Jacobin, November 2020
From the “rotten boroughs” of the early nineteenth century to the “Cash for Honours” scandal of the 2000s, patronage, nepotism, and grift have always been part of British political culture. But in recent years, the problem of corruption in UK public life seems to have intensified — or, at least, become more visible.
According to journalist Peter Geoghegan, in his best-selling new book, Democracy for Sale, this shift reflects the growing “Americanization” of British politics. Anonymous donors hold sway over the major parties, the Conservatives in particular; dark money has pushed radical fringe agendas into mainstream debate; lies and disinformation are now common currency among Westminster legislators.
Sunday National, November 2020
On Tuesday, American voters will get the chance to end Donald Trump’s planetary death drive. It’s no exaggeration to say that the Trump administration will go down as one of the most environmentally destructive in modern American history. To illustrate the existential stakes of this election, here’s just a partial summary of Trump’s assault on the climate over the past four years.
Since 2016, the US president has ditched, sidelined or diluted at least 100 Obama-era climate reforms. He has opened up the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge in Alaska to fresh drilling initiatives. He has licensed new oil pipeline developments and liquified natural gas terminals. He has gutted the National Environmental Protection Act, which forced the federal government to assess the ecological impact of its policies. He has expanded tax breaks for coal plants, championed fracking, and hobbled the American renewables market. He has muzzled climate scientists and blamed California’s historic wildfires on bad forest management. He has packed the US court system with conservative judges who are instinctively sympathetic to extractive industries. And, of course, he has withdrawn America from the Paris Climate Accords, which aim to limit global warming to no more than 1.5 degrees Celsius by the middle of this century – just enough, in other words, to stave-off something approaching total climactic disaster.
The Herald, October 2020
In 1965, the nationalist government of President Sukarno in Indonesia was toppled in a military coup d’état. Sukarno was a visionary, idiosyncratic leader who, over the preceding 15 years, had struck a precarious balancing act between the country’s ultra-conservative armed forces and its popular and assertive communist party, the PKI. He was also instrumental in establishing the so-called ‘Third World’ movement of left-leaning, non-aligned states that emerged after the Second World War.
But by the start of the 1960s, that act had begun to falter. In the middle of the decade, the generals made their move. With the implicit backing of the United States, the Indonesian army ousted Sukarno and then rapidly set about eliminating their ideological rivals. Over the next 12 months, up to one million Indonesian civilians and suspected PKI members were slaughtered in what was, by any measure, one of the worst instances of organised political violence to have occurred during the 20th-century.
The Washington Post, September 2020
Ten months after Boris Johnson led his Conservative Party to an epic election victory in the United Kingdom, surveys are showing an increase in support for Scottish independence — literally, the break-up of the British state.
Enthusiasm for ending Scotland’s 313-year-old union with England has spiked in the past, notably in the run-up to the 2014 independence referendum, when it looked, briefly, like the Scots were going to vote in favor of leaving the UK. (The final result was 55 percent to 45 percent against.)
Bella Caledonia, August 2020
Nationalists have long believed in the inevitability of Scottish independence; now unionists are beginning to believe in it, too. “It’s over,” one former Better Together figurehead told The Spectator, anonymously, in July. “The horse has bolted.”
The recent string of opinion polls showing, for the first time, sustained majority support for separation has spooked the British political class. Boris Johnson’s panicked sojourns north of the border, and the hastily-arranged decapitation of Jackson Carlaw as Scots Tory leader, suggest unionism is a cause in search of a strategy – a point underlined by the absurd idea, floated last week by the FT’s Sebastian Payne, that Britain’s future rests exclusively on the shoulders of Richard Leonard.
The Herald, August 2020
In Twilight of Democracy, Anne Applebaum charts the fracturing of the Transatlantic right. The book is part-memoir, part-polemic. Over the past 20 years, the conservative movement has split into two factions, Applebaum contends: traditional neoliberals, who believe in free-markets, democratic institutions, and the rule of law, and populists, who thrive on division, confusion, and nationalist paranoia.
Applebaum, a journalist and academic based, variously, in Poland, Britain, and the US, belongs firmly to the first faction. A veteran contributor to the Spectator, Sunday Times, and Washington Post, she has enjoyed ringside access to rightwing elites for decades. Until recently, she was on good terms with Boris Johnson, a man she now describes as an “all-consuming” narcissist with a “penchant for fabrication.” (“Nobody serious wants to leave the EU,” she quotes the future prime minister as saying in 2014. “Business doesn’t want it. The City doesn’t want it. It won’t happen.”) In 2008, she broke with the Republican Party after John McCain added Sarah Palin–“a proto-Trump”–to his presidential ticket. McCain “never spoke to me again,” she writes. In Poland, Applebaum and her husband, the politician Radek Sikorski, have become targets of anti-Semitic propaganda linked to the country’s ruling Law and Justice Party. “Whether I like it or not, I am part of this story,” she laments.
Sunday National, July 2020
Modern Scottish nationalism was born in the pages of the New Left Review, sometime in the mid-1960s.
That’s the bold claim at the heart of Ben Jackson’s excellent new book, which traces the intellectual origins of contemporary nationalist politics through the work of writers like Tom Nairn, Neal Ascherson, George Kerevan, Isobel Lindsay, and my own late dad, Stephen Maxwell.
Al Jazeera, July 2020
The constitutional future of the United Kingdom has never looked less certain.
According to the latest polling data, 54 per cent of Scots want Scotland to become an independent country, compared to 46 per cent who back the Anglo-Scottish Union.
Bella Caledonia, June 2020
Six weeks ago, Boris Johnson dismissed the idea of using spending cuts to pay off Britain’s rapidly-inflating coronavirus debts. “I’ve never particularly liked the term that you just used to describe government economic policy and it will certainly not be part of our approach,” the prime minister told a reporter during a Downing Street press conference on 30 April. “Austerity, by the way, was the term you just used.”
At first glance, the explosion of state expenditure triggered by COVID-19 seems to have been embraced by the Conservative Party. According to the Office for Budget Responsibility, the UK’s deficit will hit 15 per cent of GDP by the end of 2020 and public debt will top 115 per cent by the middle of 2021. These are staggering figures — at the height of the 2008 financial crisis, Britain’s deficit didn’t exceed 11 per cent of GDP.
POLITICO, June 2020
Nicola Sturgeon is having a good crisis — on paper, at least.
According to an Ipsos MORI poll published on May 26, 82 percent of Scots think the Scottish National Party (SNP) leader — who heads up Scotland’s semi-autonomous government in Edinburgh — is handling the coronavirus outbreak well and a further 78 percent believe her administration at Holyrood has made the right decisions over the course of the pandemic.
Bella Caledonia, April 2020
Compared to the sweeping liberal romanticism of Barack Obama and the raw political cynicism of Bill Clinton, Joseph Robinette Biden Jr. is a void. There is simply nothing there. The figure that emerges from Yesterday’s Man — Branko Marcetic’s biting profile of the former senator and vice president, and now presumptive Democratic presidential nominee — doesn’t have a transformative national vision or an eye-catching policy platform or even a particularly interesting personal backstory to sell. At some point in the early 1970s, Biden decided that American elections were won and lost in the dead centre of the ideological spectrum — and that is precisely where he has stayed for the full span of his 50-year political career.
As Marcetic — a staff writer at Jacobin magazine — argues, being a centrist in American politics doesn’t make you a moderate. It just means that you’re prepared to strike legislative compromises with the hard-right, or with uniquely predatory forms of capital, in order to burnish your institutional credentials. Biden has done this time and time again in the US Senate, to the extent that ‘working across the aisle’ in a ‘bipartisan fashion’ is all that meaningfully exists of the 77-year-old’s political identity.