Moveable Feast

Have you had the feeling that Easter is really late this year? That’s because it is. It seems to jump around the calendar – which it does because of how it is calculated. Easter Day is on the first Sunday after the first Full Moon after 21 March. This means that it falls on dates between 22nd March and 25th April. Obvious, isn’t it? No.

Consequences

The consequences of having Easter jumping all over the calendar are not life-threatening, but they do cause some inconvenience. In my working life, my employer’s financial year went from 1st April to 31st March in the following year. Tax years go from 6th April to the following 5th April, mainly because the tax system didn’t adapt to the change of calendar in 1752. (The change from Julian to Gregorian calendar occurred in 1582 in most of the rest of Europe. For 170 years we were 10 days behind our neighbours (11 days after the year 1600: full explanation here.) Some familiar ring to that, I fear.

The upshot is that company and taxation financial years have 0, 1 or 2 Easter holidays – and sometimes only one of the two “bank” holidays. Confusing, eh? You bet. At work, we had to make adjustments for Easter when calculating “like for like” annual trend data, something that was quite important in my line of business.

Perhaps the biggest inconvenience arising from the variation in Easter dates is that which affects schools. The variability itself and the often huge difference in length between successive terms play havoc with curriculum planning and in preparing students for KS2 tests, GCSEs and A levels. Fixed length terms would solve this problem.

The Easter Act 1928

Until I did some research for this post, I had never heard of the Easter Act, legislation passed by the UK Parliament and which received royal assent in 1928. The Act fixes Easter as the first Sunday after the second Saturday in April. This would entirely eliminate the tax / financial year problem outlined above and would enable the Spring and Summer Terms in schools to be (approximately) fixed in length. So why didn’t it happen?

A full explanation can be found here. Briefly, Christian churches couldn’t agree amongst themselves. The Act contains the provision that, before it comes into effect, “regard shall be had to any opinion officially expressed by any Church or other Christian body”. The Act itself only requires Christian viewpoints to be considered: there is no religious veto. However, “successive governments have taken it to mean that the Act would not be brought into effect until there was a general consensus on the part of the various churches of the Christian faith as to when Easter should fall”. It seems absurd to me, in 21st century Britain, where 53% of us are “not religious” and only around a third of British people call themselves Christians, we’re stuck with this relic of more religious times.

Easter as Moon Worship?

It’s broadly accepted that the English name for Easter is derived from the pagan goddess Eostre, and that this claim dates from the early 8th century by a monk known as the Venerable Bede. Or possibly, as in the German Ostern, from the word for “east” and its association with dawn and the vernal equinox. (Most other European languages’ words for Easter derive ultimately from Pesach, the Jewish Passover.)

But does the Easter festival itself have pagan roots associated with spring, fertility and the equinox? My take is: probably. Here’s one view from the Guardian nine years ago. Eggs and bunnies seem to fit with this view.

Resurrection Shuffle

But what about the Resurrection of Christ, central to Christian theology? Well, certainly Jesus of Nazareth was not the first who was attributed with resurrection. The dying-and-rising deity story can be found in Osiris, Tammuz, Adonis and Attis and Dionysus, derived from Ancient religions in the Near East. Both James Frazer in 1890 and Carl Jung in the 1950s analysed the frequent reference to dying-and-rising gods, often linked with the dying and regrowth of vegetation, e.g. crops in the Nile valley.

But what about the assertion in the Bible that Jesus waited until the third day to rise again? To be fair, here’s an American Christian explanation. None of that sounds particularly convincing to me! Here’s a much longer, and more thorough, analysis from someone who takes the opposite point of view. This account includes reference to the Sumerian moon goddess Inanna, the left eye of Horus (for all you Only Connect fans) and the Buddha. The latter is quoted, when dying, as saying to the animals of the Earth: “Do not weep, look at the moon! As the moon dying renews herself again, so shall I dying be renewed again.”

There is, of course, one natural phenomenon which can be said to “die and rise again” after 3 days. And I’ve already given the game away in the last quotation above. Every 29.5 days at New Moon, it can be said to “die” and reappear as a crescent after three days. The early Christian Church accommodated itself to many pagan rituals in order to ingratiate itself with the majority non-Christians at the time. For me, the most likely ultimate origin of the resurrection myth is in pagan moon-worship. Whether this was by directly adopting, and adapting, pagan rituals at the vernal equinox or via some pre-Christian dying-and-rising god myth is impossible to tell after 2000 years. But it does fit best with the annoying habit of Easter jumping around the calendar in accordance with the rising of the sun and the cycles of the moon!

So, when the shops are all shut next Sunday and you’ve forgotten a key ingredient for dinner, don’t get angry! Just wait until dark, look up at the moon, and wonder….

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An Informed Choice

Here are a couple of anecdotes about events that happened to me over the past two or three years and the lessons I’ve learned from them.

But, bien sur, I discuss how this relates to our EU discussions and how we might get out of this mess.

A Risky Decision

The first story happened last year. It illustrates very clearly the concept of “informed consent” as practiced by the NHS.

After an initial round of treatment to treat the cancer which was diagnosed just over a year ago, I was presented with a choice. I had responded well to the initial treatment and my cancer was in what the medics call a “partial remission”. This meant that there were very low levels of the disease in my body and I could expect a treatment-free period – the precise duration of which varies from person to person.

Optionally, I was offered additional, more advanced treatment which offers the prospect of a longer remission period. I would need to be referred to the nearest hospital offering this treatment, some 25 miles away. I had an initial appointment with a consultant there to help me to decide whether to proceed or not. The consultation was, in retrospect, one of the most satisfying consultations I’ve ever had. The doctor spelled out the side-effects of the treatment (not pleasant as she did not pull any punches) and there were risks. A small, but not insignificant, percentage of patients die from complications associated with the treatment. I was given a few weeks to make up my mind whether to proceed or not.

I spoke to a number of patients who had been through the procedure: the response was generally that it was worth it. (I recognised that these patients were from the majority who had survived: I have found no satisfactory way to communicate with those who had died!) I did agonize over the decision, but in the end, I chose to go ahead. I’m convinced it was the right thing to do. I’ve been told that I responded “very well”, but there are no guarantees. I have learned to live reasonably comfortably with the uncertainty.

My main point of this story is this: it was a prime example of the phenomenon we call “informed consent”. The medical  staff had looked after me with all the care and attention I would expect from our beloved NHS and, above all, I was treated with respect as an adult capable of making an informed choice.

Turkish Delight

The second story comes from a couple of years earlier and strikes a lighter note. My wife and I went for dinner to a newish Turkish restaurant in town. Neither of us was particularly familiar with Turkish food and the menu was quite extensive (although rather heavily meat-based! See below!). The young woman who served us was friendly and helpful – at least, as far as she was able to be.

We had some queries about the choices before we ordered our food. I enquired what a particular dish was like, hoping to get some explanation about flavours, ingredients, etc. “It’s very nice” said our friendly waitress. Undeterred, we asked about another dish we had been considering. The reply was the same: “It’s very nice.” It had been obvious from the start that our waitress did not speak English as a first language. In was now becoming clear that her English language skills were limited. We felt sure that enquiries about any item on the menu would bring for the same reply: “It’s very nice.”

So, we made some random selections from the menu and had a pleasant meal in a convivial atmosphere. Altogether, it was an enjoyable evening. But our menu decisions could hardly be described as informed – more a stab in the dark, I would say.

An Informed Choice

I’m not suggesting that the two stories are directly comparable: the decision was altogether more significant in the first case than in the second. But the principle remains the same: an informed choice is preferable to an uninformed one.

I would contend that the 2016 EU membership referendum was a classic example of an uninformed choice. During the referendum campaign Leavers’ outright lies were “balanced” by Remainers’ wild speculations about the consequences of leaving. It was a debate between two wings of the Tory Party; Corbyn’s Labour was practically invisible. The BBC did a shabby job of striking a false balance between two positions that were not ethically equivalent. The chaos we see now is for the most part the consequence of the lack of reliable – or indeed truthful – information before the vote.

So, What Now?

The words above were drafted over 10 days ago. I’ve been waiting – in vain – for some clarity to emerge from the shenanigans at Westminster. But one thing is clear: we need, as a country, to slow down, reflect and do things properly, in a grownup way.

Citizens' Assembly in action
Citizens’ Assembly in action

I think that we have a lot to learn from the Irish: in this case, on how to run referendums. Even at this late hour, there seems to be only one sensible way forward: to try to reach some sort of consensus on our relationship with the rest of Europe (and the world). And, of course, to start to heal the divisions which have opened up between the opposing sides.

Firstly, we need to take the time pressure off our decision-making processes, by requesting quite a long delay to the Article 50 procedure; 12 to 18 months would seem about right. This, of course, requires unanimous agreement from the other 27 EU member countries. I can only hope there’s still enough goodwill left, despite all our frustrating machinations, amongst our neighbours.

During the time gained, whoever is our Prime Minister needs to set up two institutions:

  • A Grand Committee of reasonable-minded politicians from all the major parties, say 12-15 people in proportion to votes cast at the 2017 general election. This Committee will oversee the work of the:
  • Citizens’ Assembly, a randomly selected forum of around 100 of our citizens, along the lines used recently in the Irish Republic. A description of how they set about their task can be found here and on Wikipedia here. The terms of reference for the Assembly are detailed below.

Leave extremists and their newspaper cheerleaders will go apeshit and good control of public order will be critical. Theresa May is almost certainly psychologically incapable – and it’s politically impossible – to oversee these necessary actions. Nominations, please, for a suitable candidate to replace her. We must find a way not to leave the selection decision to Tory Party activists. They are self-evidently part of the problem, not the solution.

The Grand Committee’s other main role will be to steer through the House of Commons a process which will lead to a vote on a resolution which will command a majority, and which will be credible with the EU27 and Brussels. No small ask!

Assembly Terms of Reference

If, as a result of the Grand Committee’s work, a referendum of the British public is required, the first task of the Citizens Assembly is to define the wording of a confirmatory vote question.

But the breakdown in the political process which the last EU referendum has created needs a long-term solution for Constitutional Change in the UK. Follow-on topics for review and recommendation to Parliament include, in roughly order of urgency:

  1. Replacement of our voting system for MPs with some form of preference voting, more fit for the 21st century than our broken first-past-the-post system.
  2. Replacement of the House of Lords by a 100% elected Senate (with NO shoo-in for CofE bishops), together with an appropriate voting system. A key issue should be how better to reflect the diverse needs of the non-English nations in the UK and the English regions.
  3. Disestablishment of the Church of England and the consequences of so doing: this could be more widely debated as how to protect the interests of religious and non-religious groups and ensure full secularisation of civil and political society.
  4. A system for electing our head of state.

My guess is that the five areas of work above would take more than five, and possibly as long as ten,  years. Item 4 above may need to be pushed up the priority order if the present incumbent as head of state dies before this item is reached in the order above.

Laughing Stock to Respected Nation

The political fiasco of the past 3 years has reduced the status of the UK to an international laughing stock – most informed commentators would agree. (A short, silly example is here.) A programme of work as outlined above would go a long way to restoring the former respect for the UK (which, by this time, might be just England and Wales) on the world stage.

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No Regrets?

In Memoriam

Scott Walker (1943-2019), a man with a heartbreakingly pure singing voice.

In Condemnation

Theresa May (PM 2016-2019), architect of the “hostile environment”.

In Fear and Trepidation

May’s successor (PM 2019-?), to be chosen by 100,000 of the most xenophobic bigots in the country outside the DUP, i.e. Tory Party activists.

No Regrets?

TM: I know I’m leavin’, it’s too long overdue
For far too long I’ve had nothin’ new to show to you.
Goodbye dry eyes, you watched as I appeased the Brexit loons
And it serves me right to walk away alone.

Us: There’s no regrets
No tears goodbye
We don’t want you back
We’d only cry again
Say goodbye again

The months you wasted to avoid the splits
Amid the weak, the useless and the outright shits.
I woke last night and thought of you, and fearing what comes next
I felt so afraid that our country’s truly wrecked.

TM: I’ve no regrets
No tears goodbye
Us: We don’t want you back
We’d only cry again
Say goodbye again

Your Party’s squirming to turn its back on you
Your face is showing traces of your hostile brew.
We now face, unloved , our darkest hour; there was no outreaching hand
It now feels so sad to see our broken land.

There’s no regrets
No tears goodbye
We don’t want you back
We’d only cry again
Say goodbye again

You thought only of Party and ignored the rest
You were Maybot under pressure, Little I-Know-Best.
Europe always splits the Tories, that should now be understood
And we’re so afraid evil always drives out good.

You show no regrets
No tears goodbye
We don’t want you back
We’d only cry again
Please don’t try again!

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In Lieu of EU

News item: a German wholesaler which supplies major UK supermarkets is stockpiling 3.5 million rolls of toilet paper in UK warehouses, in preparation for a No Deal exit from the EU. The company is also chartering ships to carry rolls from Naples to Cardiff to avoid possible congestion (no pun intended) on the Dover-Calais route.

Oh Sorry Me-O!

(to the tune of O Sole Mio!)

Oh sorry me-o!
Must wipe my arse
But if No Deal-o
Should come to pass
Tomorrow would be too late
I need it now; I just can’t wait.

And if I try now
Just to pass a motion,
Well then, my 2-ply now
Has to ply an ocean.
To Cardiff Bay-o
Is a long, long way-o
From Napoli. Oh, pity me: too late!

Oh sorry me-o!
My supply chain
Oh can’t you see-o?
Flushed down the drain.
I’m feeling broken, just like the state
I once was happy, now full of hate.

I never thought why,
When I use the toilet,
Regular supply:
Voting Leave would spoil it.
Please revoke Cinquanta
Or I’ll mess my pant – agh!
Who’d ever guess I’m in a mess, irate.

Oh sorry me-o!
I should have known
I still can pee-o
All on my own.
But if I need a number two
I just can’t go, oh no, no, no, without EU!

With this clusterfuck shitshow of a government we’re saddled with: yes, I’m afraid, it does eventually all come down to this.

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Our Island Story, part 94

(With acknowledgements to Private Eye for the “part 94” bit.)

Notwithstanding other major news topics – the tragic killings in Christchurch, NZ, the collapse into administration of Interserve, to name just two – it’s hard not to write about the continuing saga of the elephant in the room which has destroyed UK democracy.

But first a joke: we could certainly do with a bit of levity. Warning: this joke depends on knowledge of another joke.

Br*xit walks into a bar. The barman says: “Why the long, drawn-out farce?”

The straightforward answer, and not funny punchline, is a single word: incompetence. Incompetence, above all, by Theresa May and the Conservative party she “leads”. None other than Karl Marx wrote “History repeats itself, first as tragedy, second as farce.”  We’re well into the farcical stage by now.

Options Good and Bad

With 13 days to go (as I write) before we reach the risk of crashing out of the EU, it’s time to lay my cards on the table about the options now open to the UK. In this post I consider both the withdrawal agreement (the easy bit which should have been agreed at least a year ago) and the type of relationship we want long-term with the EU in the future (the hard bit, not even started). The two tables below summarize my views: I explain my reasoning in the paragraphs that follow.

Withdrawal Agreement

Option Summary Economy SMT Reputation Peace in NI GB order
A Remain in EU 0 -5 0 -6
B “Soft” deal -3 -7 -1 -4
C May’s deal -7 -9 -4 -3
D No deal -10 -10 -8 -5

 

EU-UK Relationship

Option Summary Economy MLT Reputation Peace in NI GB order
A1 Fully engaged +1? -2 0 -3?
A2 Semi-detached 0 -5 -1 -3?
BC3 Trade agreement -3 to -7 -7 -4 -3 to -5
D4 WTO rules -10 -10 -6 -1 -> -8

 

Some words of explanation are needed for the above tables. Numeric scales range from -10 to +10 and are my views alone. Positive is good, negative bad. -10 = worst case imaginable. SMT/MLT = short to medium term / medium to long term. “GB order” = lack of civil unrest. Only some options in the first table are compatible with those in the second, e.g. D necessarily implies 4.

My reasoning is given below. In summary, my preference, in an “ideal” world would be Option A1. The chances of this happening are slim! A2 is the status quo. I would be prepared to compromise to Option B3 in the interests of trying to unite our fractured country; worse options would be wholly unacceptable.

Options A to D

Option A is clearly my first preference, but raises the issue of social order (see below). Option B approximates to Labour’s position, perhaps as modified by cross-party negotiations amongst backbenchers. This is looking less likely following the failure of Parliament, in its first attempt last week, to wrest control of the process from May. So much for the tolerable options.

And so to the intolerable ones, options C and D. Both would be economically damaging, D especially so: so much has been written on the economic effects that I will not add to the word count here. The other distinguishing feature between the first and second pairs is that of freedom of movement. Words are beyond me to understand how this concept has been come to be seen as a bad thing: it defies all logic. Sadly, logic plays very little part in this whole sorry business. In any event, we’ve never been part of the Schengen Agreement: we control our borders already, if we’re competent to.

Options 1 to 4

The optimist in me still looks forward to the day when the UK uses its many skills, talents and historical experience to play a full and constructive role in EU affairs, i.e. Option A1. Childish carping from the wings (for short-term, domestic political gain) has been indulged by Tory and Labour Party (Prime) Ministers for years: the mood music is all wrong. I am coming to the conclusion that I will not live to see this happy outcome.

What kind of trade deal (or none) – options BC3 or D4 – will depend on shenanigans in Westminster over the next two weeks. And of course, any extension to the timescale beyond 29th of this month requires consensus amongst the EU27. Speculation suggests realpolitik will win over Farage’s reported mischief-making in countries most likely to object. As my wife says, “We live in interesting times”.

Economy

My assessments about the impact on the economy are based on what I’ve read and understood over the past few years. Getting picked off in a trade deal by Trump’s USA as a vulnerable lone country will suit the few free trade lunatics, their US backers on the political far right and, for different reasons, by Putin’s Russia. Trump and Putin both see the EU as their major obstacle to imposing their authoritarian world view. Their useful idiots (who include Farage and those who have not taken the trouble to understand their true motives) need to be very careful what they wish for. Everyone else knows it’s the poorest and most vulnerable who will suffer most in the dismal small government, free trade dystopian scenario.

UK Reputation

The chaos and May’s mismanagement has already spectacularly damaged the UK’s reputation in Europe and worldwide: see, for example, this commentary in the Washington Post. Here’s a sample: “European negotiators in Brussels, accustomed to clever British diplomats, have been amazed by how ill-prepared the Brexiteers have been, how little they understood about Europe, about treaties, about trade. It will be a long time before they assume, as they once did, that Britain is a serious country to reckon with.

I also hear that many news channels elsewhere in Europe and running “Look how stupid the Brits have been today” slots in their regular programming.

At best, it will take a couple of generations to rebuild the UK’s prior reputation; at worst, it’s gone forever. But our diminished status feeds back into future trade negotiations, making other countries even more wary ever to trust our government again to keep our word.

Northern Ireland and the Good Friday Agreement

And so, to the closest outpost of our former Empire, Northern Ireland.

The Useless… and the Brave

It seems to have been standard practice, at least since 2010, to appoint an incompetent, ignorant nobody to the post of Northern Ireland Secretary in the UK Government. Karen Bradley completes a long list of such types, excelling herself by first revealing her ignorance of Northern Ireland’s politics last autumn and, more recently, making a crassly stupid remark about Bloody Sunday. Contrast this with the bravery of Mo Mowlam when she was in the post: her actions acted as a catalyst to the implementation of the Good Friday Agreement. The GFA has kept a fragile peace in place for twenty years.

There are many in the Tory Party who don’t give a damn about Irish affairs and would happily sacrifice the Good Friday Agreement (and possibly even peace in Ireland) for the delusions about the benefits of leaving the EU. May’s actions in signing a “confidence and supply” agreement with the DUP bigots to shore up her minority government will come to be seen as a key strategic mistake. The DUP are about as unrepresentative of the views of the people of Northern Ireland as it is possible to get (58% of the population voted Remain).

The insensitive actions of May and her badly appointed ministers have already threatened the fragile stability in the province. All but Option A, in my analysis, threaten something worse. It’s probable that exit from the EU will bring forward the date when Ireland is reunified (and possible it will hasten Scotland’s independence too – 65% Remain).

Civil Unrest in GB

Turning even closer to home, it’s obvious that the inhabitants of these islands are more divided and more angry than at any time I can remember for at least 40 years. So, what is the risk of civil unrest under each of the Options? I’ve given my best guess in the tables above. My risk score for Option D4 above shows two figures: I will explain. Giving the Leave extremists what they want would probably minimise the risk of short-term disorder. As reality dawns and the most disaffected will be those who suffer when the economy crashes, Option D4 carries the highest long-term risk of disorder and of opportunities for the extreme right.

I’ve made some “elitist” assumptions in deriving my risk scores. There’s ample evidence already of a thuggish minority of Leave extremists, egged on by far right politicians and lobbyists, who have already caused unrest on our streets. They will be (whipped up to be) incandescent with rage if we remain in the EU. I assume disaffected, disappointed Remainers will, by and large, express their views in a more civilised way. (Stereotypically, perhaps by protests outside Waitrose?)

This is a tricky issue. A government’s key priority, agreed by those on the left and right politically, is to maintain order. But democracy must not bend the knee to mob rule. We’ve already seen the murder of one MP too many, Jo Cox. It’s a tragedy that far too many politicians: all, I believe, on the political right, have used language designed only to inflame passions. May herself seems determined not to compromise. And all of this unnecessary: Cameron’s attempt to placate the lunatic fringe in his own party has led to a fracturing of society. How will it end? Nobody knows.

And Next?

The immediate future does not look bright. It seems that May is still talking to the DUP and ERG, trying to persuade them to support her deal when she brings it back to the Commons next week. Meantime, Labour and Tory backbench MPs are trying to find common ground for a compromise.

Perhaps things will look different in a week or two. But whether in a good way or a bad one, time will tell.

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Invasion of the Zombies

What keeps you awake at night? I could say Theresa May’s mishandling of the EU negotiations and her attitude to the UK parliament. I could say the uselessness of our MPs, particularly the cowardice of the Tory members who vote for the government’s crap proposals out of a sense of fear and for party unity. What dreadful times we live in. Who knows how this week’s votes in Parliament will turn out – even if they all take place, according to some rumours.

Never have we been so badly served by our government and politicians, at least in my lifetime. Which is why I found the poster below, published, I think, by the @ByDonkeys twitter account, so appealing. Incompetents? Undoubtedly. Zombies, more like.

Here come the zombies!

The truth, however, is that I’m currently sleeping well at night (in part thanks to my current medication).

Zombies All

I speculated recently that Theresa May has actually gone mad under the pressure of trying to appease both the insane and sane wings of her party and – nominally at least – to be Prime Minister. Perhaps so – but she really has turned into some kind of zombie. And, just look at the others in the picture above! “Invasion of the Zombies” would be an entirely appropriate title for a future movie based upon these troubled times.

A crash test dummy could play Theresa May. Fill in your own names for others shown in the poster above.

Disturbed

I guess that the thought which could really disturb my sleep is this. Whatever happens this week, May will stand down (or be pushed out) as PM in a matter of months, if not weeks. Absolutely every likely successor for her in the Tory Party would give me nightmares! When do we start screaming? And why has Michael Gove been so deafeningly silent these past few weeks!

Scream!
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Stormy Weather

In a parallel universe, not so far away…

I hope you have been enjoying the unseasonably warm weather. Well, make the most of it, because we won’t be seeing the likes of it again.

Continental Air Flow

My newspaper described the high temperatures as the result of the country basking “in a continental air flow”. In the event that the UK crashes out of the EU without a deal, all free movement of air to and from other EU states will be banned. Without new Trade Wind agreements, we will all be breathing pure British air. An immediate advantage is that we shall be free to abandon all EU air quality standards. As the country which has consistently failed to meet those standards, the possible downside will be that the figure of 40,000 premature deaths each year from air pollution will rise. But, hey, there’ll be no pesky EU officials to point this out to us, so we are free to die happy and in ignorance!

Tory Party constituency chair Gerard Hayter, age 94 (known to his friends as “Gerry”) commented: “During the war, we thought nothing of walking the streets of London without a gas mask, breathing in smog and the brick and cement dust from recent bomb explosions. I’m not afraid of a few diesel particulates!”. At this point, Mr Hayter wheezed, coughed and promptly expired. (Another Leave voter bites the dust.)

Free Trade Wind Agreements

In the event of no deal, over 40% of the air freely traded between the UK and our continental neighbours will cease flowing. But don’t worry, because Trade Wind Secretary Liam Fox has successfully negotiated deals with more than four other non-EU countries, together accounting for nearly 1% of our air.

Stormy weather

First to be signed was with the Faroe Islands. Great news! Average temperatures on the Faroes range from 3 degrees in winter to a balmy 13 degrees in summertime.Throw away those summer clothes now! They won’t be needed again – unless you are one of those unpatriotic types thinking of taking a summer holiday abroad, somewhere hot and sunny.

Fox continued: “With our historic Free Trade Wind Agreement with the Faroes, our island paradise will have wet and windy weather all year round, and not just most of the time. With air flowing freely between our two great island nations, the Conservative Party will have delivered one of our key election promises: a strong and stable climate. Strong winds and predictably cool temperatures every day. At a stroke, we will have also abolished climate change, for the UK anyway.”

Irish Border

One consequence of the the banning of the free movement of air will be the effect on the border between the Irish Republic and Northern Ireland. All passenger and vehicle movement will be limited to a maximum of 2mph (the Irish insisted on 3km/h but we told them to fuck off). The speed limit is seen as necessary to ensure no undue air disturbance at the border. Prime Minister Theresa May gleefully reported that she had, at last, solved the Irish border question. People and goods will continue to flow freely between the two countries, only from now on, very, very slowly. The DUP were delighted with the result. Leader Arlene Foster commented: “Average vehicle speeds across the border will return to levels last seen in the 1680s, thereby achieving another of my Party’s objectives. It will only be a matter of time before we return the whole of the UK to the 17th century.”

A Matter of Time

Speaking of a matter of time, May’s government is considering two further measures. The first is the abolition of British Summer Time. Under pressure from the ERG, the proposal would ensure that all-year-round GMT leaves the UK 2 hours behind its neighbours in summer, instead of just one hour at present. And, of course, with the UK as the potential 51st state of the USA, the ERG are keen to reduce time zone differences with America. Spokesperson Rees-Mogg stated he was confident that the time zone gesture might mean that the Americans could be persuaded to allow us to continue driving on the left. Otherwise,we would have to agree to every US demand that a UK-USA Trade Wind Agreement would impose under Donald Trump.

A more controversial proposal concerning time is a consequence of our newly-signed Trade Wind Agreement with Singapore. The city state sits on the equator, resulting in 12 hours of daylight throughout the year. With the free movement of air between the UK and Singapore, the more intelligent members of May’s cabinet have reached a startling conclusion. Dark, night-time air particles will be arriving on our shores for 12 hours each night, with the bright, daytime particles arriving freely for 12 hours each day. Parliament’s agreed solution would be to find “alternative arrangements” for UK clocks to even out daylight throughout the year. The government has appointed a team of unicorns working for Capita to work out the practicalities.

Human Eyes Exclusive!

A copy of a document from Leave extremists in the Tory Party has been leaked to Human Eyes. As part of a wider plan to privatise everything, secret plans to privatise air have been exposed. This would appear to be the true motive for ensuring free movement of air is banned in the event we leave the EU. The leaked document reveals a plan to create a series of local monopolies along similar lines to the rail and water companies – because these have “worked so well” in consumers’ interests.

Final plans are yet to emerge. The document lists 3 leading alternative proposals:

  1. Each person to have an air meter fitted into their windpipe at birth, with incentives for retro-fitting older children and adults, e.g. 3 months’ free air. Benefit claimants will have prepayment meters, to encourage them to “budget” their own breathing;
  2. A variation of the water rates system: a fixed annual fee based upon house market values in the 1980s;
  3. A fixed lifetime quota of air, supplemented with a trading system. For the latter, various compulsory euthanasia sub-options are briefly compared.

 

Take a deep breath – while stocks last.

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Mad

I’m no mental health professional so please excuse the “cod psychology” in this post!

Two questions:

  • Does being Prime Minister make you mad (as in “insane”, not just “very cross”)?
  • Is Theresa May mad?

Mad Mag

I have absolutely no doubt that Thatcher was insane when she was deposed by the Tory Party. My evidence for this? I had the dubious pleasure of “meeting” her about a year after John Major took over. Specifically, I was a guest of a company CEO at a regional lunch meeting of the Institute of Directors and Thatcher was after-lunch speaker. (Yes, I know! The things I did to earn a crust!) The table where I was seated was 5 to 10 metres at most from Thatcher’s lectern. It was the eyes that convinced me. Barking, without a doubt. And very scary to be that close. Enough said: it still sends shivers down my spine just to think of it.

Mad Blair

I believe there is a case to answer that Tony Blair, over the decade he was PM, developed some kind of mental health issues. Compare the “before” and “after” pictures below. He suffered some form of premature aging, I’m sure.

Probably he wasn’t totally out with the fairies like Thatcher was, but rather he was well on the way by the time he handed the baton to Gordon Brown. Was it the promise he made to George W Bush that started the mental decline? I leave that to you to judge. There is certainly a case that being under the constant pressure of 24 hours rolling news media puts a great strain on any human being. The peculiarly adversarial approach to politics in the English-speaking world creates further pressure. And Labour PMs face the additional burden of the hysteria of the mainly right-wing press, the most one-sided in Europe.

Mad Nad

But you don’t have to be PM to be mad: sometimes just being an MP will do. I have the misfortune to have Nadine Dorries as the MP for a constituency bordering on mine. She rightly earned the epithet “Mad Nad” as a nickname used by her political opponents long before the “Get Me Out of Here” days. Certainly there has never been any evidence of any neural connection between her mouth and whatever passes for her brain. She can be guaranteed to say something stupid at the drop of a hat. So it’s hardly surprising that she has emerged as one of the most extreme MPs over the question of the UK leaving the EU.

Mad May

And so to Theresa May and my second question.

Several of my earlier posts have made reference to May’s character and personality traits. May’s fans and spin doctors (of which I am clearly neither) could, at one time, have suggested these were virtues. May at one time had a reputation for levelheadedness and was seen as a moderate, by Tory standards. Some traits have always been clearly negatives: her refusal to trust people or take advice, her apparent inability to socialize and her tendency for obsessive behaviour have always been worrying signs. Her prime obsession, in my view and that of many others, was over immigration, which has coloured her whole approach to negotiations with the EU. Commentators have remarked also on her total lack of understanding, or care for, people outside a narrow circle of Tory Party members and supporters. I now place trying to avoid a split in the Conservative Party as another true obsession which has emerged more clearly over the past year or so.

I stand by my “Mister Men” caricature of her as “Little Miss I-Know-Best” as an accurate assessment.

Three Phases

So is she mad, in the medical sense? I think we need to break down her time as Prime Minister into three phases. We must also remember her as the author of the “hostile environment” whilst Home Secretary, also adopted in the DWP, which has led to incalculable misery for UK citizens of colour, would-be asylum seekers and the disabled, poor and most vulnerable of our citizens.

Phase 1

Phase 1 was in the early months of her premiership. She made a massive error of judgement by pandering to the far right anti-EU fanatics in her party in the first Conference speech as leader and Prime Minister. Her famous “red lines” boxed her negotiating position in too soon and she rejected any bipartisan approach to the UK’s negotiating position. Her perceived necessity to balance remainers and leavers in her initial Cabinet appointments led to some extraordinarily bad choices. The UK’s reputation abroad will take decades to recover just from May’s decision to appoint Boris Johnson as Foreign Secretary, let alone the other appalling mistakes.

Her other major act of bad judgement was in triggering the Article 50 process too soon, before she had any proper plan how to proceed. Her focus was on Tory Party unity, not the views of the EU27, especially that of Ireland. Even before the 2017 election, the DUP dependency and bribe, May saw Ireland simply from the narrow perspective of maintaining the unity of the UK. Ireland’s and Scotland’s wishes (and Remain majorities) were ignored and Wales probably didn’t even get a second thought.

But there was a lot of hubris in the air and in the Tory Party – although May herself denied six times she would call a snap election – until she called one. Her rabid cheerleader, the Daily Mail, ran the headline “Crush the Saboteurs”. May was intending at this phase to use so-called “Henry VIII powers” to override Parliament and act as an absolute ruler over key aspects of the legislation needed to leave the EU. Gina Miller, who successfully challenged this approach in the courts, was vilified by Tories and their cheerleaders alike.

But even during this time, I saw May as someone with poor judgement, a tendency to authoritarianism, but with no clear evidence of mental health issues.

Phase 2

The second phase followed the 2017 election and the creation of a hung Parliament. May could have attempted a multi-party coalition even then, but chose instead to throw her lot in with the DUP – the most unrepresentative bunch of bigots imaginable to represent the interests of the people of the Six Counties and to protect the 20 years of peace brought about by the Good Friday agreement.

May’s room for manoeuvre was even more hemmed in by her pact with the devils of the DUP. But there were long periods of vacillation, key votes delayed or postponed as she agonisingly tried to get first a negotiating position and then an agreement with the EU that would (just about) hold her Cabinet and most of her Party together. Who now remembers what the Chequers deal said? It’s been drowned out since by talk of backstops, time limited or not and much tactical posturing by Tory Party factions – Labour too. (Remember the agonies of the wording of the Labour Party’s position?)

But I think this phase came to a crashing halt last month when her agonizingly-crafted position was rejected in the Commons by a massive 230-vote margin. But still, I would say, no clear evidence of May actually going mad.

Phase 3

This phase is continuing. May’s position has see-sawed between further appeasement to the far right in her Party and a cynical and insincere reaching out to placate some of Labour’s demands on workers’ rights in particular. May’s underlying personality flaws have always made her a bad choice for Prime Minister (but, throughout the relevant period, all the other candidates are worse). But the shock of the size of her Commons defeat was followed by the pseudo-reprieve of the “unicorn” key vote. Based almost entirely on Tory and DUP votes in favour, Parliament instructed May to return to Brussels to negotiate “alternative arrangements” to the Irish backstop.

This is perhaps the second low point in recent years for the UK parliament. A mixture of cowardice and delusional fantasy by mainly Tory MPs voted for an impossible fudge driven by a forlorn desire to put Party unity above national interest. (The first low point was in 2015 when Parliament agreed to hold a referendum without any of the usual safeguards that a country with a proper constitution would already have considered, e.g. a super-majority needed for change.) But my main point is that the combination of the shock of the 15 January defeat and the cover provided by the “unicorn” vote on the 29th has tipped May over the edge.

May still refuses to rule out “no deal”. This is a position of supreme folly and a criminally irresponsible way to treat a mature democracy. We can infer that Party unity is now May’s only driving force and her stubbornness, which some saw as a virtue, is now pathological.

The UK on Valentine’s Day 2019

So, welcome to the current reality. May is doggedly pursuing her unicorn in a rabid and illogical attempt to hold both the mad and sane wings of her party together. She marches, blinkered, towards the cliff edge. All the alternative Tory candidates for leadership seem to belong to the mad faction of the party. Labour, under Corbyn, dithers.

The only people who approve of our plight are some neo-fascist fringe parties in mainland Europe, Vladimir Putin, Donald Trump and others of their ilk. The rest of the world thinks we’re mad.

I once wrote a blog post called “Respect”. Pah!

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Failure of Leadership

I nearly fell off my chair laughing. The comment wasn’t intended to be funny, but I found it hilarious. It was made by that little pipsqueak, Gavin Williamson, who – please don’t laugh – was actually appointed Defence Secretary by Theresa May. Williamson, the Private Pike of the Cabinet, was in friendly company and he let his imagination run away with him a bit.

In a speech to the “Boys Who Like their Toys to Go Bang” (aka the Royal United Services Institute), he spoke of his dreams. He dreams of drones which swarm like flies to put off the enemy’s defences. He dreams of sailing our one aircraft carrier to the South China Sea (to frighten the Chinese). He dreams too of spending lots more money on the Toys the Boys like so much. (Reality check: the aircraft carrier might be ready by 2021. Oh, and it might have some planes – American, of course. If the Yanks have managed to fix the 300 “unresolved high-priority deficiencies”, reported by the Pentagon, by then. The planes? US F35s, a snip at 92 million quid – each!)

Stupid boys

How about this as a rousing cry to the true blue-hearted amongst us? “We must strengthen our global presence, enhance our lethality (our what?) and increase our mass”. By eating more junk food, perhaps – preferably radioactive, to enhance our lethality. (Plutonium is heavier than lead, usefully.)

But it wasn’t that which made me laugh. No, it was this little gem: “We should be the nation that people turn to when the world needs leadership”. Leadership?? In one bound, little Gav goes to the top of the pile – and it’s a big pile – of deluded Tories.

Laughing Stock

It wasn’t really little Gav’s fault that I had laughed so much. You see, I’d only just finished reading a 2-page article from reporters in seven EU countries of their views of Britain. I’ve used the phrase “laughing stock” in posts before, but that really only captures a part of it.

Un big mess

To give you a flavour: the full article can be found here. Phrases like “a pantomime”, “un big mess”, “national psychodrama” sprinkle the article. A view from a Netherlands newspaper: “It’s like the crew of the Titanic deciding, by majority vote, that the iceberg should get out of the way”. “Perhaps Great Britain is so fundamentally insular and protective of its own future and freedom, this is its destiny”: CEO of the port of Calais. He adds: “But it’s a pity”. A Spanish academic muses that the “systemic failure” of our attempt to leave the EU calls into question the very idea of the great British democracy. There is some regret: a German diplomat compares it to being dumped by your girlfriend: “I still have her jumper … hoping her scent will linger.” A Czech political analyst describes it as seeing “an established democracy descending into this chaos and irrationality”.

Perhaps the last word should, fittingly, come from Ireland, a country we treated very badly for 800 years. It rekindles the idea of “perfidious Albion”. An Irish history professor: “there is a sense that with the British, unless it’s written down you can’t trust anything they say”.

Theresa May

Which brings us to our “Prime Minister”. Some of us have memories long enough to stretch back to last autumn. That was when May signed a legally binding agreement with the EU which included a “backstop” to protect free flow of goods and services between the Irish Republic and the Six Counties in the north. That’s the same Theresa May who, a few weeks later, encourages Parliament to vote against that agreement. Parliament (i.e. Tories and DUP) duly obliges, defeating the agreement by a margin of 230 votes. May offers to renegotiate what she agreed only weeks earlier. Perfidious seems a fair enough description.

May has stated she will stand down as PM before the next general election. Some rumours say she we leave her post this summer. It’s too awful even to contemplate who might win an election involving just 100,000 geriatric out-of-touch-with-reality Tory Party members. There is literally no one who could conceivably lead the Tories who could actually be described as a leader, except in the deluded, pied-piper, over-the-cliff sense of the word.

Jeremy Corbyn

So, let’s have just a few words about the Labour alternative. Opinion polls give conflicting results, but there is no sign of a clear win for a future Labour government under Corbyn. He has anti-EU history and shows no leadership qualities when it comes to his avowed respect for Party democracy (i.e. the policy decisions of the 2018 Labour Party Conference) where they differ from his own long-held views.

Whether he deserves this or not, he carries the air of a man who hasn’t changed his opinion on anything in forty years. Don’t get me wrong, I would not like a Labour leader who has such a lack of principles, putting Party before national interest, as any conceivable Tory leader (including May herself). But a measure of pragmatism would enhance his reputation for humanity.

Conclusion

The EU referendum has wrecked UK politics and political parties. It’s a matter of when, not if, the Tory loony irreconcilables split off from the saner Party members. Labour may yet fracture, too, although for different dynamics: at least with Labour, both the rival wings are broadly rational in their thinking.

So, where does that lead us? Basically fucked, I guess. But whatever Britain is in 2019, it’s crystal clear what we are NOT. And that’s “the nation that people turn to when the world needs leadership”. No matter how many drones we buy (which don’t actually work yet as Williamson desires).

Stupid boy.

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Catalogue of Errors

Over the past two and a half years, I have tried to imagine any plausible scenario whereby the government could have made a bigger mess of negotiations with the EU following the June 2016 referendum result. So far, I haven’t come up with any. In other words, Theresa May has made the biggest mess of these negotiations that I can imagine. With the results of the last two Tuesdays’ House of Commons votes fresh in our minds, I feel it is time to apply some analysis to May’s performance.

Hence my name for this post is Catalogue of Errors. I want to break down this sorry tale into 3 categories: strategic mistake, lesser errors and major errors.

Strategic Mistake

Lest we forget: the 2016 referendum showed a nation divided, broadly speaking, down the middle. The vote was 51.9% v 48.1% with 29% of the voters not bothering to vote. Our MPs are paid to represent our interests; specifically to recognise the closeness of the result and to act accordingly.

May got it wrong practically from day one. It is now crystal clear that she focussed her strategic objective on Tory party unity, not the national interest. In practice, this meant dealing with the chronic Tory infighting over EU membership, endemic for over 40 years, rather than seeking a broad consensus based upon cross-party cooperation. This is a major, major strategic error which has affected all else. It is only in the last few days where the extreme weakness in her authority has forced her, reluctantly and with gritted teeth, to make a number of unconvincing gestures to opposition parties. Nothing has come of them so far.

The decision to suck up to (and bribe) the archbigots of the DUP (who represent the opposite to majority opinion in Northern Ireland over EU membership) was a consequence of this strategic mistake and the hung parliament following the 2017 election. The hubris which led her to call the election was also a consequence of the original strategic mistake (party before country), aided and abetted by the right-wing press – remember the “crush the saboteurs” rhetoric?

Lesser Errors

I will briefly summarise a string of the more obvious tactical errors committed by May since becoming Prime Minister.

Perhaps the most obvious was in her self-preserving idea of “balancing” leavers and remainers in her Cabinet. This led to monstrosities like Boris Johnson becoming Foreign Secretary, a man so narcissistic and self-unaware that he single-handedly turned the UK into a laughing stock. David Davis, a lazy, brainless idiot and Dominic Raab, a swivel-eyed Leave zealot “led” our EU negotiations. These embarrassing appointments further downgraded our standing in the world, as well as wasting about 2 years of negotiating time.

May’s personality and reliance on a few close allies led to her isolation both within the Tory Party and worldwide. Contrast this with the open way in which the EU negotiators kept close contact with key politicians in the EU27, thereby ensuring there was transparency and a high level of agreement amongst those with whom the UK was negotiating.

Major Errors

But I return to the two major errors committed by May since the summer of 2016. Both have been, in effect, appeasing the insane Leave fanatics in her own party. The first instance was the speech she made to the Tory Conference in autumn 2016 with her famous “red lines”. That earned her the approbation of the 70-somethings in the conference hall but has boxed in her negotiating position ever since.

The second major error happened yesterday. She made a U-turn by supporting the Brady amendment which in effect trashed her own negotiated deal following her crushing 230 vote defeat last week. Leading up to this vote, May had said it was her deal or none: renegotiation was “impossible”.

Worse, the Brady amendment’s notorious “alternative arrangements” plays totally into the fantasies and delusions of the worst Leave fanatics. True, she has bought a few days’ grace as the nominal leader of the country (and a few deluded headlines in today’s papers – check out the Mail’s page one headline for an extreme example). In exchange, she persuaded the House of Commons to support the maddest of the Leave extremists’ fantasies. The EU had made it clear that renegotiating the withdrawal agreement was a total no-no. The “alternative arrangements” are straight unicorn-thinking.

Major failed to control his “bastards”. Cameron appeased them by holding a vacuously-worded referendum. May has played into the hands of these lunatics not once, but twice. Albert Einstein (or maybe somebody else) famously defined insanity as “doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results”. If so, then we are being led into a fantasy renegotiation, already having been told “no”, by a mad woman leading a party of cowards and fantasists.

End of Democracy?

The UK famously claims it does not have a formal written constitution – not strictly true, some of it is written down, but not all in the same place. But the arrangement leads to a whole lot of making it up as we go along. Can UK democracy survive this apparent collapse of the past few days? That will be the subject of a future post!

Anyone betting on a happy ending?

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