The Union in Revolutionary Times

There may never be a United Ireland. But, equally, there could be one very soon. Historical inevitability is a fallacy best left to ageing Marxist university lecturers. So ubiquitous is forecasting the fate of Northern Ireland through the glacial process of demographic change, we forget that in revolutionary times, previously robust assumptions can crumble in a day. The night the Berlin Wall was accidentally opened, a panel discussion on West German TV discussed the stunning events of the previous hours … Read more

The Opioids of the People

The United States government has launched a new anti-opioid campaign featuring true stories of people so desperate that they inflicted gruesome injuries on themselves to get another prescription. Such stories have already been more effectively told in poetry. The epidemic’s most searing skald is William Brewer, a son of Oceana, West Virginia, a post-industrial town so gripped by addiction that it is nicknamed Oxyana. We were so hungry; Tom’s hand on the table looked like warm bread. I crushed it … Read more

Presbyterians, Salvation, and God

We cremated my friend James on the freakishly warm Friday before St Patrick’s Day, between the two bouts of even freakier snow. We did this after a celebration of the Supper of the Lord Jesus Christ who was his Saviour and the anchor of his life. The daffodils bobbed in the sunshine as we took his coffin through the traffic from the church in the shadow of St Paul’s Cathedral to the crematorium in East Finchley, his terminus ad quem … Read more

Meet the Box-Setts: the Demographic that Will Decide Britain’s Future

David Box gives his partner Seema Sett the dorky, Mr Bean-ish look, with the back of his tongue poking out of his gob that he knows always makes her smile when she’s had a rough day. The kids are asleep and they’re in bed too, sprawled on top of the duvet. The tablet is streaming one of their favourite series: Babylon 5. Season 2, the episode where the Technomages first appear. Pure nostalgia for their student days. They’re both a … Read more

Who Benefits from the Collapse of Power Sharing?

We’re unlikely to know for a long time exactly why talks on restoring devolved government collapsed in such spectacular fashion last week. It’s always worth asking, in those circumstances, ‘cui bono?’ A long-term collapse in devolved arrangements, and a return to Direct Rule, whether or not it is acknowledged as such, would seem at first blush to benefit the DUP, at least in the short term. It also represents a significant shift in power within the DUP, away from Foster … Read more

PM Tess and Good Queen Bess

Theresa May has made much of being a vicar’s daughter in seeking to build her image. Less remarked on is that she is from a particular sub-tradition within the Church of England, and so deeply formed by it that its particular take on English history will shape how she sees the UK’s relationship with mainland Europe. In thinking about Brexit, she must inevitably perceive echoes of the last time England was so bitterly riven about its identity and destiny, in … Read more

#Brexit: the DUP and the Risks of Not Passing Go

The DUP torpedoed today’s sensible UK-EU compromise deal on the border because, according to an Arlene Foster tweet, the party could not accept any deal which separates Northern Ireland politically from the rest of the UK. This will come as a great surprise to campaigners for marriage equality, liberalisation of the abortion laws, and comprehensive education. There is no great Unionist point of principle against the terms of what was on the table in Brussels earlier today, except on the … Read more

Winds of Political Change Gather in South Africa’s Unromantic Flatland

The borough of Metsimaholo is never going to make it into South African Tourism’s snazzy YouTube ads. It is anchored by the town of Sasolburg, named after the energy company that built it in the 1950s as a staff town for a synthetic oil plant complex. The complex still dominates the area to the extent that its cooling towers are the logo of the municipality. It’s a workaday place of around 150,000 people, at the very southern fringe of the … Read more

What the Immigration Proposal Leak Tells Us

Whoever leaked the government’s outline plans for post-Brexit immigration arrangements yesterday has told us one thing – that the infighting at the top ranks of the Conservative Party is vicious and will be ongoing for the foreseeable. The papers could only have been leaked on instructions from the very top of the government. Those at both ends of the government’s internal debate on Brexit might have motives for doing so, but more of that in a moment. A flexible negotiating … Read more

#Brexit: A Revolution Drifting Towards Failure

It is a matter of historical fact that most attempted revolutions fail. Sometimes the ancient regime reasserts itself in a counter-revolution. In other cases, the revolution clears away a creaking old order only to be itself swept away by a third force. The two most significant revolutions of the 20th Century were of the latter type: the double revolutions in Russia in 1917 and Iran in 1978-9. It is worth giving this preamble as Brexit now looks like a revolution … Read more

Fishing at the Edge of the Rubicon

During the course of this General Election campaign, the tectonic plates of international relations have slipped, dramatically. The G7, the borderline disastrous NATO summit, and Trump’s withdrawal of the US from the Paris Agreement on climate change, add up to most dramatic rift in the Western Alliance for decades – all in the space of a week. Yet serious debate on foreign policy has been strangely absent from the campaign, not only among the politicians and the pundits, but even … Read more

Observe the sons of Ulster, marching towards the bin

It was the best of campaigns, it was the worst of campaigns. Arlene’s decision to meet the three letter problem of RHI with the three letter solution of IRA worked masterfully in terms of holding the DUP’s vote together; despite three months of unremitting negative publicity and a collapsed government, DUP losses were kept to just 1.1%, with the drop in seats not much worse than the five likely to go with the shrinking of the Assembly. The DUP actually … Read more

If Brexit means Brexit, the UK Can’t Block an EU Army

“This is not going to happen. We are full members of the EU and we will go on resisting any attempt to set up a rival to NATO.” Defence Secretary Sir Michael Fallon’s response to proposals for an EU army discussed at the Bratislava summit ‘informal gathering’ of EU Heads of Government (minus Theresa May), reported in The Times yesterday cannot be, if Brexit means Brexit, anything other than a denial of reality. If government statements are honest, then the … Read more

South Africa: An Electoral Tremor, Not An Earthquake

In few countries would a governing political party in the throes of internal crisis consider 54% of the vote in mid-term elections to local councils a disappointing result. In South Africa, however, this represents a significant shot across the bows of the ANC 22 years after it took power, a decline of 8% from the equivalent elections in 2011, and almost 16% from its all-time best result in the 2004 general election. (Official results service here.) The shock is amplified … Read more

A historic day in politics: not Boris, but Vienna calling

A potentially epoch-making day in European politics: no, not the shenanigans in London on Thursday (of which a brief mention in a moment), but in Vienna on Friday. The Austrian Supreme Court has ordered a rerun of May’s knife-edge Presidential Election, in which Alexander von Bellen, a Green, held off the Norbert Hofer of the far-right Freedom Party by just 31,000 votes or just 0.7%. According to Reuters, “the court found no proof that the result had been manipulated, but … Read more

On parliamentary sovereignty and post-Brexit Britain

The latest phase in the stages of grieving for Remainers is the idea that parliament can save the UK’s membership of the EU. How would that play in blue-collar England? As 78% of the men on the Clapham omnibus, in the London Borough of Lambeth, voted Remain, we’ll need someone different to act as our ‘typical’ Leave voter. What about the man on the wonderfully-named Jump Circular bus, which really exists in the Borough of Barnsley (68% Leave)? The man … Read more

Democracy: Referendums, Petitions, and a Reality Check for Leavers and Remainers Alike

2.5 million people have now signed a petition calling for a second referendum. I won’t be signing it. It’s pathetic. We had the highest turnout in an election for 24 years on Thursday. I think collectively we’ve made a bad decision. But it’s the decision we made. You know what, in democracy, you win some and you lose some. Sometimes the decisions are momentous. There we go. Grow up and get over it. Where were those 2.5 million people when … Read more

Britain will Brexit if young voters fail to turn out. It’s a real possibility.

Opinium was the most accurate online pollster at the 2015 General Election. They have just released their final poll of the referendum campaign: Leave 45%, Remain 44%, and 11% undecided. There was a swing in the polls last week, which began before the Jo Cox assassination and seems to have primarily been driven by worries about a post-Brexit economy, which spiked sharply at the time of George Osborne’s ‘punishment budget’. That has stalled and may have even gone into gentle … Read more

We can already see a post-Brexit economy emerging. It’s grim.

Here’s a confusing financial press headline from today: German 10-year sovereign bond yields turn negative for first time. What does that mean in plain English: it means traders are so worried about what the UK economy would look like post-Brexit, they’re pulling their money out of the UK, and actually paying the German government to let them lend it money. Read that sentence again to realise how deep the fear is. You’ve heard the scaremongering. This is what the reality … Read more

Why has the Mail on Sunday gone soft on Brexit?

“[I]t is clearer than ever that the Leave campaigners are losing the economic argument … Their preoccupation with immigration … can sometimes seem more like an obsession, and one that is not entirely free of a prejudice that most British people have long ago rejected.” These are excerpts from today’s editorial lead in the Mail on Sunday. No, not The Observer, but the Mail on Sunday, a newspaper that has long thundered about the cost of Brussels bureaucracy, real and … Read more