It’s the waiting that that’s the hardest part. Stuck in this foxhole — actually a pub in Moorgate — waiting for the hammer to come down.
“Think we’ll see Christmas, sir?” (Sound of harmonica, and some godawful album of the month).
“Some of us will, Carruthers.”
“I got this girl — I’d like to see her again.”
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“We say ‘woman’ now, Carruthers, don’t make me send you for sensitivity training.”
“Gawd no, sir not that, I’d rather go up against the Black Bloc …” “What was that?!”
“Just an overwarmed brioche going off, Carruthers.”
“It’s the waiting sir, it’s the waiting …”
Today, as Obama touched down — at Stansted airport of all places, the enormous hangar in Essex, home of countless Ryanair Prague stag nights excursions — and Nyikyolas Syeer-ko-Si threatened to storm out if the meeting did not agree to a regime of strong re-regulation, the anarchists et al gathered in a variety of social centres in Whitechapel and Shoreditch, in the inner east-end of London, ahead of taking the field tomorrow.
The Guardian, bless its fairtrade cotton sox, wrote of various crusties setting up “conversion” centre — having obviously misheard (and never heard) the term “convergence”. They filled out an Italian-style “social centre” that’s been running in Whitechapel, for years, and squatted a disused pub in Shoreditch, which used to be the local of the New Statesman — though rarely visited, since it was a sad lunchtime strip joint, catering for — god knows who. By the 90s, Shoreditch was all squats, early gentrification, and “Young British Artists” of the Damien Hirst/Tracey Emin type.
In each case, the police sealed off both ends of the street pretty quickly, and were checking Ids. The free London evening papers (Crapwaste and Train Filthifier, I think they’re called) had detailed maps of protest actions like it was a free day to take the kids to — which for many old punks, trying to save the hair they used to shave, it will be. Ian Bone, the 60-something founder of Class War, the most fearsome of 80s radical groups, — whose approach to gentrification was to beat up yuppie housebuyers — was on every network in his oop north cap and scarf, the subscript “Ian Bone, revolutionary anarchist” labelling as if he were a birdwatcher talking about the first tit of Spring. Very British. “Got kids, sir?” “You’d have to ask my wife, Carruthers.”
Meanwhile, while the anarchists were setting up self-managing multizonal spaces with free kitchens and sound systems going off, Kevin Rudd was at St Paul’s Cathedral, talking about the global economy with Gordon Brown.
Your correspondent wasn’t there — thank God — and web reports of the gig say that Brown did his usual act, which was to quote Adam Smith’s Theory of Moral Sentiments (his earlier, funnier book in which he pointed out that unless you cultivated a populace’s ingrained orientation to moral, communal existence, then you had no society to speak of), against the notion that The Wealth of Nations was all you needed to keep things running.
“Markets create values, but you can’t have a market without values” is his oft-repeated mantra. Rudd, by all accounts, said a variety of utterly unremarkable things which filled in the detail of Brown’s remarks, like a good public servant. He then went to a Westminster Abbey service for the bushfire victims, organised by Kathy Lette*, whose publicity — with its endorsements from the Kangaristocracy, down to poor old Jason Donovan — conformed to the British idea that you haven’t actually had an experience until a celebrity has it for you — and which was so boring, so devoid of a rawer Australian spark, some sort of witnessing, that God help me I left after 15 minutes.
History will show that one of Kevin Rudd’s signal achievements was to make Gordon Brown look like a dynamic and interesting figure. Both have been called nerds, but that’s an Americanism. Brown is a trainspotter, Rudd is a dag, and the dag won. His boringness underwhelmed London and in the age of Brown that’s saying something.
Is Planet Janet even in London? It would seem so from her blog, and I have searched in the crowd for that distinctive, amateur-theatre-production-of-Cabaret sartorial look, Joel-Gray-meets-a-Northcote-dragking-evening, but I have not yet seen her passing by. I only ask because The Australian’s coverage seems to be being conducted entirely from a bunker in Strawberry Hill. Christian Kerr’s blog, for example, tells us that “the mood in London is angry”. How would he know, ask the first half-dozen commenters, at which point he confesses forlornly:
“It might be spring in Britain but it’s all deep, dark winter doom and gloom in all the British media as far as I can see – and all because of the economy.”
Memo to the Oz: if you’re going to get someone to spout off from half-a-world-away, choose someone who occasionally leaves the country, and can read between the lines.
Look, the simple truth is that the Brits don’t do angry. The French kidnap their bosses, the Greeks tear up the whole city, the Brits … make jokes. The dominant style in UK politics follows the dominant style in UK theatre which is pantomime, and everything, from the apoplectically insane Daily Mail through the Sun (Viz magazine writ large) to Private-Eye-in-exile, is playing one role or another, whether it’s Captain Hook or Widow Twankey. The dominant demand of tomorrow’s “four horsemen” protest is that the Bank of England be turned into a brothel to raise the tone of the place, and lessen its effect on property values.
The “panto” theory is the only explanation, aside from raw class prejudice, I can offer.
Mind you, one mob who have taken the panto seriously are the University of East London, who have locked out a counter-summit which was to take place over tomorrow afternoon on the campus. Nothing remotely civil disobedient was associated with the gathering – it was to be purely a series of discussions and lectures. The University has used the excuse of the involvement of lecturer Chris (K)night, to ban the gathering on “public safety” grounds — but it’s obviously been knocked on the head by the Labour machine, with the threat of grant with-holding, etc etc. It’s not enough that they have to turn Docklands into a restricted area, with residents having to produce two forms of ID to get to their houses. Every alternative has to be knocked on the head, because what new Labour are offering is so desperate and thin that it won’t withstand the scrutiny of comparison.
Sarkozy’s threat to go off in a huff (or un uffe) is obviously a double-team thing with Angela Merkel, who has been making all these noises about this being the “end of anglo-saxon capitalism”. Etc etc. My God what payback this is — and who can blame them. Anyone who’s read the Economist for the last five years will be wearied of stories about the anaemic sickness of continental Europe, heavy state spending, blah blah, compared to the dynamic and fluid naature of the Anglo-American model.
Well, the Aanglo-American model is now on an IV drip, and the European model is looking a whole lot better to a whole lot of people. And the greatest survivor of all of this, a country that’s not even at G20 is … drum roll, the envelope please, yes, it’s Sweden.
Some people may have doubted this, when they heard that last month that Saab was in bankruptcy. But the way it was treated was evidence of the health of the Swedish economy — it doesn’t need to bail-out one company, because the system itself is solid (and it has three other viable vehicle manufacturers). So Saab — a victim of familial trading down across the world — can go under, and the system survives. GM? RBS? Not so much. Yes, Sweden is still under threat, especially from its financial overexposure in the Baltic region — but Scandinavia is in a much better situation than just about anywhere, and that is probably something worth paying attention to. We did in Australia for a few years — then we decided that we could survive on a mixture of raw materials sales and shampooing each others’ dogs, and that’s pretty much where we are now — the Lucky Country taken not as warning, but as policy.
But nothing inside the conference will be as progressive and far-reaching as what is being said outside the conference. Forget the easy anger against greedy financiers — an anger that the global elite have fuelled to get themselves off the hook — the one message that the drums and fists will be banging out tomorrow, is that humanity is larger than the market, and life is bigger than the ideological obsessions of the nerds/trainspotters/dags who became leaders, and attach themselves to every passing parade. There will be terrible reversals in the future, there may be revivals of the worst sort of market fundamentalism, but there is now simply no alternative but either a post-capitalist democratic order, or global failure. Not tomorrow, not in a decade, but sooner than we thought two years ago. Two months ago.
In this respect, Obama is the swing point. Gordon Brown is Ramsay MacDonald de nos jours (ironic since his thesis was on James Maxton, Macdonald’s nemesis, who uttered the killing line during the latter’s final speech ‘sit down man sit down you’re a bloody tragedy’). And Rudd is nothing — he’ll end his days as a male hooker in Cottesloe Perth, pleasuring rich, ugly women on a one-a-day Cialis regime. The Europeans, meanwhile, are playing to their own electorates, defined around anti-Anglo ressentiment.
But Obama still means something, a point between the old world and the new, where interesting things might happen. It is entirely unrelated to this of course that he is no dag, a Hawaiian dope-smoking communist-tutored black liberationist Chicago guy who just happened to be a professor of law and Senator, the sort of dude that Rudd and Albrechtsen alike looked on with seething whitebait envy and redoubled their efforts on Chinese characters and property law, for the time when they would be the laww.
And now what? And now what? The dude runs the joint, in the company of other dudes — Lula from Brazil, the rest of Latin America, a UK politics where the Tories are greener than Labour, a Europe where the right dont dare tamper with the welfare state, and on and on – in the left’s long history of masochism a time-out is worthwhile. We run the joint. Disputes are among a shared perspective. The right in its late 2othc form is dead. Home for Christmas? It already is? And biffo and broken glass tomorrow? What more could one want?
*My God, she must have been straining every muscle to leave the puns at home – ‘talk about your hot flush darling, it was clearly a case of pre-monsoonal tension, I mean I sympathise with anyone who’s had a big dry, or the early 90s as I call it, if they want to clear the undergrowth they should talk to my waxer, the last time I was there, I got a Paraguayan – it’s like a Brazilian but goes deeper in, swear to God one more tug and we’re talking hysterectomy. Good evening archbishop…..’