Category Archives: News

The old people

Since Brexit there’s been a lot of vitriol flying around.  I’ve kept out of it, but I’ve certainly given it a lot of thought.

Part of my puzzlement has been that, according to the media, many people voting for Brexit were of the older variety – by which I take to mean not my generation. In truth, I am approaching 50, and my generation were the vainglorious crew who took us to the precipice and pushed us off the edge in the first place, so there’s small comfort in that thought.

So let’s be clear, demographically at least.  The young (under 30s) if they bothered to vote were more likely to vote remain.  The old (the baby boomers, post 60 year olds) were more likely to vote leave.  There will, of course, be many, many exceptions to these broad statements and I am personally related to a few.

What I have been puzzling over is that some of those voting to leave must surely have been  those who may very well have voted us in to the Common Market, in 1972.  The Lord giveth and the Lord taketh away… or they simply changed their minds after a 44 year experiment.  Chin chin.

Until I took a bus trip.  And I heard old people talking to each other about such things.  Their words threw a bedraggled doily over the tabletop of the referendum – of course we want our children to have a better world than we did they said…  But the truth was the table itself was built of bitter wood.  Cerebrally these people wanted the younger generation to have the world as their oyster, but emotionally they begrudged it.  They begrudged it to their flesh and blood, and they begrudged it to anyone who had not earned it.  Our parents had no help they cried.  Why should they?

Young people: you have been robbed.  Some of the contingent that makes up your grandparents and great-grandparents (unknown) have voted because they suffered, and many of them don’t see why the rest of us shouldn’t too.

They avow that they do not want the young to have it all on a plate.  So that’s what that was about people.  Now we know.

Edited to add: I can accept that those who voted to join a common market in the 1970s felt that by now they had got more (and less) that they had bargained for.  I can accept that they wanted to rectify their perceived error.  What I find harder is the general fuck you too from people who won’t be so affected (determined by income and life expectancy) by the very real consequences.







#MarchforEurope – some thoughts

#Whingers #Whiners #TantrumThrowers

This is how the Marchers for Europe were described by the ‘critics’ quoted on the BBC website yesterday.  I don’t mind that especially.  It’s an inaccurate characterisation, of course, but most of everything to with Brexiting was inaccurate too, so no point expecting a leopard to change its spots.

Yesterday I saw no whinging, or tantrums.  I saw (for the most part) an apolitical, peaceful diverse group of individuals coming together with good humour.  I saw people stepping away from their devices, to stand together in technicoloured 3D reality and simply say

‘We Love EU’

Loving a union of diverse peoples is not to say we are uncritical of some of the political aspects of the union – who could not look on in abhorrent horror at the treatment of refugees and migrants around the Mediterranean over the last year?  Who could not flinch at the treatment that the Greeks have experienced as the Germans turned the screws on austerity?  Who could not wonder at the gravy train that people like Nigel Farage have lined their pockets with over the years, even as he uncoupled the carriages?

No, a desire for the values of unity is most certainly not a rubber stamp on anything that those who are appointed to govern decide to do.

Yesterday was an opportunity to express the values of unity in a positive way.  Yesterday was a chance to be with people who were not prepared to overlook the incipient xenophobia (if not racism) of the Leave campaign.  Yesterday was a place to go and be accepted – it was a time to demonstrate that we have more in common than what divides us.

I have two quotes I reach for, often:

We cannot step into the same river twice – Heraclitus

Every wall is a door – Ralph Waldo Emerson

I did not march for a new referendum (Heraclitus).  I did not march to turn the clock back.  I marched because I expect those people who are elected to represent the people in our democracy (because, despite the referendum we do not live in a direct democracy) to listen to the views of those who elected them going forward (Emerson).

That many of our elected representatives are too busy saving their own skins, or promoting their own careers is a disgraceful consequence of the referendum.  This will pass.  When the feasability of untangling the UK from hundreds and hundreds of EU laws made over decades (up to 20% of the civil service’s workload for up to 4 years at a cost of billions according to some reckonings) kicks in, so will a reality check – across all sides of the house.

The next general election will feature, I predict, an even angrier electorate than that which delivered the ‘unpredictable’ Brexit result.  This anger will be predicated on everything that made the electorate angry enough to believe Farage/Johson/Gove’s pack of lies plus more austerity, a depressed economy, just as many immigrants as ever before, and a recalcitrant EU governing body.

The UK will find itself to be a collector’s live butterfly, twisting on a pin of its own making.  The countries that make up our Disunited Kingdom strung over barbed wire fences like dead, short-sighted moles as a warning to others busy digging their own holes across Europe.

I will regret this.  I imagine so will those I marched with yesterday.  In our minds we tried to save the Brexiteers from themselves, but it is too late.

Like it or no, post-referendum, we are finally all (Scots, Northern Irish, Welsh, Gibraltarians, English) in it together, now.

Brexit Blues

Brexit Blues



Disappointment to Anger

I am taken aback by how angry I am.  I wake with a ball of it in my chest.

My anger is this: that perfectly reasonable people see fit to insist (all over the internet) that whilst they are not racist they did indeed vote #Leave and now they’d like to forget all about it to be friends with people like me who are not racist either and wanted to #Remain.

This is the bit that they overlook in their playground haste to make up and ‘be friends’ – that the campaign #Leave ran, and they endorsed with their X, was (at best) racist in both subtext, inference and tone and on occasion overtly so much so that even Michael Gove ‘shuddered’.

Leavers parade their friendships with ‘foreigners’ as evidence of their non-racism, forgetting that one swallow does not a summer make.  That being someone’s friend at an indiviudal level does not negate the ability to be racist at an institutional or political level.

That’s what I can’t take – the unthinking prejudice laid bare that we can’t even talk about.  Because any #Leave voter will hotly protest their innocence in this regard, whilst failing to see that their X endorsed that distasteful aspect of the Leave campaign whether they like it or not.

So for a Remain person, it’s full on cognitive dissonance when trying to relate to Leavers.  Their actions and their words are *incongruent and the majority won’t even say so.  Unfortunately, the only ones who are congruent are those shouting on the streets at immigrants to return to ‘their country’, or sending hateful messages to Polish residents in Huntingdon.

As a Leaver you may say, rightly, that you abhor this kind of thing.  But it is your failure in overlooking this aspect of the campaign you voted for that has sadly endorsed it.  It may be an unintended consequence, but it is a consequence, and I do not see enough people taking responsibility for it.  Rather I see Leavers berating Remainers for pointing it out.

And yes, that makes me angry.

*(The incongruence continues on an economic level too: Wales, Cornwall, Yorkshire – all huge beneficiaries of EU money and now wanting assurances that their funding will continue…)


Paris: how we in the ‘West’ step into the ISIS narrative (& thoughts on how not to)

Last night’s events in Paris were horrific. I went to bed with a heavy heart, in the knowledge that the original death toll of 40 people would surely rise, and that those people with murder in their hearts had slaughtered people enjoying Friday night in the City of Light for brutally cold reasons, heavy with symbolism and narrative.

When it comes to ISIS terrorism it seems as if we go round in a circular discourse in Europe – never coming to a meaningful, cohesive strategy, stuck in the language of condemnation, solidarity, and retaliation until the next atrocity on European soil, or off it as with the likely bomb on the Russian plane over Sinai a fortnight ago.

The whole discourse is bogged down in category errors. For a start, every time the term ISIS, IS or even ISIL is used, we are linguistically legitimating the territory claims of an organisation centred on suppression of human rights and rule through terror. These are the three acronyms most commonly used:

ISIS – The Islamic State of Iraq and Syria
ISIL – The Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant
IS – Islamic State

Islamic State does not exist as a recognised state, except in the minds of those who support it, but the term is a powerful one that recruits to the wider cause. Muslims in the UK pointed this out last year in a letter to the Prime Minister signed by members of the Islamic Society of Britain and the Association of Muslim Lawyers stating that it, ‘is neither Islamic nor is it a State. The group has no standing with faithful Muslims, nor among the international community of nations.’

A suggestion also made within the letter was that the group was referred to as the ‘Un-Islamic State’. That the media, and politicians continue to use any one of the 3 acronyms listed above steps directly and repeatedly into the narrative space controlled by the organisation I will now refer to as the Un-Islamic Non-State (UNINONS). UNINONS already sounds less powerful to my ear than IS, or ISIL or ISIS and by changing the name we create a different narrative and a potentially different way of relating to the organisation that successfully drew people in order to ultimately murder other people in Paris last night.

Another category error (and there will be far more than just these) is the concept of ‘the West’. This morning the unhelpful in the world Rupert Murdoch tweeted this:

Paris outrage not an attack on all humanity, but an attack on us. ie, Western civilisation!

‘Us’, eh? ‘Western civilisation’ eh? Murdoch has stepped straight into the narrative space controlled by UNINONS. I have little ‘us’ with a poisonous media mogul whose media outlet hacked the mobile phone of a murdered teenage. But I do have an us with my brothers and sisters under attack around the world, wherever I may find them. I do not claim a ‘civilisation’ where inequality booms and Islamophobic sentiment flourishes. As for ‘the West’ that has become a stick that UNINONS and Al-Quaeda before them could beat parts of the world with and it’s a stick we created by the way cartographers set out the world. Make China the centre of the map and America is the new East and Africa the new West.

‘The West’ has become shorthand for Europe and America, UNINONS use it to create a generic common enemy, and when we use it ourselves we simply reinforce a historic colonial way of viewing the world that, like Rupert Murdoch, is not helpful when looking to create worldwide peace and harmony in the 21st century.

Our inhumane treatment in Europe of refugees, many of whom are fleeing destruction and terror caused by conflict that involves UNINONS, potentially sows seeds of radicalisation. Those who say that the refugee population contains UNINONS supporters who will bomb us later, manifestly fail to recognise that we are growing our own radicalised UNINONS supporters in-house already. We do that by everything we do above.

We do that by marginalising Muslims in our society – in a world where racism is not acceptable, Islamophobia seems to be worryingly acceptable in certain quarters.

We do that by asking Muslims to apologise for the actions of UNINONS when we would never consider asking Catholics to apologise for the IRA, or Christians to apologise for the Holocaust.

We do that by increasing economic and social inequalities through austerity and by cutting the funding of the education sector that is one of the few places in secular society where different races and religions can come together and gain an understanding of another viewpoint (see contact theory).

We do that by threatening teachers with jail time if they do not report suspicions of radicalisation, creating an atmosphere of mistrust and paranoia.

We do that by publishing front page pictures of the killers of Lee Rigby with bloodied hands holding a knife.

We do that by breaking international law and killing people in countries around the world because we can.

We do that by picking and choosing the so-called righteous beneficiaries of our aid and intervention – yes to refugees in Jordan, but no to those in Europe. Up to our necks in Iraq, but silent on Palestine. We protect oil wells, but not people.

Until we get our own houses in order, and take responsibility for what needs to change on the ground in our own countries, it seems inevitable that UNINONS will continue to flourish. Everything we do has an effect. Bombing with drones may seem like a bloodless way to engage with the world’s problems over here, but in the countries where that happens, children grow up to be afraid of a clear blue sky.

The victims in Paris of yesterday’s outrage were innocent, but our history, the media, our governmental institutions and our politicians are not. The refugees who continue to flee from areas where UNINONS and governments are in conflict are also innocent. The pain from one atrocity does not somehow nullify that of the other.

As individuals we can only point this out, keep love in own hearts for all our brothers and sisters, and organise for change – soon.

Corbyn, Conference, Commentariat

I haven’t said or written too much lately.

1) I’ve been thinking
2) I’ve been listening (to borrow from the new Labour leader’s speech)
3) I’ve been reading
4) And perhaps… I’ve been holding my breath

Conference is a beast. It’s long, it’s tiring – that’s democracy for you. Motions are debated and defeated or carried. People huddle furiously in corners, rewriting wording, writing words, lobbying, networking, finding the fringe. By the end, everyone is exhausted – which is more or less the point at which Jeremy Corbyn had to give his so-called make-or-break speech.

I am not uncritical of Corbyn. His attachment to mismatched jackets reminds me of English teachers from my 1970s childhood – but it’s not a deal-breaker and it’s shallow enough of me to even mention it. More substantially, the autocued performance in his speech today was a bit distracting. And the repetition about his mandate is starting to wear thin. Still, that’s nit-picking and I am glad I voted for him. Let Corbyn get on with his big tent, bottom up approach to policy and see where it gets us. It’s an experiment, there are no guarantees, but at least there is hope for a robust opposition and an alternative message for many of us – something that has been lacking for a long time.

I woke on the morning after the last general election fearful that the country I live in had gone mad. That my neighbours and colleagues were all closet Tories. That society was gone to the dogs and it was every woman, man jack for themselves. When I hear Corbyn speak, I see it is not so. When I watched people at conference today, getting to their feet, applauding, I feel it is not so. When strangers on Twitter confess to a tear in their eye when Corbyn speaks about mental health for all of us, I know it is not so. For now, that’s enough for me.

As conference wends its weary way home tomorrow, the commentariat will be left clucking for the next story. As autumn turns into winter Corbyn is not probably not knowingly going to give them one – they’ve had their initial feeding frenzy after his election, after all.

The fact is that true democracy is a cumbersome creature. It is based on consensus, collaboration, debate and negotiation. It can take hours to navigate and achieve – in action, its daily operation is boring, punctuated by the odd high (and low). Democracy in action is not the headline-grabbing duel that parliamentary ritual makes it out to be. It is not the abusive, name-calling, character-attacking charade that the print press constantly twist it into. Corbyn’s respectful approach will make the jobs of those attached to that modus operandus harder going forward. At the risk of using a double negative: I can’t say I’m not sorry.

For the first time in my life, I can actually see, hear and read what the Labour Party have to say for themselves, unmediated by the media. That’s a privilege; I intend to use it wisely. I hope I will not be alone.

JC: The Crucifixion

I often wake with ideas, most of which I forget, but the one this morning seems to have stuck. This morning’s metaphor was slightly muddled, but bear with…

I woke with a strong association between Jesus Christ, who I like to think of as a radical humanist activist and teacher (that’s courtesy of the philosopher Don Cupitt at Philosophy Bites) and the new Labour leader, Jeremy Corbyn. The similarities are obvious and go slightly deeper than their initials and a beard. The religious thing is trickier, as Corbyn is an atheist. In terms of the minor particulars, no-one knows if Jesus wore a vest, or if he refused to sing the Roman national anthem.

Jesus was popular with the people. He decried the money lenders and he defied the establishment. The powers that were back then in Jerusalem weren’t having any of it, so they arrested the trouble-maker at night but nailed him to a cross in broad daylight.

Jeremy Corbyn is popular with some of the people. And the majority of the media are keen to crucify his reputation and principles by butchering his interviews for decontextualised soundbytes, whilst incessantly ridiculing his values and beliefs. (I am aware the Garden of Gethsemene comparison would work better if the newspapers were less a digital creation and the news still broke at dawn with the paper hitting the mat).

The country could be divided down one line this evening: on one side those of us who couldn’t give a toss whether he moved his lips to music in a church with others, to those who feel that failure to fully partake of a musical ritual, whilst not wearing a suit, is an abomination on the face of this earth.

Is it the same line that divides those of us who think that refugees are first and foremost people and should be treated in a humanitarian way, or those of us who think it’s all a crafty ploy to get an easy life, and potentially smuggle in a member of ISIS whilst one is at it? Probably not, people are more complex than that… aren’t they?

If nothing else, Jeremy Corbyn’s election is serving to show me how this country sees things. Oh, and I never knew anyone could be crucified over a song.

Clearly I have taken a somewhat reductive approach to a burning issue, but I am boggled by how worked up people get about honouring war, the monarchy, and the singing of a rather rubbish song. I asked my children what they thought – they said they don’t even know the words to the national anthem. I think I’ll leave them in their ignorance, until they move into politics or the armed forces, or the guides.

O Frabjous Day

The results of the Labour leadership election were announced today. I was pretty confident that it would be Corbyn who was victorious, not least because Paddy Power paid out on the bets backing Corbyn weeks ago on August 18th. When a bookie pays out early – you know. Jeremy Corbyn was returned with a stunningly wide share of the vote 59.5% overall – a mandate that will surely stun the naysayers into silence until Christmas, at least.

The last Frabjous Day the blog enjoyed was the Scottish Independence Day.  Except it went a bit awry, and lost a bit of frabjousness along the way, because one too many of our Scottish brothers and sisters voted the wrong way.

Now today is the one true Frabjous Day and although we may have to wait a little while for the denouement, in which our own dear beamish boy Jeremy Corbyn slays the Jabberwock at the despatch box, in the media, and beyond, currently the blog is pretty stoked.

And hast thou slain the Jabberwock?
Come to my arms, my beamish boy!
O frabjous day! Callooh! Callay!

I don’t agree with everything that JC says, but, his main themes: equality, pacifism, social justice through anti-austerity and a humanitarian approach to displaced people resonate. Not since Tony Benn have I found a politician quite as compelling in terms of values and vision.

It’s not a slick vision. Like me, it’s a bit snaggle-toothed and whiskery round the edges. On a bad day it’s a bit crumpled and snappy. But it’s real and it makes sense and it offers hope.

But it can’t be delivered to us, the public, by the politicians alone – not even JC can achieve that. What’s needed is for all of us to step up, to speak out, to live the values everyday that politicians are so good talking about. Jeremy Corbyn, to his credit, understands this. After the event where he became the Labour Leader, along with Tom Watson as his deputy, he attended a march of solidarity with refugees. Then his team dropped Labour members an email. I’ll be holding David Cameron to account on Wednesday at PM’s Question Time. What do you want me to ask him.

Now, that is democracy in action. Don’t watch this space though – get up and play your part because we all, all, all have a part to play.

We just need to figure out what it is.

How Memory Does or Does Not Work: Peter O’Sullevan

Peter O’Sullevan died yesterday.  For many, many years he was the voice of horseracing and because when I grew up all there was on the television on Saturday was football, or racing, or wrestling, he was part of my childhood albeit in a background, subliminal way.

I’ve checked the many, many years timespan and he commentated for the BBC for 50 years.  50 years!  But of course O’Sullevan himself would have probaly said the former: 50 years, minus the exclamation mark because he was that kind of a man and exclamation points were probably only worth breaking out for the likes of Red Rum in the National who he called home on three separate occasions.

Or Desert Orchid.

Or Nijinsky.

I met Peter O’Sullevan once.  He was under an open-fronted tent at Cheltenham, sitting down, perhaps signing books.  There wasn’t a queue especially.  I don’t remember which occasion it was at Cheltenham – I have only been twice and neither were to the Festival.  It was either November, a mid-week meeting where I had a small racing club interest in a horse called Saucy Night, or it was some years later at the meeting held every year at the end of January.  This is the first of my memory glitches.  The second is who put whose hand on whose.  I stopped to say something to him and he seemed old, frail even.  It was a cold day.  I don’t remember what I said, but I remember his response was warm and my hand went over his hand, or vice versa.

It seems an odd thing to have happened, even now.  I am not inclined to touch people I know, let alone those I don’t, and yet my memory is that the moment I shared with Peter O’Sullevan was genuine and heartfelt.

Hands tell their own story.  It’s a shame I can’t quite articulate this one in words.  Or maybe it’s not – memories are made up of more than that, after all.

The Problems with the Parliamentary Labour Party

2015-07-24 10.14.08

As I see it.

My fingers have been hovering over the keyboard for nearly a week about this post because I don’t quite know what to make of it all.  Last night I remembered the Isaac Asimov quote – that writing was thinking through his fingers – so here goes.  Not quite sure what will come out…

  1. Moving left is not going backwards.  It’s moving left.
  2. Moving left does not mean that the centre is completely abandoned
  3. Actually, all this moving anywhere stuff is completely bogus (backwards, left and centre) because no-one is moving anywhere.  It’s like a heated argument over a map between a party of broke ass backpackers before they leave the hostel after a heavy night.  Direction is meaningless unless you put one foot in front of another first.
  4. Jeremy Corbyn is probably appealing to people because he is moving, at least somewhere.  The rest of the candidates are literally stuck, squabbling over the map, too scared to raise their arms in public lest they be counted.  Hardly leadership behaviour.
  5. John Prescott is right; the conversation needs to turn to policies.  The problem is that some of the candidates don’t seem to have any that they can articulate without sounding like they want to get into the tent with the Tories.
  6. Some party grandees and intelligentsia have it wrong.  Young people want change – this does not make them naive and misinformed.  Young people are fighting for a future and socialist values speak to that.  This does not mean they are ‘dragging the party back to the 1980s’.  If they pay their dues, they have an equal chance to shape the future of the Labour Party, whether the Roy Hattersleys of this world like it or not.
  7. The Labour Party has a long history and some members rightly fear that history will repeat itself in terms of electability.  I would say you can’t tailor your message to appeal to what you think the electorate want or need because that’s a shifting sand place to stand.  That’s counter-intuitive, I  know.  The Tories succeed because they have set an agenda that fits their values and ideology and whether we agree with it or not, the message continues to ring out across the right wing media, assured and clear.  It is a message to organise around for most Conservative MPs.
  8. The Labour Party should stop worrying about getting right, and start focusing on articulating its message.  That’s why Jeremy Corbyn is apparently doing better than other candidates.  We know where he stands.  This makes us feel safe.  The other candidates might know that life’s not like that, that everything is more complex and nuanced than Jeremy makes it sound, but people want to feel that they are in safe pair of hands.
  9. The English electorate, particularly, are at heart conservative with a small c.  To appeal in those heartlands the Labour Party needs to have a clear message that makes them feel safe.  The Parliamentary Party might be up front behind the wheel, lost in the wilderness enough to beggar belief, but the kids in the back don’t need to know that.  Occupy them with I Spy until we reach the destination,  otherwise they will pick up on your fears and become unruly and intractable.
  10. And finally, despite his own beliefs that he was manifested somewhere in heaven, before being sent to earth to save us with his New Labour project, Tony Blair came on the back of Michael Foot, the ‘unelectable’ Neil Kinnock and the radical heft of John Smith.  The party he took to power, was shaped by previous incumbents.  That’s how things work on the arrow of time continuum.  You can never go back.

Come on Labour Party.  Stop playing this out in public.  Stop making idiots of yourselves on air and in the House trying to be smart and clever and (some of you) downright rude to Mr Corbyn.  Put up or shut up until September.  The fact is not one of you will be leading us into the next election – whoever is elected you will be in the caretaker seat for now – and that’s the only outcome I would be inclined to back at the moment.

Labour = Social Justice, Equality & Fairness

Under its One Nation banner, these are the values that the Labour Party stands for. I am hoping that whoever ends up leading the party into the next election, these are effectively and tirelessly communicated to the populace.

Meantime, at Number 10, David Cameron has appointed two anti-gay equality politicians to ministerial posts: Minister for Culture and, ironically, Minister for Equality.

I don’t know my history well enough to say where the political terms left and right came from, but it occurs to me that they are not helpful – why should social justice, equality and fairness be ‘left’ values, when they are so self-evidently right for everyone.

And in making these appointments David Cameron is all in the wrong.