Shifting Sands

For resentful white folks in search of a struggle with which to express solidarity, there is a rich seam of oppression to be mined in Ireland. Violence in Ireland has long been assimilated to the violence of national liberation struggles in the developing, or post-colonial, world. At a distance, some of the ambiguities can be fudged: in 1998, I attended a gig which turned out to be in aid of the Committee for the Self-Determination of the People of Ireland, at a centro sociale in Rome. The headline act was the Modena City Ramblers, who sound something like the Pogues would have done if they had been a bunch of communists from Emilia-Romagna (but I repeat myself). Their songs have included misty-eyed laments about Irish rain, Bobby Sands’ friends, and Che Guevara’s motorcycle trip. Their last release but one was a concept album about a joint Allied-partisan operation in 1945; on the cover was an SAS dagger and `Who Dares Wins’.

The affection of the Italian left for Ireland, or at least for an image of Ireland, is no surprise: the discourse of `struggle’, armed or otherwise, is a good fit for `solidarity’ with `oppressed peoples’. The mythologization of Ireland on the right is another thing entirely.

Should you ever find yourself near a demonstration in Italy, or watching a football match involving an Italian club, you will inevitably see flags featuring a stylized Celtic cross. The cross is an icon, in the literal sense of venerated symbol, because of its use by French Waffen SS troops, wiped out in the defence of Berlin against the Bolshevik hordes in 1945, but also for its connection to Ireland and Irish mythology. Like Hitler, the neo-fascist movement in Italy has long drawn inspiration from Norse mythology: one legendary street-fighter had a taste for charging left-wing demonstrations swinging a hammer over his head, Odin-like, rather than using the standard issue 36mm spanner. Clearly, a warrior myth is useful for people who use `hierarchical’ and `anti-democratic’ as compliments, and see Tolkien’s books as models of a well-ordered society, so much so that the 1970s neophyte Nazi spent his summers at `Camp Hobbit’.

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Policing by consent (of the police)

In a BBC Radio 4 programme about the relationship between the Conservative Party and the UK police, the presenter, journalist Robin Aitken, discusses the breakdown in the previously amicable relationship between the Tories and the police, harking back to the golden age of upstanding beat coppers who were trusted by the public. Roger Scruton pops up to talk of how the law in Britain is felt as the property of the people, and how the police are servants of the public and not an arm of the state. One interviewee wants to go back to the standards which prevailed thirty or forty years ago.

These would be standards of torture (Birmingham Six, Guildford Four, Maguire Seven), murder (Blair Peach, inter alia), political repression (Orgreave), and, more recently, in addition to established practice, the impregnation of political activists and the desertion of them and their children. All of the above has been covered up for by perjury.

Aitken mentions that for many years the only critics of the police were the `radical left’, where it would appear `radical left’ means `people who think the police should obey the law and not beat confessions out of people’. He is shocked, however, by the idea that a police officer would lie about a government minister saying `pleb’.

What does it cost to fire somebody in the UK?

Take-home message: firing people is very cheap.

It is claimed now and again that making it easier to fire people makes it easier to hire them. The logic is that employers do not hire staff because they are worried about the cost of laying them off if business does not go as well as they expect. So an employer’s reasoning is that they would like to expand their business by hiring more people, but the possible costs associated with `making them redundant’ (actually, `dismissing by reason of redundancy’) put them off.

It is easy enough to find out what it costs to dismiss someone by reason of redundancy in the UK. If someone has worked for an employer for less than two years, they have no right to a redundancy payment. After two years service, they have a right to a redundancy payment of one week’s pay per full year worked which is halved for each year worked under age 22. That `week’s pay’ is capped at £464.

So if business has not gone as well as expected and you have to fire someone less than two years after you hired them, it costs nothing.

If business has gone well for a bit, and you have to fire minimum wage staff who have worked for just over two years, it costs £495.20 for the adults, and £201.20 for the under twenties.

In other words, you can fire someone at no cost whatsoever in the first two years. After that, it can cost the same as filling the tank of a big car twice.

The grave of Giorgio Bassani,

The grave of Giorgio Bassani,

Giorgio Bassani’s grave, in the Jewish cemetery, Ferrara, supposedly just over the wall from the Garden of the Finzi-Contini

British universities, is it?

I support the Council for the Defence of British Universities, but there is a slight issue with their images.

Their site includes this image:


Dubliners, or those who have visited Dublin, will recognize the Campanile of Trinity College Dublin (I used to live just under the `of’). British university, is it?