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Britain, Brexit and Why Winston Churchill is Alive and Kicking in this Mess

Gerry Hassan

Le Monde, January 21st 2019

Britain is not a happy place. But then neither is much of the Western world. Instead, it is angry. A country where many people feel let down, not respected or listened to by politicians, institutions and elites.

In the UK, unlike elsewhere, this discontent fed into and aided the victory of the Brexiteers in the 2016 referendum. The subsequent near three years of continual Brexit discussions between the UK and EU, and within the UK, have not produced an agreed plan for leaving – or national unity. Rather, all this has fed even more disquiet and distrust.

This state of affairs has not just emerged in the last few years, but has been building, slowly and imperceptibly for decades. It has been driven by disappointment amongst many voters at the condition of post-war Britain, anxiety about change, and a fear of the future: all of which have contributed to more and more people taking refuge in an imagined version of Britain’s past.

A pivotal figure in all this has been Winston Churchill, Prime Minister of the UK between 1940-45 and 1951-55. Churchill’s political record saw him first, Conservative; then, Liberal, and finally, Conservative again. His public life spans most of 20th century Britain, from the turn of the century Boer War, to Lloyd George’s ‘People’s Budget’ in 1909, the First World War and the Gallipoli disaster. Then there was his disastrous decision as Chancellor in the 1920s to return Britain to the Gold Standard, resisting the General Strike, and the wilderness years of the 1930s opposing Indian home rule and appeasement of the Nazis. Then came redemption, as he became PM in the ‘darkest hour’ of May 1940. And after all that, there was even a final act, returning as premier in 1951. Read the rest of this entry »

Salmond, Sturgeon and the End of an Era for the SNP

Gerry Hassan

Scottish Review, January 16th 2019

Britain stands at an abyss. Three years of endless Brexit deliberations have resulted in the UK facing crisis, doubt and anxiety about what the future holds. Politics has become a high wire act of competing intransigencies and denials of reality – with the only certainty that there is no easy way out of this mess or simple resolution.

This is a crisis of mainstream politics, democracy and Britain’s political parties. The Tories continue their thirty-year civil war on Europe, while Corbyn’s Labour continue to uphold constructive ambiguity informed by their leader’s long held Euroscepticism. The Lib Dems struggle for any relevance after the Cameron coalition.

If that were not enough, this present impasse has shown the limitations of British democracy, with Brexit debates reduced to Westminster parlour games shaped by the most obsessional opinions. This isn’t some arcane and elite concern, for underlying this is something even more serious: a deep seated malaise about what the idea of Britain is, and the grip of a reactionary, insular, backward looking English nationalism on the Tory Party, which has the potential not only to destroy the Tories but take all of us over the cliff into the abyss.

This is to put it mildly a historic moment for the UK – but as Fintan O’Toole has suggested one where there is a sense of anticlimax as much of the script has been written by a fantasy version of history. Brexit, he writes, is ‘full, not just of nostalgia, but of pseudo-history. It is an old curiosity shop of fake antiques.’ Read the rest of this entry »

My Favourite Books of 2018

December 22nd 2018

Gerry Hassan

This is a list of my favourite books of the year. It is a totally subjective and idiosyncratic list: made up things I have read, come across, been involved in or inspired by and which have stopped me and made me think.

There is a bias towards books out this year but as it is my list and a reflection of what inspired me it is a deliberate mixture of old and new. This is the fourth year in a row I have done this kind of selection and recommendations of the year – and I welcome any thoughts and comments on the enclosed. As well as being interested in what inspired and stimulated other people.

SCOTLAND:

POLITICS AND CULTURE:

Momus, The Book of Scotlands, Luath Press.

The left field Momus brings out a new edition of his wonderful ‘The Book of Scotlands’: 150 parallel universe Scotlands of past, present and future. Previously only available as a limited edition from a Berlin publisher – and with an intro by myself. Read the rest of this entry »

My Favourite Music of the Year: 2018

December 21st 2018

Gerry Hassan

This is my fourth year of doing a comprehensive music list of things I have bought, been listening to, and had come my way in the past year. It has been as usual an eclectic year musically but highlights include the Southside Record Club (meeting at Some Great Reward record shop) and listening to some great sounds through that, some stellar live gigs – with often the smaller the better (and a big hat tip to the Bungalow in Paisley), and some fantastic bootleg recordings.

But as with every year pride of place has to go to the new musical sounds that have impressed me this year – and here in reverse order – as in the old chart rundowns are my top ten spins of the year. Read the rest of this entry »

Memorable Moment

Living with Two Gentle Giants: Salt and Pepper

Gerry Hassan

Scottish Review, December 19th 2018

I have lived with cats since a teenager, but this year I ventured into completely new territory by getting two cats at the same time. They are brothers, from the same litter, half Maine Coon, and were one year old when they came to stay. Got from the nearby Cat Protection League and already christened Salt and Pepper, they have retained their names due to the simple logic that they answer to them.

Salt and Pepper have obviously known each other all their lives, and are an item, a couple, who act and interact with each other, but also have independent lives. They have an effortlessness being with each other, cuddling up to go to sleep, or cleaning each other. And they also have a gentleness, trust and intimacy with me and my partner. Read the rest of this entry »

Gerry Hassan is a writer, commentator and thinker about Scotland, the UK, politics and ideas. more >
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