Wokelore - The Johnson Culture Wars & Other Stories

By Hardeep Matharu

Thirty essays by contributors to the Byline Times that uncover the truths nobody else wants to tell


Nafeez Ahmed reports on Home Office private advice suggesting a ‘zombie herd immunity’ policy risking hundreds of deaths.

Leaked recordings of a Home Office conference call on Tuesday, exclusively obtained by Byline Times, reveal that the Government has all but given up in its fight against the Coronavirus and is intent on simply finding “a method of managing it within the population”.

The recordings show Home Office Deputy Science Advisor Rupert Shute stating repeatedly that the Government believes “we will all get” COVID-19 eventually. The call further implied that the Government now considers hundreds of thousands of deaths unavoidable over a long-term period consisting of multiple peaks of the disease.

While urging the importance of reducing the burden on the NHS by staying at home, Shute downplayed the risk of people contracting the virus at work.

He said: “It’s perfectly okay to carry on around your business. And it’s vitally important that you do as there’s a whole bunch of supply chains and the economy that needs to continue running… So carrying on with your normal work is not putting you in harms way anymore so than staying at home or going out shopping. So I keep coming back to this point that we are all going to get this at some point. And it’s about making sure that we have a really strong NHS there to support us when we do get sick.”

The policy being communicated by the Home Office privately among Government staffers is at odds with Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s statement at a press conference three weeks ago that the next 12 weeks could “turn the tide of this disease”.

Selective transcripts of the recordings were published by BBC News and widely reported across the British press from there. But the BBC News story focused primarily on fears that the Home Office’s insistence on staff showing up to work for Her Majesty’s Passport Office would put them at heightened danger of contracting COVID-19.

While valid, this angle failed to cover the leak’s wider revelations regarding the Government’s broader strategy. A fuller analysis of leaked recordings obtained by Byline Times reveals that the Government remains committed to the idea that the vast majority of the UK population will contract COVID-19, making a minimum number of deaths inevitable, albeit over a longer period of time.

Using the Government’s own lowest estimate of a fatality rate at around 0.5%, this confirms that it has resigned itself to the expectation that some 264,000 Britons will inevitably die in ensuing months and years from the disease….


Peter Jukes and his best friend discover a mysterious dark continent in their romantic misadventures after the first Brexit Referendum.

Then the first car for an hour – a beaten up De Cheveau – suddenly put on its brake lights and reversed. Where did we want to go? the two young men inside asked. ‘Le Sud’ we said, tentatively. They laughed. They were going all the way to Provence. Well, it wasn’t quite Spain, but it was our first proper lift for any distance. We were on our way.

The heavy clouds began to break up as the two students drove us south and over the Massif Central. They picked up another hitchhiker – a girl, the first girl I’d talked to since Clara. I thought of her thinking about me somewhere in the wilds of Aquitaine. Some runny cheese was handed out with fresh crusty bread. This Europe was cool – they had a guitar and smoked Gaulois and played political ballads on their tape machine. We started singing along. Monsieur, Le President, il fault t’ecrit une lettre. It was like being driven back into the ’60s, that decade our older brothers enjoyed but we’d only experienced like some bad Monday morning hangover.

Some 12 hours later, once we’d said goodbye to our radical friends at a service station somewhere near Avignon, we hitched another ride south. The driver and his passenger were turning off at a place called Sète, many miles short of the Spanish border. It was well past midnight as he dumped us on the verge of the Autoroute and we looked for a place to sleep in an adjacent field: a rocky, rutted hillside, with lines of gnarled vines. The grapes were small, hard and inedible. But we ate them anyway. We’d made it to the South! It wasn’t raining and below the Mediterranean was glistening in the moonlight. Instead of the meaty herbal smell in my sleeping bag, I could smell rosemary and pine…

Markie told me to shut up. He couldn’t smell anything, or at least anything new. For some reason, the roadside car fumes or the sleeplessness, his sense of smell had seized up and the runny Camembert we ate with the students had lodged permanently in his nose. He’d tried everything – coffee, chocolate, cheap red wine and now these bitter unripe grapes. “I can’t smell anything anymore, Pete!” he said. “All I can smell is that cheese!”

Many years later, Markie discovered he had an extreme lactose intolerance and that polyps had formed in his nostrils. I thought it was just a Gunter Grass moment and fell fast asleep almost immediately. But, invaded by a universe of Camembert, Markie didn’t sleep at all and the next thing I knew he was shaking me: “Pete. Get up. Someone is coming.”

A serene blue sky and bright sun. The blue Mediterranean coast below. Then a shout, a whistle and a clink of iron. I sat up to see a tough, swarthy looking farmer bringing his horse and a plough towards us. In a second or two he would see us. What’s the punishment for trespassing down here? What if we got done for scrumping his grapes? Moments later, the peasant and his horse must have seen something extraordinary: two pale, unwashed teenagers running down his vineyard towards the motorway and the sea.

We kept on running, right over the junction towards the coast. I wanted to stop and start hitching to Spain, but Markie had had enough by now. A second night in a row out in the open, a third night in a row he hadn’t slept; the Smell of Europe was invading him. He needed a bed, a youth hostel, a roof over his head and now my rucksack was broken.

So, we kept on going on the road till we hit the sea.


 Hardeep Matharu takes a personal look at how the complicated love-hate relationship of immigrants from former colonies with the British Empire cannot be ignored if lessons are to be learned in post-Brexit Britain.

 Swaraj, the first name of my father, means ‘self-rule’ and was a term used by Gandhi to describe India’s quest for independence from hundreds of years of British rule. My grandfather gave him the name as he was born in August 1947, when India finally achieved self-governance.

Raised in Nairobi, Kenya, until he was 18, my Dad spent two years in India, before coming to Britain in 1967 aged 20. His family, Indian Punjabis, had originally gone to Kenya to build the railways for the British.

Hardeep’s father Swaraj in Nairobi, Kenya, with his sister. Photo: Hardeep Matharu

While recognising the violence of colonisation, my father enjoyed growing up under British influence.

“I liked the way of life when I was in Kenya under the British rule, everything was run properly, all the laws, the administration,” he told me. “It was a very nice place to be and that’s how I’ve always had this loyalty to Britain and I always wanted to come to England and I wanted to be part of this country. I had no problems settling here.

“I used to read magazines like Time magazine, Life magazine, Reader’s Digest and the old Daily Mirror papers, Eagle comics in Kenya. I learnt to speak, read and write English at school because we had English teachers so I had no problem when I came over to Britain.”

What about racism? I asked him.

“Racism was something I was used to in Kenya as well. I knew that it existed, over there they used to call it ‘colour bar’. There were certain hotels that were only meant for white people and there were certain parts of Nairobi where only white people could buy houses and live, Asians weren’t allowed. So I knew from a very young age that this went on.

“There was a lot of racism [when I came to Britain], but one had to learn to live with it.”

Britain has a moral obligation to reconnect with the Commonwealth and I consider that a form of reparations… If we’re going to have free movement, it should be between Britain and India, Pakistan and countries like Nigeria, not with the EU. Shahmir Sanni

On voting for Brexit, my father admits harbouring “resentment” at how Britain has changed, in his eyes, for the worse – something he feels is linked to being part of the EU.

“My allegiance is to Britain, I don’t see myself as part of Europe, I don’t want to be,” he said. “Europe is trying to impose its own rules, regulations and laws onto this country. Britain should have kept on its own. We were better off that way.”

He believes that Britain was always renowned for its fairness and that it seems unfair that immigrants from Europe can come here relatively easily to work and make their lives.

“It’s changed the whole culture of this country now,” he added.

The issue is not that simple, however.

My father often speaks about how wrong it was of a morally corrupt Britain to impose its rule on countries more prosperous than itself. Both my parents made a point of telling me about the Jallianwala Bagh massacre in Amritsar in 1919, in which Colonel Reginald Dyer killed hundreds of non-violent Indian protestors, when I was younger. Upon visiting the site of the killings last year, I was shocked by how close it was to the Golden Temple, a place of profound peace.

But, paradoxically, because of this brutal history, my father feels Britain owes a loyalty to its former colonies over Europe.

“They had a very good time in those countries and they benefited a lot from them and they built their own country as well during those years of the Empire,” he told me. “This country was built on the Empire, they took a lot of money from India… They should have some allegiance to those countries as well, whereas Europe? I don’t see what Europe has ever done for Britain.”


 As the US Presidential elections approach Russian Intelligence Expert Zabrina Zabrisky provides a comprehensive guide to Putin’s latest propaganda ploys.

 The Kremlin’s disinformation playbook for waging its self-declared global information war was originally developed by Soviet military strategists. During the Cold War, the Soviets conducted over 10,000 disinformation operations — among them was the fabrication and dissemination of conspiracy theories about FBI and CIA involvement in the assassination of J.F. Kennedy and the US government inventing the AIDS virus. At the height of the Cold War, up to 15,000 KGB officers are said to have worked on psychological and disinformation warfare, which they learnt in a special “active measures” course created by then KGB head Yuri Andropov.

Russia’s disinformation campaigns evolved with the times to include spreading disinformation through international news agencies, TV channels and online news websites. Today, they have become increasingly sophisticated, moving on from outright falsehoods to more subtle forms of audience manipulation — all with the help of RT, Sputnik and others in the network.

According to experts, Russia has been trying to destabilise Europe through disinformation since 2015. However, it was the aftermath of the 2016 US Presidential elections that attracted international attention to the issue as US intelligence agencies called out Russia’s propagation of false news and inflammatory media stories meant to sway the vote in Donald Trump’s favour. There’s one principal goal to Russia’s disinformation efforts: weaken the Western democratic system from within. While RT and Sputnik use a plethora of disinformation techniques derived from the Soviet era, we are concentrating on the most pertinent ones in the Kremlin’s playbook.

(i) Pushing Kremlin Narratives

The Kremlin has been working on creating a new “post-Western world order” narrative, in which Western countries and institutions are no longer enjoying the same amount of power and influence they once did. Major Kremlin narratives include negative narratives: anti-elite, anti-EU, anti-NATO, and promote a danger discourse (the rising extremist, migrant and Islamic terrorism threat) and positive narratives: Russia and Putin as saviours of traditional values.

(ii) Amplifying Extreme Voices

This is one of the Kremlin network’s most used tactics, with a variety of far-right activists, conspiracy theorists and extremists featured as commentators on its media outlets. Manuel Ochsenreiter, the editor of the neo-Nazi magazine Zuerst!, is a frequent guest speaker on German politics on RT.

 Other examples of extreme voices featured on RT include a neo-Nazi and white supremacist Richard Spencer. The types of groups and opinions these extreme voices are meant to amplify include the following, as explained in a textbook taught inRussian military education institutions: “Encouraging all kinds of separatism and ethnic, social and racial conflicts, actively supporting all dissident movements — extremist, racist, and sectarian groups, thus destabilizing internal political processes.”

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Bonnie Greer finds clarity about the desecration of US Society under Donald Trump in the premise of Brett Easton Ellis’s famous 1991 novel.

I lived then in what was called Alphabet City or Loisaida by the Hispanics – on the Lower East Side near Thompkins Square Park. In those days, it was a good place to be an artist or to hang with them. The East Village, as opposed to Greenwich Village or the West Village, was where everything was just that much more real: the art, the clothes, the sex, the music, the drugs, the people, the hate and the love.

But it did matter that on some mornings you could find some kid from the Upper East Side dead from an overdose and slouched next to a garbage can. It did matter that homeless African American men were rounded up in yellow school buses at sundown and bussed to shelters more dangerous than living on the street. It did matter that Hispanics suffered horrific discrimination in housing and that Little Italy was shrinking. It did matter that it was becoming more and more impossible to find a cheap space to make art in or just to live.

At the other end of this was the new phenomenon known as the “yuppies” and their king was the real-estate mogul and celebrity Donald Trump. He was on everything and was everywhere, along with his first wife Ivana. It was big hair, big cars, big mouth. Everyone called him “Don the Con” and he hated it – because he was just a guy from the suburbs who wanted to be part of Manhattan Island. He was a “bridge and tunnel” person. He still is.

But the point is this: Trump lived his imaginarium and this world was about his omnipotence. Sometimes you had to laugh at the guy. He was such a “mook” – New York Italian street-slang for a “loser/jerk”. He was also a racist, with he and his father getting done for racial discrimination in the 1970s. But, Trump was not a racist if you were a celebrity. Celebrity mattered to him. It still does.


 Otto English on the tragic story of how the social media civil war of the last few years has cost him dearly.

Nick voted Remain but, having done so, believed that we should accept the result and leave. By now, he had become a psychotherapist and he talked a lot about the importance of moving on from trauma.

Thinking back, I realise now that his whole adult life after his accident had been dedicated to that aim, but instead of trying to engage with his point of view, I started to clash with him.

We argued a bit on Facebook and then a lot. It was friendly at first, but then he began to post articles by Spiked Online and Brendan O’Neill and I began to wonder what had happened to him. I couldn’t stop myself. If this had been in the pub we’d have been fine but, in the arena of social media, we both began to square up to each other and dig in over our respective positions. It felt nastier.

If this had been in the pub we’d have been fine but in the arena of social media we both began to square up to each other and dig in over our respective positions.

“What’s happened to Nick?” like-minded friends who had seen his posts and my replies would ask. But, they might as well have asked what had happened to me. Our relationship became frostier and sometimes I’d find myself feeling a bit sad about it and suggesting we go for a drink.

“Yes,” he’d reply “pint would be good next time I’m in London.”

I’m not sure if he meant it – but I certainly did. Either way, it never happened.


Caroline Orr finds Trump’s Top donor, Robert Mercer at the centre of a multi-million dollar anti-Muslim propaganda industry responsible for creating and spreading the same Islamophobic rhetoric found in the New Zealand shooter’s manifesto.

Among the most prominent donors backing America’s anti-Muslim propaganda industry is Robert Mercer, whom the Washington Post named as one of the “top 10 most influential billionaires in politics”.

Mercer – the top contributor to Donald Trump’s presidential campaign – is affiliated with a slew of right-wing organisations, but he is perhaps most notorious for launching the now-defunct, scandal-plagued data analytics firm Cambridge Analytica and funding the far-right Breitbart News network, run by Steve Bannon.

Mercer, his daughter Rebekah, and the vehicles they use to influence policy and society, are a case study in for-profit hate, showcasing the inner workings of an anti-Muslim propaganda industry, the tentacles of which stretch from the fringes of the internet to establishment think tanks – and all the way into the White House.Between 2014 and 2016, the Mercer Family Foundation donated $250,000 to the New York-based Gatestone Institute, an anti-Muslim think tank that warns of a looming Muslim takeover of Europe leading to a “Great White Death”.

The organisation is also notable for its close ties to the Trump administration. Rebekah Mercer sits on its board of governors, former Trump campaign chairman Steve Bannon has been a speaker at Gatestone events, and Trump’s national security adviser John Bolton became the group’s chairman in 2013.

In 2016, the Gatestone Institute partnered with far-right Canadian website Rebel Media to produce a dozen “cross-branded videos” warning about the supposed dangers of Islam and refugees from Muslim-majority countries. The clips were posted on the Gatestone Institute’s YouTube page and cross-posted on Rebel Media’s website between May and October 2016.


CJ Werleman on the US President’s worrying attempts to gain support by tapping into deeply-rooted anxieties and prejudices concerning race.

Ultimately, the data demonstrates that, the less educated a voter and the less likely they were to actually have close personal relationships with non-whites, the more vulnerable that voter was to Trump’s racism, xenophobia and fear-mongering.

That voters rewarded a campaign built on overt hatred and fear of the foreign ‘other’ was a damning indictment on the emotional state of American society in 2016, but things have become substantially worse in the nearly three years under the rule of the most obviously racist US President in more than a century. The country is on the brink of crashing through yet another dangerous moral threshold.

Trump has normalised overt racism in such a way that genocidal “great replacement” theories have moved from the dark corners of the internet into mainstream political discourse, with neo-Nazis coming out from their secret hiding places to march openly in the streets.

Black churches are firebombed, mosques are fired upon and synagogues are under attack like no other time since Europe’s darkest days – a reality emphasised by the rocketing of hate crimes against Muslims and Jews since Trump’s inauguration. It must be noted that right-wing extremists are responsible for 100% of terrorist attacks on US soil since the end of 2017.

The ban on Muslim immigration and the separating of migrant children from their parents at camps set up on the US-Mexico border have also become notable low-level water marks for a presidency that seemingly knows no moral bounds.

That Trump’s approval rating among Republican voters has been at around 90% during the country’s rapid Trump led decline into the moral abyss, subjecting the country to the scorn and condemnation from its Western democratic peers, remains a perplexing phenomena for anyone who isn’t a Trump supporter.


The greatest distinction of the Queen’s realm - that she has always been ‘above’ politics - has led to her historic humiliation and, Anthony Barnett to ask: what’s the point of her?

The Supreme Court process now underway will have an enormous impact on the future of our country – both on our politics and our constitution; on our entire public life.

This leads on to a question which people are uncomfortably aware of: what is the role of the Queen? Many, perhaps most, think that the Queen has amazing political judgement. Some may even think that this is what has held the country together for more than 60 years. But, in reality, the crisis over the prorogation of Parliament demonstrates that the Queen has no political judgement whatsoever – good or bad. She is a nothingness, the hollow heart of the unwritten British constitution.

The more the constitution is now debated in the way all constitutions should be – as something vital, consequential and therefore relevant to the way we live – the clearer this becomes. As it does so, the monarchy becomes increasingly redundant.

For not even the most admiring wish to be ruled by a useless crown. The justification of deference is that one feels enhanced by the special enchantment of royal meaning and can share in its aura. If this drains away and the monarchy becomes irrelevant, allegiance to it becomes more shameful than enriching. Who would pledge one’s loyalty to a cipher?

The monarch’s nothingness is drawing the entire political system into the void that Elizabeth II has so meticulously and understandably defined as her role.


A study of Aristotelian ‘catharsis’ and the plays of BertoltBrecht should be obligatory for football managers, argues Alexei Sayle.

A while ago, ex-footballer Liam Rosenior wrote in a newspaper that he found himself bewildered by the brutal treatment of Slaven Bilic, then manager of West Ham and by all accounts a thoroughly decent man, from his club’s own fans.

That unreasoning behaviour had made Liam question his own ambition to one day manage a Premier League football club. For five years, he had been taking the UEFA pro licence manager’s course and – though the curriculum covered personal anxiety management, the media, group psychology, team-building and cultivating relationships – he still wondered whether it could really prepare him for the stress and scrutiny a manager must simply accept as part of the job.

Liam’s suspicion that the UEFA course is inadequate was correct because it’s missing one vital element: a study of the ancient world. Specifically, an examination of “catharsis”, a concept originated by Aristotle in the Poetics.

If he understood catharsis, Liam might be able to console himself with the knowledge that the vicious abuse hurled by fans is not meant personally, rather, those supporters are attempting the purification and purgation of emotions – particularly pity and fear – through the witnessing of art or spectacle.


Poet Salena Godden reflects on the life and passing of the inspirational Toni Morrison.

Iconic and prolific, the Pulitzer and Nobel Prize-winning author Toni Morrison passed away yesterday at age 88.

Now, in the future when they ask me ‘where were you when your heard Toni Morrison died?’ I will tell you how I was sitting at my kitchen table holding a Crucifixion figurine in my hand. It was a plastic and tacky thing I just found in a market stall, all cheap and gaudy with pink plastic flowers at the feet of the Christ. I was trying to remove the plastic Jesus from the cross, so I could swap the Jesus figure to a She-Ra superhero doll on her period. I won’t forget I was doing that at that moment.

When I heard Toni Morrison died, I was immersed in making a new piece of art for an upcoming exhibition and replacing Jesus on the cross with a bleeding woman. The synchronicity and symbolism of that moment isn’t lost on me. I feel like I’m running out of saviours, losing alive and living superheroes.

For those that aren’t familiar with Morrison’s work, I’d recommend The Bluest Eye, Beloved or Sula as great books to start with and get you hooked in. The Bluest Eye is my favourite as I read it at a time when I was vulnerable. Sometimes books find you when you need them. This book affected me most profoundly as a brown girl born with light eyes. It gave me insight, it was the first book that had me examine my relationship with shade, with self loathe and self doubt, and belonging in the state of unbelonging. The weight I have carried of feeling I’m not enough and that I’ll never be enough, black enough or white enough or just enough-enough.


John Cleese wonders why Trump supporters are not terrified by his ramblings. And then the awful truth dawns...

About 15 years ago, I was booked to appear at a Speakers Conference in Bakersfield. There were three unusual things about this:

One: The audience consisted of 7,000 Republicans.

Two: The Speakers included Four star General Tommy Franks, the man in charge of both the Afghanistan and Iraq invasions and Julie Andrews, one of my many wives (in this case, in the Shrek movies).

Three: Bakersfield has no fewer than SEVEN Basque restaurants!

When I arrived at the venue, the 7,000 Republicans were being entertained by an elderly gentleman called Rich Little, at that time the most famous impressionist in America. I was on immediately after him, so I stood in the wings genuinely impressed by the extraordinary accuracy of his impersonations. The only problem was that after some time, I realised that every single person he was impersonating was dead.

All of them.

When he finished his set, I went on and asked the 7,000 Republicans for an extra round of applause for ‘Rich’ – America’s most beloved corpse impersonator!

Except that I didn’t.

Well…. There’s not much overlap between Monty Python fans and Republicans, and most of the Republicans would have been armed, so I chickened out.

I played it safe….

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