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Date: 28/12/15

Regress? We've Had A Few...

It's that most detested time of year again.

It's not so much the darkness gradually encroaching on our days in the literal sense (although by the time you get to read this, the days will be starting oh-so-slowly to lengthen); nor is it the fake bonhomie and forced twinkling which goes with a season which - for those of us of an increasingly misanthropic bent - can only raise a moue of derision by being called 'festive'.

No, it's the time where I - in order to keep my blogging licence and screen-cred - have to rack my brains for the key events of the preceding year, seek to make sense out of the invariably senseless, and launch yet another Summing-Up on you all, although I'm coming to the conclusion that - such is the strain that the mere prospect of having to do it places on my sense of well-being for weeks in advance - this might be the last one of its kind.

But, given that I have chosen to shout my ill-formed opinions into the howling gale of the internet for over a decade, I would still feel as if I was deserting my post if I didn't. So, here goes...

2015 seems to have been a year in which things went backwards in so many ways in so many fields of human interest and endeavour.

I'll start with myself as a template. I have had better years. For the first time since it started taking dumps on my head nearly five years ago, my Depression started to manifest a clear physiological component back in March, which led to my having to take four days' sick leave (the first such since the tail-end of 2012), and I have detected more minor recurrences since. Moreover, my diabetes went truly coo-coo for about three weeks starting from mid-November: a big thanks here to Novo Nordisk for manufacturing an entire box of cartridges containing duff insulin and plunging me into despair for nearly a month. And, latterly, my blood pressure has now reached somewhat worrying heights, which further medication will now try to deal with.

Added to which, work has been quite epically shite this year, capped off by the announcement by what Amis père would have called "Bastards' HQ" in November that they intend closing our office by early 2021 at the latest. I'm not too worried by the prospect, given that they cannot contractually force me to do what they say they would prefer me to do, viz. transfer to an office in Liverpool (one that hasn't even been built yet; there's nothing like mindless optimism, something for which they are at least 50 per cent well-qualified), and by that time I'll be near enough to the time when I would have retired anyway that they might just make me an offer. If they haven't forced me out by other, more devious means in the interim, of course.

My much-vaunted Winter Project™, namely the sanding and staining of the upstairs floorboards and the stairs, is struggling somewhat at the moment, due largely to the fact that - as I have now discovered - a belt sander doesn't really cut it when your floorboards are uneven. I have sought advice online about this, and have found that sanding the boards diagonally first does work far better. However, the schedule has been slightly mucked about with because of all this, and a late-February finish is probably the best I can hope for now.

It's been a year of losses within my circle of interests. There was not only the death (or should that be DEATH?) of the great Terry Pratchett in March, but that was followed by the departure of two of the stalwart members of alt.fan.pratchett, namely Rocky Frisco and Joy Green. At 45cat and 45worlds, where I serve as a moderator with my customary diligence, good humour and occasional brain-fart, we have seen the deaths of the London-label expert David M. McKee and James K. aka Auto_da_fe.

In the culture of my own small nation any loss is a grievous one, not only because we are so few, but also because those few tend to have to be versatile. And so, to see the year take from us Dr. John Davies' scholarship, humour and personality, Dr. Meredydd Evans' deep philosophical insight and enduring commitment to the cause of our language and the poetry of Bryan Martin Davies is particularly hard to bear.

(I only learned of BMD's death a couple of months after the event; and that due solely to the fact that the Independent seems to provide obituaries of Welsh people rather more promptly than any other London-based rag - who seldom seem to publish them at all unless they are for clapped-out Labour grandees or similarly 'safe' personages. He was an important figure in my life and so I should have written something about him straight away, but for a long time nothing seemed to fit the bill: a bare prose obituary would seem, well, prosaic; and the idea of writing a poem to mark his passing filled me with a sense that I could never produce any such thing that would be adequate for the matter. I did it in the end here, but whether for good or ill is for others to judge).

All the same, I'm still here and family are all OK at the time of writing, so I have only limited scope for bemoaning my lot.

Looking further than the garden gate then, what is to be said about the year which is sliding from beneath us?

Well, we had one of those strange 'election' thingies back at the beginning of May. That it was always likely to be a close-run thing was a given, with the likelihood of another minority or coalition government a real possibility...right up to the point when the results started coming in. It then became apparent that what the Tories had failed wretchedly to do even when faced with a deeply discredited Labour government they had succeeded in achieving even after five years of their own slash-and-burn insolence and arrogance.

That they were able to do this can be attributed in the main to just two words: Liberal Democrats. That the Conservatives had set their junior partners up for a fall had been obvious from the outset of the Rose Garden Agreement half a decade before, with the Lib Dems being useful (and usually willing) idiots, there to deflect public attention away from what the hard right was actually doing to people. That the strategy worked so well that the little Orange Bookers suffered so severe a reversal in May must have been all of the Tories' dreams come true. That there is now - for the first time in my lifetime - not a single Liberal MP left in England south of a line drawn between Land's End and Lowestoft (with the exception of one in a leafy part of south-west London) is a remarkable political upheaval. Given that most of their losses were always going to go blue rather than pink, the Tories benefitted disproportionally.

They also were able to take advantage of possibly the most inept General Election campaign ever run by a major party. That memories of seeing Wee Willie Hague with a baseball cap covering the barren untenanted acres on his bonce could finally be expunged from the public mind was a small fringe (or, rather, no fringe) benefit, but that would scarcely be enough to justify having to witness so weak, so ragged and so cloth-eared a campaign as that which Labour's highly-paid and mysteriously highly-regarded spinners managed to produce.

It didn't help that they were led (for certain values of that word only) by someone with all the character of a newly-ironed flannel of course, but that such a walking vacuum was then placed in such ridiculous positions and was manoeuvred into such ludicrous stunts as the infamous Promise Monolith (tip for the future, guys: you don't go engraving your pious hopes and promises for a Better Future Tomorrow on something which looks like a fucking tombstone!) might lead those of us with more imagination than is good for us to conclude that the campaign was being run by fifth columnists carefully infiltrated into the party apparatus by their opponents. They could not possibly, one hoped, be doing all this by accident.

And if that was true in England, then it went in spades (electoral graves, digging, for the use of) with regard to their campaign in Scotland. To believe that you could insult the intelligence of that substantial proportion of the Scottish electorate which had - albeit faute de mieux - voted solidly for you for three generations, and that you could demean the integrity of that sizeable chunk of your traditional support which had backed independence the previous year by having your MPs compare 'Yes' voters - all 'Yes' voters - to Nazis, Communists and al-Qaeda all at the same time; to believe all that, as I say, and still expect people to vote for you "to keep the Tories out" (when the difference between what passed for the Labour Party in Scotland and the Tories they had gleefully campaigned shoulder-to-shoulder with in 2014 was all too apparent to all too many) exhibited the workings of minds stocked not so much with Machiavelli as with macaroni. With extra cheese sauce.

That the consequence (one far from inevitable before the event, remember, even if it may appear so in retrospect) was the biggest kick in the electoral tripes ever suffered by a major UK political party was - for those of us who like to keep our schadenfreude muscles in good tone - a sight to keep us warm through many a dark night for years to come. It wasn't just the number of seats which the SNP gained; it was the margin by which most of them were won which caused the eyebrows to levitate towards the ceiling and stay there. Comfortable four- and five-figure majorities which Labour had regarded as something akin to their Divine Right in places such as Glasgow, Ayrshire and even Lanarkshire were almost totally transformed into similar majorities the other way. Stone by stone, lintel by lintel, portico by eroded portico, the citadel of Labour in Scotland crumbled and fell into pathetic, shapeless rubble. In the end, only one remained (and that by the skin of his teeth after a particularly nasty media campaign against his SNP opponent), to join the one Tory and the one LibDem (the soon-to-be-disgraced Alastair Carmichael) as the sacred Union's sole remaining representatives from north of the Cheviots: the Curly, Larry and Moe of Scottish politics.

In England - and, to an alarming extent, in Wales too - the Kippers were busy increasing their vote and then started whining when that increase brought them only one seat (that being one of the ones they had taken at by-elections only a few months before; they lost the other one back to the Tories). Here's a hint, guys: if you hadn't been so hell-bent on supporting the existing voting system in 2011 (because it was 'British', and therefore had the status of a Holy Object to you), then you might have got somewhere.

The Greens increased their vote overall, and a fat lot of good it did them apart from securing Caroline Lucas' seat again.

And Plaid? A busted flush, I fear. After all, with Labour still triangulating rightwards like a hiker with an inner-ear problem, the Tories still mostly toxic and the LibDems becoming an official irrelevance, the stage should have been set to make at least a few inroads in those fabled Valleys. But no: they went nowhere, and saw the disaffected Labour vote switching instead to a bunch of golf-club Phalangists and overt bigots. More than that, we saw the resurgence of a Tory presence not seen here since the high-sewage mark of Thatcherism, almost as if the last thirty years had never happened.

The outcome of all this? A Tory government, albeit with the slimmest (I almost typed 'slimiest' there: "Paging Dr. Freud...") of majorities - the narrowest for any single-party government since 1979 - but one now largely unfettered by what little conscientious obstruction the LibDems were able to rouse themselves to provide, and one still filled with and fuelled by the passionate intensity of the True Believer™.

And so it is that that great enemy of liberty called Teresa May can still push and push for all-encompassing and all-enabling powers to be given to the police and the spooks which all previous evidence shows will be wilfully abused for other than their stated purpose (due in no small part to the unstated purpose, which is to batten down any effective dissent). And so it is also that the infinitely-punchable Iain Duncan Smith can continue his faith-based policies of kicking out at all of those who are deemed not likely to be able to kick back. Each of these excrescences on our body politic has been allowed to carry on in the same rôles that they have filled since 2010, which leads to the perhaps not-too-fanciful notion that one or other of them has some terrible dirt on Cameron (far worse even than the stories of the Prime Minister's alleged porcine affinities), as keeping two such ideological extremists in positions of great power for so long cannot be accounted for by any other explanation which might permit of the remotely rational.

Leaving aside these two particular sociopaths, the new government in all its aspects is clearly intent on cementing up the tomb of the post-war consensus once and for all, and thus completing the job that Thatcher's grating self-aggrandisement ultimately prevented her from accomplishing: nothing less than the re-shaping of the State so that it becomes almost entirely a mechanism for the repression of the many and the enrichment of the few rather than the underpinning of an economically and socially just and free society. The running down of what public services remain comparatively unscathed by the dominant policies of the last thirty-five years; the privatising and 'outsourcing' (effectively the same thing) of what little of them may be left; the continuing handover even of our public spaces such as streets and parks to corporations; all of this and much, much more, coming soon to a foodbank near you.

All this carried out with not merely the zeal of The Faithful, but with an arrogance, a heedlessness, a sneering contempt for any sense of commonality or community, any sense of compassion; hell, even for any sense of human decency.

And if any opposition of a sort which looks like it might actually, y'know, work arises to any of this, then it's easy to deal with: you simply neuter what little democracy is left, or get rid of it altogether. Inconvenient electoral arithmetic? Simply re-draw the constituency boundaries and make it more complicated for non-property-owners to register to vote. Having trouble with your ermine-clad neighbours? Remove their power to refuse even the most egregious of your demands. Inconvenienced by such alien concepts as Freedom of Information or Human Rights, or by trigger-happy cops having to face the possibility of answering for their killings? Announce a 'review' which will reach a carefully pre-determined result.

The Great British (or, in effect, English: people in Scotland have their own programmes and people in Wales and NornIrn don't count) Public's response to all of this? A pathetic sigh and an apathetic yawn. "What time's 'Strictly' on, Shania?"

A large part of the reason for this isn't down to mere indolence, ignorance or even - god save the mark - willing agreement with The Programme. When a population has been as under- and mal-informed as the GBP has been with regard to just about everything for forty years, passivity becomes ingrained in the very bones and sinews of society. There Is No Alternative has been the mantra from our professional politicians and pundits - the 'Om Mani Padme Hum' (*) of centre-right orthodoxy - for so long that the mass of the people have forgotten that there are - there always are - alternatives. Many of them better than the so-called 'austerity' which, far from being a necessity, has merely been a fig-leaf to cover up the thrusting organ of exclusion and asset-grabbing which has been shafting the 'ordinary, decent, tax-paying, cliché-ridden folk' of this island for more than a generation.

That this incantation should be made constantly by its political advocates is not a surprise. That it should be echoed daily by those who would still have us believe that they are the guardians of the public interest and veritable terriers in freedom's cause - namely, the self-glorifying stenographers who call themselves 'journalists' - is cause for continuing dis-ease.

One might have thought that, bearing in mind all the scandals in which they have been implicated in recent and not-so-recent times, a degree of reticence on the part of the hacks about their own moral probity might have been a wise move. But no. When Rebekah Brooks - a woman who by any objective analysis is either a criminal, an incompetent, or merely criminally incompetent - is re-appointed to a senior position in Murdoch's increasingly necrotic empire after a rather short but nonetheless lucrative period out of the limelight, and when Rupert's former political attack hyena Trevor Kavanagh is appointed without any sense of irony (let alone shame) to the board of the fake press 'regulator', then one can see that the same lack of awareness, the same contempt for what anyone outside of their bubble feels and thinks, is the motivating spirit of the Froth Estate every bit as much as it is of the Turd Estate with whom they enjoy so intimate a relationship.

The interlinking of the interests of the Establishment, business and the media is hardly a new phenomenon; it dates back to the time that the first lunch was bought for the first journalist by the first well-lobbied politician. But the mutuality of interests and outlook between the dominant political class, the hacks and hackeries, and their common owners in the world of commerce has now become so deeply embedded, so tightly woven, that I believe it now constitutes a danger to freedom its very self.

If you think that I'm over-egging it a bit, just consider the media's behaviour in the last twelve months in the face of two potential threats to the even tenor of the established order's days, one coming out of Scotland, the other out of Islington.

In the case of Scotland, having been on the winning side in 2014's referendum, the overwhelmingly pro-Unionist media - in the face of the SNP's landslide victory in May - went so far over the top as to reach at times an award-winning level of self-parody. The phrasing varied from outlet to outlet, of course: adjusted downwards here to incite the prejudices of the typical English pleb; tilted upwards there to provide some vacuous and unconvincing attempt at serious analysis. But the underlying message was quite clear: how dare these bloody Jockos come here to our Parliament and behave as if they have a right to be heard! Day after day for the first two or three months after the new parliament assembled, the mephitic by-products of the embedded bubble media spewed out from their collective bile duct. The practiced simpers which they reserve for their treatment of those politicians and political parties deemed to be 'on message' as far as Westminster Business As Usual is concerned were turned into snide, petulant sneers when faced with something which they clearly were utterly unable to understand, unused as they have become to any phenomenon outwith what they risibly insist on thinking of as 'mainstream' politics; that is, the politics of PR, spin and triangulation.

(More risible still has been the attempt to portray Scotland after last May as being a "one-party state". The only thing demonstrated by such a trope is its users' complete failure to understand what a 'one-party state' actually is. It is not a 'one-party' state when one party has a parliamentary majority because the people decided democratically to give it one, and where the opposition parties are in opposition because most of the electorate believe them to be as much use as a tissue-paper teapot.)

But this - viewed by the people of Scotland (and those of a genuinely progessive bent outside it) with a wry smile and a few what-else-did-you-expect tuts - proved to be merely the warming-up exercise for what followed shortly afterwards. Come with me now to sunny Islington.

Those who would have us believe - in the face of mounting evidence to the contrary - that they know what is going on treated Jeremy Corbyn's candidacy for the leadership of the Labour Party as a joke or, at best, a token gesture designed to give the left of the party someone they could vote for without their choice getting in the way of the serious business of electing someone who would comfortingly be little different in political outlook to the cipher who had held the job with such a devastating lack of distinction for the previous four-and-a-half years.

It was only when it looked remotely possible that Corbyn might win that the mood music from the massed punditocracy started to change. The warnings started to be issued, the veiled threats were slid out like an assassin's dagger. To choose Corbyn over such wonderfully more eligible candidates such as...erm...Yvette Cooper and Andy Burnham (Blair retreads both) and Liz Kendall (more Blairiste than the wretched war criminal himself, and someone who went from being anonymous in Leicester to being anonymous nationwide in record time) would, it was universally agreed, be an act of suicidal madness on the part of the membership.

That membership, however, seeing for the first time in a generation the chance actually to move the party away from control by the coddlers of millionaires and the cosiers-up to some of the most vicious régimes on the planet, disregarded the hissing of the Grub Street serpents, and using - a delicious irony, this - the electoral system designed under the previous incumbent to try to prevent any challenge to the legacy of Cardinal Richesse himself, voted strongly for a move back towards the party's earlier purpose.

It was then that several sewage outlets hit the wind farm.

That contumely towards the new leadership, totally undisguised and direct, should come from those in the employ (either as staff or as that breed of the happily self-eunuchised known as 'columnists') of rags owned by those whose pricks dress to the right could scarcely be called a surprise, of course. In the mindset of people to whom Blair was just about tolerable as the sort of 'lefty' who never was actually left of anything, any move in a more progressive direction was going to set off every siren going.

So it was that a couple of men whose political positions would have placed them ideologically somewhere in the middle of every Labour government from 1924 to 1979 were characterised as 'militants', 'extremists', 'Hard Left' and - in the last throw of the dice of desperation - 'terrorist supporters'. The members who voted for them - many, but by no means all of whom had joined (or, frequently, re-joined) the party for the express purpose of having their say, something they had been effectively excluded from since the Assumption of Saint Tony - were dismissed as "£3 Trots". Missile after missile of weapons-grade dyspepsia and nuclear-level smear was launched.

The Right laughed: nay, they cachinnated. Surely this would mean that the Apostles of Austerity For The Weak And Social Security For The Right Sort Of People would be in power for a generation?

What was a shock even to some of the more hardened of us was not only the degree but the extent to which those media outlets which still insisted on calling themselves 'liberal', or even somewhat vaguely 'of the left' not only joined in the hurling of ordure but proved themselves to be even more sneering, even more vicious and - because they were, one might think, supposed to be on broadly the same side - far more treacherous in their words and deeds than their officially-Right counterparts. In the weeks since Corbyn and Watson were elected, scarcely a day has gone by without the Guardian launching either a full-frontal assault upon them, or sprinkling any news story or opinion piece which might just conceivably be relevant to politics with little caltrops of innuendo, most of them using the same language as the Mule, the Toryglyph and the Excess.

In this, both wings of that vulture called 'the press' were helped immeasurably by those elements within the Parliamentary Labour Party who had had to witness their preferred cipher-du-jour gather less than five per cent of the vote, and who sensed that their time in the sun had gone and that it was the moment for their time in the Sun as they took it in turns to get themselves quoted in extenso about how their beloved Party (the one to whose members they had been largely deaf for a generation) was in mortal peril now that it was being led by someone who might actually prove to be popular with the millions who had once voted Labour but who no longer saw any point in voting for anyone at all.

One only has to look at the Usual Suspects to gauge the quality of their arguments: Danczuk the self-regarding, self-publicising plagiarist; Woodcock, the missile-lover; Hunt the parachuting historian; Mann, the twinner of Bassetlaw with Beersheba. Yes, these are people to take deadly seriously, all right. All of them have found ready access (and, no doubt, ready cash) via the press to proclaim how they and only they - the 'moderates', the 'realists', the (and I'm not making this up) 'centre-left' - can save Labour, and hence civilisation its very self, from devolving into a Kimmist cult full of brainwashed trolls.

(One of the few regularly chucklesome sights of recent months has been the increasingly desperate tones adopted by some of the Labour right's favourite on-line hang-outs, particularly the ones run by the failed-candidate son of the war criminal Straw, by a man whose (supposedly real) name is an anagram of "Oh, penis!", and the one which I usually refer to as Blairites Unhinged. The convolutions, contortions and self-justificatory bollocks they have - and continue to - come out with is a veritable joy to the soul).

They have been ably abetted in acts of disloyalty that they would never have accepted when they themselves were in the ascendant by not only the scum press but also the absolutely-balanced-and-not-remotely-partisan-oh-deary-me-no BBC, who have used exactly the same tags which these wretches use to describe both themselves and their perceived enemies. And so the new, democratically-elected leader of the Labour Party is never merely 'Jeremy Corbyn', he is "hard-left Jeremy Corbyn", in much the same way that - a few short years ago - people seeking refuge from tyranny were never 'asylum seekers' but "bogus asylum seekers". Equally, those seeking to wield the stiletto whilst at the same time trying to avoid stabbing themselves in the thigh with it are always to be described as 'moderates' and 'centrists', rather than what they really are, which is right-wing (not just in Labour terms, but on the political spectrum generally - the Overton Window has moved so far to the right that it now illuminates a completely different building).

The little words which are used and - more importantly - the ways in which they are used are designed to convey one meaning and one meaning only: that any possibility of a genuine and effective challenge to the existing orthodoxy is not to be countenanced, and that all possible modes of attack must be deployed to ensure that the dear people remain monstrously mal-informed and mis-directed. And if that doesn't work, then there's always the opportunity to distract by means of crippple-bashing, wog-bombing, that highly significant choice of nursery for the People's Princelet, or by throwing even more elderly ex-celebs in jail to satisfy the tabloid lusts (whilst continuing the go-slow on providing any sort of justice to the victims of the squalid squadron of perverts who have been protected by the Westminster-Spook Alliance to the point where the perpetrators are either dead or ga-ga).

That's all when 'Strictly' is out of season, of course.

Let us now leave our own floundering democracy for one which has not merely floundered but haked, haddocked and coelocanthed itself all the way to the bottom of the ocean of corruption and hypocrisy. Yes, it's time to visit the Great Failed Experiment once again!

In the same way that Fukuyama made himself look a complete dick when he called 'The End Of History' simply because one of the planet's two empires of that time had crumbled to dust, anyone who joined in the chorus a handful of years ago which declared that the US was now a 'post-racial society' must now stand revealed as people trying to market donkey-shit as diamonds. If the murderous events of 2014 - Michael Brown, Eric Garner and perhaps hundreds of others less commemorated - could have been dismissed as a set of unfortunate coincidences, then the toll during the year now ending should have put an end to such comforting delusions. In state after state, major city after major city, young non-white men continue to face violent deaths at the hands of state and local police forces who seem to believe - not entirely without reason - that they are immune to the consequences of their lethal actions. That they have, in short, been allowed to assume an essentially paramilitary rôle with the same privileges accorded to similar bodies in the recent histories of much of Latin America.

That the reaction of those in charge of these latter-day death squads has been at best squirmingly inadequate goes without saying; loyalty to the Clan (note spelling, as if it makes any difference in this context) counts for far more than upholding what your oath actually requires you to maintain. That the reaction of that most pathetic of increasingly endangered species The Great White American Liberal has been little more than hand-wringing and moral cowardice is every bit as much a given.

Instead, it has been left - as usual - for the People themselves to get out on the streets and say that this is something which cannot be left to stand. In doing so they have, of course, made themselves the targets for the same municipal militias which caused the problem in the first place, along with the white-supremacist race-baiters and their promoters in both politics and the media. No good, it is deemed by such high-flown intellects as the KKK and Fox News, can possibly come to America from the sight of grieving, angry niggers in the street. And yet, similar manifestations - usually in response to non-existent grievances fuelled by an unwarranted sense of entitlement - by middle-aged and elderly white people are of course, the Lifeblood of American Liberty™.

A similar disconnect - and an equally deliberate and calculating one - comes when an atrocity beyond even the background level of mayhem found daily in large parts of the country is committed. The first (and often, only) question which is asked is: what colour is the perpetrator? If not white, especially if they are now or have ever been Muslim, then it's an act of Terrorism, the perpetrators are Terrorists and we need a Crackdown. However, if the purveyor of mass homicide is white, then he (it's almost always a 'he') is "mentally ill" (which, speaking as someone who sometimes is is deeply insulting), it's "just one of those things", and nothing needs to be done either to control the ready availability of high-powered firearms to any passing nut or seriously to challenge the hyper-inflated rhetoric of the country's Christian Taliban whose frothing about the provision of reproductive healthcare to women (this just in: they're against it) leads the most actively pious of their followers to massacre medical staff and pregnant women in the name of being 'pro-life' (a bitter and twisted irony for the ages, there). But then, this is a country in which a full thirty per cent of the voting base of one of the two main parties recently expressed strong approval for a policy of bombing a country which exists only in a Disney movie.

And the reaction from President Lame Duck? Well, he may allow himself occasionally to express some mild annoyance in public (although not too much, lest it jeopardises his 'bipartisan' approach), but he is ultimately a prisoner not only of his own lack of firmness on this and many other issues, but also of his party's gormless cowardice in the face of an ideological extremism which is - mutatis mutandis - every bit as mindless, every bit as obstructive, and every bit as implacable as anything which could be found today in the Middle East or North Africa.

Except, of course, that those are the very areas where Obama feels that he can safely throw himself about. In Syria as previously in Afghanistan, Iraq and Libya, it takes a truly bold and courageous man to continue in America's fine old tradition - one which, remember, goes back not just to the beginnings of the War On Turrurrrrr but through Vietnam and beyond - of bombing civilian populations from a safe distance and/or encouraging its allies-of-the-moment to overthrow governments which - for all their obvious and glaring faults - do actually hold the varied peoples of that most fissiparous of regions together, and replace them with an ever-shifting pattern of opportunists, gangsters and fifty-seven varieties of religious crackpot. This destroys what unity the peoples of those countries may still have; but then, that is one of the desired outcomes, as a divided people are easier to dominate, and a broken state is one whose salient parts may more easily be bought up at knock-down prices by those who bankroll your campaigns.

(A quick précis of the situation: 'we' are now bombing in support of the people whom 'we' wanted to bomb less than three years ago, when 'we' wanted to bomb them in support of the people 'we' are now bombing. And when 'we' do it it's essential in the fight against Islamist trrrsm, but when the Russians do much the same thing, it's a 'war crime'. Any questions? Yes, Mr Benn?).

One of the inevitable results of the Empire's policy on Syria has been the creation of the worst refugee crisis in Europe in seventy years and - as Syria is not just 'some faraway country', but is actually quite nearby - this has had its greatest impact on Europe, and not merely its south-eastern flank. The sight of thousands of Syrians trying - and, often tragically, failing - to reach sanctuary has been gut-wrenching, and the intestinal knotting has only been made worse by the sight of politicians and pundits indulging themselves in the twisting postures of that great aid to public deportment, the Pontius Pilates Method. "Something must be done!", goes the cry, but with the sotto voce small-print of, "...so long as it doesn't annoy the more ignorant of our core support." tacked on after it.

Most of the actual people of the European states do seem to be made of more principled and more humane stuff, and it has been volunteer groups who have done far more than any government to provide support, succour and welcome to those who have been forced into their predicament by the actions of 'our' governments.

It doesn't pay to be too starry-eyed about this, however: Americans might have an excuse for their ignorance, their country being a long way away from just about everywhere else except Canada and Mexico (which, of course, don't count), and the anti-Muslim sentiments being bandied about by their inveterate know-nothings are par for the course. But here in Europe too, the rise of the far right has been given a boost by cheap populism expressed by even cheaper media and by demagogic politicians who would still be dear at a Euro a tonne. That the year in Europe was bracketed by atrocities committed in the same capital city by the same kind of rebarbative mediaevalists would go some way to explain this, of course: the streets between the offices of Charlie Hebdo and the Bataclan theatre have become a Via Dolorosa for the values of an open and free civilisation. But the resurgence of the extreme right across the continent has other roots. And one of the most baffling things about the age of imposed austerity right across Europe in recent years is how - far from emboldening more progressive forces to rise to the challenge and to present an alternative narrative - it has led instead to ever-larger numbers of people in states right the way from the Atlantic to the Urals supporting parties and even governments which often bring back frightening memories of where the continent stood eighty-odd years ago: Hungary is ruled by a chauvinist clique whose leader seems to think he is the reincarnation of Admiral Horthy; Poland is run by a party which is little more than the political wing of the most regressive elements to be found in Polish Catholicsm; and most other régimes in eastern and central Europe are comprised of the same kleptocracies which have denuded their societies of their wealth and dignity ever since the Fall Of The Wall.

Western Europe has nothing to gloat about: when given the opportunity, the populace has still tended strongly to side with those who have been screwing them over for most of the last decade: in England, in Germany, even in Scandinavia, progressive forces have appeared to be powerless to persuade their respective electorates that putting back into power those who have so sorely abused that power in order to impoverish a large proportion of said electorates is not a sound idea. Instead, flag-waving national exceptionalism combined with a carefully-cultivated fear of The Other have won the day in country after country.

(This might be the moment to expound briefly on a theory I've long held; namely that when asked to choose between a notion of solidarity between different peoples or between disparate groups of people in the same polity on the one hand, and forming the wagons into a circle and waving your own flag for all you're worth on the other, most people can more readily be persuaded towards the latter path. Or, perhaps this isn't the moment: but I reserve the right to come back to it some day).

And even in those rare instances where groupings of the vaguely left-of-centre have managed to get into office, they have found themselves either hamstrung by the iron grip of Business As Usual on the power structures that they have to work within, or they have found themselves pushed about, marginalised and over-ruled by inimical forces beyond their borders. Or, just as frequently, they have been undermined by their own ultimate cowardice in confronting those very same forces.

For 2015 in Europe was the year of The Greek Tragedy. That a firmly left-of-centre movement should take control by democratic consent in a country long under the cosh of international finance and the corruption of its own native élites was an inspirational moment, one which suggested that, yes, peaceful change was possible after all. Except that we soon saw that it wasn't. The most convincing and eloquent figure in the resulting government, Varoufakis (who is, let it be recalled, an actual economist) was sidelined and defenestrated at the behest of those who, a matter of a few months later, were able to beat the Syriza-led government in Athens into a humiliation which ranked on a par with Versailles. Although re-elected to office later in the year, the Tsipras administration is now merely that: an organisation which exists not to govern, but merely to administer the hemlock which has been prescribed for the people of that great and historical land by the gangsters of the Berlin-Brussels-Washington Axis. And thus is democracy suborned, subverted and crushed.

There was the odd bright spot in Europe during the year however, and the overwhelming confirmation of the rightness of marriage equality by public referendum in the Republic of Ireland was a heartening sign that that remarkable land and its people really are throwing off the stained mantle of their cleric-ridden past. Now, howsabout that right of women to control their own bodies...?

But generally, the mood when examining the twisted and foetid entrails of Europe - and, indeed, the world - is a gloomy, even sombre one. Virtually every one of the years I have been performing the idiotic task of trying to sum it up in a few dozen paragraphs has been much the same: with a very few exceptions, the already-too-powerful and their brand of braying reaction remain in the ascendant, with the likelihood of this continuing largely unabated, if only because their power increases by the month and their control over the public discourse will remain largely unchallenged, however many Twitter campaigns and online petitions may be raised against it.

And what of the prospect immediately before us; that is to say, 2016?

Well, there is an election to the Scottish Parliament coming, and the main focus of interest there is not so much whether the SNP can hold their majority but by how much they can increase it, in addition to speculating whether the Labour Party can even hold on to second place, such is the contempt in which it is increasingly held.

There's also an election in Wales at the same time for our National (sic) Assembly-not-a-Parliament-oh-dear-no-you-can't-call-it-that-you-might-start-getting-ideas. That this is going to be a nation-wide non-event is something of a foregone conclusion, the only questions of any interest being, a) whether the Corbyn Effect will give Labour an actual majority for the first time, b) who they will climb into bed with if they don't, given that the LibDems are heading for another shoeing, and c) how many regional seats will the Farrago Cult get, and at whose expense?

And, of course, it's the year in which America's corporations get to choose who will be their Great Nation's CEO for the next four years. When one considers the permitted candidates on offer from the God Offal Party - the passengers in what is not so much a clown car as a clown bus - and considers also that even the least insane of them (sanity being a thoroughly relative term in this context) would be considered to be dangerously deranged by any objective standard, it already looks like what they call there 'a lock' for the wretched Hilary (Sanders has no chance, earthly or otherwise), and with her more of the same cowardice in the face of home-grown right-wing extremism, more of the same bombing of civilians throughout south-western Asia and North Africa, more playing at being The World Cop, more corporate welfare and more and more impoverishment of the population in general to pay for it all. And those who - like Chelsea Manning - try to get the truth about all this out to the mal-informed mass of the population continue to sit in prison cells, or - like Edward Snowden - continue to live in perpetual exile from their families. It's the American Way, but with the Truth and Justice removed by surgical strikes on the Constitution, the Bill Of Rights, and upon any principle which doesn't provide a campaign donor with a free ambassadorship. Even down to the molecular level of society, where a school lunch-lady is sacked for giving a meal to a penniless child who doubtless didn't deserve it by the customary ranking system for her society, the US is - and is likely to continue to be - a terminal case, fucked up every which way.

And the old Earth will keep on spinning, as will the politicians whose platitudes seek to reassure us that they 'care' - about us, about others, about the environment - whilst simultaneously using every opportunity to relieve us of our wealth, our health, our liberties and our remaining hope. And the those insatiable corporate demi-urges who own the political, media and legal machineries of our societies in fee simple will continue with their Shkrelian screw-you arrogance and vindictiveness, safe in the knowledge that their catspaws in our legislatures and judiciaries will 'crack down' on any potentially-effective attempt at holding them to account.

All in all, the view is deepest grey. Flecked with red.

Happy New Year.

(Dedicated to RH, who probably dozed off several paragraphs ago, and who could blame him?) (†)

(* From the Sanskrit, meaning, "That Jerk In The Lotus")

(† Afternote (02/01/16): It's only fair to record that my colleague RH did read right through to the end, stout fellow that he is)