The Will of The People

Define Transparent

“obvious, explicit, unambiguous, unequivocal, clear, lucid, straightforward, plain, (as) plain as the nose on your face, apparent, unmistakable, manifest, conspicuous, patent, indisputable, self-evident;”

Funny isn’t it, that “the will of the people” is to be robustly defended….as long as it happens to support government policy? Otherwise, in my experience, the people can take their “will” and stick it where the sun doesn’t shine.

Transparent.

Runes, Bones and Chicken Feathers

For the third time in recent memory we have had to endure the cry of “Well, nobody saw THAT coming!”  First the UK election in 2015, then the vote for the UK to leave the EU (so called Brexit) and now the election of Donald Trump as President of the US.  The combined efforts of professional analysts, political journalists, pundits and ‘the media’ have miserably failed to call the results.

Now those same analysts journalists and pundits are bouncing from radio studio to TV studio, to press rooms, picking over the results, trying to work out (and tell us) how, or why, they got it wrong.  Frankly they may as well throw chicken bones and feathers into the air, or consult runes, or even go to a clairvoyant, because they are using the same failed and myopic filters on the information.

Having called all three elections correctly myself, my opinion is that their problem is they largely inhabit a social and intellectual ‘bubble’.  For example, in particular over Brexit and the US Presidential election, we hear a consensus developing that the electorates felt “left behind by the benefits of globalisation” and that these two seismic events represent a railing against a political establishment from which they feel alienated and do not trust.  Rubbish.  These ‘bullet point’ explanations come from the same failed perspective and, largely, the same political class.

In Britain we have suffered the consequences of failed policies, founded in the dogma of market economics.  Individuals, families, public organisations and companies have been struggling to cope with a relentless tightening of the so-called ‘austerity’ screw.  The people who cannot get access to decent housing, health care, education, jobs, do not know what globalisation is.  They were sold the simple, kitchen table, solution that if we take the pain now, and “fix the roof while the sun shines”, all will be well.  We were never told what the government’s intention was, once the deficit in public finance was resolved. It seems to have been assumed that ‘market forces’ would sort it all out.  Well, excuse me, but it was reliance on those same market forces that led us into the world-wide financial crash in 2008.

Meanwhile we, in the UK, have stumbled into the worst housing crisis in a generation; not only is there an almost total lack of new social housing, that is to say provided by the public sector for rent at affordable prices, but the private sector is building houses for sale at prices increasingly out of reach of ordinary people.  Housing is no longer a social necessity, it is an investment opportunity.  The justice system is in meltdown with more people incarcerated than ever before and a decrepit prison estate managed by a disillusioned and threadbare staff.  As an aside here, I point out that the Home Secretary presiding over this decline was until recently Theresa May, now Prime Minister.  Our social welfare and care systems are overwhelmed by predictable increasing demand and inadequate funding.  Reliance on food banks, an obscenity in any civilised society, is increasing.  Rough sleeping is increasing. Gambling is increasing.  At least 80,000 children are estimated to be living in  poverty and yet, as before the financial crash in 2008, some are making ‘progress’: the already rich, the speculators, the wide boys.  The general populace seems to have become mesmerized by the twin chants of austerity and fiscal prudence, by the sound-bite mantras of neo-liberalism, so the irony of our present situation, where our government says “more of the same will see us alright” or “we need more privatisation” does not register as the vacuous rubbish it is.  Far from being in a better place than we were in 2008, our national finances are actually worse. Our UK government has been in power now since 2010.  The people sitting round the cabinet table are individually and collectively responsible for where we are now; they can no longer blame previous administrations.

It’s time we all started to say “The Emperor has no clothes”, and stopped trying to explain away the rise of the likes of Trump, Putin, Le Pen et al as some sophisticated response to being disconnected from politics.  That is no more than a smokescreen that obscures the fact that the whole system doesn’t work.  Our society, indeed the planet as a whole, cannot be sustained on unbridled consumption and an aspiration for material advantage alone, and to try to analyse and explain away recent political upheavals in these terms is utterly futile.  It is no more than the flies arguing about ownership of the turd they feed on as it slides down the sewer to the treatment plant.

Trump Wins!

I mean no disrespect to the millions of decent, thoughtful, Democrat voters.  I fully acknowledge that I am British, observing from the outside of the process, and may be talking from my rear end, but remember this headline and the date of the post.  As I write there are still 4 days before all the votes have been cast in the 2016 US Presidential Election.  Nevertheless I feel confident in predicting a Trump win, as I did a Conservative UK election win in May and a UK ‘Brexit’ vote in June.  At the time of my Brexit prediction I also predicted Trump would win. Not only do I think he will win, I think he will win decisively – and this is why.

Hilary Clinton, her Democratic party machine and, frankly, the established Republican party, have failed to see that the political ground has shifted.  It’s like they turned up ready to play soccer when the crowd came to see baseball.  As of yesterday, Hilary Clinton is still reported to be addressing rallies with pop stars and celebrities in support: this is the old politics.  The Democrat machine ought to have seen it, given the power of Bernie Sanders’s showing in the primary rounds.  Critics of Trump all come from the position of rationale, of experience, of political and economic understanding based in education and knowledge.  Trump’s support doesn’t come from here.  It has done no good to point out the holes in his politics, his rhetoric and his character because his supporters don’t care.  A lot of them are the same. I suspect they regard the reasoned, educated warnings of disaster as just more evidence of a patronising elite.  It’s not, and never has been, intellectual: it is visceral.

That’s how we came to vote for Brexit and, if any more evidence of that were required, one has only to look at the fury, the vituperative nastiness, that has flowed since the UK High Court insisted that Parliament, not the government of the day, must vote on Brexit before it is triggered.  Despite the fact that it was a legal, and not political, decision, and one which reasserts the constitutional primacy of law over politics, the pro-Brexiteers poured scorn on the judges.  They have claimed this is an attempt to subvert the “will of the people” as expressed in a (non-binding) referendum.  In calling into play their financial backgrounds, their sexuality, and the nationality of their spouses, they blatantly played to their homophobic, nationalist and largely working class constituency.  I fear that, whatever happens on both sides of the Atlantic, we are all in for a very rough ride.  The frustration of disappointment over what Brexit, or a Trump presidency, actually delivers is fertile ground for social unrest.

Let them eat cake

I was having lunch. A sort of pseudo-tapas, served on a windswept plastic grassed first-floor bar terrace. A post-industrial makeover of something that was once useful: all chrome, glass, plastic wicker bucket seats and infra-red heating. The sort of place they add 10% “discretionary service charge”, and make you pay before you’ve had the food in case you think it’s crap…which it nearly was. You get the picture. Down in the street, lined with blinged-up monster Beemers and Mercs with blacked out windows, was the local Big Issue seller. I wondered what he thought about Dave Cameron (remember him?) and his take on The Big Society. You know, where we all take care of each other, run the libraries, buy sandwiches for the homeless guy, and save the state a fortune in welfare. And then I got to thinking about Saint Theresa May and her being a sort of political bag lady, picking over the recycling bins for anything useful that we might swallow. I thought about how the safety net of our welfare state has more holes than an ageing sex-workers tights, and how so many more of us are falling through. I wondered if Dave Cameron’s Tories (including Saint Theresa) ever really believed any of the ‘Big Society’ doctrine and, if they did, what do they think now? Are they embarrassed? Apparently Saint Theresa now believes “only the Conservatives can build a fairer Britain”. Does she think we don’t know she has spent the last 6 years voting through, and supporting, the measures that have made Britain the most divided and unfair it has been in a century? Doe she think we’ll believe “that was Dave, but this is me”? Does she think we haven’t noticed being victims of the biggest, longest running, shell game in recent British History? I don’t know about you, but I don’t think there is a pea under any of those shells. “Let them eat cake”, but add 10% service.

Are you now, or have you ever been…..?

With apologies, I reproduce, with very small substitutions and some irrelevant ommisions, part of a piece written by the late, great, American author and playwright Arthur MIller.  He was writing about the hysteria of the 1950s and the anti-Communist witch-hunting of the infamous House Un-American Activities Committee led by Senator Joseph Macarthy. For the purposes only of clarity I highlight those words that I have changed.

“I refer to the anti-Islamic rage that threatened to reach hysterical proportions and sometimes did. I can’t remember anyone calling it an ideological war, but I think now that that is what it amounted to. I suppose we rapidly passed over anything like a discussion or debate, and into something quite different, a hunt not just for subversive people, but for ideas and even a suspect language. The object was to destroy the least credibility of any and all ideas associated with Islam, whose proponents were assumed to be either knowing or unwitting agents of radical Islam.

An ideological war is like guerrilla war, since the enemy is an idea whose proponents are not in uniform but are disguised as ordinary citizens, a situation that can scare a lot of people to death. To call the atmosphere paranoid is not to say that there was nothing real in the American-Islamist stand-off. But if there was one element that lent the conflict a tone of the inauthentic and the invented, it was the swiftness with which all values were forced in months to reverse themselves.

In two years or less, with a picture finished, I was asked by a terrified Columbia to sign an anti-Islamist declaration to ward off picket lines which the rightwing American Legion was threatening to throw across the entrances of theatres showing the film. In the phone calls that followed, the air of panic was heavy. It was the first intimation of what would soon follow. I declined to make any such statement, which I found demeaning; what right had any organisation to demand anyone’s pledge of loyalty? I was sure the whole thing would soon go away; it was just too outrageous.

In 1948-51, I had the sensation of being trapped inside a perverse work of art, one of those Escher constructs in which it is impossible to make out whether a stairway is going up or down. Practically everyone I knew stood within the conventions of the political left of centre; one or two were Muslims, some were fellow-travellers, and most had had a brush with Islamic ideas or organisations. I have never been able to believe in the reality of these people being actual or putative traitors any more than I could be, yet others like them were being fired from teaching or jobs in government or large corporations. The surreality of it all never left me. We were living in an art form, a metaphor that had suddenly, incredibly, gripped the country.”

Miller was, of course talking about the way in which a paranoic cold-war America, terrified of Communism, bore down on anything which could remotely be described as politically ‘left’.  When the people doing the describing were far to the right, it wasn’t hard to find candidates to haul into court.  Hangers on to this twisted ideology used it to ruin the lives of many who were in other “un-American” or aberrant groups, like Gays, Blacks, Jews and so on.  People went to prison. Some died.  Old scores were settled.

In Britain we could easily substitute, wholesale, the word “Immigrant” but I can’t help wondering whether, should Donald Trump be elected President of the United States, we shall see the return of a 21st century version of the House Un-American Activities Committee in the USA?  Will we once again hear a phrase like “Are you now, or have you ever been…?” read out in open court?  Then it was “a Communist”; in 2017 it might be “a Muslim”.  Far fetched? I don’t know.  Chilling?  Certainly.

Postscript.  Now that Donald Trump has actually been elected my final paragraph has even more chilling resonance.

The Labour Leadership and When will the next General Election be?

I have blogged quite a lot about how the new Conservative (Tory) Party leadership would take the earliest opportunity, presented by a disorganised and fractured Labour Party, to call an early election.  I have been much exercised by the thought that Jeremy Corbyn, and the Labour Party, would be bounced into an early election they were ill-equipped to fight.  Mea culpa – I had failed to check my information.

Apparently it is still possible, but unlikely.  Here is why.  Before the Fixed-term Parliaments Act 2011, a General Election could happen any time.  A Prime Minister could call a general election at any time within the five year period and not all Parliaments lasted the full five years.  Before 2011 a general election could be called earlier for a number of reasons. For example, the Prime Minister could decide to call an election at a time when he or she was most confident of winning the election or if a government was defeated on a confidence motion, a general election could follow.  The 2011 Act changed all that.

The Fixed-term Parliaments Act 2011 provides for general elections to be held on the first Thursday in May every five years.  The date of the last general election was 7 May 2015 so the next one would normally be on the first Thursday of May 2020.

However, there are two provisions that could trigger an election sooner:

  • if a motion of no confidence is passed in Her Majesty’s Government by a simple majority and 14 days elapses without the House passing a confidence motion in any new Government formed
  • a motion for a general election is agreed by two thirds of the total number of seats in the Commons including vacant seats (currently 434 out of 650)

In the context of an, as yet, unresolved BREXIT it is possible that Parliament will have to debate, and decide on, the negotiation to disentangle the UK from the EU.  That might easily trigger an election under either of these two provisions.  The Conservatives have quite a slender majority in Parliament.  It is possible that this majority could erode to the point where there is a minority government that consistently fails to get measures endorsed, and this might lead to an election under the second of the two provisions – although HM The Queen would first have to offer an opportunity to another grouping to form a government without an election first.

So, I admit to having to reconsider.  There actually may be time for the Labour Party to get itself together, even behind Jeremy Corbyn, in time to win the next election.  My concern remains that whoever wins the Leadership election in August 2016, a sizeable part of the party (those supporting the loser) will be disappointed and remain fractious, rebellious, .  Internal divisions may continue.  That must not happen.  It is absolutely vital that the party membership, and its Parliamentary representation, comes together to support whoever is leader – or it faces a generational period in the political wilderness.

 

 

The Fractured State of British Politics

Dangerous times. The British political system is in a state of flux.  There is a power vacuum, and therefore a power struggle, in both major political parties in the UK and therefore at the heart of governance.  There is one notable exception, The Scottish National Party, but I’ll bring them in later in this post.  However, before launching into the ‘meat’ of this post, I need to create a context for it.

Following the shock (not to me – see previous posts) referendum vote to leave the EU (Brexit), the Conservatives (Tories) broke apart.  The Prime Minister, who himself won an unexpected (not to me – see previous posts) outright victory in a general election only the year before, resigned.  The people most likely to succeed him either withdrew from the contest, or were mutually politically “assassinated” by rivals.  We now face the certainty of a female Prime Minister, as Theresa May is now the only contender.  She is an old-school right-wing Tory and we  should be afraid.

Nigel Farage, leader of The UK Independence Party (UKIP), also resigned – although I don’t think he’ll disappear entirely from right-wing politics as pressure from him, and Tories who agreed with him, was the cause of the Brexit referendum in the first place.  Power and influence can be a very addictive thing.

Meanwhile, also on the back of the Brexit vote, the Labour Party is similarly engaged in internecine “assassination” of almost Ceasarean proportions. The right-wing (Blairite / New Labour) of the party has the knives out for their leader, Jeremy Corbyn.  This coup has been brewing for a while: Corbyn, a long-time left-wing backbencher, was unexpectedly elected a year ago, in the face of opposition from the New Labourite wing, because of mass support from the ordinary membership.  Ever since they have tried to unseat him, frequently leaving Corbyn “out to dry” when, inexperienced and honest as he is, he repeatedly fell into political traps left by his rivals and the supporters of the Tory party.  They expected he would lead the party into defeat at interim local and parliamentary by-elections, but this didn’t happen: the party actually performed better.  Membership continued to grow and the knives had to be re-sheathed.  Then Brexit happened.  Corbyn was widely perceived to be, at best, equivocal in support for remaining in the EU and his rivals have sought to blame him for failure to win.  This is risible, as the Tories failed to mobilise their own pro-EU vote, but it is true that Jeremy Corbyn does not believe in the EU and it showed.

He has, so far, resisted a clamour for his head on a spike, orchestrated by adherents to the New Labour project and a right-wing media.  They choreographed a sequential resignation of his shadow cabinet and then a vote of ‘no confidence’ from the parliamentary party (PLP) which Corbyn massively lost.  In response Corbyn promoted others in place of those that had resigned, but leaving the inevitable impression that this was the “second team” – otherwise why weren’t they already in post?  It doesn’t look anything like a government in waiting.  Now a former member of his shadow cabinet, Angela Eagle, has declared she is formally challenging him (without any constitutional basis) and others are trying to stop Corbyn from even defending himself in a ballot because of the ‘no confidence’ vote of the PLP.  I don’t believe, if it comes to a ballot, that Angela Eagle will eventually stand in a final one-to-one contest: I think she is a ‘stalking horse’ and someone else (perhaps Ben Bradshaw?) will emerge from preliminary voting as a compromise anti-Corbyn ‘unity’ candidate.  If Corbyn is ousted we will see something close to civil war in the Labour Party, when his hundreds of thousands of supporting members react.

And so, to the substance of this post.  I am a (more-or-less) life-long Labour voter.  My family before me were the same, and actively so.  I’ve done my share of voting, stuffing envelopes, protesting, lying down in the road, writing letters to the media and attending meetings.  I say “more-or-less” because, when living in Scotland, and disillousioned by the rightward drift of the New Labour movement, I joined the Scottish National Party (SNP) which seemed to offer a more radical, left-leaning, vision at the ballot box.  Since returning to live in England that is no longer relevant and I re-joined the Labour Party, specifically to support Jeremy Corbyn’s candidacy for leader of the party.  Over the past few months I have become increasingly concerned by Corbyn’s apparent ineptitude, or perhaps more correctly inability, presenting a credible and authoratitive figure in public.  I say “apparent” because I have never heard him speak in public.  Those that have say he is engaging and inspirational, and I am all too aware of how a media image can be deliberately distorted.  Nevertheless I find myself, uncomfortably, aligned with his assassins, but for completely different reasons.  Unlike them I want him to succeed.  I see what he is trying to do and think his diifferent way of conducting politics, and viewing economics, is not only worthwhile but necessary.  However, from my long experience of British politics, I fear that he cannot re-shape the Labour Party in time to lead it to victory in a looming General election.  In the context of Brexit, with a new Tory leadership emerging and disarray in the Labour ranks, a General Election is almost certain before 2020 (when the next one must beheld) and one which I predict Labour will lose heavily.  If this happens it will consign the people it seeks to represent to an irreversible demolition of all that has been won by the Labour movement since 1948: the welfare state, the NHS, univeral free education, civil and workers rights etc., etc.  And this is why I feel this way:

Last week I attended a Labour party meeting, a Branch meeting of my Constituency party (in Devon).  It was well attended too, with over 20 people crammed into the living room of a former (and perhaps future) Labour candidate.  There were only 2 agenda items.  The one most had come to discuss was the “Corbyn Situation”.  The vast majority were supporters of Corbyn and spoke of the coup, and the need to support (and express support for) him.  There was a lot of talk about what he had achieved, and dismissive criticism of those who query Corbyn’s “lack of charisma”  and his ability to lead.  There was a lot of “I think that…” and “I believe most people…” without any balancing recognition that a) we move in a restricted circle and b) we are all committed Labour (or left-politics) voters.  We (or rather they) had blinkers on.  The issue, for me, is not about “charisma” but about his lack of ability to do basic things like read from notes without falling over the words.  Corbyn is not comfortable with media, with the attention of the camera, with hostile interviewers: all things that are prerequisite in 21st Century political life.  In his efforts to be “fair and decent”, he repeatedly leaves himself exposed to the political man traps of his enemies.  His performance at the dispatch box, especially in the televised weekly Prime Minister’s Questions (PMQs), comes across as weak.  Because he is steady in pursuing his own agenda, and calm style, he appears incapable of exploiting opportunities to score points that arise in the cut and thrust of debate.  The sound-bite delivery of news by the media feeds off that.  We may wish it were not true, may want life to be more “reasoned”, but it isn’t.  We may want our leaders to put forward detailed policies, but most voters can’t (or aren’t interested enough to) read past the headlines or the bullet points of a summary.  There was no recognition that the electorate had just voted us out of the EU largely on the basis of political ignorance, and had previously voted in a Tory government.  It is those people that Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour Party must convince: the people who get their information from the tabloid press and a skewed media, not the already convinced.

At the meeting there seemed no understanding that “splitting” is what the Labour movement does, has always done.  There was talk about forming ‘left’ electoral alliances, especially with the Green Party.  The Green Party has one MP.  Nobody mentioned the SNP, with 56 MPs, without whose support some of the reverses claimed to have been inflicted by the Labour oppostion would never have been achieved.  Does  anyone remember the “gang of four” forming the SDLP?   On the back of the election of Margaret Thatcher, four very senior, but centrist, Labour politicians left when the party committed itself to leaving the EEC (which became the EU) and unilateral nuclear disarmament.  One of them, Roy Jenkins, had been president of the European Commission!   They formed an alliance with the Liberal Party which eventually became the Liberal Democrats.  The Labour party was out of government for 20 years.  Maybe the Labour Party will split again, maybe needs to do it, but the consequence will be a generation of unfettered Tory rule. The branch meeting never quite got to howling down dissent, although it got uncomfortably close with the chair allowing multiple interjections when contrary views were being expressed.  I left with a sinking feeling of deja vu, and the image of the “Monty Python – Life of Brian” meeting of the Popular Judean People’s Front.  Splitters!

They think it’s all over……

Well, it happened.  The UK decided by 52/48%, on a 70% turnout, to negotiate an exit from the European Union.  Normally, even in a General Election, we’d be lucky to see 60% turnout.  For European elections it’s often been in the low 30%, but the fact remains that almost a third of registered voters didn’t vote – even for something as critically important as this.

I don’t doubt that many who voted to leave think it’s a case of “job done”, and they can go back to their usual disengagement with politics: at most, ranting on social media or writing letters to the editor from “Angry of Eastbourne”.  That would be the worst of all the collateral damage that might be inflicted on the UK and the rest of Europe.  Why?  Because all over Europe there are other Euro-sceptic parties, mostly of the extreme right wing, queueing up to have referendums of their own. If we turn our backs on the political process now and hand our democracy, by default, back to activists we risk being dragged back to the 1930s.  With the exit of Great Britain, a major player and influence in the EU, the disintegration of the EU is now a distinct possibility, broken up by an alliance of right-wing interests. This morning Nigel Farage (leader of the UK Independence Party) explicitly pointed to the “opportunity” for Euro-sceptic governments to create a Europe of separate “independent sovereign states”.  A neo-imperialist Russia will be happy to pick over the bones of our ‘friends’ (and their countries) from this group. In the Euro-Security part of the Brexit/Remain debate I heard people talk about the crucial role of NATO in preventing that. Well, NATO is made up of, and part funded by, these “independent sovereign states”- but led, bankrolled and largely equipped, by America. With Trump in charge of America, a man whose global vision stops at building walls on the Mexican border and golf courses in Scotland, what price the NATO umbrella? If it doesn’t directly affect the US he’s quite likely to think (if not say and do) “It’s nothing to do with us – get on with it”.  Would he ‘face off’ against Russia? I think not.

So, I implore you to get, or stay, engaged.  Read (but don’t necessarily believe what you see) the papers, take an interest in current affairs, vote in local council elections and vote in the inevitable early General Election.  Otherwise we risk waking up one day and saying “How the hell did that happen?”

“Independence Day” – Politics as Hollywood

I wrote and posted this the day before the EU Referendum

Even as I write this, after lying awake in the small hours, I know I am wasting my time.  The EU Referendum campaign is over; I fear the “Brexiters” have won.  All that remains is for the votes to be cast and counted.  Until 21st June I had hope.  Then, at the end of a televised debate, Boris Johnson (front man of the “Leave” campaign”) claimed that today would be our ‘Independence Day’.  Much wild whooping and cheering from the audience, literally raised to its feet.  I felt the dagger.

Actually it was strongly redolent of that moment in the 1996 film “Independence Day” when President Thomas Whitmore (played by Bill Pullman) declares the human race is about to strike back at the aliens, kick ass, and free us from the grip of the invaders who have dragged us to the brink of extermination. More whooping and hollering. I shuddered. I shudder still.

Last night Nigel Farage, leader of the UK Independence Party, picked up on, and repeated, the theme.  He knows a good thing when he hears one.  Actually I imagined Johnson and Farage playing the parts of Will Smith and Jeff Goldblum, inside the alien mothership, delivering the ‘nuke’ into the face of the uncomprehending invaders. Kaboom.  We are free; standing in the ruins of our civilisation but free.  Hollywood also knows a good thing when it sees one.  The aliens fight back in “Independence Day – The Resurgence”.  I haven’t seen it yet, but I imagine much the same outcome.

In some ways Hollywood parallels real life.  The studios and producers, having found a successful formula, tap into the mood of the audience and then keep doing it relentlessly until interest palls.  Then they’ll move on to create another franchise. In the case of the euphoria generated by Boris Johnson in that “Independence Day” moment, he (and his supporters) will have to keep finding something to reproduce the ‘high’ or lose his audience.  Like a casual sexual encounter, the moment of climax is all enveloping…but you are left with a bit of a mess, and someone who farts in bed.  We have to have something more substantive to make that worth enduring – or hop from bed to bed.

The point I am making, if it’s not clear already, is that once the dust has settled the hard work of building new relationships begins.  When the reality of “Independence” becomes a struggle, and doesn’t succeed as hoped, a new alien invasion will have to be confronted to reproduce that high, that unity. Boris et al have already played the external threat card so, logically, it might have to be be a threat from within.  The Resurgence.

I don’t doubt for a minute that Donald Trump and his advisers have noted what is happening.  Will he have his “Independence Day” moment?  Actually, I think he will.  President Trump, playing Randy Quaid’s leering alcoholic pilot-hero in “Independence Day”, may be looking at Putin, or anyone else, saying “All right you Alien assholes, in the words of my generation…….up yours”.

The reason for his character’s derangement – he’s been ‘violated’ by aliens. Kaboom.

 

 

 

 

Future as Un-made History

My readers know where I stand on the EU Referendum, and Britain’s (probable) withdrawal from membership of the European Union.  Today, on Father’s Day, and if it’s not too late, I want to appeal to anyone who might be still be persuaded to “Remain” instead of “Leave” – to chose a different history for their children and grandchildren.

There is ample evidence now that the campaign for leaving has been built on a discredited prospectus.  All of their ‘headline’ arguments have been shown to be false – and yet is seems the majority of the electorate just isn’t listening.  I think, partly, this is down to good old xenophobia, and a lot of jingoistic nostalgia for a time when the “Great” in Great Britain meant something.  The trouble is the world isn’t like that any more.

Migrants didn’t cause the global economic collapse of 2008.  Migrants didn’t cause “austerity” (which, by the way was a political choice not an economic inevitability).  The “Leavers” focus on “taking our country back”, but don’t say from whom we would be taking it, nor even have a clear exposition of who the  “we” implied in “our” country is. The leaders of the “Leave” campaign say they want to take back the control of the country from the EU.  I suspect many of them, and their supporters, want to take back their country from “foreigners” settled in this country, and especially those with darker skins and odd religions. The “Leavers” talk about Britain being the 5th largest economy in the world, and thus able to stand on its own feet, but in almost the same breath say we haven’t enough to go round.  They say we will easily negotiate new trade deals with other partners, but have you ever seen the outcome of a negotiation where one party comes to the table cap in hand?  They want us to “wage war on terror” in Iraq, Iran, Afghanistan, Libya etc, but don’t want to deal with the human consequences (like refugess) it creates.  All of this focus on immigration ignores our long history and experience of in-migration adding layers of diversity, competence and, crucially, productivity to our economy.

To me it looks like a lot of working class “Leavers” are feeling let down and disenfranchised by economic and political failure.  They are looking for a scapegoat, and they blame the EU.  They don’t much care that they voted for successive governments that have perpetrated, and then perpetuated, this chaos.  If you look back at ‘vox pop’ newsreels of the 1950s and 60s, of Enoch Powell etc., you’ll hear, almost word for word, the same arguments about pressure on resources, culture, and jobs as we are hearing now.  But now, as then, when you peel away all the econo-speak soundbites of 2016, the “leavers” campaign is still undepinned by racism.  In those days they openly called a spade a spade: ghastly terms like “nigger / nig nog / wog / paki” were rife.  We don’t do that any more, in public anyway.  But that hate is still there, sanitised somehow but still there.  If we needed positive evidence we need look no further than the heinous murder of MP Jo Cox last week by a white racist activist yelling “Britain First” and calling himself “Death to Traitors, Freedom for Britain” when being arrained in court.

I am absolutely NOT saying that all who want to quit the EU are racist, not at all.  I’m not even saying that the “Leavers” don’t have good reasons for disatisfaction that we can all identify with.  There is no doubt that the EU is damaged and unwieldy.  It has significant flaws in its institutions (though none, we tend to forget, so very different from those that afflict our own national institutions).  In trying to harmonise 20+ countries with widely varying populations and economies, all starting from different baselines, it has failed to adapt quickly enough.  On the other hand it has done more to protect workers rights, human rights and the environment than the UK government alone would have done.  The fact is, we are where we are and partly we are culpable for where we are.  As individuals many (including me) have become politically ‘lazy’.  We’ve sat back and let others do the hard work of being a democracy.  Successive EU (MSP) elections in the UK have seen pathetically low turnout.  You have to be active, take part: you can’t complain if others take decisions you have let go by default.

Now I want to focus on my final point.  This decision is NOT an economic one, it is a political one.

The EU has, without question, been a positive force for stability in post-war and, importantly, post-Soviet Europe. However the rapid expansion of the EU, bringing in countries formerly aligned with, and under the influence of, the former Soviet Union has been a geo-political act.  It was strategic, not economic, and aimed at realigning former western COMECON states with a NATO posture that sought (and still seeks) to ringfence the Russian Federation and put “the West” right on their borders.  The same with accelerating plans to bring Turkey in to the EU.  Over a short period of time that has brought us, through the freedom of movement provisions of EU membership, millions of (mostly) well educated, ambitious, work-orientated young Poles, Lithuanians, Estonians, Slovakians, etc. etc..  At the same time, in Southern Europe, we have been caught out, and overwhelmed, by the wave of economic and war refugees from the Middle-East and sub-Saharan Africa.  None of this is the fault of the EU as an institution, or as an ideal, but our ability to influence the changes necessary to respond to, and deal with, it will disappear along with our membership of it.  If we seriously think we can use the English Channel as a moat and pull up the drawbridge, so to speak, we are mistaken.  Europe will not go away, and we will still be subject to all the pressures of it on our doorstep.

In a very few days we will go to the polls and decide our future history.  I hope, perhaps against hope, that people will look beyond their own immediate interests and chose to stay, and fight, for a better EU.  The other EU states don’t want us to leave, and with good reason.  If we do, and as a consequence give heart to similar (largely right-wing) campaigns in other countries, the whole EU might unravel.  Who really benefits from that.  Putin’s Russia?  Trump’s America?  Putin knows his history, Trump doesn’t know his.  We seem to have forgotten ours.  After Ukraine, what chance Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Romania and so on?  Look to the former Yugoslavia if you want to see what a post EU Europe, with individual states looking inwards and settling old religious and political scores, might look like.  The EU is not perfect but the alternative, a fractured nationalist Europe, will be far, far, worse.

Please vote “Remain”, but if you vote to “Leave” don’t be disappointed if nothing much happens.  The Britain of 24th June will look the same as it did on the 23rd.  After the euphoria of a “Leave” victory subsides it will take years for substative change to emerge.  Old laws and regulations have to be unpicked and new ones enacted – all fought through our own Parliament and you can imagine what that will be like.

In the world of realpolitik it will be years before all these negotiations bear fruit.  Don’t get frustrated.  Quite likely there is going to be an election before 2020.  Whenever it comes you, yes you, need to make sure that in this, the 5th richest country of the world, you address your concerns about resources, the NHS, Education, Housing etc., at the ballot box.  Happy voting!