Ah, Ebbw Vale! That evocative name that conjures up the once biggest steelworks in Europe, the socialist ghosts of Aneurin Bevan and Michael Foot, and the gross affront to common sense that is Welsh spelling.
Then the steel industry collapsed and the coal mines were savaged by Thatcher’s anti-unionism. By the beginning of this century Ebbw Vale’s people suffered chronic unemployment and its land suffered the toxic legacy of its industrial heyday.
But now it’s all spruced up with a new college, a new leisure centre, a new ‘regeneration site’ of offices and shops, a new railway line and train station, a new road out of the valley – with much of the funding coming from a variety of EU sources. Residents, many still without jobs, can’t move without seeing yet another 10-star EU sign.
And Ebbw Vale voted Leave.
One 21-year-old inhabitant told the Guardian, ‘What’s the EU ever done for us?’ quoting some budget figures as spurious as those on the side of the Leave campaign bus.
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
At a Trump rally in Fayetteville, North Carolina, two or three months ago, a black anti-Trump protestor was being escorted out of the hall by police when he was staggered by a punch in the mouth by a 78-year-old old white Trump supporter with a ponytail, faux cowboy gear and a rather muddled ideology.
The police manhandled the victim onto the ground and dragged him away from the scene. When the video of this started circulating, they decided that maybe they’d mixed up victim and assailant, and arrested John McGraw, who had been wandering around giving vainglorious interviews to the media about how he liked ‘Knocking the hell out of that big mouth.’
But what motivated him to indulge his penchant for violence? The logic is worth examining, if only for its absence.
“Number one, we don’t know if he’s ISIS.”
Among the zillions and zillions of other things that the average Trump crowd don’t know, I assume that this is true. Of course it would also be true of almost everyone else on the planet, and that makes a hell of a lot of ‘big mouths’ to punch, with the likelihood that you will almost always be punching the wrong mouth.
“We don’t know who he is, but we know he’s not acting like an American”
A McCarthy-esque touch here. What exactly constitutes ‘not acting like an American’?
Protesting at a political rally? That would seem to be protected by the US Constitution and international human rights law. Not agreeing with what Trump and his violence-prone supporters believe? We’re all hoping that will be the more popular option come the election. Breathing while black? Could be it.
“Yes, he deserved it. The next time we see him, we might have to kill him.”
Well, when more than one Republican candidate has advocated war crimes as part of their presidential platforms, should we expect their followers to be any less insane?
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
The best argument against democracy, said Churchill, is a five-minute conversation with the average voter. (He also argued democracy was the worst system of government apart from all the rest.)
This has led to some of the self-appointed political cognoscenti to start brushing off their Plato and musing aloud about the shortcomings of democracy, elections and all that other messy stuff that the Thai middle classes have always considered ‘dirty’. If you can’t trust the mob to vote the way they ought to vote, then maybe they have forfeited the right to vote at all.
The Thai constitution drafters (the most experienced in the world bar none) are achieving much the same ends with a little more subtlety.
OK, plebs, you can have the vote. There’s just too much international flak if we deny you.
But in the referendum, we’ll make sure that (a) you don’t know what you’re voting for unless you make strenuous personal efforts to find out; and (b) you cannot know what you are voting against since the establishment isn’t saying what happens if the referendum goes whoopsy.
And if the referendum passes (or even if it does not pass, who knows?), your votes will not amount to much anyway, since the powers of your elected representatives will be thwarted on all sides by unelected bodies, checked and balanced by each other, thank you very much.
And the military will still carry the ultimate sanction of ripping up the constitution and starting all over again.
For the good of democracy.
About author: Bangkokians with long memories may remember his irreverent column in The Nation in the 1980's. During his period of enforced silence since then, he was variously reported as participating in a 999-day meditation retreat in a hill-top monastery in Mae Hong Son (he gave up after 998 days), as the Special Rapporteur for Satire of the UN High Commission for Human Rights, and as understudy for the male lead in the long-running ‘Pussies -not the Musical' at the Neasden International Palladium (formerly Park Lane Empire).