London Bridge not falling down Ricky Gervais says .. meanwhile what about that UK election on June 8?

Jun 5th, 2017 | By Randall White | Category: In Brief

“Man drinking pint while fleeing terror becomes symbol of London spirit.” Ashitha Nagesh for Metro.co.uk, Sunday 4 Jun 2017 (Picture: Twitter). Also retweeted by Ricky Gervais.

[UPDATED JUNE 9]. We were just watching TV on a Saturday night,  north of the North American Great Lakes. And then CNN, MSNBC, CBC News, CTV News Channel, and most immediately and crucially BBC News only had eyes for :

“6 people dead plus 3 attackers killed in London ‘terrorist incidents’ … ‘Evil, evil people’: Attacks leave many in hospital after van hit and run on London Bridge, market stabbings.”

(Subsequently updated as “Death toll in London ‘terrorist incidents’ rises to 7, police also kill 3 attackers … Dozens remain in hospital, some ‘critical,’ after van hit and run on London Bridge, market stabbings.” Note as well : “Canadian among 7 killed in London attacks … Nearly 50 injured as 3 assailants ram people with van on London bridge and stab others.” And  : “Christine Archibald, Canadian Killed In London Terror Attack, ‘Had Room In Her Heart For Everyone’.”)

My TV watching partner marveled yet again at how aging Canadians resting comfortably on their early 21st century couches can become so quickly connected to tragic (and other) events around the world — via a 60-inch TV and English-language cable news.

And I thought of my grandmother, who moved from London, England to Toronto, Canada very early in the 20th century when she was not quite 20 years old. She returned once to London for an extended visit 10 years later.

Cover of the Illustrated London News from the year before Dr. White’s grandmother moved from London, England to Toronto, Canada.

Then she came back to Toronto and never saw London or any other part of the United Kingdom again. And the random old copies of The Illustrated London News she kept in a magazine rack were nothing like  BBC News, CBC News, CNN, CTV News Channel, and MSNBC TV in 2017. (Just as the ships she crossed the ocean on — three times — were nothing like the airplanes today.)

It seems that in my advancing years one of my ways of trying to keep my grandmother alive —  and my military musical grandfather, and my father, and his sister my aunt, and on and on —  is to read the London Review of Books (not something any of them would ever do, but …).

On the Saturday afternoon before the Saturday evening London Bridge terrorist attacks of June 3, 2017 I had read two almost related articles from the June 1 issue : John Lanchester’s musings on voting strategy for the UK general election this coming Thursday, June 8, in his London riding of Vauxhall ; and Andrew O’Hagan’s review of Mail Men: The Unauthorised Story of the ‘Daily Mail’, the Paper that Divided and Conquered Britain by Adrian Addison.

UPDATE JUNE 9, 2:45 AM ET/NORTH AMERICA : It’s now clear enough that the June 8 UK election result is pretty much what Dr. White earlier called (click on “Read the rest of this page” and/or scroll below) the “worst result from Ms May’s point of view,” which “might (but probably won’t?) see her Conservatives with no more than what we call a minority government in Canada (‘hung parliament’ back in the Mother of Parliaments?).”

Conservative MP Boris Johnson, in earlier incarnation as mayor of London.

With only four of the current 650 seats in parliament still to report, the Conservatives have 315 with 42.4% of the UK-wide popular vote. This is the largest number of seats. But a bare majority is 326. And even if the Conservatives take all four of the remaining unreported seats they still won’t have even a bare majority.

Labour has 261 seats with 40.1% of the vote. The Scottish National Party has 35 seats (and 3.1% of the UK-wide vote, 36.9% of the vote in Scotland). The Liberal Democrats have 12 seats with 7.3% of the vote. The Green Party has 1 seat with 1.6% of the vote. UKIP  has no seats with 1.9% of the UK-wide vote.

The Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) in Northern Ireland has 10 seats, and Sinn Fein 7. Plaid Cymru in Wales has 4 seats. The DUP has apparently indicated that it will support the Conservatives. This would give the Conservatives a bare majority in parliament if they take at least one of the four seats still to report. What has happened may not be the best result for a “hard” Brexit policy over the next while. But this could be a good thing if you don’t support Brexit. Meanwhile, there are many reasons to stay tuned. Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn is a happy man — even if it may not last. And the pro-Brexit Kate Hoey hung on for Labour handily enough in Vauxhall, despite John Lanchester’s protest vote, which did nonetheless increase Liberal Democrat support in the riding by 13.7%!

UPDATE II, 12 NOON ET/NA : So… Theresa May’s Conservatives wound up with 318 seats in the end. Which means she has a slender majority with the addition of the 10 DUP seats from Northern Ireland. She is staying on as PM with this arrangement for now. But who knows how long this will last? In any case, many thanks to the people of the United Kingdom, who have given free and democratic political junkies in other parts of the world something interesting to think about — and offered further qualification to current international theories about the inevitable triumph of extreme right-wing populism!

UK election : the problem with Labour in the parliamentary constituency of Vauxhall

Vauxhall Labour MP Kate Hoey and UKIP icon Nigel Farage cruising down the river Thames during EU referendum campaign. Photo : Ben Stansall/AFP/Getty Images.

John Lanchester’s main problem with PM Theresa May’s surprise election this Thursday (also when James Comey is supposed to be testifying to the Senate Intelligence Committee in Washington) turns around Kate Hoey, the longtime Labour MP for the Vauxhall constituency in the London Borough of Lambeth, where Mr. Lanchester lives.

In the surprising 2016 referendum Ms Hoey was an aggressive “Leave” or “Brexit” supporter — in a London riding that was “the most pro-Remain [or anti-Brexit] place in the UK, with 79 per cent of the population voting to stay in the EU at the June referendum.”

Unlike the great majority of her constituents Kate Hoey “was briefly co-chair of the Labour Leave group, and repeatedly made public appearances alongside Nigel Farage [the UKIP leader and extreme pro-Brexit agitator]. A photo shows the two of them taking part in the idiotic Leave ‘flotilla’ on the Thames not long before the referendum.”

John Lanchester signs copy of his novel Capital for Roberta F. Smith of the Christchurch Libraries in New Zealand — an expert reader of his fiction.

John Lanchester’s circumstances are reflected in a recent Guardian article  : “Lib Dems [ie the Liberal Democrats] target Brexit-backing Labour MP Kate Hoey in Vauxhall … Leaflet merging faces of MP and Nigel Farage distributed by campaigners in south London constituency.”

Lanchester isn’t enthusiastic about the Lib Dems himself. They are “the party that helped the Tories introduce the austerity regime which is still blighting lives seven years on.” But it seems that he is against Brexit much more — and wants the world to know it.

He concludes : “The outcome of the Vauxhall contest in the general election will have no bearing on any of the outstanding problems facing the area.” (A housing crisis, eg, not altogether unlike the one we have in Toronto right now!) But in Vauxhall the election this coming Thursday, June 9 will “give voters who think Brexit is a disaster a chance to let our feelings be known. In that one sense and that sense only, it gives us a lever. I think quite a few of us are going to pull it.”

Andrew O’Hagan on the sins of the Daily Mail (and the charms of his friend Gillian Anderson)

London Bridge terrorists lying stricken on ground, after being shot by police outside the Wheatsheaf pub, with what proved to be hoax-canisters strapped to their chests.

Meanwhile, Andrew O’Hagan’s both amusing and sad review of Adrian Addison’s   Unauthorised Story of the ‘Daily Mail’, the Paper that Divided and Conquered Britain of course stiffens the impression that the recent history which has led to Donald Trump in the USA does indeed have a lot in common with the recent history which has led to Brexit in the UK.

A few examples of Mr. O’Hagan’s prose in this case are constructive. The UK Daily Mail that is so notorious today “wasn’t invented by” its current editor Paul “Dacre but by David English, variously described as the best editor on Fleet Street and the biggest liar since Herodotus. (English once invented a whole interview with Betty Ford and on another occasion pretended to have been in Dallas the day Kennedy was shot.)”

Current Daily Mail editor Paul “Dacre’s spiritual mentor was John Junor of the Sunday Express, a man who thought that men who drink white wine are ‘poofters’ and believed, according to the paper’s literary editor Graham Lord, ‘that Aids was a fair punishment for buggery’. According to a memoir written by Junor’s daughter, Penny, the great editor and columnist bullied his wife and children while proclaiming the family values that made him such a darling of the right.”

Zadie Smith.

Andrew O’Hagan goes on — again voicing grievances not unknown on the other side of the Atlantic Ocean too : “Fleet Street was once a place of genuine human interest. Today, hatred rules. A culture war is taking place in the minds of these editors, not a battle against the bumptious … but against an imagined horde of terrorists aiming to plunge your church into darkness or blow up your Tube carriage [ie subway car] tomorrow. It seems that every successful writer on the Mail has a group they hate, or several groups if they’re really successful.”

All this no doubt also has something to do with the local climates — in London and in Manchester as well — that have contributed to the (now three) recent UK terrorist attacks. And it can be argued that Brexit itself has fanned new flames of terrorism in places like London. Not long after the 2016 referendum Zadie Smith reported on her observations of what was happening in the city she grew up in :

“To the many anecdotal accounts I will add two reported by my Jamaican-born mother. A week before the vote a skinhead ran up to her in Willesden and shouted “Über Alles Deutschland!” in her face … The day after the vote, a lady shopping for linens and towels on the Kilburn High Road stood near my mother and the half-dozen other people originally from other places and announced to no one in particular: ‘Well, you’ll all have to go home now!’”

Andrew O’Hagan chats with Gillian Anderson, somewhere in London, 2014.

Meanwhile, on a welcome less serious note I have just learned something about Andrew O’Hagan I seem not to have noticed until now. And it impresses me almost even more than anything he has written! (Well no that’s not quite true … ) Very briefly he counts the “American-British film, television and theatre actress, activist and writer” Gillian Anderson among his friends.

See, eg, his 2015 account of a vaguely intriguing event celebrating Charles Dickens : “My friend Gillian Anderson (she had asked me to accompany her) … was completely composed by the time the royal couple entered the room … it is Charles’s marriage to Diana that still snaps at his reputation, as if his greatest role so far has …  been … the older man who took a fairytale princess and wrecked a national illusion … Charles sat in an armchair, his wife sat beside him, and the actress read them a few pages of Great Expectations, which they seemed to like well enough. ‘Oh, what fun it is to be read to,’ Prince Charles said at the end. ‘It’s like bedtime.’ … ‘I can tuck you in too, if you like,’ Gillian Anderson said … ‘Yes, please,’ he said. At which point, the smile disappeared from the duchess’s face and they went downstairs to a waiting Land Rover.”

UK election : latest polls and all that?

“Young women react near London Bridge after Saturday's attack, which left seven people dead and dozens injured.” (Dylan Martinez/Reuters.)

Opinion polls have lost much credibility in various places over the past few years. On the other hand, they do seem to have pegged the recent French presidential election closely enough.

The short story on what the polls have been saying about the June 8 UK general election is that early on it looked like a Theresa May Conservative landslide was in the works. (Which is presumably one key reason she called the election?)

More recently, the polls have shown Conservatives and Labour much closer (and the once widely despised Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn has acquired some fresh respect from various quarters).

The Wikipedia article “Opinion polling for the United Kingdom general election, 2017” is instructive here. In April when Prime Minister May announced her intention to “seek a general election to be held on 8 June 2017” an ICM poll in The Guardian had the Conservatives at 46% and Labour at 25%. A YouGov poll in The Times had Conservatives 48% and Labour 24%.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau delivers a statement on the London Bridge terrorist attacks as he takes the stage at the National Press Gallery Dinner in Gatineau, Quebec, Saturday, June 3, 2017. (THE CANADIAN PRESS / Fred Chartrand.)

Now in early June — morning June 5 in fact — the two most recent polls reported on the Wkipedia site put Conservatives at 42% and Labour at 38% (YouGov) and Conservatives at 45% and Labour at 34% (ICM). A Survation poll from this past weekend (though before the London Bridge terrorist attacks) even had Conservatives at 40% and Labour at 39%!).

The most likely result this coming Thursday still seems to have Ms May’s Conservatives forming the government, but possibly with not too much stronger parliamentary representation than before the vote was called. (In which case calling the election looks like a pretty dumb move?)

The worst result from Ms May’s point of view might (but probably won’t?) see her Conservatives with no more than what we call a minority government in Canada (“hung parliament” back in the Mother of Parliaments?) — with some potential alliance between Labour and the Scottish National Party hanging over Tory cabinet heads. (Shades of the recent and still not altogether clear Canadian provincial election in British Columbia?)

At the same time, the polls could be quite misleading again, and Ms May could finally win the more commanding parliamentary majority she has been hoping for — to strengthen her government’s hand in the Brexit negotiations. Stay tuned Thursday night. (And note the polls that count will close in the UK in the mid afternoon eastern time in Canada — and even earlier in the west and on the Pacific coast.)

[UPDATE JUNE 7 : The current Telegraph poll tracker reports that "According to the latest forecast by the University of East Anglia's Chris Hanretty, the Conservatives would still gain a strong majority in Parliament."]

Ricky Gervais on London Bridge attacks : “We’re not reeling. We’re just saying Fuck You!”

A tweet on the London Bridge attacks from the British comedian Ricky Gervais appealed to my particular cluster of prejudices and background noises in another country across the seas : “503 tons of high explosive and 30,000 incendiary bombs were dropped on London during the war. We’re not reeling. We’re just saying Fuck You!”

The tweet was accompanied by a photo of Winston Churchill making his characteristic World War II victory salute. And this may have accounted for some of the negative reaction Mr. Gervais’s social media posting received in some quarters.

For some inside (and outside) the United Kingdom today Winston Spencer Churchill —with his English father and American mother — just personifies the keep-your-chin-up British patriotism that did so much to win the Second World War for a better human future.

For others Churchill was just another western colonizer and imperialist who repressed too many subjects of the old global empire on which the sun never dared to set. And this too is part of the cultural, economic, political, and social climate that is breeding terrorist sentiment inside and outside the United Kingdom (and of course in Australia, Canada, New Zealand, and even the once theoretically anti-imperialist United States!).

I still warm to Ricky Gervais’s reaction myself — and say in my head “Right on Ricky.”

Tks to Jeffrey Levin @jilevin.

But I like to think I also understand that if I had been born somewhere in the old British Raj in South Asia, for instance (or to a UK or Canadian family from some similar place), I might have a somewhat different, more complicated, and less enthusiastic reaction (at least to the photograph of Winston Churchill?).

I certainly think as well that President Trump’s characteristically stupid and mean-spirited criticism of London Mayor Sadiq Khan, in the wake of the London Bridge attacks, just shows how the current US administration has almost nothing helpful to contribute to the global struggle against terrorism in our troubled times.

I of course have even more trouble understanding how advocates of global terrorism can imagine that senselessly murdering innocent people (like me, say) is furthering their cause, in any way at all. To me it is having exactly the opposite effect. In the very end my ultimate considered reaction remains quite a lot like Ricky Gervais’s eloquent “Fuck You.” And may all the people of Mayor Khan’s London today prosper.

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