoical, scrutinising-yet-motherly female figure deftly going about another questioning, putting another piece of the jigsaw in place, and boldly confronting one of the numerous villains of the piece at the climax of the series. Perhaps one of the small yet vital components of dramatic genius within Trapped is that Hinrika nearly always wears uniform and Andri doesn’t (again, completely unlike what has come before in Nordic Noir double-acts); it raises questions as to who is actually the more discerning and palpable police figure, especially given Andri’s chequered history in the police force prior to moving from Reykjavìk to this rural backwater.

Hinrika is not an obvious ‘strong female lead’ in the same way that Saga is in The Bridge and Sarah Lund is in The Killing, but then in her own way she is challenging what ‘strong female lead’ means in Nordic Noir to start off with. With our conception blurred as to whether Andri or Hinrika is truly in charge of the case, and with so many people guilty of breaking the law come the end of the show, this is perhaps not as much as a ‘whodunnit’ as a ‘who solved it’. Maybe the comparison between Trapped and Chekhov is only valid up to a point; unlike the angsty eponymous characters in The Three Sisters, the woebegone Masha and Nina in The Seagull, and the put-upon Sonia in Uncle Vania, Hinrika is implacable and gets things done.

Cometh the hour, cometh the deceptively formidable lady in the furry police hat - Hinrika, as played by Ilmur Kristjánsdóttir

Cometh the hour, cometh the deceptively formidable lady in the furry police hat – Hinrika, as played by Ilmur Kristjánsdóttir

 

Reality check on UK ‘Tory war’ over Europe

Just a quick word from our homeland on the rubbish that the Conservatives are supposedly ‘tearing themselves apart’, ‘imploding’ or ‘falling apart’ over the issue of the EU referendum on June 23rd. That’s not the case until the opposition Labour party, or anyone else, looks as if they are in a position to benefit. The Labour leader, Jeremy Corbyn, appears to be backing continued EU membership simply because he wouldn’t be able to get away with presiding over a party of largely pro-EU MPs and not backing it. The Labour figures most likely to make a strong case for staying in the EU are ex-Prime Ministers who are no longer in Parliament, Tony Blair and Gordon Brown (which doesn’t say a lot at the moment for those pro-EU Labour MPs that are in Parliament, with the possible exception of former Home Secretary Alan Johnson).

To all intents and purposes, the referendum is a de facto Conservative party leadership contest between Prime Minister David Cameron (pictured below) and London Mayor Boris Johnson, both of whom are on opposite sides of the debate. But the Conservatives will still be in power come June 24th (unforeseen disasters notwithstanding) – and they’ll probably rally around the figurehead who has prevailed in the election. Because that kind of pragmatism is what Conservatives do well. The weird thing is that although there is clearly a lot of in-fighting taking place in the Conservative party, it only underlines how much their opponents are – for now – in the wilderness.

David Cameron

 

Danish hygge in 2016 – or putting things in perspective

There has been a lot of stuff about Danish hygge floating around in the Anglophone media in the last six months. Here, for example. And here. And here. Nothing wrong with that: the idea of cosiness and happiness is a key metric in assessing the quality of one’s life.

What has bothered me more is that many of the articles reporting on hygge, and how Denmark is one of the happiest countries, if not the happiest country, in the world, don’t appear to take into account stuff like this. And this. And this. And a lot of this was on the cards after last June’s election – or even before it, when a victory for the right bloc (and the very aggressive right-wing politics it was propounding) was a strong possibility.

No-one would suggest that Denmark is all about seizing assets from refugees, placing ads in foreign newspapers telling refugees not to come to Denmark etc. But clearly by the same token it’s not all about eating home-made cinnamon pastries and curling up underneath duvets either (certainly not at this moment in time). Without wishing to sound churlish, some journalism that put things into perspective and attempted to reconcile the two strands wouldn’t go amiss either – maybe as Patrick Kingsley did a few years ago. There’s nothing wrong with being kind to yourself but surely one has to wonder why Danish politicians (who got their jobs because people voted for them*) have not exactly displayed the milk of human kindness in profuse proportions to others (and whether metrics projecting Denmark as one of the happiest countries in the world are inviolable). Some might say that we don’t sound very Scandifriendly on this occasion – but concerned Scandifriendliness and Scandifawnery seem to be two very different entities. There, we’ve probably burned our Øresund bridges now.

* to make it doubly clear, the one thing we don’t dispute is that the right bloc is back in power in Denmark because people voted for them. That’s how democracy operates, and the collective left failed to make a better case for election last June even if the departing Prime Minister was still by some margin head of the biggest party. What we do dispute is whether the policies pursued by the new government are an unambiguous sign that Denmark is a very happy country in the way that some people make it out to be.

Getting immersed in Trapped – the five good reasons why

The protracted absence of any blogging activity here shouldn’t be seen as a dwindling of our interest in Scandinavian matters. Too much to blog about and too little time – same old fiendish equation. Somehow we seem to have had a window of opportunity presented (or framed?) our way so we are going to jump through it. Five reasons to get immersed in Trapped, the Icelandic detective series currently airing on BBC4 in the UK.

1. It’s not really a detective series. Chinese investors looking to bring a brand new spanking port to a remote Icelandic fjörd town. Brutal wife-beating mayors getting their comeuppance. Old, sage-like figures warning of disaster and then invoking it when they misguidedly attempt to stop an avalanche. Families cleaved apart by a distressing death and then brought together by the realisation that the chief suspect isn’t the perpetrator. It’s all a bit..well, it’s all a bit like a modern Icelandic saga. Especially because the fact everyone is trapped by the snow intensifies the feeling of what you might call communal remoteness (or remote communality?)

2. Protagonist Andri isn’t really a classic Nordic Noir detective. He doesn’t have any of the ‘superwoman with baggage’ characteristics of Saga Norén or Sarah Lund (admittedly because he’s not a woman in the first place, but you know what we mean). He doesn’t have any of the ‘lieutenant superman with baggage too’ characteristics of Henrik in Series Three of The Bridge. He isn’t an alcoholic like Wallander. He’s just very ursine and (a bit) cuddly, terse, weary and unobtrusive. He’s paralysingly normal by any Scandi sleuth standards. And that’s actually quite endearing. He’s the bloke next door in the town where everyone’s got something to hide behind their door (except maybe Andri).

An Everyman amid the skeleton-filled cupboards: police detective Andri Ólafsson, as played by Ólafur Darri Ólafsson

An Everyman amid the skeleton-filled cupboards: police detective Andri Ólafsson, as played by Ólafur Darri Ólafsson

3. The low-key stuff. A lot of the best scenes aren’t obviously about anything in the grander scheme of things yet they matter all the more. Hjörtur, the character suspected of the murder of Andri’s former sister-in-law, stands out as the awkward social hermit in the town, savagely burned by the fire which killed his partner seven years previously, and with no obvious allies to hand (and his former partner’s father clearly an enemy). The scene where Hjörtur goes to a pool party and summons up the confidence to shed some clothes and jump in the pool (and potentially rediscover love) is very understated, but it’s very poignant and rewarding as well.

Seeking a way back into society: Hjörtur, as played by Baltasar Breki Sampar

Seeking a way back into society: Hjörtur, as played by Baltasar Breki Samper

4. The fact so much of the action takes place in just once place. No buzzing back and forth over the Öresund Bridge. No jet-setting like the Arne Dahl crew to Italy or the Baltics. When so much detail rests less on the big geopolitical picture and more on which snowman might be outside which house (and serve to blow the cover of two hapless trafficked girls looking to escape their ruthless trafficker), you’re forced to concentrate on the detail.

5. It’s all about Total Trappedness. Trapped by the snow. Trapped in a house where you dare not expose your cover (see above). Trapped on a ferry until the police say otherwise. Trapped by the cold until the shady ferry captain turns the heat on. Trapped in unhappy marriages. Trapped by society’s perceived norms until you find a way to break free or accept society for what it is (see Hjörtur above). Trapped by the social conventions where you’re expected to make an effort with your ex-wife’s partner for the sake of the family (as Andri is, or appears to be). Trapped by the prospect of an avalanche. Trapped by the actual avalanche which probably didn’t have anything to do with the prospect of the avalanche. Trapped by remoteness which requires you to let foreign investors do their bidding in order to potentially secure the livelihood of the town. To coin another phrase, we’re all entrappened in this one.

Norway four years on: finding new ways of expressing solidarity

As is the case every year, our hearts and thoughts go out to all those in Norway commemorating the fourth anniversary of the terrorist attacks on the country tomorrow.

As the truly terrible events of July 22nd 2011 recede further into the distance in terms of a pure timeline, they continue to resonate globally: especially as the issues of global security, migration, terrorism and European unity become more fraught and critical. Yet no amount of deliberating over geopolitical considerations can ever dilute the human element of those events four years ago. It was human beings who suffered; it was human beings who were unduly robbed of life in an attack both unprecedented and shocking in its scale as far as Norway (and indeed Scandinavia, if not post-war Europe) was concerned.

Tomorrow sees the opening of a new July 22nd exhibition centre in a government building in Oslo, which includes parts of the car bomb used in the initial attack on Oslo and artefacts retrieved from Utøya following the subsequent attacks on the that island. It seems only fair and objective to point out that the Norwegian newspaper Aftenposten has claimed that the exhibition has divided opinion. According to the newspaper, some feel it is simply giving undue attention and publicity to those who perpetrate such attacks, whereas others feel that actual information about the events is the best way of countering extremism and hatred.

We incline towards the latter view ourselves (having found that a day at Auschwitz in 1995 was not nearly enough to try and register the scale of the horrific events that befell Europe more than 70 years ago), but we would reiterate, as we have done in previous years, that Norway has set an extraordinary example to the rest of the world in the way it has gone about dealing with these events. To our eyes at least, it seems nothing short of the profoundest dignity and stoicism. We feel it more imperative than ever to offer our annual gesture of support and best wishes to those in Norway (and indeed across the world) carrying out their own memorial services and acts tomorrow. The country’s response to those events remains an ongoing one: by registering this, we hope we express new forms of solidarity in the process.

The website of the Norwegian Workers’ Youth League (Arbeidernes Ungdomsfylkning) gives information (in Norwegian) on how you can donate money to the ongoing project to rebuild facilities on Utøya or actively participate in related work taking place on the island (although note that, as of July 2015, there is no international PayPal donation facility available: this doesn’t stop you making an international bank payment). Otherwise, as always, we would recommend the Norwegian Refugee Council as an organisation that provides invaluable humanitarian aid to refugees and displaced persons worldwide. Technically, it is not directly connected to the events of Oslo and Utøya: morally, for us, it has always seemed an ideal gesture of solidarity with Norway and a way of honouring the country’s ongoing commitment to freedom, democracy and tolerance (which resonated long before July 22nd 2011 and which continues to resonate in defiant and timeless fashion). We would urge you to give; a donation via PayPal is available in this instance.

Thirty years ago: Beckermania and a rude then arid Anders Järryd

It’s almost exactly thirty years since Boris Becker became the youngest player to win the men’s singles title at Wimbledon. Having been in my final year of primary school at the time (and in my final days of childhood in London as we prepared to move to Somerset) I still have a pretty heady cocktail of memories of that time. We were shunting our worldly possessions down the much-feted M3/A303 route from the capital to South-West England every weekend, and we were relying on a decidedly dated black-and-white television to heroically summon up coverage from SW19 when in Somerset – if we weren’t making use of the radio in our Volkswagen camper van to follow Becker’s irresistible rise into the fame and fortune honeypot.

He knew we were in the Volkswagen listening

He knew we were in the Volkswagen listening

Irresistible is certainly how it felt at the time: like a few other Wimbledons since (in particular, Andre Agassi’s title triumph in 1992 and Roger Federer’s second title in 2004), there was a sense even at the time that Becker was completely dictating the narrative of the fortnight and therefore destined to win. Like just about everyone else in modern times, however, he actually had to win the seven matches to get there first, and this wasn’t some unimpeachable formality: it was probably the exact opposite when he twice had to break Joachim Nyström to stay in his third-round encounter and then made the walk to the net when injured (and therefore apparently ready to retire) in the next round against Tim Mayotte (Becker’s manager and coach both shouted and exhorted him to carry on; they got their way and Becker got his victory).

On a note of exacting Scandiness, one thing that stands from a distance is my memory of how the commentariat and purveyors of punditry on the BBC pronounced the name of Becker’s Swedish semi-final opponent, who again had Becker in trouble before failing to convert some points for a two-set lead and then coming out far less inspired after a rain-break took the match into the final Saturday. Anders Järryd was (I am convinced) Anders Yah-RUDE as far as they were concerned. In years to come, the RUDEness subsided and instead a rather flat aridity came to the fore as Yar-RUDE became YARID.

Why the change? I pondered this at the time, and then realised this week (for the first time ever) that in any case there is an omljod/umlaut/double dot/call it what you will over the a in Järryd. So therefore it seems to me that JAIR-ryd (not quite rude and not quite rid) is the optimum pronunciation, at least if around 1:10 on this YouTube clip is anything to go by.

My fetishistic desire for complete verbal and oral perfection when essaying accents notwithstanding (we know we’re culpable on this blog a lot of the time, so we don’t push the matter), what stands out looking at some old footage of the 1985 final between Becker and Kevin Curren is how restrained the crowd are at match point for Boris (see from about 2:49:00 onwards here). Key matches at Wimbledon nowadays seem to unfold in a permanent cauldron of noise, articulated spectator nerves and emoting (not that this is a bad thing; it has heightened the raw and sharp immediacy of proceedings). Certainly when we are fortunate (as we have been over the last decade or so) to have a succession of frankly absorbing and see-sawing confrontations at all levels in the men’s game, it rather deftly complements the niceties of whether you say Jar-RUDE or JARID or, in actual fact, neither.

Järryd for his part was a fine player, one of the last of the (now almost extinct) brigade to excel in both singles and doubles. In spite of that semi-final loss to Becker, he was in peak form in 1985, reaching a career-high number 5 in the singles list and number 1 in the doubles rankings. He won eight Grand Slam doubles titles in his career, three of them with Stefan Edberg, who may well resume his modern rivalry with Boris Becker, in a coaching format at least, should they respectively guide Roger Federer and Novak Djokovic to the men’s final on Sunday week. (Or Novak Đoković if you’re purist to a fault or double fault about that kind of thing.)

Not forever defined by Becker and the rain: Anders Järryd cutting a dash at Wimbledon 2011, where he got to the senior men's doubles final with Jeremy Bates

Not forever defined by Becker and the rain: Anders Järryd cutting a dash at Wimbledon 2011, where he got to the senior men’s doubles final with Jeremy Bates