Opinion

John Lloyd

Fordism forever

John Lloyd
Nov 25, 2013 21:11 UTC

Canadians are frequently stereotyped as reasonable, free of drama, pleasant, courteous — a mild people. A recent New Yorker cartoon showed a group of animals labeled as “Canadian lemmings,” halted at the edge of a cliff, saying: “No, after you!” The Toronto Star ran a column by Vinay Menon last weekend quoting the MSNBC commentator Chris Matthews saying that Canada always struck him to be “like you’re visiting a really nice mall.”

The Star column is an acute reflection of the embarrassment, and even irritation, that I’ve found many Canadians express when you poke them in the ribs and say — “Well, what about your mayor of Toronto?”

Rob Ford, the top elected official in Canada’s largest city, has from relative obscurity hauled himself to the top of the league of extraordinary political volcanoes with eruptions of obscenity, sexual innuendo, crack cocaine use, heavy drinking, violent temper tantrums and calling the news media “a bunch of maggots” for reporting on his activities. In record time, Ford has streaked past the previous world champion of anti-statesmanship, Silvio Berlusconi.

TV news and talk shows are uniting in an orgy of scandalized delight. The comedy shows are mocking news, the news shows are presenting the facts as mockery and the talk shows are bouncing joyfully off both. In the foyer of my hotel people stopped to watch Ford’s circus while not slowing down for the historic signing of the Iranian nuclear accords. In the U.S., Comedy Central’s The Daily Show has made Ford a constant feature, Saturday Night Live parodied him more than once in a single episode, and in China Next Media has been producing animated videos that feature him.

Over the weekend, taking the political temperature of Toronto, I went around with volunteers canvassing one of the four Canadian federal by-elections that were scheduled for Monday. Several citizens in a poor district shouted at the volunteers, “I don’t want no crack cocaine today. Thanks!” A supervisor at a homeless shelter was shouting at an emaciated woman smoking crack who was huddled in a doorway as snow whirled on the freezing street, and threatened to call the police. His colleague told me, “They say, what am I doing that the mayor ain’t?” I suggested that maybe the mayor would be around looking for a room one day. “Well,” she said, “a lot of people have said that to me. And I say we’d need to put two or three beds together to hold him!”

The inconvenient voters of Europe

John Lloyd
Nov 19, 2013 17:06 UTC

Sixty years ago, pondering the question of an unruly populace, the German playwright Bertolt Brecht mused, “Would it not be easier / In that case, for the government / To dissolve the people / And elect another?”

It was a rare piece of ironic criticism of East Germany’s communist regime for Brecht, since he usually supported it. But after the regime’s suppression of a workers’ revolt in 1953, he spoke out. It’s one of his most famed observations, trotted out whenever a populace is ungrateful enough to vote “against their own good.”

European Union politicians can sympathize. They’ve labored for six decades to fashion a union that was supposed to end wars and greatly expand economic markets, not to mention bring former communist states into freedom.

A tale of two citizenships

John Lloyd
Nov 12, 2013 18:25 UTC

When New York City Mayoral-elect Bill de Blasio strode on stage for his victory speech last week, he said that “the people of this city have chosen a progressive path.” But will they stick with it (and him)?

The international media, at least, are skeptical. The Economist opined that “New Yorkers may yet miss (Michael) Bloomberg.” The Wall Street Journal gave generous space to doubters like the omnipresent Professor Larry Sabato of the University of Virginia’s Center for Politics, who said that de Blasio “could go too far left, because there’s a tolerance for moderation, not necessarily for liberalism.” The Financial Times’ columnist Christopher Caldwell took an opposite, but still skeptical, tack, questioning how far his leftism would really go: “de Blasio would be more like his predecessor than meets the eye.” Only the liberal New York Times was generally welcoming, but covered itself against his possible failure by noting that “he is a politician who has yet to prove himself as a manager, and it will be a steep learning curve.”

To the UK Labor Party’s leader Ed Miliband, however, de Blasio’s victory was particularly sweet. I recently talked to a member of his “shadow cabinet” — the group of opposition parliamentarians that correspond to the government’s cabinet — and was told that Miliband’s pitch of a “one nation Labor party” was based on inculcating an ethic of solidarity among citizens and reversing the rampant individualism that Miliband sees encouraged by Prime Minister David Cameron (and that de Blasio sees as having been fostered by ex-Mayor Bloomberg). So while recognizing that Britain is not New York, the two men share a common sense that a new civic mindset is as important as any specific measures.

Russell Brand’s socialist revolution

John Lloyd
Nov 5, 2013 21:49 UTC

Russell Brand, the British comedian, used a guest editorship of the 100-plus-year-old leftist magazine New Statesman last month to call for a “total revolution of consciousness and our entire social, political and economic system.” Capitalism, and the ideology that sustains it — “100 percent corrupt” — must be overthrown. He also doesn’t think people should vote, as partaking in democracy would further the illusion that a rotten system could change. It was a call, albeit chaotically phrased, for a socialist revolution.

Born into the middle class, Brand’s childhood was disturbed: his photographer father left when he was six months old, his mother developed cancer when he was eight (but survived), he left home in his mid-teens and took to drugs. He later became a star, delighted in promiscuity, married the singer Katy Perry for a year and a half and grew modestly (by star standards) rich, with an estimated net worth of $15 million and a lovely new Hollywood millionaire bachelor’s pad.

None of this disqualifies him from speaking and writing seriously about politics, nor from calling for a socialist revolution. Marx was born into the upper-middle class, Lenin was a minor aristocrat by birth, Stalin studied to be a priest and Mao was the son of a wealthy farmer. Even Pol Pot came from a peasant family considered relatively wealthy by the standards of the times. All of these people called for, or launched, revolutions. No reason, then, to believe that a demand for a 21st century socialist revolution could not be launched from the Hollywood Hills, or from a BBC studio.

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