PostMark with Mark Blackmore in Devon
Former PN journalist writes a column for Penguin News in the Falkland Islands from his house in Devon UK
Jingle my bells, is it Christmas already? I wondered why the kids kept dropping hints about gifts. I just thought they were greedy sods. Come to think of it, for a couple of weeks now there has been a seven-foot Christmas tree in our front room, obstructing my view of the TV. When you put all the clues together, it starts to make sense.
On that note, my wife Lucy answered the door today to our postman. “Hello,” he said. “I used to live here.”
Turns out Postie, his wife and kids were our tenants during the most recent of our Falklands years. They’d had to leave the house in a hurry because the letting agency had been playing silly buggers, failing to pass on the five months’ notice we had given.
With Postie’s family hastily relocated, I was in the loft and spotted a large Christmas tree. Tenants must have left it, I thought. I dragged it into the front room, and soon it was infested with bulbs and danglers. Only now Postie was back, and he pointed to our front window and said: “I was going to ask if we left our Christmas tree, but I see you’ve found it.”
Had it been me, I would have told him he was hallucinating and called the police. But like almost everyone in the world, Lucy is a nicer person than me, so she immediately offered to hand it over, on the condition that he would have to take the lights too, because she was not getting into that mess again. Fortunately enough he was more amused than outraged, and said he’d pick it up in the new year. So now it’s fair to say we have evicted him, nicked his tree, and sit on his postal route as a constant reminder.
But I’m still not giving him a Christmas tip.
When even a scruffy halfwit like me could see the rightness of MLA Barkman’s cause, it drives home what an enormous waste of time, money and emotional energy this whole episode has been.
MLA Barkman and I were never particularly friendly when I lived with you guys. Indeed, we clashed quite unpleasantly, if ironically given recent events, when I said you should extend the voting franchise, and again later when I perhaps unwisely commented on Hollywood beauty standards for women. On that occasion she joined the list of people who came into the office to have things out with me personally, only to realise that I wasn’t there.
What none of these people realised is that I had an ejector seat at my desk, activated by typing the word ‘Houdini’ on my keyboard. By the time they made it past Fran I was already landing outside the museum, cackling madly. I hope my replacement Paula knows about this, by the way. Paula, never write a feature about famous escape artists.
Anyway, I have no idea who first inserted that nonsense into the constitution because of some vague notion that Argentina would somehow take advantage. But when it was discovered, with a constitutional review actually underway, would it not have been better to file it under ‘TBC’ and then deal with it after the review? By which point, in the name of all that is sensible, it would have been removed. Perhaps this was not possible legally. I’m sure there have never been any occasions where issues of questionable legality have been sorted out by administrative means, ever in the history of the Falklands.
I don’t doubt this ludicrous episode has left behind some interpersonal difficulties among MLAs and officials, and no wonder, since an elected MLA was forced to appeal in the Supreme Court to keep from being removed on shaky legal grounds. Not a good look, chaps.
The Covid Inquiry rumbles on, and it seems Prime Minister Rishi Sunak’s Whatsapp messages from the period under review have disappeared, because he has changed phones and those particular messages failed to copy over. That’s weird though, because when the Inquiry first asked for the messages to be handed over, the Prime Minister’s office launched a legal effort to deny the request. It was only when this effort failed that Sunak said he didn’t have the messages anyway. So why not say so in the first place?
While he was up there insulting everyone’s intelligence, Sunak also took the opportunity to answer “I don’t recall” upwards of 20 times, referring to vital meetings, decisions and conversations. The poor chap seems to have very little memory of his period as Chancellor, though he did remember to say that he felt his nickname within government during Covid – Dr Death – was jolly unfair. Of course, he could have taken a flamethrower to half the population and he wouldn’t remember, so I fear he might have to live with it.
While scanning the internet for job vacancies today I couldn’t help but notice that Falkland Islands Television is advertising for a broadcast journalist. Obviously I sent in my application instantly, along with a special painting I’ve done. It’s Michelangelo’s The Last Supper except everyone at the table with Jesus is FITV staff. That should get my foot in the door.
I was slightly worried about immigration rules as I only left six months ago, but those rules probably don’t apply to me as I am special. To the FITV angels, I simply say this: I await your missive awarding me the post with impatience and a zesty ardour.
It was encouraging to see a letter with 11 signatories in last week’s issue asking MLAs to call for a ceasefire in Gaza. I must admit, I had noticed that a statement made a swift appearance following October 7, but the murder of over 20,000 Palestinians has thus far been met with silence. Today Foreign Secretary David Cameron called for a ceasefire, for Christ’s sake. True, that would get him suspended from the modern Labour Party, but I think it’s a good indication that MLAs no longer have to worry about the Foreign Office kicking them up the holes should they do the same.
Actually last week’s letters page was good, because there was also the letter from FIFCA about the rise in fees. I haven’t heard such an annoying high-pitched whine since the days of the old modem dial-up connection.
The fishing companies have for too long made obscene amounts of money without paying their fair share to the community. During my time in the Islands I constantly heard from them about their charity work, or the way their industry props up the economy. In the former case, charitable donations are not a replacement for proper taxation. In the latter, it’s not really the companies doing the work, is it? It’s the fishermen on the boats, working themselves half to death for peanuts while their labour is exploited.
So yes, these companies should contribute more. It’s not like they’re unrewarded – those guys are among the richest in the Falklands, and they’re all complaining from atop enormous piles of cash about how unfair things are.
Knight of the realm Sir Keir Starmer has visited Glasgow, where he drew an ever-growing crowd of unhappy Scots as he fled from engagement to engagement. The particular issue causing the anger was Starmer’s support for Israel’s tactics in Gaza, including cutting off water and electricity. But polls show he is personally extremely unpopular anyway. He will almost certainly win a low-turnout election at some point in 2024, but that’s because only the blindest, most diehard Conservative Party voters think they are fit for another term in office. Even Tories can see those guys need a break.
Starmer is a politician who doesn’t seem to have any politics. In this, he takes inspiration from Tony Blair, and further afield, Bill Clinton and Barack Obama. All of these electorally successful politicians were also entirely pragmatic, but the only way they were able to sell that was by giving the impression of a vision. They were hucksters, skilled at tapping into a desire for hope and change while offering very little of either. Starmer does not have that skill.
Pragmatism without a set of guiding principles is actively harmful. If you are constantly triangulating to be just about on the popular side of your opponent’s position, then you end up following them wherever they lead. When Conservatives say that public services are overwhelmed because the country is flooded with immigrants, we need the opposition to point out that this is a lie, that public services are overwhelmed because austerity policies have slashed funding. Instead they criticize Tories for allowing too much immigration. They have already conceded the argument, and turn to splitting hairs on who would more competently deliver the cruelty.
Where did the terms of Clinton, Obama and Blair lead? George W Bush, Donald Trump, Brexit, Johnson, Truss and Sunak. Because ideological arguments were not fought. The hard right fights for an ideology, and so even when they lose elections, they win the argument and it’s their policies that are implemented. How’s that working out for everyone?