Brexiteers prepare their stab-in-the-back conspiracy theory for failure

It’s funny how history repeats itself. After Germany’s defeat in WW1 the Dolchstoßlegende conspiracy theory — the idea that the German Army did not lose World War I on the battlefield but was instead betrayed by the civilians on the home front was widely believed and promulgated in right-wing circles in Germany. Accordingly, the German government leaders who signed the Armistice on November 11, 1918, were the “November Criminals”.

Now spool forward a century to contemporary Britain, where the lunatic fringe of the Tory party are preparing their very own Dolchstoßlegende. As my Observer colleague, Nick Cohen, puts it:

Patriots who shout about their love of country daily announce their hatred of every British principle that might constrain them. The rule of law and sovereignty of parliament? The Mail echoed every totalitarian movement since the Jacobins and denounced judges as “enemies of the people” for ruling that Brexit couldn’t be triggered without the approval of parliament. Academic freedom? A government whip demanded universities tell him what lecturers were teaching about Brexit. The right of MPs to follow their conscience? Liberal Tories received death threats after the Telegraph called them “mutineers” for not obeying orders and thinking for themselves. Now the civil service is having its ethics besmirched and neutrality threatened. Jacob Rees-Mogg and Steve Baker accused it of plotting to undermine Brexit by producing needlessly pessimistic forecasts. The lie was so demonstrably false even Baker had to apologise. Tellingly, Rees-Mogg did not. Unnervingly, he may be our next prime minister.

You do not have to know much history to recognise a stab-in-the-back myth in the making… So Brexit will not be defeated because the Tory right sold the British a fantasy but because judges, civil servants, saboteurs and mutineers subverted a glorious victory…

History is indeed repeating itself. But this is no farce.

LATER Simon Wren Lewis has a thoughtful blog post about one aspect of this — the way in which expert advice based on carefully-constructed models of what a post-Brexit UK economic would be like are being rubbished by the ministers who commissioned them. Wren-Lewis quotes a paragraph from an astute FT piece by Chris Giles (sadly behind a paywall) which nicely sums up the hypocrisy of this:

“Ministers now have a choice. They can opt for an honest Brexit in which they argue in public that people should pay an economic price for their policies. Or they can opt for a dishonest Brexit, pretending they have a secret plan for economic nirvana and trashing their own internal economic evidence. Ministers’ initial reaction in disowning the analysis suggests deception is the government’s central Brexit strategy. People talk about a crisis in economics. After this episode, it is the crisis in politics that should really concern us.”

Developer’s Remorse kicks in

At last! The Center for Humane Technology has launched.

From the NYT report:

Its first project to reform the industry will be to introduce a Ledger of Harms — a website aimed at guiding rank-and-file engineers who are concerned about what they are being asked to build. The site will include data on the health effects of different technologies and ways to make products that are healthier.

Jim Steyer, chief executive and founder of Common Sense, said the Truth About Tech campaign was modeled on antismoking drives and focused on children because of their vulnerability. That may sway tech chief executives to change, he said. Already, Apple’s chief executive, Timothy D. Cook, told The Guardian last month that he would not let his nephew on social media, while the Facebook investor Sean Parker also recently said of the social network that “God only knows what it’s doing to our children’s brains.”

Mr. Steyer said, “You see a degree of hypocrisy with all these guys in Silicon Valley.”

The new group also plans to begin lobbying for laws to curtail the power of big tech companies. It will initially focus on two pieces of legislation: a bill being introduced by Senator Edward J. Markey, Democrat of Massachusetts, that would commission research on technology’s impact on children’s health, and a bill in California by State Senator Bob Hertzberg, a Democrat, which would prohibit the use of digital bots without identification.

Government by taxidermy

Nice, perceptive column by Matthew d’Ancona:

Still, though, one continues to hear that [Theresa May] should stay where she is, as the only senior Tory who can realistically preside over the “constructive ambiguity” required by the Brexit talks – publicly demanding a clean break while quietly negotiating the complex, nuanced and unheroic deal that anyone remotely sensible knows is the only halfway palatable outcome.

The trouble is, she is doing no such thing. She is not the deft manager of meaning, soothing all sides and persuading each faction that its interests are being respected. She is the stuffed remnant of a once-optimistic prime minister, helpless in the midst of anarchic cacophony. This is government by taxidermy.

Yep. Amazing, perplexing — and alarming — to watch.

How to handle difficult customers

This (from The Register) made my day:

One Boxing Day (December 26th for US readers who inexplicably don’t get it as a holiday) Ant met “an especially unpleasant and angry woman” who showed up with a computer in a shopping trolley.

“She stormed straight past the lengthy queue shouting ‘you’re all a bunch of stupid wankers’ and loudly proclaiming things like ‘how can you be so fck!ng stupid and sell fck!ng computers that don’t f*ck!ng work’.”

Ant and his crew decided it was better to let her jump the queue than let her stand in it shouting obscenities, so made her case a priority even as she continued to complain that her sound and CD drive were both “f*ck!ng faulty”.

This incident took place back when speakers slotted into the side of the monitor. The customer’s were still in their plastic wrapping with the cables tied up inside. Ant rated this fix “pretty easy”.

So did other customers still waiting behind the abusive woman in the queue. Ant told us those other shoppers “found it amusing when we pointed out – super and artificially nicely – that you had to plug the speakers in.”

The rude customer responded with “Well the CD’s f*ck!ng stuck”. She was right, Ant told us, because when he used the manual eject button to pop the tray open there was a a CD-ROM in the tray. Still in its plastic sleeve, which rather impaired the drive tray’s operation.

“It was lovely explaining to her, in front of the now openly laughing queue, that you had to take CDs out of their covers before putting them in anything.”

“That made the rest of the day fly by.”