Vice is a pleasingly cynical Big Short for the Iraq and Afghanistan wars

Dick Cheney, February 2011 by Gage Skidmore

I’m unsure if I was supposed to enjoy the joyous cynicism of the opening half-hour of Vice as much as I did, nor if I was enjoying it quite as its creators intended. Either way, it was hard not to.

Adam McKay’s stylised biopic leaves you in no doubt that Dick Cheney, recent US vice president, is a bastard. After an early stint of feckless drunkenness he tries political wonkery, and is sufficiently impressed by the crudeness of a young Donald Rumsfeld to become a Republican. Some diversions aside, he keeps rising.

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Who cares what a bunch of old writers think about the EU?

Few comments in recent British history are as infamous as Michael Gove’s statement about the country’s impatience with experts, usually shortened in the retelling to omit his qualifier “from organisations with acronyms” and his reference to the dubious records of such bodies.

The post-referendum fetishizing of experts among some remainers has been an amusing trend. One of the stronger factors that predicted whether one voted leave or remain was whether you attended university, leading to such glorious headlines as: “Brexit caused by low levels of education, study finds”.

The notion that leave is a project for thickies remains a core belief for certain remainers. Last week the Guardian even ran a story claiming that “30 top intellectuals” believe Europe is “coming apart before our eyes”. But who are these people?

Writers, basically. Sure, some are historians, some philosophers, and some hacks – but all scribblers. Pan-European scribblers, but scribblers nonetheless.

The Graun has form in this domain, having previously published a letter by forty “senior academics”, among whom were experts in comic book characters, zombies and video games. Such people are qualified to sit on obscure panels at still more obscure conferences, but newspapers should probably not be citing them when discussing whether Jeremy Corbyn is a promoter of anti-semitism.

Even assuming the Guardian took no view on the merits of the academics’ argument, it must thought it worth readers’ attention. And so it must also be with the letter from the “intellectuals”, who want to claim “the legacy of Erasmus, Dante, Goethe and Comenius” and depict their opponents as championing a “politics of disdain for intelligence and culture”.

(All this is claimed while they tout their own enlightened “European patriotism”, somehow immune to the flaws they see in other nationalisms.)

This invites the query: why should the layman care what Ian McEwan, to name one signer, thinks about the EU? He may be an intellectual in the sense he can make money publicly musing on higher things, but his qualifications to muse on European governance with any authority seem dubious. He is an expert, just not in the subject under discussion.

A scan of the Wikipedia entries for much of the rest of the list – many perhaps unfamiliar to even Guardian readers – reveals a smattering of novelists, poets and playwrights. Unless those playwrights were James Graham, the mind behind Brexit: The Uncivil War, why should anyone care?

Bonus point: Many remainers have been keen to undermine Brexit by pointing out how ancient and decrepit many who voted for it were. People who are about to snuff it surely shouldn’t be allowed to have a say in how the country is run, they argue.

The average age of this letter’s signers? 71 years.

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Peterloo is a pro-Brexit film

Peterloo is quite a dull film. Its settings are mostly drab, many characters are unsympathetic, and the final riot is anticlimactic.

Among the film’s most glaring flaws is the cartoonish portrayal of all the poshos as psychopaths or idiots. Tim McInnerny’s turn as the prince regent, later George IV, even evokes his time in Blackadder, which generally showed aristocrats as the latter.

The feting of Mike Leigh, Peterloo’s director, by Corbynites and progressives is thus intuitive enough, and more so than the attempts by some to recast Peterloo as a significant event in British history worth including in school curriculums.

But in attacking the ruling political, military and judicial elites as variously out of touch, callous or careless, the film is convincingly pro-Brexit, in spite of Leigh’s implication that “intelligent, working people” were misled in the referendum.

The central complaint of the film is that working people need more say over their lives, and particularly that all men should be given the vote (and perhaps even women).

This is the same call for British “sovereignty” (read: lawmaking powers) to be returned from Brussels, and for Westminster politicians to stop pursuing policies that clash with voters’ wishes.

Anti-democracy campaigners may be less sneering today than their forebears, but they are just as convinced that they know best, and that people of quality – previously breeding, now education – should take decisions on behalf of the great unwashed mass of thickies.

Nothing drawn from watching Peterloo would incline you to agree.

MPs’ changing habits in the Palace of Westminster

Those interested in parliamentary culture, and particularly how its affects the legislature’s ability to check the government, should read Chris Mullin’s recent article in the London Review of Books.

The former Sunderland South Labour MP notes the shrinking window for parliamentary business as Commons members increasingly retreat to their constituencies to handle casework after prime minister’s questions on Wednesday afternoon.

As he puts it: ‘I’m in favour of constituency-based MPs. That’s not the problem. I was one myself. I wonder, however, if the balance has tipped too far. Scrutiny of the executive is what Parliament is supposed to be about.’

On the flipside, he notes speaker John Bercow’s generous granting of ‘urgent questions’, which call a minister before the Commons, and the rise of ‘select committees’, which can investigate widely and call important people to testify – though as Vote Leave campaign director Dominic Cummings has proved, those summoned can refuse.

Though much has changed, Parliament retains a few oddities, not least in its refusal to implement electronic voting for members. However, as Mullin points out, this does offer the chance for interaction in the division lobbies between ministers and MPs, the former ‘unaccompanied by an entourage.’

As the piece attests, parliamentary life, much like the Palace of Westminster, is a tad ramshackle, with the new grafted messily to the old. For the foreseeable I find it unlikely that the legislature, and moreso the British constitution, will alter its reforming habits.