12 July 2016

Politics, mandates, and real life

It's been a while. In real life, anyway. In politics, not so.

We're due to have a new Prime Minister on 13th July, some time in the evening, a Prime Minister without a mandate from her own party, never mind from the country. I said the same thing at the time Gordon Brown took over from Tony Blair (and so did Theresa May, actually). It brings the country to the brink of being a one-party state. She didn't say that today, mainly because she'll be the leader of that party, the totalitarian leader, in fact. All heil, Theresa.

And we've had almost three weeks to reflect on a referendum won by lies. I was going to say subterfuge, but that's too mild a word. And by a process that went against the process by which democratic referenda are managed. No minimum turnout threshold, no two thirds majority. That's because the law which enshrined the referendum didn't set any such parameters, and the absence of any such parameters made it only advisory. If it had been intended to be a conclusive vote, the law which allowed the referendum would have said so.

Those who say I am writing this with sour grapes between my teeth and in my gullet I say this: had the law set the appropriate parameters, had the law said that the referendum was binding, I would not be arguing against the legality of it; I would merely be pointing out that it was won on falsity, and that it played upon the mistaken belief by many people that it would take immediate effect. It has not taken immediate effect; it is not legally binding, and it never was.

Leaving aside for one moment the lies peddled by racists such as Nigel Farage and his merry band of foreigner and LGBTQ-hating rich chums, leaving aside for a minute the biggest lie of all, that the NHS would benefit immediately to the tune of £350 million a week, spread by the liberals (ha!) on the right wing of the Tory party, leaving all that aside, I am looking at a landscape of devastated generations. And I don't just mean future generations, not just your children and mine, and their children, and their children's children. I'm looking at people older than me, those who have relied until now on charities and grantmakers (what's known as the Third Sector) to maintain or improve their quality of life - because state support has been gone for some years.

Many charities have investments, investments that have fallen rapidly and devastatingly since 24th June. A fall in the value of those investments brings with it a fall in the return on those investments, in other words a fall in the money charities generate. This in turn means that many charities now immediately have less disposable income, less money to hand out, less money to give to the people who most need it (and there are lots of those, especially with the austerity measures imposed by the party which Theresa May will now, unelected, lead). This means that real life, for old people, for those in poverty, for those most in need, is actually already worse, never mind if the UK Parliament's sovereignty is impinged upon and the decision of the advisory referendum is actually implemented.

That's what this all means.

Jeremy Corbyn was elected by the membership of the Labour Party last year, to be the leader of the Labour Party. This was not an advisory election; the rules of Labour leadership elections clearly make such an election binding. He polled over 59% of the vote. A clear mandate, in anyone's eyes, by anyone's measures. And yet someone, somewhere, decided that this wasn't good enough, that he wasn't fit to be leader. Why? Probably because he presented them with some unpalatable truths; like the truth that wars aren't worth fighting, that Blair was wrong to send the UK to war with Iraq, that politics should be conducted in a fair and respectful way, that it's better to be in opposition with principles intact than to be in power with almost the same policies as the Nasty Party. So many MPs in the Labour Party, crazy for personal power no doubt, decided they would try to throw him out, tried even to amend the crystal-clear rules of the leadership contest process so that he wouldn't even be on the ballot paper. They have failed, thankfully, and a proper leadership contest will now take place.

But why is a leadership election even necessary ten months after the last one? Why does the Parliamentary Labour Party (PLP) think Corbyn is unelectable? Is it because he will ask for Blair to be indicted as a war criminal? Definitely. Is it because he is a man of principle? Probably. Is it because he thinks about real life rather than the rarefied atmosphere of Westminster politics? Very probably. Is it because he is, actually, very electable, and that the Labour Party stands a good chance of being elected, but on a platform that is somewhat to the left of the party that was elected in 1997? Definitely. There is the decayed scent of personal profit about the actions of the PLP and all those who sail in her. That's sad. And despicable. Because that makes those people no better than the hyenas in the Tory Party.

Naturally, if the national membership of the Labour Party vote against Corbyn, even by 50.1% to 49.9%, I'll not argue with that. And why? Because such a leadership election is binding. Because party politics is cyclical, and those cycles often even themselves out. Unlike the referendum, where futures upon futures will be blighted by a non-binding and advisory vote by people who didn't understand what they were voting for, because none of the liars on the Leave side told them it would tear the fabric of the country apart, and that real life, for those of us who do not live in ivory towers shored up by bags of coin, would get worse and worse, not better. That's why.

27 June 2016

We Are The World


 

They say a week is a long time in politics. One minute is a long time in world economics. Within a minute of the result of the EU referendum result becoming a certainty, the pound plummeted on the stock exchanges of the world, and is still in freefall as I write. Many people think this is an irrelevance because they don’t realise that the pound, in a world of many currencies, is central to the UK’s economic survival, if there is in fact still a United Kingdom.

 

Not only will this fall result in an immediate rise in petrol prices for everyone, with its knock-on effect on food and transportation prices, it will undermine any efforts to reduce the UK’s trade deficit and lead to increased austerity. The pound, and with it the UK’s standing in the world is already much reduced compared to what it was before voters went to the polling booths last Thursday, their ears full of the lies and confusion sown by the Leave campaign.

 

The week before last, I went to a wedding in Norway, which, despite not being in the EU, is a part of the Single Market, with freedom of movement and adherence to EU law. Those at the wedding were of all persuasions and nationalities, because what better way is there to celebrate real love than with multi-national and multi-orientation friends? It appears this was a last moment of multicultural innocence before the world changed.

 

And politics? What about politics? While the economy and the nation shatter more quickly than you can say current account deficit, politics, despite appearances to the contrary, is actually in stasis. The parties may be in turmoil, but no-one, not a single politician has actually put his or head over the parapet and taken charge of the situation. Not the Prime Minister, not the Chancellor, not the Leader of the Opposition (and it pains me to say that), nor those swaggering men of the Leave campaign who promised to the millions of confused and disenfranchised that the world would change for the better on Friday morning if the referendum would won.

 

What they didn’t explain, of course, was that their campaign was based on lies, something they only admitted in public on Friday morning whilst at the same time hailing that day as Independence Day (independence from whom? From the UK itself which sets EU laws in consensus with the other member states, from the duped British electorate?). By the time they were calling Leavers bitter, by the time the first racial abuses and attacks had happened and been glossed over without the government even condemning them, it became apparent that the referendum had not been an exercise in true democracy, but a simple power play for those wanting to take the power of the prime ministership for themselves (and for a more complex and ironic representation of them have a careful read of my rewriting of Lewis Carroll’s The Walrus and The Carpenter).

 

And here’s the rub – the referendum is only advisory. The legislation which set out the terms of the referendum, which allowed it to be called, makes it clear that any outcome of the referendum only becomes legally binding if voted into law by Parliament, a vote into law which has to be ratified by the local parliaments in Scotland, Wales and England. Further, any withdrawal from the EU has to be legally effected by the formal triggering, in writing or express public statement, by the government of Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty. And with the government now rudderless, Article 50 may well never be triggered. This is why I have started a petition calling on Parliament to exercise its constitutional right not to pass the referendum into law, a petition which uk.gov has not yet made public, but which you can support here.

 

Britain, once considered by many the cradle of democracy and tolerance, is now nothing but a laughing stock to the rest of the world, a nation of bitter people, isolated, marginalised, a hotbed of racism and intolerance. And that’s sad. We are all people, the billions of us who share this fragile planet, this beautiful blue oasis in the darkness of the immediate universe. We are the world, and we are doing our best to destroy it and ourselves.

 

 

 

23 June 2016

The Johnson and the Michael Gove

with apologies to Lewis Carroll

The sun was shining on the sea,
Shining with all his might:
He did his very best to make
The billows smooth and bright--
And this was odd, because it was
The middle of the night.
 
The moon was shining sulkily,
Because she thought the sun
Had got no business to be there
After the day was done--
"It's very rude of him," she said,
"To come and spoil the fun!"
 
 
The sea was wet as wet could be,
The sands were dry as dry.
You could not see a cloud, because
No cloud was in the sky:
No birds were flying overhead--
There were no birds to fly.
 
The Johnson and the Michael Gove
Were walking, boy and boy;
They wept like anything to see
Such quantities of joy:
"If the EU were just cleared away,"
They said, "it would be grand!"
 
"If seven plebs with seven kids
Heard us for half a year.
Do you suppose," the Johnson said,
"That they could vote us clear?"
"I doubt it," said the Michael Gove,
And shed a bitter tear.
 
"O Voters, come and walk with us!"
The Johnson did beseech.
"A pleasant walk, a pleasant talk,
Along the slippry pole:
We cannot do with less than four,
To give to us a soul."
 
The wisest Voter looked at him,
But never a word he said:
The wisest Voter winked his eye,
And shook his heavy head--
Meaning to say he did not choose
To leave the EU bed.
 
But four fool Voters hurried up,
All eager for the treat:
Their coats were brushed, their faces washed,
Their heads were clean and kind--
And this was odd, because, you know,
They hadn't any mind.
 
Four other Voters followed them,
And yet another four;
And thick and fast they came at last,
And more, and more, and more--
All hopping to the fascist waves,
And cheering to the core.
 
 
The Johnson and the Michael Gove
Walked on a mile or so,
And then they rested on a rock
Conveniently low:
And all the foolish Voters stood
And waited in a row.
 
"The time has come," the Johnson said,
"To talk of many things:
Of shoes--and ships--and sealing-wax--
Of cabbages--and kings--
And why trade deals are easy stuff--
And whether pigs have wings."
 
"But wait a bit," the Voters cried,
"Before we have our chat;
For some of us are out of cash,
And all of us are fat!"
"No hurry!" said the Michael Gove.
They thanked him much for that.
 
"Our own country," the Johnson said,
"Is what we chiefly need:
Sovreignty and pounds besides
Are very good indeed--
Now if you're ready, Voters dear,
We can begin to feed."
 
"But not on us!" the Voters cried,
Turning a little blue.
"After such kindness, that would be
A dismal thing to do!"
"The night is fine," the Johnson said.
"Do you admire the view?
 
 
"It was so kind of you to come!
And you are very nice!"
The Michael Gove said nothing but
"Give me a peerage:
I wish you were not quite so deaf--
I've begged you for an age!"
 
"It seems a shame," the Johnson said,
"To play them such a trick,
After we've brought them out so far,
And made them trot so quick!"
The Michael Gove said nothing but
"Migration's spread too thick!"
 
"I weep for you," the Johnson said:
"I deeply sympathize."
With sobs and tears he sorted out
Those of the largest size,
Holding his pocket-handkerchief
Before his streaming eyes.
 
"O Voters," said the Johnson,
"You've had a pleasant run!
Shall we be trotting home again?'
But answer came there none--
And this was scarcely odd, because
They'd cheated every one.
 
 

22 June 2016

#Remain

Ever since the referendum on the UK’s membership of the EU was announced, I have been asking myself whether or not the British public are well enough informed to actually make an educated decision on which way to vote. Unhappily, my conclusion is that there is not anywhere near enough knowledge for any of us to make a truly informed choice. The ultimate decision is one which will come from people’s instincts rather than from anything else.


This whole process has exposed the underbelly of British society, where selfishness and greed appear to be more important than goodness, altruism, tolerance, and inclusivity. I find this very sad indeed, because, for me, life should not be based on isolationism but the exact opposite.
 

What I find particularly offensive is that many Brexit campaigners, especially those leading the campaign (Messrs Gove, Johnson, Farage and a number of rich but indistinguishable wannabes), seem to think that Britain is still in its Imperial heyday, that the world will automatically fall at Britain’s feet when it is no longer a part of the European Union. They are wrong, very wrong, and very very misguided. The United Kingdom is no longer a world power, and the British economy is failing because of the austerity introduced by the Tories and hurtfully enforced by right-wing monsters such as Iain Duncan-Smith. The irony is that we have an austerity Prime Minister and Chancellor campaigning on behalf of Remain, and probably doing significant damage to the cause.
 

I have been dismayed to see that David Beckham has been attacked on social media and in the press for supporting the Remain campaign. One of the arguments repeatedly used to attack him is the fact that he is rich and therefore selfish, that he doesn’t know what the country wants or needs. How does that follow? Aren’t Gove, Johnson, Farage, Duncan-Smith and their earning huge amounts of money every year in multiple jobs? Do they know anything about normal life in the UK? No. Brexit is just yet another venture by these entrepreneurial politicians to enrich themselves at the cost of those very people who are supporting them. Because, mark my words, once EU protection of labour disappears in the UK, the Living Wage will disappear, more jobs will emigrate to countries outside of the EU, as will more of those Brits who might easily have been employed in Europe under the Freedom of Movement. And the proposed removal by Brexit of the European Human Rights Act will make the regime in the UK even ore oppressive and intolerant.

 

Which brings me to the main point here. The issue of immigration is a red herring. Immigration does not put a strain on the UK’s welfare or health or school systems, especially not immigration from the EU. It brings money and skills into the UK which would otherwise not have been available to us here. It brings a richness of culture to our country we are lucky to have and should embrace and cherish. It reinforces the fact that Britain is an amalgam of many nations, and always has been, that there is no “pure” British race. The bigotry displayed by many in the Leave camp is distasteful and is a the crime. Those who say that being anti-immigration is not racist are lying.
 

Over twenty years ago, I lectured at a think tank in Paris. The subject of my lecture was how the rise of the Internet was affecting global commerce. I spoke in favour of global taxation, in favour of a global currency, in favour of one single world nation. What I said was considered revolutionary by many, but now, as then, I maintain that position. We need peace on this world, not collectives fragmenting into nations all to eager to make war on each other again. Because leaving the EU is not very far away from declaring war on an international league of nations whose goal has always been to make life better for everyone, especially the poor and needy.
 

Think very carefully before you vote. Supporting Brexit is a vote for intolerance, a vote for exclusion, a vote to enrich the rich. A vote for Remain, and that’s what I will be voting, is a vote for tolerance, inclusivity, a vote marking your willingness to put aside your interests for the interests of all of humankind.

20 June 2016

Precious Metals

It's almost a month since our 25th wedding anniversary. Real life reclaimed us all too quickly after a wonderful two days in Torrevieja where we retook our vows, witnessed by our children and Marianne's sister, Cathrine. Torrevieja - because Helge, the priest who married us, christened our four children, and blessed us on our 10th anniversary, now lives out there with his wife, Solveig. He is a truly holy man, and she is the perfect foil to his spirituality. We could celebrate with none other than them. They are part of our family, this family.


And this is the poem I wrote for Marianne for that anniversary. Though, typical of me, I didn't get it together in my head and on paper until we'd been back for a couple of days.

Precious Metals

I dreamed
For almost thirty years
Of being loved,
Spent my childhood reading
Women's magazines
And their romances,
But never found any,
Never found the truth I needed.

That sudden day when I noticed
Your eyes,
No brighter colour ever,
And that unexpected night,
Nothing ever lighter than then,
Your perfume on my pillow
In the emptinesses you left,
Those secret trips,
And then the question,
At the second time of asking.

That day in May,
Twenty-five years ago,
My made-up words that are now
Other people's memories,
Venice, cats, smoothness,
And black and white pictures
In the hotel by Lake Como.

Children, the everyday, flashes
Of elation, pride, yelling,
Nights in each other's arms,
Illness, pain, recovery, and relieved tears;
They bring us to now.

All those years have been silver.
These years to come are more precious than metals,
More expensive than time and treasures,
And they are ours forever.

Richard, 28th May 2016

By the way, for the sake of completeness, you should know that Helge is one of only two people to keep their real names in Dead Men.