Monday 22 August 2022

The assassination of Michael Collins and a strange quirk of fate

100 years ago today, the Irish Republican leader Michael Collins was assassinated. Collins was a leading organiser of assassinations himself, but, in his own words, he signed his death warrant when he made a peace treaty with the British.

It sparked a vicious civil war in Ireland, and a group of anti-treaty fighters ambushed Collins in his native County Cork. When they opened fire on his car, one of Collins' comrades told the driver to 'drive like hell', but Collins ordered him to stop so they could fight it out, even though he was armed only with a rifle.

By a twist of fate, Collins' regular drivers were not with him that day. The Republican hero was known to be impetuous, and some believe if one of them had been at the wheel, they would have slammed a foot on the gas before pausing a few miles up the road to inquire of Collins: 'Sorry, what was that you were saying back there, chief?'

For more on Collins' assassination and many others, see my book Assassins' Deeds. A History of Assassination from Ancient Egypt to the Present Day. (Reaktion Books)

Sunday 21 August 2022

The dilatory Tory contest over who will be your next pm drags on.....and on

It's more than six weeks since Boris Johnson resigned, but because of the extraordinarily leisurely timetable devised by the Conservative Party, it's still going to be another two weeks before we discover who they have decided to foist on us as our next prime minister.

Do you remember when the Tories told us we couldn't possibly change pm because of the multiple crises besetting Brexit Britain? So why is it ok now to endlessly dilly and dally with no one in charge? 

Johnson was never very keen to do the hard graft even when he was pm (remember all those COBRA meetings he ducked?), so what did the Tories think he would do once he'd been given his marching orders? How about: take endless holidays, set up lavish parties at other people's expense, play at being a soldier or a pilot?

Pretty well everything, in fact, apart from dealing with the cost of living crisis, the climate crisis, the water shortages, the galloping inflation, the summer of discontent and the other horrors the Tories have inflicted on us.

Now as Truss and Sunak continue to knock lumps out of each other, apparently even the Tories are beginning to wonder whether they have let the contest go on too long, and whether this undignified battle over the greasy pole is doing terrible damage to what's left of the party's reputation. My heart bleeds.

Monday 8 August 2022

Boris Johnson: Don't say I never warned you!

Well I told him more than two years ago: 'If there is something you need to do, do it today. There may be no tomorrow.' I warned Boris Johnson the history books would judge him very harshly unless he tried to mend fences with the EU and establish a close relationship, of the kind he promised when he was conning people to vote for Brexit, without which the UK's future would be very bleak indeed.

Instead he spaffed away two years, and now it's too late. He will go down in history as the UK's worst ever prime minister, except perhaps for Liz Truss.  Here's what I wrote back in April 2020:


Brexitwatch: Boris Johnson - intimations of mortality

‘When a man is about to be hanged,’ said Dr Johnson, ‘it concentrates his mind wonderfully.’ Assuming that, during his time in the intensive care ward, Boris Johnson felt acutely reminded of his own mortality, what effect might that have?

Because you can’t believe a word he says, anything you write about Johnson is highly speculative, but I spoke to someone who claimed to know him, who told me something I found reassuring. He said the prime minister cares a lot about what the history books will say about him.

If he had died during his brush with coronavirus, they wouldn’t have made great reading: ‘He knew leaving the EU would be highly damaging for the UK, but he pressed on with it because he thought it would advance his own career. He undermined prime minister Theresa May on the pretext that her Withdrawal Agreement was not good enough, then once he had replaced her, negotiated one that was worse. He won an election under a slogan he knew was mendacious, and then when he was confronted with the worst crisis the UK had faced in decades, he proved completely unequal to the task.' Though the charge sheet would obviously be longer than this.

If Johnson is serious about being treated more kindly by history, he must realise there are a number of policies he is going to have to reverse. Most obviously, limiting the damage from Brexit by agreeing a close relationship with the EU to secure the frictionless trade on which the UK’s future depends.

So far the signs aren’t good. He has bizarrely ruled out any extension of the transition period which ends on December 31 at which point, the UK is in danger of crashing out of Europe with a huge hit to jobs, public services, businesses etc.

But the lesson for Boris Johnson of his intimation of mortality is surely this. If there is something you need to do, do it today. There may be no tomorrow.

Saturday 6 August 2022

Thought for the day: the triumph of delusion

I have seen a lot of political contests in my time, but surely none so deluded, dishonest and divorced from reality as the alarming battle for the votes of Conservative members between Rishi Sunak and Liz Truss in order to be your next prime minister. Unless you are one of those Tory members, who are now, judging from the promises being made to them, very, very far to the right indeed, of course you get no say in who's going to run your life. Apparently that's democracy.

It's bad enough to have Sunak promising to set up Chinese Communist-style 're-education' camps for anyone who dares to criticise the Tories, but surely even worse are super-lightweight Truss's innumerate plans to 'take risks' with the British economy. Translation: risks with your job, mortgage, savings, pension, business, life.

Following the trusted Brexit formula of 'promise them anything', and never take a tough decision, the failed Thatcher tribute act is going to raise spending AND reduce taxes - primarily for the rich obviously. Never mind the debt burden this will impose on your children and grandchildren, never mind the runaway inflation the ship of fools is stoking. Never mind that virtually every economist thinks it's mad, apart from Patrick Minford of 'Brexit is great but it will destroy industry in the UK' fame.

As a born again Brexit-er, Truss thinks that if she just BELIEVES hard enough, the British economy will grow so fast that magic money trees will spring up everywhere, no doubt creating forests in which those elusive Brexit unicorns will finally appear and gambol. 

Truss will win and be your next prime minster. They may call her 'Thick Lizzie' but she has sussed that there is no market for truth and realism in the modern 'Conservative' Party. 

Wednesday 3 August 2022

Thought for the day: the great Truss mystery


How many of the Tory MPs trampling over each other in the desperate, undignified scramble to endorse unprincipled, mendacious incompetent Liz Truss for prime minister in a pathetic attempt to advance their careers are privately sh*tting themselves because they’ve realised she’ll be a total disaster, and perhaps even worse than Johnson? Or do Conservatives just no longer care about stuff like how much damage they inflict on the UK? That’s certainly what the evidence would suggest.

But wouldn't it be funny if Sunak won and the Truss brown-nosers all had to claim they'd been 'wilfully misrepresented' and had really supported Rishi all along?