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The embarrassment will be all ours

Saturday, November 27th, 2010

With the US government frantically contacting its friends and allies across the world, trying to preempt any damaging revelations contained in the millions of diplomatic cables about to be released by Wikileaks, it’s worth considering for a moment who really stands to be embarrassed by this affair.

It isn’t going to be the United States. Sure, it may be a bit of black eye for the Obama administration, but lets face it, every diplomatic service in the world sends these kinds of messages, and it’s not the US that is the subject of the documents. By all accounts many of these cables contain the personal (possibly candid) opinions of American diplomats stationed all over the world relating to their dealings with government officials in their host countries. Some of the cables will be non-controversial. Others will have been written according to what the writer thinks his superiors want to hear – but many of them will contain the truth as seen by the writers about the people with whom they deal day-in-and-day-out. The cables will be like a huge mirror reflecting back to us the image we project to others (as opposed to the image we have of ourselves).

Take the documents relating to Canada. Already it is being reported that many of them will discuss our national inferiority complex towards all things Yankee. Now, the average American, Briton, or Australian if he ever gives Canada any thought, probably thinks of us as those nice polite boy scouts types who append “eh” onto the back of every sentence. What he doesn’t know is how much time we spend worrying about what Americans will think of us, while smugly telling ourselves how much better we are than the barbarian to our south. Well, Telegraph readers now know, and later this week, a lot more people will know what unpleasant jealous, insecure little twats, Canadians, and in particular a certain breed of Canadian politicians can be when you scratch this particular wart of our national character. We couldn’t buy worse publicity if we broadcast a certain Molson ad on every English-language network in the entire world.

Likewise, everyone is suddenly going to learn what anyone who lives in this country for any length of time soon realises – the British ruling class – politicians, media types, senior bureaucrats and military officials have an ability unmatched anywhere else in the world to combine arrogance, ignorance, and gross stupidity. That’s why the government here is busy issuing D-notices in the name of national security – they can’t stop foreign terrorists, or unfriendly governments ferretting out the genuinely harmful stuff, but they sure as hell don’t want a casual browser here in the UK learning how dysfunctional the our armed forces and intelligence services really are.

We’ll read angry missives about populist Korean leaders demagoguing against the presence of American troops in their country whilst secretly begging them to stay and protect them from their loony northern cousins.

We’ll read how pompous and officious Indians can be, the frustrations of trying to deal with stubborn and stiff-necked Israelis, about duplicitous Turks supporting Iraqi terrorists, shifty Afghani tribal politicians behaving like shifty Afghan tribal politicians. In short the national foibles of every nation on this earth are about to be shown the light of day.

I’ll end this thread with two predictions:

1. The only country that will come through this episode unscathed will be the French, because they are generally insouciant about how their actions will affect others’ opinions of them.

2. Julian Assange has just made a boatload of new enemies, many of them who will have far fewer scruples about offing him than the United States does.

The peasants are angry

Wednesday, March 24th, 2010

I know how they all feel:

There’s a lot of anger about. Yesterday morning in the corner store stubbly track-suit man came in for his ‘Sun’, saw a queue of three for the till and left his twenty pee on the counter. The Sri-Lankan checkout girl tried to give it back to him, motioning him to join the queue. Suddenly he exploded with rage; “I’m not f…ing queueing! You’ve got your money!” and stalked out. It woke us all up. It even woke the Nigerian security guard up.

In the office I caught a senior colleague, a man known for his equable temperament, kicking the photocopier, jammed with papers he needed for a meeting for which he was already late. The IT manager is having a breakdown and his PA fields phone calls with ‘he’s gone home sick’ with increasing frequency; abusive emails have mushroomed recently as work pressures mount and the office systems are unequal to the task.

On the train last week, as a large baby buggy blocked much of the door zone during the rush hour, a professional thirty something bloke squeezing into the available space looked directly at the guilty mum and asked “Oh for f…s sake! How sensible is this?” to which there was no reply. We’ve all been harassed and inconvenienced by ‘buggy rights’ for years now, but this was the first time I’d heard anyone fight back.

This was also the week in which with my red pencil I’d removed £40k’s worth of ludicrous self-indulgent crap from a construction drawing, bling geared only to the designer’s portfolio photograph on completion, not to the client’s needs or the prescriptive design brief I’d issued. The architect was incandescent with rage and sent me a very foolish email. I replied that I was perfectly willing to determine his contract immediately, and would he prepare a final fee account. Cue abject grovelling from his partners over the course of the afternoon.

In Tesco last week, bag-rationing led to a massive row three tills down. The store is apparently issuing each till with a box of free bags a day, and once these are gone customers are asked to pay 9p each for a ‘bag for life’. An Afro-Carib granny wasn’t standing for it. The supervisor was summoned. The manager was summoned. Her inspired invective against global warming brought a smile to my face.

At least another half a dozen minor incidents recently – queue rage, trolley rage, general impatience, people voicing things they don’t usually voice – and I’m sensing there’s an ascending general rage building up. The speed with which Old Holborn and Anna Racoon raised Nick’s freedom money was driven by the anger of suffering smokers. In smoking shelters across London there’s an inchoate anger against authority in general – ‘the council’, ‘the government’ or more often ‘they’, the ‘they’ that are the great grey indistinct suffocating presence of the State in one guise or another. The most popular rallying cry of the day is ‘Get off our backs!’, raising a heartfelt cheer of support whenever it’s vocalised. If any party wants an election slogan, ‘We’ll get off your back’ will win a few million new votes.

But it’s not about party differences. That the three main parties are all the same is a truth universally acknowledged. Whenever politics is discussed there is absolute consensus that we loathe them all. Immigration is a running sore. Food inflation, less noticeable to those with mortgages enjoying low interest rates, has hit those on low or fixed incomes hard.

Neighbourhoods filled with boarded-up pubs as they are here, destined to be redeveloped as homes for immigrants by the hated Housing Associations, as they are here, are a popular provocation. There’s no doubt that the white working class are the angriest, but the white middle class are close behind them. And our Afro-Carib population, the most assimilated of all the new Commonwealth cohorts, close behind them.

Targets of this anger are also inchoate; Muslims, Africans, East Europeans, the priviliged, bankers, the amorphous political class, the tax-wasters, those who make and enforce rules, ‘they’.

Quite how this rage will manifest itself on 6th May I don’t know.

It’s a rage engendered by a feeling of helplessness. People think that Labour deserves to be decimated, but no-one believes for a second that the Tories will be any different and hence they don’t deserve to win. The most positive electoral outcome we can hope for (and it’s pretty thin gruel) would be a very weak, lame-duck Labour government, to exhausted to do much damage, and a quick defenestration of Dave and his posse. Oh and a couple of BNP MPs just for the comedy value of watching the establishment running around shrieking like headless chickens.