James Butler


20 June 2019

Ministries of Fear

Fear of a Corbyn government stalks the Tory leadership race. Each candidate has claimed he alone possesses the necessary quality to defeat the red menace: Gove points to his gyrating denunciations at the despatch box; Johnson’s proxies emphasise his anti-politician charisma. The closer a candidate comes to elimination, the more obvious the recourse to fear and the more outlandish the claims made in its service: Sajid Javid, now out of the race, said on Monday that a Corbyn government would put Tories and journalists ‘against the wall’. There is some strategic wisdom to this, since a recent YouGov poll suggests that Corbynphobia is the only animating passion equal to Brexitphilia among Tory party members.


12 June 2019

Democratic Rancour

The race to replace Theresa May as leader of the Conservative Party, and therefore as prime minister, is formally underway. Ten candidates passed the 1922 Committee’s nomination threshold, and now enter a series of ballots of Conservative MPs to whittle them down to two, who will face a ballot of around 100,000 party members with an average age somewhere around 65 (according to the Bow Group’s estimate). The rest of us can do nothing but watch with impotent horror.


4 June 2019

Trump’s Way

Protesting against Donald Trump’s state visit to the UK is, first, an act of elementary political hygiene: a refusal to endorse the British government’s eager servility to the United States, and a rejection of the politics of the president and his various global allies. Trump provokes a curious mixture of fascination and repulsion, however, and the reasons for protest go beyond a rejection of the current US government, to a sense that Trump presages a new and dangerous way of doing politics.



28 May 2019

Unhinged

Peter Mair once observed a curious paradox in European elections: people often use their votes to express their dissatisfaction with the fundamental nature of the European Union, despite that being outside an MEP’s purview – the Union is founded on treaties signed by national governments. Conversely, national governments are often elected to pursue policies that are properly the domain of the European Parliament, and so find themselves unable to deliver on their promises – an effect especially pronounced in the Eurozone’s smaller economies.


22 May 2019

Milkshakes and Other Disagreeable Anointings

The recent spate of milkshake protests against the far right began in Warrington on 2 May. A young Asian man was being harassed by Stephen Yaxley-Lennon (a.k.a. ‘Tommy Robinson’, formerly of the BNP and EDL, now Ukip). As henchmen bristled around him, he defended himself with what came to hand. Yaxley-Lennon got another dousing in Wigan the next day, and Nigel Farage caught a banana and salted caramel coating in Newcastle earlier this week. Various professional hyperventilators have decried the apparent coarsening of British politics and predicted a rapid skate down a slippery slope. But this form of grassroots censure has a long history. George Eliot wrote of Mr Brooke being ‘disagreeably anointed’ under a ‘hail of eggs’ while campaigning in Middlemarch.


15 May 2019

Safe, Solid and Unquestionable

Saturday’s Times carried on its front page a protracted complaint by the headmaster of Stowe School that Oxbridge was actively discriminating against the beneficiaries of private education, and that any complaint about the staggering overrepresentation of the privately educated in every avenue of British life was born of the same reasoning as the Protocols of the Elders of Zion. It was a particularly inept rendition of a favoured right-wing talking point: that any analysis which talks in terms of groups or classes is already merrily chugging along to the gulag, with precious individuality flattened under its wheels.


7 May 2019

Preliminary Squalls

Before the local elections last week, the Conservative Party had said that losing a thousand councillors would be a disaster. In the event, the collapse of the Tory vote was more than three hundred seats worse than that. The wipeout in Chelmsford left the Tory MP, Vicky Ford, in tears; at a gathering of Welsh Conservatives, the prime minister was greeted with active heckling, a rare choice for the Tory grassroots, who generally prefer to dissent in truculent silence. Andrew Mitchell, a former chief whip, was ‘surprised anyone was bothered to vote for us’. At the coming European elections, with the Brexit Party in contention, the faithful remnant may be yet further diminished.


1 May 2019

It wasn’t personal

I remember the Admiral Duncan bombing through the media coverage: footage of fire engines and a policeman with a bloodstained shirt on the Nine O’Clock News that evening; the gouged-out front of the bar in grainy newsprint photos the next day. And I remember thinking: ‘They really hate gay people.’ It’s the kind of awkward thought you have on the cusp of adolescence: ‘they’ is hard to define, but it’s large, out there and armed; and ‘gay people’, you are beginning to sense, however scrupulously you may draw the third-person boundary in speech, includes you.


24 April 2019

Our ruined, lifeless planet

Extinction Rebellion’s strategy, though it appears to break a number of recent activist taboos, echoes the earlier strategy of the Committee of 100, the non-violent direct action group that emerged from the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament under the tutelage of Bertrand Russell.


17 April 2019

Assange and Political Thinking

Assange’s initial info-optimism looks fragile in an age newly sensitive to encroachments into the private realm by states and digital corporations, and when set next to his own sloppiness of redaction and politicised publication choices. The problem has never been just that there is a secret body of knowledge reserved to the state, but that our capacity to interpret and act on it is catastrophically limited. Mere facts do not suggest their own solution. Transparency is not an intrinsic good: the disgorgement of secrets may paralyse as much as catalyse. Only one person was prosecuted because of the video that Wikileaks released under the title Collateral Murder: its leaker, Chelsea Manning.