Monthly Archives: March 2018

Bad Week, Good Week

On the face of, at least until Wednesday, Theresa May has had a good week, Jeremy Corbyn a bad one – just look at the headlines and BBC news. But look a little more closely.

May and Corbyn

Russia

May was quick to claim credit for the UK government for the coordinated approach to sanctions against Russia following the poisoning of Sergei and Yulia Skripal. There’s better news on Thursday about Yulia’s recovery, but father Sergei remains “critical but stable”. I can only wish him well.

Surely the critical matter here is that the UK is a member of NATO and May quickly convinced other NATO members that the Russian state was culpable. The other states then had to examine their NATO treaty obligations. May’s decisive approach was good politics. Jeremy Corbyn took a more judicial approach and was way too slow off the mark. That’s bad politics in these days of 24-hour rolling news.

Antisemitism

Similarly, Corbyn has been way too slow on the matter of antisemitism in the Labour Party. Although all forms of discrimination are anathema to the very values of Labour, this running sore has been allowed to fester until it boiled over. The rumblings continue in the media several days later. And Corbyn has baggage where, as a backbench rebel outsider never expecting power, he was not always careful about his friends and associations in the past. There’s nothing anyone can do about the baggage, but, Corbyn was way, way too slow to sound convincing. By Wednesday morning, it was 2-0 to May.

Return to I-Know-Best and Maybot

For nearly a week, May looked (almost) Prime Ministerial. I was relieved to see that May had reverted to her two default operating modes by Thursday. After a spell as Maybot at the last Prime Minister’s Questions before Easter, she became Little Miss I-Know-Best on her whistle-stop tour of the UK on Thursday. She visited Ayr (Scotland), a children’s day care centre in Northumberland (England), a farm near Bangor (Northern Ireland – you know, the place where power sharing broke down over a year ago) and the  Aston Martin factory in St Athan (somewhere in South Wales, apparently). She tried to tailor her message to each audience, but the Maybot mode got switched on and she kept lecturing everyone how they must all be “strong and united”. (See The Modes of May for definitions if you’re not sure).

Apparently, she also became Maybot when the BBC’s Laura Kuenssberg managed to catch up with her for an interview.

The whole thing smacked of a re-run of her disastrous 2016 General Election campaign, where May toured a succession of empty factories and warehouses in front of a small, hand-picked audience and tried – and failed – to look Presidential. She generally succeeded in her other objective: to avoid exposure to ordinary members of the general public. The woman clearly hasn’t learnt anything from her election campaign; she certainly continues in I-Know-Best mode by not listening.

Proper Consultation

A majority of the Scots and Northern Irish voted to stay in the EU; so, too, did 48% of us English folk. Dashing around the countryside on a single day is no substitute for proper consultation with the people in the constituent parts of our “United” Kingdom and their devolved governments – where they haven’t broken down by neglect of what matters (including the peace secured by Blair and the Good Friday Agreement).

So, business as usual, then: Tory party politics before the National Interest.

But it does also clarify my thoughts in relation to Jeremy Corbyn and the recent 3-part post on the Road to the Promised Land. Corbyn is not the man to lead us there, mainly because of what he’s done in the past (when he had no ambitions for the top job), rather than what he’s going now. Which is a shame, because Jeremy Corbyn is a good man.

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Road to the Promised Land (3 of 3)

Getting There

This is the third part of a 3-part blog post. Part 1, Where We Are, and part 2, Tribes and Tribulations, were published over the previous two days.

harmony
Harmony?

The UK stays in the EU

It should be screamingly obvious by now that it is essential that the UK stays in the EU. But we have to do it in a way which is consistent with our values, the wider principles of democracy and our so-called “unwritten” constitution – thanks, Gina Miller. My ideal scenario for the next few years would look something like this:

  • May, or a credible alternative (see below) “caretaker” Prime Minister, steers us through to a transition period which is, in all but name, the status quo;
  • Public opinion, armed with a few home truths, shifts to a clear majority in favour of Remain: two-thirds should do it;
  • At some point, triggered by some opportunist event, a General Election is held: Tories lose big time. Labour, alone or in a formal coalition with the SNP (and even any Green MP), form a majority government
  • A suitable Prime Minister buries the “Leave” message and can concentrate on the important challenges facing the country: basically, what’s left of my “Pressing Priorities” in part 1.
  • After a suitable interval, the UK begins, at last, to play a useful and constructive role in the EU’s affairs. We have much to offer: perhaps the subject of a future post!

Sounds simple? Obviously not: there are dangers and pitfalls on the way and the chances of success are slim: it all depends on the timing.

Dangers and Pitfalls:

  • Public opinion will never shift enough until sufficient people see through the greatest con trick perpetrated by the Tories, basically Cameron and Osborne, aided by their media “outliers” – see “The Great Conflation” below;
  • The Crazies and any rump from the defunct UKIP form a populist party like the FN or AfD and peel off committed Labour leavers;
  • The right-wing media – and some Tory Crazies, will simply play dirtier and dirtier tricks, aided by sympathetic companies exploiting lax regulation of Big Data;
  • The danger of a Crazy as PM for a crucial period in the negotiations;
  • The EU and/or EU27 run out of patience with the UK’s wavering position as to what it wants (Perfidious Albion 2.0?)

Reasons for Hope:

Addressing each of the above in turn:

  • It’s all in the timing. I suspect Labour has the bigger task on its hands with its traditional working class base. The Tories most inclined to vote Leave will simply die of old age. Yesterday, 29 March, marked 12 months until we “leave” the EU: the Daily Express front page looked like this:

I knew the Express had long since given up any attempt to be newspaper, but this was a classic of its genre. All that was missing were pictures of Churchill and Vera Lynn and it would have been perfect! How about a few bluebirds? It would be funny if it wasn’t so delusional. Just how “uncurious” do you have to be to lap up this stuff?
On the same day, the Guardian published a handy checklist of the 12 concessions made by the UK government, all clearly spelled out 15 months ago. The detail is here, courtesy of PressReader; the list, in short, Ease of Brexit, Article 50 talks sequencing, Transisiton Deal, “Implementation” period, Time Limit, Money, Trade deals, Hi-tech customs solution, Free movement, Rule-taking and role of the ECJ and Fishing. (PressReader is a Canadian digital publisher who republishes interesting and informative articles from around the world.) Express readers had to make do with some sub-sub-Churchillian waffle from Britain’s very own mini-Trump.

  • Yes, a replacement “UKIP” is a worry. But Labour has a huge army of activists – hats off here to the indefatigable Owen Jones, who, by sheer numbers and organisation, can get Labour’s advantages to its traditional base across., This already happened in the 2017 General Election to some degree. The resounding defeat of the Tories I expect in the May local election – essentially the London results as the media are over-represented there – will give Labour some Momentum: in more senses than one. Tory voters supporting Crazy candidates may also vote for some neo-fascist party, negating the arithmetic.
  • Yes, so that’s why the threat of Big Data undermining democracy becomes a very high priority issue any government can sell to the public. Self-evidently, this can best be moved forward by the UK working in full concert with its fellow EU members and officials in Brussels. Only the EU working together, based upon past experience, will be willing and able to take firm regulatory action: it’s a natural fit.
  • See comments on Prime Minister below
  • Key EU27 countries, including Germany and France, have been remarkably patient and indulgent of the UK’s shifting position so far. Ironically, the threat of terrorist attacks and the need for good shared intelligence works in everyone’s favour.

The Elite: The Great Conflation

Perhaps the greatest deception played on the British public, and swallowed whole by simply too many of us, is what I call the “Great Conflation”, essentially the work of Cameron and Osborne, in opposition between 2008-10 and as government propaganda from 2010. It’s basically this: the meaning of the word “elite” has been fudged to confuse and combine two very different groups of people: (a) the rich and super-rich, who have gained most from the rise in inequality over the past 35 years and (b) professionals, academics: the “liberal intelligentsia” if you like. Both groups were more likely to vote Remain, but for very different motives (a) financial self-interest and (b) through rational analysis and examination of the evidence.

Populist elements in the Leave campaign could then present the referendum votes as a simple “elite v. the ordinary people” binary issue. Privately educated, ex-City stockbroker Mr Slime’s entire shtick was based upon this deception. This all culminated in Gove’s now notorious remark about “the people” not needing “experts”. Added to this was the insidious drip-drip feeding of the American idea that the poor and disabled, i.e. those on benefits, were, per se, undeserving.

A similar fudge happened in the run-up to the invasion of Iraq, when the Bush administration coined the term “weapons of mass destruction”, similarly ill-defined to obscure its meaning. Blair was his poodle on this, and much else.

The Dilemma: Who Is To be Prime Minister?

The tricky bit I’ve left until last: who will lead us out of this mess? Bear in mind the relative strategic, long-term importance of two very different matters:

  1. UK stays in the EU and the issue is settled in the public mind for at least one or two generations: a key constitutional matter and a statement of the kind of country we want the UK to be;
  2. Tackling the problems affecting ordinary people’s lives: my “Pressing Problems” listed in part 1.

Self-evidently 1 is strategically more important than 2, as its effects will be felt for generations. Equally obviously, a Tory-led government would grudgingly deal with the minimum tinkering on the “Pressing Problems”, to the extent that public opinion forced them to. The grudging “with strings” pay offer to NHS staff last week is an example. By contrast, a Labour-led government, under Jeremy Corbyn or someone who broadly shares his policy agenda, would find no difficulty in prioritising (approximately) these issues. Labour’s problems would be sniping from the usual quarters about “tax-and-spend” or “back to the 70s” in economic terms.

There are two possible scenarios:

Tories cling to power until after the start of the Transition Period

For nearly all her time as PM, May has played her role extremely badly – see my previous post The Modes of May There are indications in the last few days that, as a reluctant Remainer during the campaign, she may be steering her party towards a “Norway plus” destiny. She dare not speak its name, for fear of upsetting the Crazies and splitting her party – not to mention the hard nut cases of the dreadful (and unrepresentative) DUP.

May is safe for the foreseeable(!) future as any alternative Tory contender would be so much worse: the two favourites with the Tory faithful (aged, out of touch and down to 70,000 members by some rumours: the Tories refuse to publish up-to-date membership figures) are both Crazies. Johnson is a petulant 4 year-old child: a mini-Trump with a bit of Latin; Rees-Mogg is the role model for privilege and lack of any contact with the real world. Why are Little Englanders so impressed simply by a posh accent and a posh school?

And, of course, Westminster Tories are ruthless at getting rid of inconvenient leaders or leadership candidates: Thatcher was stabbed in the back by her Cabinet colleagues when they finally accepted she had gone completely mad. (I speak with authority having seen her in person about a year after the coup – but that’s another story!) Comparison with The Godfather and horses’ heads would be way, way too far-fetched. But May was “crowned” Tory leader – and hence PM – in 2016 clearly because Tory Central Office could not trust their members to do the right thing. So, better the devil you know.

Snap General Election

So, we can probably conclude that a Tory coup or May repeating her mistake of calling a snap general election won’t happen. The May local elections will set the mood at Westminster for the summer and autumn, when detailed, line-by-line scrutiny by Parliament of our so-called “deal” will be debated. So it will either be one too many government defeats in the Commons (or maybe the Lords) or something really silly that captures the public mood. In that situation, Jeremy Corbyn will become Prime Minister.

So, on the more important issue (EU membership), ironically, we will probably get to much the same place in terms of the transition arrangements whether it’s May or Corbyn. (May’s machinations in focusing on internal Tory Party infighting has simply wasted about 15 months: her latest proposals were clearly stated by Barnier and the EU27 as unacceptable well over a year ago. So it’s been all about damage limitation.) But every day that the Tories cling on to power is a day wasted in tackling the “Pressing Problems” – things that would make a difference to ordinary people’s lives.

So, and here’s the crunch: my concerns about Corbyn – even though I agree with practically everything he has said, consistently for many years – and making few friends (in and out of the Labour Party). First, the plus side. He has enthused a new, younger membership to join and fight on the ground – door to door stuff targeted at marginal constituencies: Labour has the foot-soldiers – the Tories clearly don’t. In John McDonnell, he has an able “elder statesman” lieutenant with broadly the right economic policies – see any number of my past posts on economic matters!

And now, my concerns. Corbyn personally carries a lot of baggage from his well-documented past, in relation to his (Bennite) position of lack of enthusiasm for the EU. Principled and consistent though this may be, it means I question his true motive for his current stance as Leader of the Opposition. May’s appalling mishandling of negotiations so far are legion: as a blinkered Home Secretary with no notion of the “National Interest”. As hinted earlier, this may be playing a clever game of gradually moving Labour to an anti-Leave position. As I said, it’s a much trickier task for Labour’s 2 distinct sets of voters: our unfair first-past-the-post voting system requires aspiring Prime Ministers to play that game. And of course, as an “Islington socialist”, Corbyn doesn’t exactly play well in Labour’s traditional heartlands in Northern England.

Cruel and unfair as this may be to a principled man with whom I share most views, that is the political reality. So Labour, under any leader, will also need to play the long game.

Conclusion

So, for me, it’s all in the timing. May has had a relatively good week (Russian diplomat expulsion in 26 countries, etc.) and Corbyn a bad one (Antisemitism, etc.) – see future post. (For the rest of her tenure, she’s been crap.) The important thing is that not too much damage is done. Uncertainty can be put off only for so long. We can only hope that not too many more businesses choose to move to other EU countries. The genuinely seamless border between the Republic and Northern Ireland remains unresolved. The spirit of the Good Friday Agreement and the peace it brings, is in peril. Who knows, the Irish, for so long the colonised power, may save the UK from the foolishness of the Little England mentality.

May bangs on about the unity of the United Kingdom (see next post Bad Week, Good Week): well, give a proper say to the votes of the people of Scotland and Northern Ireland (who voted Remain), to the Welsh. Note also the 96% Remain vote in Gibraltar and the effective veto the EU officials have given to the Spanish Government over that element of the transition arrangements that apply to the status of Gibraltar. Above all, consult and listen!

Step One is to hold the status quo through the transition period. Step Two is to transform public opinion enough for Parliament to do its job. And for Parliament to vote that, all things considered, we remain in the EU and start acting like a grown up member. That will need a General Election and probably a new leader of the Labour Party. Some very promising rising stars in their thirties and forties are emerging.

Those of us on the progressive side of politics need to keep our nerve, be eternally vigilant to the dirty tricks of our enemies (you know who I mean) and to play the long game, for the sake of our future generations.

I won’t live to see that Promised Land, but I hope my children and grandchildren will. That gives me hope for the future.

[Editorial note: Looking at the File Properties details, the source Word document used for this 3-parter was started on 15th March and substantially completed on the 27th. Publication was delayed by my medical issues. I was amused to see that the Guardian lead article for 29th March makes basically the same points. The main difference is this: my 3 posts take nearly 6000 words to make my argument; The Guardian  managed it in just 1266, and with more diplomatic language.

Which proves one thing at least – I’m no journalist!]

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Road to the Promised Land (2 of 3)

Tribes and Tribulations

This is the second of a 3-part post, published on consecutive days. Part 1, Where We Are, was published yesterday. Part 3, Getting There, comes out tomorrow.

obstacle
Obstacle

Two Tribes

So now, a few ramblings around how I hope things may turn out. But first, let’s talk about the gross structural bias against Labour winning, and I’m not just talking about the fact that most of our so-called newspapers are owned by foreign or tax-dodging “non-doms” with an agenda far removed from public opinions. The new phenomenon of “fake news” and social media misuse makes another twist in the knife.

Generally speaking, I don’t like generalisations. My May 2017 post Curiouser and Uncuriouser  classifies people into two camps: those who carry on taking a sceptical view of what they see or hear – and retain a sort of child-like curiosity to continue to learn throughout their lives and those who simply believe whatever nonsense they’re told by someone who asserts an air of authority: The “curious” and the “uncurious”. The important difference is that the curious carry on thinking for themselves; the uncurious don’t. None of us is immune from “uncuriosity”. I spent the best part of forty years of my life sitting on the fence about the existence, or not, of God. I was busy climbing the greasy corporate pole and being a father with a house and mortgage to pay for. I put God’s putative existence on the “too difficult” pile, called myself an agnostic and hid behind semantics like “It all depends what you mean by God”. It was only when circumstances allowed me some time to think, it was only a matter of 2-3 days before I firmly jumped off the fence and “came out” as a committed atheist, and subsequently a Humanist, a group with whom I share a common set of values and, broadly, the same ethical code, derived entirely by rational thought. So we all make our choices of how we spend our time and what we think it’s worth thinking about.

So far, so non-judgmental. But there are some clear facts and correlations – and gross generalisations. Tory voters, stereotypically, were modestly educated and fit firmly in the “uncurious” camp. For Labour, it’s much more complicated: Labour gets the well-educated (and presumably “curious”/ well-informed) middle class votes and a steadily falling number of traditional, mainly white, working class voters who have clearly lost the safe, union-backed steady jobs and struggled in the “gig economy” described in part 1. The former group (well informed) voted overwhelmingly Remain and latter overwhelmingly Leave. Call these second group of referendum votes a “fuck you all” protest, if you like. I will leave you to judge whether Jeremy Corbyn is playing a clever, long game so as not to upset either camp or simply acting instinctively from his known earlier Eurosceptic views derived essentially from a (Tony) Bennite perspective.

Good News

There are some encouraging developments. I regularly scan the “The Papers” page on the BBC website each morning, to see how the enemy – you know, the usual suspects – report the previous day’s events. The Telegraph and  Express  simply didn’t cover May’s climbdown in Brussels (red lines) last week and the Mail simply had some bland and misleading cross-reference to an inside page story which was, I assume equally spun to the opposite of the truth. Here’s a handy summary of what she conceded; the simpering acquiescence of Johnson and Gove suggests leading Leave extremists in the Cabinet are lying low for the moment. It’s a delight to see the right-wing press’s  bewilderment. For those too busy to read the article at the link, the concessions cover Northern Ireland, Fish, Duration of Transition Period and Citizens Rights. May has rubbed out some of her red lines she had used to appease her extremist wing. However, the EU made it clear over a year ago where they would not budge, so May has just wasted 15 months fighting internal party battles. Only fish seems to have caught the public imagination – of which more, shortly.

The other piece of good news is the imminent bankruptcy for UKIP who, a judge ordered last week, must pay £175,000 legal costs. With their toxic previous rich funders likely to abandon them and a succession of leadership changes prompted by leaders with a liking for racist women 25 years their junior, UKIP will shortly be as dead as a smoked kipper. Hurray! And not before time.

BBC Stops Giving Airtime to Idiots

There’s another thing that must change: the BBC must stop giving undue prominence and airtime to idiots, in particular, that which I called Mr Slime in Mr Men 2016.  Mr Slime has stood for 7 elections and failed at every attempt. He has been given 32 appearances on BBC1’s Question Time, 10 more than Caroline Lucas, who has actually been a real MP for 8 years.

And so, back to fish.  Prime Ministers sometimes have to make very difficult decisions between a bad outcome and a very bad one. Sacrificing the fisherfolks’ interest short-term is hardly the most difficult decision a PM has to make. Think of Blair’s capitulation to the blackmail by the Saudi ruling family over BAE corruption. Would you be a Prime Minister who watched as the petrol stations ran out of fuel?

The reaction of the crazies was pathetic: no license to tie up the boat, Rees-Mogg on the shore, Mr Slime throwing dead fish. Crass and puerile don’t even begin to describe it. John Crace has an amusing account here. As an MEP, Mr Slime was a member of the fisheries committee, where he could have defended the interests of the UK fishing industry at 42 meetings of the committee. He showed up once – thanks again to John Crace for that interesting fact you may not have seen. I always knew Mr Slime was a tosser – we now know he’s a dead fish tosser.

That sorry episode brought to mind Monty Python’s Fish Slapping Dance:


Don’t you just wish the figure falling in the water was Mr Slime and it happens again… and again… and again…

And talking of idiots, the Daily Mail seems to be in the habit of running campaigns on the least important things. First, it was the colour of the new UK passports: blue (“Will it give free passage to 27 other countries?” “No, but it’s blue…”) Then the Mail got into a hell of a lather when their manufacture was awarded to a French company. (Ahem… The UK is still part of the EU and subject to its procurement rules. In any case, it saves £120m over its British competitor. Wouldn’t a “free, global” UK do the same, especially as the chosen supplier meets all the cybersecurity checks, as the government said on Friday.)  Do we yet have sufficient grounds yet to get Paul Dacre sectioned under Mental Health legislation?

NHS Stops Being a Political Football

I’ve said earlier that the Tories are bound to split; it’s unavoidable – to get rid of the Crazies, like Rees-Mogg, Johnson, Fox, Dorries et al. Basically all those of the 62 MPs who signed the “Hard Brexit” letter a month ago because they actually believed it, rather than for party loyalty reasons. That’s probably close to the 35 Crazies I identified 10 days earlier.

That would be good, because part of my Promised Land vision is this: any political party which is serious to gain power as the Government of the UK must sign up to, and stick to an NHS Pledge. A rough attempt at such a pledge follows:

“If my Party gains power in a general election, I pledge to sustain funding for the NHS during my term of office at the average of the 6 best (i.e. highest) EU countries, as a percentage of GDP.”

This is no magic bullet and hard funding decisions will still be needed as the population ages and technology enables more (and costlier) options to keep people alive and well. But the key point is this: it stops the NHS from being a political football, subject to constant tinkering and reorganisation. Until now, in my view, the Tories could never be trusted to support the NHS and its values in any meaningful way. I want to live in a country where not signing the pledge automatically disqualified a party from being considered mainstream – and respectable. May’s announcement of a 3-year spending plan is welcome, but there were no figures or ideas whether this was new money. Another example of the Tories being dragged along by public opinion – it feels like drawing teeth.

My guess is it would add about 20% to the total NHS bill: a lot of money, but if others can do it, so can we. It’s all a matter of priorities. Would you rather have 3 billion quid spent on an aircraft carrier with no planes?

The average cost in 3 years’ time (i.e. including the Government’s 6% recent pay offer) of an NHS clinical staff member (doctors, nurses and all other similar jobs) I estimate as £55,300. (This includes their salary, direct and indirect overheads, i.e. the total cost to the taxpayer.) My base source is a National Audit Office report from February 2016, so it’s pretty pukka. £3 billion would pay for 54,000 NHS clinical staff – admittedly for only a year, but it gives you a flavour. You choose.

Practically everyone has been, or has a close relative, who has been to an NHS hospital within the last year. If so, one clear fact emerges: people come from all over the world and work in our NHS. They work seamlessly and harmoniously together using a system that works: nearly all the time. If only 10% of them return to their home country, the NHS would be truly fucked, to use some medical jargon.

I’ve had 5 stays in an NHS hospital since Christmas Day, totalling 6 weeks. In all that time, the care and attention I received was perfect: 10 out of 10 – except for 2 members of staff, both on the same ward. Not too bad, I think. But the NHS works mainly on one thing: exploitation: exploitation of the goodwill of the people who choose healthcare as a career. Tired, dedicated people working 12.5 hours shifts, cancelling days off to provide cover for the chronic shortages of staff.

This was a constant problem – especially at night. One morning, they were so short-staffed, the ward sister served breakfast, because there was no one else to do it. And all done with a cheerful friendliness that brightened everyone’s day. Thank you, Jackie! You’re a star – 11 out of 10 at least. And to the kind, caring woman from Zimbabwe – sadly, I forget her name – who gave me a hug when I was still in a state of shock when they told me what was actually wrong.. This was 10 minutes after a brilliant consultant, originally from Pakistan, took time out from his busy clinic to break the news in person (a relatively rare form of blood cancer) because, in his words, his first thought was “how would I like to be treated if I were the patient?”.

So, I say to anyone who thinks targeting numbers of net migration figures is even a sane thing to do, I say this. Think. And think again.

Tomorrow, in part 3, Getting There, I share my thoughts on how things may turn out – if we’re very, very lucky – and vigilant.

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Road to the Promised Land (1 of 3)

Where We Are

The most specific, outright lie during the EU referendum campaign was Leave’s claim there’d be £350m a week extra to spend on the NHS if we left the EU. The more strategic, and in some ways bigger, lie was that was some kind of Promised Land once we were free of the EU’s “shackles”.

Promised Land
Promised Land?

This is the third of three posts planned last month. The first, Changing Times, Changing Norms, was essentially backward looking through my life, reflecting on changes in social attitudes over that time. The second was set in the present: The Modes of May gives my assessment of Theresa May’s performance as Prime Minister. This third post attempts to take a peek into the future, or at least the next couple of years.

This post has been split into three parts. This is part 1, parts 2 and 3 will follow tomorrow and the day after

This is not a prediction or a forecast: only an idiot would attempt such a thing in theses unpredictable – and indeed unstable – times. No, it’s more a collection of hopes and aspirations, a sort of “cards on the table” wish list on a possible way ahead for the UK.

The UK’s Pressing Priorities

Any detached, but thoughtful, observer of the UK from the outside could draw up a list of the most long-term, strategic, pressing problems facing Britain today. I will attempt to list them here, in no particular order:

  • Housing: the country has a systemic, serious shortage of genuinely affordable housing , especially to rent. Private sector rents are too high and tenants’ security of tenure is too low. Thatcher started the problem in the early 1980s, giving council tenants the right to buy at huge discounts and shackling local authorities’ powers to build sufficient replacements. My 2015 post A House Is Not a Home displays my concerns.
    Since 2010, successive governments have simply made matters worse with ill-thought-out schemes which generally just push up house prices and waste public money. The stupendously high house prices in London add to the problem: London property is a major source of money-laundering by oligarchs and mafia types, not least from Russia – many of whom have donated vast sums of money to the Tories.
    In true Orwellian fashion, the Tories “solved” the problem of the lack of affordable housing by redefining the word ”affordable”. The whole mindset on housing needs to change from a “property-owning democracy” – Thatcher’s cynical ploy to turn Council tenants into Tory voters – to the idea of the right for everyone to have a decent home: rented or not. The solution is obvious: build more council houses which are genuinely affordable to ordinary people!
  • Big Data: a very dangerous development is the late realisation of the power and gross negligence of Big Data mining companies (Facebook, Apple, Amazon, Google, etc.), whose only focus has been profit maximisation. Facebook, for example, is now only taken action, two years after suspecting a breach of data protection laws, because they have been caught out.
    The ease with which extremist groups, funded secretly, have misused information without prior consent for political ends is deeply troubling and a threat to the foundations of democracy itself. Putin and the Russian state are just one of the players here, but a convenient distraction for the UK government. It’s companies like Cambridge Analytica we should be more worried about: their alleged meddling in the 2017 Kenyan general election being the most recent revelation. I’ve noticed a tendency for the Chief Executives or founders of these companies hold extreme libertarian views.
  • Gig Economy: Poor job security and sham self-employment, zero hours contracts and the rest are destroying the dignity of jobs for the poorest members of society. So far, it’s voluntary groups, some trade unions and sympathetic lawyers who are using the justice system to fight back. Whole communities, not least former mining villages in the Midlands and North, were left to rot: drugs, despair and crap jobs are the legacy.
  • Unbalanced Economy: Germany ‘s manufacturing sector represents 23% of GDP; in the UK it’s just 11%. That’s a political choice made by Thatcher and her successors for 35 years. The gross bias towards London and the City finance sector in particular is a hallmark of UK government thinking since the 1980s. Blatant conflicts of interest abound, particularly around the “Big Four” accountancy firms, who get government contracts and secondments and advise powerful corporations on ever-more sophisticated tax avoidance schemes. My 2015 post, The City: Paragon or Parasite? explains that practically all City innovation in the last 35 years benefits only those working in finance and act as a powerful engine of inequality. Two Gamblers and a Pint of Lager tries to present the degree of imbalance in more human terms.
  • Extreme Inequality: The failed economic doctrine of Free Market Fundamentalism is a subject I’ve returned to many times: Two Castles (part 2) is a good place to start. Inequality Damages Your Wealth, also from 2015, explores this in further detail. Inequality destroys the very fabric of a civil, and civilised, society.
  • Education: Ludicrous meddling in education by successive ministers has seriously damaged the education system for a generation. Gove, self-evidently, was the worst, speaking as a school governor of 30 years’ standing, I have seen the damage close up.
    Here are two examples from my personal experience. Firstly, Gove’s reforms left Local Authorities with a range of statutory responsibilities whilst removing many of the powers and controls over local school policy. This was a personal lament from a former Chief Education Officer, who needed to use cajoling and persuasion to do the best for the pupils in her authority. We’re still a LA school: we toyed with the idea of academisation, together with other local schools. We encountered the entirely undemocratic Regional Schools Commissioner, appointed by Central Government, together with the sinister Headteacher Board, a group of selected heads with views sympathetic to Central Government policy. Their meetings are held in secret and no minutes are published.
    How about that for a Westminster power grab? The resultant fragmentation has left education is one hell of a mess: it will take a generation to repair the damage.
    And don’t even get me started on May’s insane ideas about grammar schools: in 2016, I combined a debunking of this myth with a tribute to the reggae superstar, Prince Buster in Madness, Madness, I Call It Madness. And, of course, government policy is way out of line with public opinion, with 72% of us opposed to selection of pupils on the basis of their parents’ religious views.
  • Heal the Divisions in Our Society: Cameron’s disastrous mistake in calling a referendum on EU membership has created a poisonous rift in our society. It has encouraged racists, xenophobes, violent far-right groups and the rest to feel the stamp of government approval; think, for example, of the murder of Jo Cox MP. Since 2010, the government has steered two major Government Departments in a direction far removed from humane values.
    The Home Office, particularly in regard to matters of Immigration, lost touch with humane values years ago: here’s a recent example to add to the list of revelations. Perhaps that’s why May stayed so long as Home Secretary: it suited her authoritarian, Little Miss I-Know-Best mode. And the DWP, driven by Osborne’s and Cameron’s misleading propaganda on benefit fraud has plenty of examples of inhumane treatment. Here’s a recent example: 70,000 disabled benefit claimants to be repaid £340m of underpaid benefits owing to the DWP’s “errors”.

So, quite a list: housing, big data, gig economy, unbalanced economy, extreme inequality, education, divisions in society. All but one of these are wholly a matter of domestic government policy.

The exception is the threat to democracy caused by misuse of information by companies analysing data sold to them by the likes of Facebook.  It’s screamingly obvious that the best way to do this is collectively between countries with shared values. The EU has a good past record on this, having given large fines to Google and Microsoft and forced mobile phone companies to abolish roaming charges across the EU. And the EU is planning an interim, and slightly crude, new tax based upon turnover by country, to begin to address the scandalously low effective tax rates paid by big data companies. It will effectively add about 3% to their tax burden – a modest start. Don’t expect any help from a Trump government with an “America First” policy and a minimal regulation cultural bias.

A quote from a Rafael Behr article in the Guardian on Tuesday sums it up nicely: “There is no substantial problem facing Britain to which leaving the EU offers an effective remedy”. Quite.

The Tories Must Split

Healthy democracies require a healthy government and a healthy opposition. Right now, the Labour Party is in fine health, with rising membership – the largest in Europe – whilst the government is simply toxic. By this I mean, the cancer of the “crazies” (described in my recent Call It Out: Crazies! post) on the one hand and the 17th century moral philosophy of the DUP have trapped Theresa May in a pincer movement of intolerance and lunacy.

It must surely be only a matter of time for a sufficient proportion of the British public realise what a catastrophic mess the Tories (and, to an extent, the cowardice of New Labour) have made of this country since Thatcher was elected – and all based on an economic dogma based upon a false premise about human motivation. (To summarise the false premise, the only thing that drives us is pursuit of material self-interest.) In healthy, properly functioning democracies the electorate should punish the Tories big time. I look forward to the May local election results, particularly in Remain-voting London, where I expect the Tories to lose big time to Labour. The Tories deserve to be out of power for at least one, if not two, generations. Their cheerleaders, Murdoch press, Express, Telegraph and, most toxically, the Mail will fight dirtier and dirtier campaigns of lies and distortions. Goodness knows, we’ve seen enough already! (“Enemies of the People”, etc)

Let’s just remind ourselves of a few facts when trying to decide what the “will of the people” actually is, rather than what the Daily Mail says. 37% of voters voted to leave the EU after the most dishonest campaign seen in my lifetime. Evidence is now emerging of shady “pro bono” help by Cambridge Analytica to the Leave.EU camp and UKIP and of overspending by Vote Leave. 34% voted remain – a margin of only 1 million in 40-million electorate. 29% didn’t bother to vote at all. Of those who voted, there were clear Remain majorities in Scotland (62%), Northern Ireland (56%) and Gibraltar (96%). In London, Remain won 60% of the vote – oh and Oxford and Cambridge (70% and 74%), which can, I know, be spun into an argument about elitist vs. ordinary people. So, Theresa May, why did you choose to the most extreme Leave position as government policy and draw up those misjudged red lines? Because you were trapped in a pincer movement, particularly one you had to kowtow to the DUP!

Tomorrow, in part 2, Tribes and Tribulations, I discuss the tribal nature of our two main party supporters and some things that need to change. This covers, in particular comments about BBC News and the NHS. The third part, Getting There, will follow through some sort of vision of a future Britain I would like to see and some hopes and aspirations about how that may happen

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The Modes of May

This is the second post planned before my fifth hospital admission and is an update on my views on how well Theresa May is performing as Prime Minister. In summary, I believe she has two principal operating modes, best summed up by the epithets Little Miss I-Know-Best, introduced in June 2017 in my earlier pastiche Mr Men 2017 and Maybot, a robotic version, made famous by Guardian columnist John Crace. A third mode, used only out of sight of the public gaze, can be called May the Weak, reflecting the weakness and fragility of her position as the leader of a minority government.

I gave an early assessment after the Tory Conference in October 2016 in my post Who May She Be? about what sort of Prime Minister May would be; this is a kind of update. Reading this post again, I can summarize that I saw May as a hybrid mother hen and dominatrix; she’d said some positive things about inclusivity but I was deeply sceptical that she really meant it. Subsequent events have shown that my scepticism was well-founded.

Little Miss I-Know-Best

Little Miss I-Know-Best
Little Miss I-Know-Best

I introduced the character of Little Miss I-Know-Best to the pastiche of new and old Mr Men characters first featured in Mr Men 2016. The side of her personality that I wanted to emphasise there was her narrow-mindedness (“vicar’s daughter”), inflexibility and reluctance to take advice. Naturally shy, she seems to have made very few friends inside the Westminster bubble and so is short of allies when she needs them.

To compound the problem, the advice she does take seems to be poor and hindsight has shown she has chosen her advisers unwisely. The upside of this character trait is her stubborn persistence to carry on, spun as a strength by her spin doctors and the Tory-leaning press.

Her blinkered world view seems a regression in social policy compared with the Cameron years. I could not see May implementing – or having the authority – to carry through the introduction of same-sex marriage: vicar’s daughter again.

Her authoritarian streak suited her role as Home Secretary, where she delivered some of her most inhumane policy decisions. The most notable of these is the so-called “hostile environment” for allegedly illegal immigrants. This has led to policies such as indefinite detention of “failed” asylum seekers and most of those detained remain in the UK after their release. Recent notorious cases are about people who were brought here as children, lived all their adult lives in the UK and are now threated with deportation to their “home” country. A whole range of document checks to prove “entitlement” to work, housing and NHS treatment have thrown up some horrendous examples: here’s one.

May’s authoritarian instincts also show in the way she deals with other heads of government and EU officials. The tone is hectoring, often with an undertone of “The EU needs the UK more than we need them”. A good example was in her speech at the Munich Security Conference in February this year. Her tone simply irritates the others and encourages the more demented members of her Cabinet (Johnson, Fox, etc.) to adopt the same tone.

But perhaps the most famous example of her refusing to consider advice was her decision to call a snap election last year during a walking holiday in Wales with her husband Philip – a decision she must regret every day. And this was after denying seven times that she would do so, undermining her own credibility.

Maybot

Maybot
The Maybot

May’s second operating mode, usually used only in public, is the Maybot. This is a robotic automaton mode during which she is unable to answer questions and constantly repeats meaningless phrases until everyone is sick to death of hearing them.

At the 2016 Tory Conference, the slogan was “A country which works for everyone”; at the snap election, we heard “strong and stable” and “coalition of chaos” repeated ad nauseam. The Maybot mode is usually the default mode for TV interviews – making not answering the question into a kind of surreal, robotic art form – and, of course at Prime Minister’s Questions in the Commons.

There are so many examples of this type of behaviour that John Crace compiled them into a book I, Maybot, released in time for the Christmas present book-buying public – gosh, I do sound cynical!

May the Weak

May the Weak
May the Weak

There is a third, and less obvious, operating mode used by May, out of the gaze of the British public: May the Weak.

I really don’t think May has the strength of character to deal with tough negotiating positions. Her recent pronouncements on Russian state involvement in the Salisbury poisoning went down well, but usually we get May the Weak – behind closed doors. Her camp followers (Mail, Express, Telegraph) all managed to lead their front pages with news other than May’s basically caving in to EU demands for the transition period to exiting the EU. This necessity has been obvious to me – and made very clear by Brussels officials for year or more. May has felt trapped by her own party and simply wasted a load of time. In all this, she has shown no understanding of the concept of the National Interest – a requirement of being PM.

The three pictures above show other obvious examples of May the Weak. Her indecent rush to the White House to meet Trump after his taking up office looked – and still looks – weak and sycophantic. May (and Liam Fox’s) sucking up to despots and dictators (such as the Saudi government shown here) bodes ill for Little Britain negotiating its way in the big, wide world. And in a straight fight between Arlene Foster and Theresa May, my money goes on Foster – and we have the evidence to support this.

(Incidentally, the DUP, on whom May is dependent for Commons support, is entirely unrepresentative of the Northern Irish people – in two important ways. 56% of the vote in the province was for Remain. Also, the Free Presbyterian Church, a tiny lunatic fringe Christian sect founded by Ian Paisley, is grossly over-represented in the DUP; over 30% of DUP members and representatives are members of this highly socially conservative group. In the Northern Irish population as a whole, the percentage is 0.6%.) This traps May between the lunatic fringe in her own party (the Crazies I wrote about last month) and the lunatic fringe in Ulster. The National Interest simply doesn’t get a look in. May the Weak simply doesn’t cut it as Prime Ministerial material.

Verdict

It will come as no surprise, therefore, that my overall verdict on Theresa May’s performance as Prime Minister can be summed up in one short word: crap. My next post (the third of three planned last month) will include my conflicted thoughts on a suitable alternative.

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Casus Belli

I’m taking a short break from the second and third posts promised in my most recent one. This is because I simply cannot let pass the gross distortions and character assassination carried out two days ago by the “usual suspects” in the right-wing press. To make matters worse, this was obviously picked up in pale imitation on the BBC’s Newsnight the same evening.

The Offending Front Pages

Mail and Sun headlines
Propaganda, no less

Jeremy Corbyn made a clear statement in the House of Commons on 14th March in which he supported May’s decision to expel 23 Russian diplomats, but called for tougher action to control the money-laundering by Russian oligarchs, including those close to Vladimir Putin.  The Guardian in its fair-minded way reported how some of Labour’s backbenchers supported May’s stance over that of their own leader.

Even the US government under Trump has implemented the so-called Magnitsky Sanctions, named after the late whistle-blower Sergei Magnitsky to target “politically significant” Russians. Our Labour Party and the Lib Dems have been pressing for such powers in the UK, but the people affected have been large donors to the Tory Party. Corbyn made this clear in his statement to the Commons on Wednesday. The Tories are now reluctantly bringing forward such powers.

True to form, the Mail and Sun spun this speech to make Corbyn look like a Putin stooge: the evidence you can see for yourselves above. Much more worryingly, BBC Two’s Neswnight (declaration: I’ve only seen the clip, not the programme as broadcast) photoshopped an image of Corbyn to, in effect, follow the Mail’s agenda, albeit in a more subtle way. The indefatigable Owen Jones appeared on the following night’s Newsnight to put in a robust defence of the truth, not the spin.

Link to Newsnight extract: please view!!

The Brits Like a War

The problem is that the politics favour the rush to judgement. When an outrage happens that potentially threatens us all, the “something must be done” mentality kicks in big-time. The gross miscarriage of justice of the Birmingham Six at the height of the IRA bombing campaign on the UK mainland is a good example. The Latin phrase for this is casus belli, literally “an excuse for war. European history of the last 500 years or more is littered with examples and the concept was around in classical Greek and Roman times.

The start of World War I is a good example: the counties of Europe just seemed ready for a fight. The assassination of Franz Ferdinand by a non-government agent just seemed to used as an excuse. Patriotism was rife: “It’ll be all over by Christmas!” was the confident cry. Oh dear, it wasn’t. I’ve never really underststood if there was a good reason to start the Great War, other than a bellicose feeling in the air. In my more whimsical moments, I put it all down to it being a fight between Queen Victoria’s grandchildren.

Please don’t understand me: I’m no pacifist: I believe fighting fascism and Nazism in World War II was necessary: a necessary evil. War is always the worst option. In 1939, it was the only options. Thatcher’s decision to re-take the Falkland Islands by force was another good example of the Brits’ keenness for a good punch-up. Thatcher rapidly went from being the least popular Prime Minister (by the opinion polls) to winning a landslide victory in the following General Election.

Opinion polls show May’s stance to be twice as popular as Corbyn’s. It’s no coincidence that the two politicians making the most bellicose speeches were Boris Johnson and Gavin “Spider Man” Williamson. Both have the ambition to be Prime Minister one day; both have ambition far in excess of their talent.

Whilst Johnson is an extreme narcissist, Williamson is simply a twat. Johnson, as Foreign Secretary, is supposed to be the UK’s senior diplomat. His undiplomatic speeches betray a complete misunderstanding of the requirements of his role. That May hasn’t sacked him only shows the extreme weakness of her position, as she delicately tries to balance the number of her more sane Cabinet Ministers and the Leave extremists. Williamson is the more dangerous of the two because the gap between his ambition and his ability and experience is so much wider than Johnson’s. Betraying his inexperience, he sounded like petulant 8 year old schoolboy his “go away and shut up” comment, pre-scripted. Bet that scared Putin!

In truly civilised nations, as I believe the UK should aspire to be at all times, there is such a thing as due process. Giving Russia less than 48 hours to explain it is innocent is assuming that the Russian is guilty without the chance of a proper investigation of its own. May refused to send a sample of the nerve agent to Russia to conduct its own testing. The UK is signatory to international treaties that allow states 10 days to respond to this type of accusation.. Russia claimed it had destroyed all its chemical weapons last year, a claim verified by the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons .

And I concede this is a measure of inconsistency in Corbyn’s position as stated to the Commons. His support for the 23 diplomat expulsion is tantamount to saying Putin was lying when he denied Russian state involvement in the attempted murders.

Whose Propaganda?

I’m not naïve: it’s highly probable Putin lied and the Russian state is responsible. But the Mail and Sun have agendas. They will grab any opportunity to make Corbyn look bad and Labour inherently incapable of forming a government.  Paul Dacre is a hypocrite and true “enemy of the people” who not only benefits, as a major landowner, from EU handouts, but  also is comfortable with an economic system that is systematically biased towards the rich. The Mail’s ultimate owner, Lord Rothermere is a UK tax dodger with “non-domiciled” tax status. (This rule appears to be uniquely a UK one – see this rather old Guardian article). Rupert Murdoch clearly believes he can bully and persuade a government led by May more easily than one led by Corbyn.

In a straight fight between the TV station RT (owned and funded by the Russian state) and the BBC, the latter clearly wins hands down. But Blair’s sycophantic (to George W Bush) misleading of Parliament over Iraq’s “weapons of mass destruction” (the very phrase designed to obfuscate rather than clarify which types of weapon are being referred to) eroded trust in our Government’s statements. Repeated misleading propaganda since 2010 (e.g. on benefit fraud, blaming the poor and disabled for the 2007-8 crash, rather than the City, and that there was no alternative to austerity) has eroded that trust further.

But, coming hot on the heels of the ludicrous “Corbyn Was Czech spy” non-story, which the Telegraph joined in too, The Tories and their cheerleaders are looking increasingly desperate. This clueless government is acting more and more like the Nasty Party. When will the British public, in sufficient numbers, wake up and see this?

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Changing Times, Changing Norms

This is the first of 3 blog posts I had planned to publish starting at the end of last month, following a further spell in hospital. An unexpected fifth, and hopefully final, one-week admission to hospital interrupted those plans. In total, I have spent 42 nights as an in-patient in the hands of the NHS – and, as a by-product, have seen first-hand the disgraceful and unsafe levels of staffing resulting from Osborne’s misguided austerity policy choice since 2010.

The second and third posts will cover, firstly, my views on Theresa May’s performance so far as Prime Minister and a kind of wish-list – “vision” would be too grand a description – of how I would like to see the next couple of years pan out and the kind of Britain I would want to live in.

Changing Time

But first, I want to give a broader sweep of how I think Britain has changed over my lifetime. (I can’t but help get rather reflective during all the boring hours I’ve spent cooped up as a hospital in-patient!)

The 1950s and 1960s

I was born four years after the end of World War II, a child in the 1950s and spent my formative teenage years in the 1960s. What follows is a very personal account of my memories of those years, filtered by time and the black-and-white images repeated on TV documentaries and elsewhere.

The 1950s, to me, were, in a word, dull. Everything was shut on Sundays. Pubs shut every afternoon – a hangover, still in force then, of emergency legislation passed during WW1. The feeling of those times was perfectly captured in a classic episode of Hancock’s Half-Hour, repeated regularly on Radio 4Extra. Just say “Stone me, what a life…” to anyone of my generation and that feeling instantly returns. In the 50s, everyone knew their place, authority was never questioned, the Catholic Church was free to condone sexual abuse on children forcibly removed from single mothers and other “undesirables”. No one had the temerity to question such authority.

There was a general air of sexual repression. Homosexual acts between men, even those in private and with consent, were criminal. The choice of food gradually improved following the end of post-war rationing, but British food was characterised as stodgy and uninspiring. That a future Conservative Prime Minister (David Cameron in one of the few things to his credit) would lead Parliament to legalise same-sex marriage was, literally, unthinkable.

The early 1960s were much the same, but things began to change, first in the world of arts (Beyond the Fringe, Look Back in Anger, etc), and, 3-4 years later, the politicians started to play catch-up. Harold Wilson ended “18 years of Tory misrule” and his “white heat of technology” and (in public, at least) embracing of popular culture – think Beatles, Mary Quant – are frequently cited from these times. (Incidentally, I saw the Beatles live at the Hammersmith Odeon, now Apollo, in 1965 and watched England beat West Germany in a pub in West Germany on a tiny black-and-white TV the following year. I obviously saw it with a German commentator, so it was several years later before the phrase “They think it’s all over, it is now…” made any sense to me!)

Social attitudes were shifting. The anti-Vietnam war protests in the USA and elsewhere and the “Summer of 1968” (particularly for French youth) showed that something fundamental was stirring. Abortion, albeit with strong limitations and still today not available to women in Northern Ireland – an abuse of women’s Human Rights, says the UN – was decriminalised.

To be a child of the 60s was to be optimistic for the future.

Attitudes to Smoking

One interesting example is the shift in public opinion in relation to smoking in public. In the 1940s and 50s, most men and half of women regularly smoked. As recently as the early 1970s, people were free to smoke anywhere on the tube: platforms, escalators and in all but two carriages of the trains. The shift to a total ban on smoking on public transport took about two decades to achieve. The horrendous Kings Cross St Pancras fire had a lot to do with it, but a gradual change in public attitudes payed, I believe, the major part.

Racism and Immigration

Overt racism was spoken everywhere. We’ve all seen the footage of the “No Blacks, No Irish” signs in the windows of rented accommodation. Immigration, mainly from the Caribbean and the Indian sub-continent was frequently resented and the immigrants themselves openly abused. “Paki” was a generic term of abuse for anyone from South Asia, Pakistani or not.

Things have generally improved over my lifetime and overt racism is much rarer. Morons like UKIP and the far right have poisoned the atmosphere as a direct result of Cameron’s decision to hold a referendum, but public attitudes in general seem to have moved in a progressive direction. Hostility to immigration has shifted away from black and Asian British people to more recent arrival from new EU countries in Central Europe, with Poles being the largest group (unsurprising as Poland has, by far, the largest population of the “new” EU countries).

New Labour and Anti-Discrimination

The New Labour years saw much anti-discrimination legislation: the Equality Act 2010 was a key consolidation measure. The incorporation of the European Convention of Human Rights (nothing to do with the EU directly!) into UK law in 1998 was a landmark New Labour decision. It felt that the government under Tony Blair and Gordon Brown led public opinion slightly during this period, social attitudes shifted in a progressive direction under New Labour, notwithstanding their failure to move away from (albet watered-down) Thatcherite economic policy.

The 2010-15 coalition government under David Cameron included Cameron’s attempt to detoxify the Tory “Nasty Party” image with some genuine progressive moves: remember that George Osborne was a fervent advocate of same-sex marriage, more than counterbalanced by the most vicious and unnecessary economic policies of austerity seen in the post-war period.

#MeToo

All of which brings me to my main point. I think we have entered a new era of change in public opinion, and Labour under Jeremy Corbyn has caught the public mood, particularly with young people.

It all started (in the UK) with revelations about Jimmy Saville. The more recent publicity about Harvey Weinstein’s abuse of women has made the movement for change global. Sexual harassment and abuse by the powerful (usually men) over the more vulnerable (usually women) is rapidly becoming as intolerable as smoking in public. #MeToo and similar online campaigns are the most manifest signs of this shift. A sea-change in public opinion is happening, which creates a period of upheaval and great danger.

Progressives and the (Far) Right

Those of us who consider our views to be progressive and in tune with what I call the “march of civilisation” must be extremely vigilant in such times. Our default mode is to try to enter into reasoned debate, using the evidence accumulated over our lifetime’s experiences: this blog being an example of exactly that! I like to think that there is an ethical code which underpins all my actions and arguments. Above all, the left has values and principles and something like the European Convention on Human Rights is on excellent example and a carefully constructed – after much dialogue – embodiment of those values.

By contrast, the populist right is opportunistic and seeks to appeal to peoples’ basest emotions. Facts are spun and cgerry-picked by the Sun, Daily Mail, Telegraph and their ilk to put their chosen enemies, especially the BBC, in a bad light. Unfortunately, the unmediated tweets and posts which constitute Facebook and Twitter, binary “likes” and algorithms based on numbers of hits provide more fertile ground for this type of nihilistic behaviour than that of reason.

Things Can Only Get Better

And yet… I remain an optimist. The march of civilisation will continue, over the medium to long term. The term “British values” is exactly wrong and summons up a Little England mindset. “(North) European values” makes more sense to me, or just plain “civilised values”. Cameron’s decision to call a referendum on our membership of the EU on an ocean of misinformation and lies was the single stupidest political decision of harming the national interest in my life time. Ask a stupid question… It’s like taking a massive wrecking ball to the delicate structure of civil values and the checks and balances of democracy slowly developed over centuries of history. It just divides us and breeds intolerance.

And yet… I remain an optimist.

As I ststed above, the next 2 blog posts will be an update on how well Theresa May is doing as PM and some sort of hopes, wishes for an ideal way in which the next few months and years pan out. Watch this space. I’m back from 42 nights in hospital since Christmas and I have things to say. Watch this space…

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Stephen Hawking

The death of Stephen Hawking at the age of 76 demands some commemoration.

Stephen Hawking
Stephen Hawking 1942-2018

Up there with the all-time greats of science in history: to name a random selection:

Archimedes, al-Khwarizmi, Copernicus, Galileo, Kepler, Fermat, Boyle, Newton, Watt, Lavoisier, Davy, Darwin, Planck, Curie, Rutherford, Einstein, Fleming, Schroedinger, Pauli, Dirac, Crick and Watson.

I salute your life, your work and your ability to inspire others. Stephen Hawking, 1942-2018. Mortal, after all…

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