Brilliant Mistake

Elvis Costello

I’m listening to King of America, Elvis Costello’s 1986 album, while receiving my fourth and final dose of Cytarabine for this chemo cycle. Unlike the over-produced and rather directionless ‘Goodbye Cruel World’,  this album still works for me 32 years on as the songs and production remain coherent for the whole hour.

The first track is ‘Brilliant Mistake’, and the first verse seems to resonate when listened to against the backdrop of Trump and Brexit. I hope fervently that in a couple of years these brilliant mistakes will have been consigned to the dustbin of history. But if not, well, a few listens to ‘Suit of Lights’, also on this album, will probably make me feel a little better.

Brilliant Mistake – Declan MacManus

He thought he was the King of America

Where they pour coca-cola just like vintage wine

Now I try hard not to become hysterical

But I’m not sure if I’m laughing or crying

I wish that I could push a button

And talk in the past and not the present tense

And watch this hurting feeling disappear

Like it was common sense

It was a fine idea at the time (*)

Now it’s a brilliant mistake


(*) I was obviously never convinced that Trump or Brexit were fine ideas, but understand why many people thought they were. Hopefully change is coming …


I believe that the devil is ready to repent

I haven’t really felt like writing much about politics since June 24th gave a narrow, but important victory to those who believe our future is better outside of the European Union. Well, either that, or they wanted to give the mythical ‘liberal elite’ a good kicking. There’s increasing evidence to suggest that some who voted to leave regret their decision. I’m pleased that some people feel like that, but as time travel is impractical, regrets without action seem rather pointless. However, the general increase in support for the Liberal Democrats (in real polls rather than opinion polls, fortunately) continues and membership numbers appear to be healthy too. I suspect that some of those who now regret their decision on June 23rd and want to move beyond such feelings and into constructive action have joined the party – welcome!

And then November 9th arrived. After the initial shock I felt, I’ve been avoiding the news like the plague. Classic fm (at least, for 55 minutes every hour) has got a new devotee. News programmes are too depressing, particularly when they endlessly turn to Farage and others of his ilk for their opinions. I’m genuinely concerned for my many colleagues, friends and acquaintances in the US who have already been affected by Trump’s rhetoric. I hope his success doesn’t inspire his followers to turn hateful words into hateful actions(*). Like Brexit, the narrowness of Trump’s victory makes it all the more frustrating for those of us who believe that misogyny, racism, homophobia and xenophobia have no place in this world.

But that’s where the similarities in the triumph of the new right on both sides of the Atlantic stop. The American electorate can throw Trump out in 2020 (or chose to keep him on until 2024 of course) – assuming that he doesn’t do something really stupid and dangerous in the meantime. Indeed, the one piece of news I did watch this morning was Christopher Meyer, a former UK ambassador to the US, talking about how the UK government should approach a Trump presidency. He was quite clear about the importance of our political leaders and diplomats ensuring that they get to know the Trump camp really well now, without delay. May has been rather slow off the mark with a call due sometime today, 10th in the queue, well behind other world leaders. The UK needs to retain as much influence with the US as possible to dissuade him from turning what I hope was campaign bombast into, well, bombs.

The problem with Brexit is that it is very likely to be permanent. Once we’re out of the EU, it will become impossible to return with anything like as good a deal (no contributions rebate, for example) as we have now. That’s assuming that the rest of the EU would have us back on any terms, anyway. But return we will want to. The loss of freedom of movement and the resulting economic decline will eventually be too much for us all.

Since the US election results came in, I’ve been humming the tune to ‘I believe’. This song featured on an episode of Not the Nine O’Clock News some 37 years ago, after the election of Ronald Reagan. If you’ve not heard it before, the YouTube link is below. Some of the references are a little out of date – “I believe that JR really loves Sue Ellen” may not mean much to some, but the sentiments of the song still hold. Especially if you substitute Ronald Reagan for Donald Trump in the last line.

I’m proud to be a citizen of Britain, Europe and the world. These things were never contradictory and they never will be. Patriotism is not the same as petty nationalism. I’m convinced that finding ways to win the arguments for Liberalism with good grace and humour is the best way to defeat the demagogues.


(*) The discursive psychologist inside me knows that words accomplish social action, and so such distinctions are moot.

In praise of Donald J. Trump

During the 2015 election campaign you may remember that everyone’s favourite purple-wearer, Nigel Farage, made a number of comments linking the strain on NHS resources with immigrants being treated for HIV. It was at the time when “peak UKIP” appeared to have passed – or at least, when the surge in support necessary for them to win more than a handful of seats didn’t look like it was going to materialise. His comments attracted a disproportionate amount of media coverage, wound twitter up into a frenzy and certainly appeared to shore up the UKIP vote, even if it didn’t win him the tens of seats he desired.

At the time his comments seemed so outrageous I’d assumed they had to be part of a cleverly thought-out strategy based on the psychology of “othering” (There’s a great Radio 4 programme about this available on the iPlayer at the moment). I waited with bated breath for the ever more outrageous claims about immigrants, HIV and NHS funding to appear that would have been needed to build on his position – but fortunately, they never did. UKIP’s momentum was broken and spent, rather like the waves crashing against the breakwaters on the beach in Skegness.

Which brings me to Donald J. Trump. Unfortunately, he’s shown himself to be a genuine expert when it comes to exploiting the psychology of “othering” in a way that hasn’t been seen in the West for decades. It’s helped him to turn around a position in the polls that had appeared to be showing signs of crumbling away, into a 20 point lead over his rivals almost overnight. He’s even managed to dominate the news agenda in the UK, where (almost) no-one has a vote for or against him. That’s a truly amazing feat and even more amazingly, he’s persuaded some 550,000 people to sign a petition asking for him to be banned from the UK like some common hate-preacher.

Which, ultimately, is exactly the kind of furore that will enable him to bolster his position with those he’s seeking to sway into voting for him.

Well done Donald J. Trump. I fell for it. I signed the petition, when every bone in my body knows that the only way to defeat hate-preachers like you is not to silence debate in the way of 1980s “no platform” student politics, but to tackle the bile you spout head on.