Josh Ireland (2018) The Traitors: A True Story of Blood, Betrayal and Deceit.

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Josh Ireland’s The Traitors was an Observer Book of the year and it’s terrific. A history book written like a novel and takes the reader from the hungry thirties to the post-war triumph of the new-world order. For those that backed the Axis powers and the Nazis, but were born in Britain, traitors to a man, there could be no redemption, but not all faced the hangman’s rope.

There are parallels now with the nineteen thirties with the growth in right-wing governments. The narcissistic demand to be worshipped and the simplistic ideology of them and us. In Trump’s world view, for example, it’s not the wicked Jews, but Muslims, non-whites, Mexicans and those that have the wrong kind of children, poor children that are suspect. They are to blame for all of society’s ills. Borders need to be reinforced. Sanctions taken. More barbed wire, walls and prisons built.  If they just had the right kind of children, rich children, we wouldn’t have these problems is the right kind of conservative belief. If governments, bureaucrats, and little men just got out of the way of the market, and gave free rein to the whip hand of employers. Stupid is, as stupid does. Britain First sounds very much like Make America Great Again and the hidden hand is an iron fist.

Oswald Mosley is surrounded by traitors. It is 28th May 1930 and in the stuffy airless chamber of the House of Commons he has been speaking, without notes, for over an hour. All around him sit men of power and influence…Britain is in the grip of a ruinous depression, and while they should be exerting every sinew to resolve what Mosley believes threatens to equal any in the country’s long and studied history, but instead ‘These old men with their long dead minds embalmed in the tombs of the past’ continue to betray the promises made to the generation who came of age in the blood and squalor of the Great War. When the veterans returned they were promised a land fit for heroes, but found themselves ignored…imprisoned in the damp and disease ridden walls of slum housing and have to bring up their children to share their misery.

Mosley, despite his star-billing, only plays a bit part in Ireland’s litany of Traitors. And such is the brilliance of Ireland’s prose I felt sympathetic toward Mosley in a way I never could towards the moron’s moron in the Whitehouse. Mosley, like Mussolini, flittered with socialism, before settling on fascism as an answer to society’s ills. The moron’s moron never had a thought but for himself and even a gifted author such as Ireland would be hard pushed to make him human.

Perhaps the closest match in this book is John Amery, son of Leo, a MP and minister in Churchill’s wartime coalition cabinet.  John Amery turns from a spoiled and rotten child into a spoiled and rotten drunken, whoring, manchild. He falls quite readily into Hitler’s plans to make the Duke of Westminster King and for Mosley to be Prime Minster in a puppet government run along the lines of the one in Paris. Amery would be high up in the new Nazi-backed British government, and imagines himself in the top job he deserves. The lies we tell ourselves are often the most honest thing about us.

William Joyce, Lord Haw-Haw, as he was known to tens of millions of British subjects listening to his broadcasts on the wireless, was an honest man. He had been the darling of Mosley’s fascist party in England and hated Jews with a religious intensity. There hadn’t been room in the fascist party for two such giant-sized egos so Joyce started his own fascist party, but like a pint-sized Nigel Farage, outside the glare of publicity it withered and died. When war started Joyce did the honourable thing and travelled to Berlin with his wife to offer his services to the Nazi Party. One could never imagine Farage, like the moron in the Whitehouse, ever doing anything honourable.

Harold Cole was a dishonourable thief with ideas above his station. He joined the army in the nineteen thirties and seemed to make a decent job of it, being promoted to corporal and acting as chauffer to an officer in Hong Kong, before stealing the car and fleeing. He washed up and found his feet posing as an officer in Petain’s France and claiming to help allied soldiers and winged airman get back to good old blighty. With a nod and a wink he assured those that helped him that British intelligence would reimburse him. He established a reputation and a working network, remarkably, British intelligence did start to help him. The Abwehr were also willing to make him an offer he couldn’t refuse. Not that Cole ever had any intention of doing such a thing. Looking after number one was his only religion and his only ideology. He was quite willing to give names, including his wife and lovers, while watching them tortured and beaten to death.

Eric Pleasants has a good Cornish ring to it, connotations of our green and pleasant land.  His father was a gamekeeper with a limp and a lungful of poisoned gas, the legacy of the war to end all wars. Eric would have prospered nowadays, careful of what he ate, he never drank or smoked, a circus strongman and wrestler, he worshipped his body. War was a mug’s game and he wasn’t playing. He had no intention of joining up. Traffic lights were invented because nobody would give way. Bring me a man and I’ll fight him to the death was his motto. Otherwise leave me alone. Interred in Jersey, sent to a French labour squad, he joined  a squad of the British legion to fight for the Germans against their putative common enemy Russia and Communism, not because he believed in it, but because of boredom, better rations and sex. He was not punished by the British government. The seven years he spent interred in the gulags of the Soviet system seemed punishment enough. His is perhaps the most interesting story.

Traitors, a vision of them and us, based on an ideology of common hatred is an old religion. One man’s terrorist is another man’s freedom fighter doesn’t cover it. When the tectonic plates of world events shift, as they are doing now, in particular, with global warming and the imminent starvation of tens and perhaps hundreds of millions, simple ideology is a potent weapon for radical changes that have at their base, ironically, visions of the status quo, where the rich remain the same old tired faces, mouthing the same thing as our thirties friends. We can’t all be Judas. The world is no longer big enough.


Dispatches, The Secrets of Sport Direct, Channel 4, 8pm

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Reporter Harry Wallop goes undercover to investigate Sports Direct, and its owner Mike Ashley, listed as the twenty-third richest man in Britain, with an estimated fortune of £3.5 billion.  I must admit a conflict of interests here. I own three-supersized Sports Direct mugs. Indirectly, I’ve contributed to Ashley’s fortune.

The first half hour (or excluding adverts, twenty minutes) of the programme was hokum. Wallop found that it didn’t matter what Sports Direct store he went to he could purchase the same goods for the same price. Sports Direct were using a marketing trick of saying the shop, for example, in Glasgow, was about to close and everything must go. Whisper it. It wasn’t about to close. And the discounts weren’t really discounts. Sports Direct products were just cheaper than most anywhere else. A consumer lawyer was brought in to bang on about consumer rights.

The next half hour (twenty minutes) was more interesting. Mike Ashley owns Newcastle United football club and he also owns just under ten percent of Rangers football club. This allows him to promote Sports Direct at no cost and he owns all merchandising rights. Those were estimated at £3.4 million from Newcastle United in the last financial year. Figures for Rangers were not available, but not only does he own the merchandising rights for all goods sold by the club shop, he also owns the rights to the mascot, Broxi Bear, and there are rumours that Ibrox stadium and Murray Park have been put up for collateral for the loans he has made to a club he has never visited. Mike Ashley does not need to explain himself. Newcastle and Rangers football clubs are small beer in Ashley’s business empire.

The secret of Sports Direct success is quite simple. Economies of scale with horizontal and vertical integration.  Ashley bought sports companies such as Dunlop. That gave him license to manufacture goods with that imprint. Sport Direct doesn’t just sell goods. It also manufactures them in China and ships them over to shops in Britain. This cuts out the middle man. It also allows the company to employ a ‘just in time’ system in which the appropriate discounted goods appears in all the shops at the same time. Mike Ashley has total control of buying and selling his products.

Mike Ashley also has total control of the workers involved in manufacturing and selling his goods. An estimated three-quarters of his 14 500 British employees are on zero-hours contracts and this is why he was asked to appear before the House of Commons, select committee. Keith Hallawell, a former high-ranking police officer, and chairman of Sports Direct appeared in his place. Zero-hour contracts give employers the flexibility to employ workers when and where they are needed. That’s the official jargon.

Zero-hours contracts are a legal and immoral way of screwing workers into the ground. Minimum wage is maximum wage. Workers are employed on a day to day basis. They do not know how few or how many hours they are expected to work. What workers do know is they will be expected to work flat out. An undercover reporter working in Sports Direct Shirebrook’s plant, which employs over 5000 workers, was told he wasn’t working fast enough. He was also told he was near the bottom of some spurious league table that monitored workers’ output and he was likely to be sacked if that continued. An atmosphere of fear added to by supervisors spreading company propaganda that some worker had been sacked on the spot for not working hard enough.

But of course these workers on zero-hour contracts aren’t directly employed by Sports Direct. They are employed by two agencies—that cancer in our society—set up to keep workers from having any rights. Sports Direct are not directly responsible for its workers. They are directly responsible for its profit and they are directly responsible to Mike Ashley. Mike Ashley is responsible to Mike Ashley. He’s doing very well for himself. A model businessman running a model business.