Tag Archives: uk

How Britain Broke The World

Popular opinion is that the whole of the UK was against Blair’s invasion of Iraq. Over a million people marched in London.

I wasn’t one of them.

I’m not sure that I was as politically engaged then as I am now, but the main reason that I wasn’t there was because I wasn’t entirely against the intervention. Sure, I never believed the justifications that they gave. The whole ability to attack in 45 minutes seemed unlikely, and the connection to Al Qaeda didn’t seem plausible either. Blair deserved all resistance he got for such obvious untruths.

So if I didn’t believe in the reasons given, why was I not against the invasion? Because the regime was abusive to its own population. We talk about choices and democracy and representation, but what can people do when they have such a corrupt, oppressive and violent government?

Other countries tend to say it’s not their concern. Does that mean it’s okay to let people suffer because they were unlucky enough to be born in the wrong country? I say no1. The international community has a responsibility to the world’s population, wherever they live2.

I should add that my (limited) support of the policy was about the idea of an intervention. The execution of the idea was clearly a mess, but no one marching knew that.

Anyway, the book.

As I tend to do, I second guess myself. Was my opinion, if not correct then, at least justifiable? If I didn’t know better, should I have known better? I got “How Britain Broke the World” by Arthur Snell to answer that question, and others.

It starts in 1997 with Kosovo and finishes with Brexit in 2021. I do think it strays from the title at times, which comes across as the book equivalent of click-bait. However, it largely answers my questions.

The simple chronological structure helps put the individual events into perspective. I’d forgotten some of them, and the details of many. In the end, I think my opinion on the Iraq invasion is similar to that of many of the interventions: the argument for doing something was there but the execution was poor3.

If there’s something to take away, it’s that we don’t learn.

You can see that because, weirdly, this is a very current book. By which I mean that shortly after reading various sections, I’d come across some contemporary event that was about the same thing. Russia. The Middle East. The US-UK “special relationship.” It’s all there and it’s all ongoing.

I can’t say I’m now an expert on any of these events or situations. It’s all complicated. Many of the challenges we have are from people who are trying to give simple solutions to complex problems4. But I can say that I am better informed than I was. To paraphrase, Donald Rumsfeld, I now have fewer unknown unknowns.

  1. It’s a slightly odd realisation to finally figure out that you don’t believe in the concept of a country. Not as in I deny that they exist, obviously, but in the sense that your potential shouldn’t be constrained by the place you happen to have been born. ↩︎
  2. Deciding what are universal rights has been a challenge, too. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights seems pretty good to me, though arguably it come from a liberal, western perspective so perhaps I would? ↩︎
  3. I realise this isn’t a wholly original take. I’m just slow on the uptake sometimes. ↩︎
  4. That’s Brexit in a nutshell. ↩︎

How Westminster Works… and why it doesn’t

If there’s one good thing that has come out of the whole Brexit omnishambles, it’s that my understanding of how British politics works has dramatically increased. I don’t think it’s worth the cost, but understanding how laws are debated and passed is something that should be taught in schools, but isn’t.

Brexit taught me about Proroguing Parliament and the various readings of bills. I learned of the role that committees serve and the works that the Lords do. It made me do homework to find out what a “three line whip” is.

My piecemeal approach to understanding the whole was interesting, but delegating the hard work of structuring it into a cohesive whole was worth it. Thanks, Ian Dunt.

This isn’t a balanced, academic treatise. Rather, it’s pitched as how it doesn’t work with an epilogue suggesting solutions to the worst problems. The writing is energetic, angry even, but clear and structured. This energy is what keeps the book entertaining, in what could have been a dry subject matter.

If you’re familiar with his podcasting work, you might be disappointed by the lack of swearing. If so, make sure you read the acknowledgements. There’s no bad language, but the vignette with his dog is illuminating.

A Decade in Tory

A Decade in Tory” by Russell Jones was a shorter book than I thought. Ordinarily that might be a bad thing, but the reason for my confusion in this case is that there are nearly five hundred pages of footnotes and fifty for the index. There are plenty of criticisms you could make, but you can’t argue that it’s not well researched or that the events are made up.

Because, honestly, if you hadn’t lived through some of the stories, read about them as they occurred, you might well think they were fictional.

If it’s not obvious from the title, the book documents the various Conservative led governments from 2010 to 2022. It lists all the little twists and turns that you vaguely remember but had tried to forget.

That could all be a bit tedious and dry, but Jones has a way with words. He’s not going to win any literary awards but his description of some politicians are hard to forget.

Jacob Rees-Mogg, the precise physical intersection of a cursed oboe and the concept of gout.


He’s so devoid of personality that his official portrait is the curtains behind him.

You might be able to guess who this is.

She’s like a modern-day Cnut; and that’s not a typo, you just think it is.

It’s simply structured, easy to read and very self-aware.

It’s absolutely fine to scream occasionally while reading this book.

It’s not a classic. It’s not pretending to be unbiased. It won’t change anyone’s mind. In fact, you’ll likely know whether you’ll like it. Check out his feed on Twitter if you want a free preview.

It made Tory MPs feel very cross, and made everybody participating feel very cross, and it achieved absolutely nothing. A bit like this book.

If you’d forgotten how rotten the Torys have become, this book is a great reminder. But it’s important to keep some perspective and understand that politicians are not all the same. Many genuinely do get into politics to improve people’s lives and make the world better. I hope you voted for them in yesterday’s council elections, and not the bunch of Charlatans this book is about.


As the Downing Street clock reaches zero, as Whitehall is lit in red, white and blue, as the Union Jacks blanket Parliament Square, I wanted to commemorate Brexit actually happening.

In fact, I’ve wanted to say something about Brexit since before the referendum, but what is there to say that’s new? But original or not, I needed to write something.

Far from a celebration, 11pm on 31st January 2020 marks the culmination of years of misdirected anger and politicians harnessing that for their own personal gain.

The reasons for the anger are real. Inequality. Stagnating, if not declining, living standards. But the causes are austerity and neglect, not immigration.

That was merely misdirection. There were also the lies. You know it’s gone too far when Johnson, in a room full of journalists and cameras, says that there is no press there. And he still won the election.

And that’s what makes me angry. The lies. The demonisation of anyone trying to scrutinise the changes or hold the government to account. Even if you want Brexit, you should surely want it done right. It’s gutter politics; you should be able to win without smearing your opponents and outright lying1 And I’m angry that “the public” have let them get away with it2.

I’d like to think that Gina Miller, Lady Hale, John Bercow3 and backbench MPs like Dominic Greave will come out of this well when we look back in a few years. The current batch of MPs waving through the Withdrawal Agreement in three days, not so much. Did those MPs forget, or not care about, the predicted consequences of Brexit?

There’s a lot more that I could say, of course, but this whole charade has been well documented elsewhere.

What I would say is that I genuinely worry for the future of the country. When I first wrote that sentence I stopped and wondered if I was being overly dramatic. But I’m keeping it.

The government has a large majority, unconstrained by details like truth or an effective opposition party or a press willing to hold them to account. The issues that brought about Brexit — austerity, income inequality — are still present and will likely be exacerbated by our separation from Europe. Yet the same government has little interest in the kinds of people that will be most affected by their own policies.

The main positive is that Johnson owns Brexit now. It’s his signature on the bill, it’s his party in power, it’s his team negotiating. He can’t blame parliament. The consequences are his.

If that sounds like I want Johnson to fail, you’d be right. But not at the expense of the country as a whole. If we have to leave, I want Brexit to be a success. I just have a hard time seeing how that could happen.

  1. I’m not naive, I’m not saying that Westminster has always been filled with selfless, upstanding campaigners but the ratio of good-to-bad these days seems badly skewed. ↩︎
  2. Of course most of the public are not the Union Jack wearing, Nazi saluting caricatures we see on the news or Twitter. Still, enough people thought that lies were preferable to Corbyn’s ineffectual leadership. ↩︎
  3. While you can’t ignore the bullying accusations, I think it’s fair to say that he fought for the sovereignty of parliament. This is the right thing to do whether leaver or remainer. ↩︎

Write to your MP about Brexit!

I’m sick of last years referendum on our membership of the EU being used to justify… pretty much anything. And any criticism is met with “you have to respect the will of the people.”

Well, I’m a person and I don’t think my will is being respected by many politicians and much of the media. The result of the referendum doesn’t say that people are happy with a so-called Hard Brexit, dismantling the NHS or using EU citizens as negotiation pawns.

I don’t write to my MP very often but, especially because of our current lack of an effective opposition, this is the ideal time. My MP said “Now we need to influence best Brexit we can.” I agree, but uncritically voting for Article 50 and the governments haphazard approach isn’t it.

My wife has put together the above graphic. Please feel free to share on Facebook, Twitter, MySpace, Friendster, whatever social media you use. And if you’re willing to mail an actual postcard, please let me know — we have some that we’re willing to share.

February 12: contact form removed due to spam. Feel free to contact me on Twitter