Disillusionment also comes with age, not just youth . . .

I’m 70 later this year. I can’t think of any time during my adult life when I have been so disillusioned with politics here in the UK. Maybe I’ve just become a cynical old fart, but I’d like to think that’s not the case. Cynicism is not a personal attribute that I recognize. I am, however, a born optimist. My glass is almost always half full.

Yet the more this Brexit fiasco grinds on to its inevitable end in March next year (unless, by some political miracle, Theresa May and her inept government actually accept their own and independent analyses of the downside of leaving the European Union), the more pessimistic I become. Someone keeps taking sips from my glass.

Maybe I should quit Twitter. Inevitably, I follow tweeters who support Remain. So maybe I’m just reinforcing my own perspectives (prejudices) about the consequences of leaving the EU. Nevertheless, I did carefully weigh up both sides of the argument at the time of the June 2016 referendum, and voted to remain.

In the intervening two years, my opinion has not changed. If anything, I’m now a more committed Remain supporter given the distortion of the truth (I hate to use the term ‘lies’) pedaled by Theresa May and the Brexiteers in her Cabinet (the arch-protagonists being David Davis, Boris Johnson, and Michael Gove) and on the back benches of the Tory Party such as Jacob Rees-Mogg, Peter Bone, and John Redwood (and too many others to mention). If nothing else, they are certainly being economic with the truth.

It’s no better on the Labour benches, at least the Labour front bench. In my antipathy to the Tories, the Labour Party should be the logical recipient of my support. With Jeremy Corbyn at the helm I’m afraid that is never going to happen. Although he’s never said so explicitly, every action (or lack of) that he makes signifies that Corbyn is a Brexit supporter. Although not as commonplace as among the Tories, there are several prominent back-bench Labour Brexiteers like Kate Hoey who made a name for herself by spouting some of the most unverifiable drivel you can imagine in support of Brexit.

It’s remarkable that when the Tory government is in such disarray over Brexit that, in a recent poll, the Labour Party now finds itself several percentage points behind the Tories, notwithstanding the party making considerable parliamentary gains during Theresa May’s botched electoral campaign in 2017.

I just don’t see how being a member of the EU is holding this country back. I am sick of hearing that leaving the EU is the will of the British people. Yes, a majority of those who voted, 52%, supported Leave. One cannot dispute that result. I do believe that the referendum was flawed from the start, and evidence is emerging that there were shenanigans in the Leave campaign. Given the constitutional, social, and economic consequences of leaving the EU (after more than 40 years) the bar should have been set much higher for the vote. By that I mean that there should have been an absolute majority vote of the total electorate for one side or the other, not just those who voted. Because of the turnout, we now have a decision to leave the EU supported explicitly by just 37% of the electorate.

After two years we still do not know what the UK government’s negotiating position really is, or what outcome it desires, other than ‘Maybot’ slogans like Brexit means Brexit, Taking back control . . . of laws, borders, money.  Challenged on the BBC2 Daily Politics program yesterday to state clearly what she wanted from Brexit, Conservative MP Andrea Jenkyns just trotted out the same old slogans that I mentioned above. No ideas, no vision! If this is the best they can do after two years, Heaven help us! The situation has now became so untenable that the EU negotiators as recently as yesterday rebuked the government for living in a fantasy world.

What I find particularly irksome is the dismissal, denigration even, of expert opinion. Facts don’t seem to matter. Ideology is the name of the game. Appearing before a select committee this past week, the CEO and Permanent Secretary of Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs (HMRC), Jon Thompson (someone who should be in the know), was asked for his assessment of the economic consequences of the two future customs options being ‘discussed’ by Theresa May’s Cabinet. He unequivocally stated that both options had severe economic consequences for businesses, as high as £20 billion. That’s more than the UK currently pays into the EU! Yet, when queried about that analysis, Andrea Jenkyns dismissed it, just as other Tories (particularly Michael Gove and Jacob Rees-Mogg, as well as The Daily Mail) have dismissed other expert opinion/analysis.

So, if things carry on as they have been, we’re headed for cloud cuckoo land¹. Flying in the face of reality, in the hope that the remaining 27 EU members will fall over to give the UK a special status post-Brexit (like being a member but not being a member), or that countries are lining up to sign trade deals (palpably untrue or, if under consideration, will exact terms that most of the population would consider unfavorable or unacceptable), we’re looking over a Brexit precipice and potentially sacrificing the futures of youth today.

And if the Brexit shambles wasn’t enough to cope with, this pathetic government has been mired recently in a scandal of its own ‘hostile environment’ making. Immigration is one of the major concerns of the Brexiteers, and a tough immigration policy has been a central plank of this and previous Tory governments. The Home Office (formerly occupied by Theresa May) is responsible for implementing immigration policy. But it has gone too far, and people who had a perfectly legal right to reside in the UK have been deported or threatened with deportation, and rights and benefits they enjoyed for decades were withdrawn. This was the case in particular with immigrants who came from the Caribbean (and other Commonwealth countries) in the 1950s and 1960s, the so-called Windrush Generation. It’s not only a scandal, but it’s a blot on the name and reputation of our country. The UK under the Tories really is becoming a nasty, insignificant little country, that aspires to greatness, but has lost the plot. This article highlights just one case.

Anyway, I refer to this latest scandal, because I found something rather interesting in the Conservative Party manifesto for the General Election held in June 1970, the first time I voted (I was 21, the minimum age for voting back then), and Edward Heath led the party to victory over Labour that had been in government from the mid-1960s under Harold Wilson. It also paved the way for the UK’s successful application to join the EEC (now the EU) on 1 January 1973. I searched the manifesto for any reference to the [EU]. This is all I could find:

These policies will strengthen Britain so that we can negotiate with the European Community confident in the knowledge that we can stand on our own if the price is too high.

But then, I came across something rather interesting with regard to immigration, and highly relevant in the current circumstances:

Good race relations are of immense importance. We are determined that all citizens shall continue to be treated as equal before the law, and without discrimination . . . We will establish a new single system of control over all immigration from overseas. The Home Secretary of the day will have complete control, subject to the machinery for appeal, over the entry of individuals into Britain. We believe it right to allow an existing Commonwealth immigrant who is already here to bring his wife and young children to join him in this country . . . We will give assistance to Commonwealth immigrants who wish to return to their countries of origin, but we will not tolerate any attempt to harass or compel them to go against their will (my emphasis).

How times have changed, and how the nasty party under Theresa May today has diverged from that broader church of Conservatism that I grew up under.

Come the next General Election, where will my vote go? Certainly not to the Tories. And unless Labour elects a different leader, and brings some realistic social thinking to its policies – and supports continuing membership of the EU – then my vote won’t be going there either. It’s a dilemma. It’s depressing. No wonder I’m disillusioned. Nevertheless, a little voice does whisper every now and again that things can get better. I certainly hope so.

¹ Cloud cuckoo land is a state of absurdly, over-optimistic fantasy or an unrealistically idealistic state where everything is perfect. Someone who is said to “live in cloud cuckoo land” is a person who thinks that things that are completely impossible might happen, rather than understanding how things really are. It also hints that the person referred to is naive, unaware of realities or deranged in holding such an optimistic belief.

Be careful what you wish for . . .

IMG_1623I’m proud to be British. But yesterday, 23 June, was a profoundly depressing day.

I’m also old (67 going on 68, if that counts as old), white-haired, and very ANGRY. I belong to that generation that overwhelmingly sold the youth of the UK down the river yesterday when they voted to leave in the referendum on the UK’s continuing membership of the European Union (EU).

There’s just one important difference. I voted to Remain. I was proud to be a British member of the EU. Now that has been dashed.


Now we are faced with the unedifying prospect of a (Not Caring) Conservative party led by the likes of ex-London Mayor and professional buffoon, Boris Johnson (BoJo), and his sidekick Michael Gove (MiGo) who always looks as though someone has just shoved a poker up his rear end.

From a photo I saw in one of yesterday’s newspapers, when they spoke at a news conference, they seemed as surprised – and as worried as many of us – that the vote had supported Leave.


The Muppets, aka Michael Gove and Boris Johnson

Well BoJo and MiGo, it’s up to you now. You led the electorate down a slippery slope with your claims and beliefs not supported by any credible factual information. And the majority of voters, especially all the Little Englanders, duped by the virulent and racist propaganda spread by the moronic Nigel Farage (NiFa) of UKIP (immigration was the big issue it seems), placed their X in the ‘Leave’ box on the voting slip.

There was an interesting article in The Guardian newspaper today. The article surmises that BoJo really didn’t expect the Leave side to win the referendum – and frankly has no idea how to salvage the situation. Brexiters, be careful what you wish(ed) for!

It was a close call. Just under 52% of a 72% turnout (referendum statistics and maps here). A high turnout admittedly. Even so, that’s only 37% of the total electorate actually voted in favour of Brexit. Surely the bar for winning should have been set higher in light of the expected constitutional and far-reaching economic and social change that Brexit would inevitably bring about. But maybe that’s jumping the gun.

The country is now fragmented, a ‘house divided’. Scotland and Northern Ireland voted to Remain. England (apart from London) and most of Wales voted to Leave. This will surely lead to a second referendum for Scottish independence, and who would really blame the Scots this time round if they made the choice to go solo. The Northern Ireland perspective is much more problematical. After several decades of peace (more or less) after ‘The Troubles‘, could that increasing stability and prosperity be put in jeopardy if a border has to be set up between Northern Ireland and the Irish Republic. This alone should have been enough to make voters pause for thought. No-one wants to see a return to the violence, both in Ireland and in mainland Great Britain, of the 1970s to 1990s.

poundAnyway, it’s too late now. The electorate has ‘spoken’. The pound has fallen off a cliff, and more damage has been done to the British economy in a few hours than the contributions to the EU would have cost the country for many years to come.

The tone of debate in the referendum campaign was banal on so many occasions. And I was appalled listening to several members of the public asked on TV why they had voted to leave the EU.

I didn’t think my vote to leave would count‘, said one man, obviously regretting how he had voted in the light of the immediate aftermath when the value of pound fell, the stock market crashed and the Prime Minister resigned.

Another woman wisely commented (and I paraphrase): ‘We have taken control back and can now make our country great again, just as it was hundreds of years ago‘. How prophetic!

Another ignorant woman (and I’m sorry to have to use such a description) voted Leave because she claimed ‘All those immigrants are taking OUR (my emphasis) money and sending it back to their countries. It’s our money‘. I don’t think anyone ever questioned how she disposed of her legally-earned income.

It has to be admitted that the Remain side did not run a smart campaign. They did not persuade the electorate of the benefits of EU membership, and continuing membership. The campaign was hijacked by unsubstantiated promises of untold wealth outside the EU and growing fears of immigration. Oh, and the fact that everyone would be queuing at our door to make agreements with us.

OK. The EU is far from a perfect institution. But, warts and all, I still feel very strongly that it’s better to be in rather than out. We are now floating, rudderless, in uncharted waters. It seems our former EU partners wish us to float off westwards into the Atlantic, and as soon as possible. Far from countries lining up to support us, even close allies like the USA have indicated that when it comes to trade deals, the UK will have to join the queue. Heaven knows how our economy will shape up over the coming years. I’m not optimistic.

It’s a great pity that this lecture by Michael Dougan, Professor of European Law at Liverpool University, was not compulsory viewing for everyone intending to participate in the referendum.

I have many fewer years ahead of me than I have already enjoyed. With all the economic, constitutional, and political turmoil, we can expect the next years to be challenging. But I feel for my daughters’ generation and their children. Bigotry, false promises, and downright lies have condemned us all to an uncertain future.

There are even (anecdotal?) reports in the media that immediately after the polls closed on Thursday there was surge of Google searches from the UK for ‘What is the EU?’ I despair.

The leaders of the Brexit campaign now have to deal with the aftermath of the momentous decision to Leave. Are they up to it? Probably not. Many are second-rate or failed politicians, and that does not bode well for the country of my birth.

And I just came across this on Facebook, posted by Josh Valoroso:

I voted to remain in the European Union but I guess I should congratulate those who supported the Leave campaign.

  • Congratulations to Boris Johnson, a political flip-flopper who has convinced the general population he is a cuddly, bumbling, caricature as opposed to the publicly schooled politically astute ego-driven megalomaniac he is.
  • Congratulations to Michael Gove, former Education minister who genuinely believed all schools could be “above average” and who literally said about the EU campaign “This is not the time to listen to experts”
  • Congratulations to Nigel Farage, man of the people who is actually a former commodities broker and deeply divisive. The man who put up Nazi-inspired propaganda just last week.
  • Congratulations to the Baby Boomers; you’ve already fucked our economy, our healthcare, our housing market, our education, and our pensions and now this.
  • Congratulations to “My name is Death To Traitors, Britain First”.
  • Congratulations to everyone who doesn’t believe in scientific research, academia, arts, culture, and intellectual development.
  • Congratulations to the firm who flew a Brexit plane over Jo Cox’s memorial service.
  • Congratulations to everyone who doesn’t believe in social mobility or social progress.
  • Congratulations to everyone who is deathly scared of anybody who looks or sounds slightly different to you.
  • Congratulations to everyone who believes we’ll now have a brand new hospital every week with the money we’ll save (if only we had access to a skilled workforce from which we could staff them eh!).
  • Congratulations to everyone who wanted to “get our country back”. You haven’t got it back, but you’ll get the country you deserve.
  • Congratulations to Katie Hopkins.
  • Congratulations to everyone who hates the NHS and our education system and thinks that someone, somewhere should making profit from these systems.
  • Congratulations to Nick Griffin.
  • Congratulations to everyone who wanted to seize power from the “unelected elite” by leaving the EU but who happily clap like a seal when new pictures of a fucking royal baby come out. “They’re better than me because look….he’s royal. He’s made from like different sperm and that”.
  • Congratulations to everyone who is against universal workers’ rights, universal human rights, maternity leave, climate change interventions, and labour laws.
  • Congratulations to everyone who is against the scary scary refugees but at the same time support bombing the countries from whence they came.
  • Congratulations to everyone who believes this will make the country better.
  • Congratulations to those who believe more of our wealth should be shared by fewer of our people.
  • Congratulations to everyone who disagreed with the politics of Jo Cox who refused to acknowledge the cause of the hatred and anger which may have led to her assassination.
  • Congratulations to the constituencies who received masses of EU funding recently to repair damages caused by flooding who voted Out. You fuckwits.
  • Congratulations to those who say “You have no right to tell people how to vote” but who made their mind up because they saw six minutes of a televised debate during the Gogglebox ad breaks and they thought “That guy has funny hair”.
  • Congratulations to every single person who voted to leave the largest single economic market in global history.
  • Congratulations to everyone who thinks we’ll now travel back to the glory days of the 40s, 50s, and 60s. Everyone was much better back then don’t you know?
  • Congratulations to everyone who voted Out because they listened to the racist elements of our society.
  • Congratulations if you are indeed one of the racist elements of our society. Not everyone who voted Out is a racist, but all the racists voted Out.
  • Congratulations to everyone older than 70 who voted Out whose vote somehow counts as much as mine, you’ll only have to live with the consequences for a few more years. Well done you. As of 04:35, at least 60% of over 65s voted Out compared to just 24% of 18-25 year olds. Nice one you guys! Thanks so much
  • Congratulations to everyone who is persuaded by characters, by headlines, by propaganda, by impossible dreams, by xenophobia, by racism, by idiocy. You hate facts and you’re right, facts are scary, especially when you disagree with them.
  • Congratulations to anyone who voted for the above.
  • Congratulations to anyone who loves political, financial, and social instability. It normally works out fine….

Seriously. Congratulations to you all. Well fucking done…..

On political campaigns . . .

ballotbox copyI’m a bit of a news junkie, so I’ve been avidly following presidential election campaigns in three countries in online newspapers and on social media.

News from the US presidential election is never absent from the daily headlines, mainly because the two principal contenders on the Republican side, billionaire Donald Trump (or is that Donald Drumpf)¹ and evangelical Senator Ted Cruz, battling it out to win the nomination, increasingly descend to ever lower levels of political debate. Political debate? Their exchanges are not worthy of that epithet. Trump is hardly running an election campaign. I think it would be better to describe it as an election ego-trip.

You would hardly know there’s also an interesting contest on the Democrat side between former First Lady, New York Senator, and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders. At least they seem to be having a sensible debate.

The other campaigns that interest me are taking place in Peru in April, and in the Philippines in May. Why? Because I have lived and worked in both those countries.

Reading about the three campaigns, two quotations come to mind:

  • Toute nation a le gouvernement qu’elle mérite (Every nation gets the government it deserves) — attributed to Joseph de Maistre (1753 – 1821)
  • Democracy is being allowed to vote for the candidate you dislike least — Robert Byrne

Goodness knows what sort of campaign there will be in the US after the party conventions if Trump really does become the Republican candidate. He’s both scary and a worry. What will happen if he is ‘denied’ the nomination, and how will his supporters react. The violence we have seen so far directed by these folks against anti-Trump protesters does not bode well for the future.

But there are scary things going on in the Cruz camp as well. He is a right-wing evangelical Christian. And I’ve recently seen footage of him sharing the stage with a fundamentalist Christian preacher who, through his language was inciting Christians to violence, death even, against homosexuals. Because it says so in the Bible.

On the Democrat side, I’m actually surprised how well Bernie Sanders is doing, although I can’t believe he can win the nomination. Nor can I see a 74 year old candidate moving on to be a successful president.

In Peru and the Philippines, some of the candidates are as old as Sanders, but the political situation there is very different from the USA.

The polls in Peru seem to be dominated by Keiko Fujimori, daughter of the disgraced and gaoled former President Alberto Fujimori (who I met in the Philippines during his visit to IRRI). But Fujimori – daughter is also a controversial politician, believed to have benefited personally from her father’s corrupt government. Nevertheless, she is predicted to win the first round of voting. Another discredited candidate is the APRA former president Alan García who served two terms already (1985-1990, 2006-2011).

In the Philippines, which has a party system even weaker than that in Peru, the lists of candidates for both president and vice-president are filled with controversial characters. The posts of President and Vice-President are voted for separately (not as a single ticket in the USA), and it’s often the case that elected candidates come from different political persuasions and diametrically-opposed political platforms.

The current Vice-President Jejomar Binay heads yet another political dynasty, and has been accused of overwhelming corruption. The Mayor of Davao City (in Mindanao) Rodrigo Duterte has served his city for more than two decades, successfully apparently, and regarded as a political ‘hard man’. How a Duterte Administration would pan out nationally is anyone’s guess. Senator Miriam Defensor Santiago is an outspoken – and (formerly) popular – international lawyer who, once she had declared her candidacy (despite being near death’s door from Stage 4 lung cancer only a short time before), was thought to be well placed to win the presidency. Until, that is, she chose Senator Ferdinand Marcos, Jr. (aka ‘Bongbong’) as her running mate for vice-president. Son of former dictator Ferdinand Marcos (ousted in a popular uprising in 1986), Bongbong is widely regarded as corrupt and implicated in many of the worst human rights excesses of his father’s regime. Another, Senator Grace Poe, has had her candidacy questioned because of her nationality, having taken US citizenship at one time, which she has now renounced. Which leaves us with the ‘administration’ candidate and Secretary of the Interior and Local Government, Mar Roxas (a scion of yet another political dynasty). Is his wife Korina Sanchez a political liability??

So, in all three countries, the electorates are faced with choosing Presidents or Vice-Presidents from lists of some unsavory candidates, several of whom do not qualify (in my opinion) on ethical or moral grounds to ask for anyone’s vote, never mind political acumen or leadership potential, not even for the most humble elected post.

There will be bumpy political times and roads ahead in all three countries, whatever the election outcomes. Although not a General Election, we face an uncertain political (and economic) future here in the UK with the referendum on continuing membership of the European Union being held on 23 June. Political campaigning and false arguments have not brought out the best on either side of the referendum debate.

¹ See the full 22 minute video here.

It’s not an accolade . . .

Call me a pedant? Ok. I accept the accusation. But only sometimes, and with good reason, however.

I confess. Incorrect use of English language and terminology does ‘get my goat’ from time-to-time.

ukTake media references for example that I’ve seen over recent days to ‘Great Britain’ in the context of the upcoming referendum on membership of the European Union or, in another instance, when referring to the treatment of Muslim immigrants in this country. Let me explain.

‘Great Britain’ is a geographical term. It refers to the largest island of the British Isles, and comprises England, Wales and Scotland and some offshore islands, but not the Channel Islands nor the Isle of Man. It was first officially used in 1474, but there are references to ‘Great Britain’ more than a thousand years earlier by the Greco-Egyptian scientist Claudius Ptolemy.

‘Great Britain’ is NOT an accolade. We may have the world’s fifth largest economy (as the Brexit campaigners are continually telling us), a permanent seat on the UN Security Council (but for how much longer?), and for better or worse (unfortunately for worse, in so many instances) this country has given a lot to the world. Not least the English language. Taking a long hard look at ourselves, we’re really rather an insignificant archipelago off the west coast of continental Europe.

But ‘Great’ has been employed recently, it seems to me, to describe a country that’s punching above its weight that we are special, above average. In other words, ‘great’. Humbug.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m proud to British, a citizen of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland. I just wish that politicians would stop claiming how the country is best at this or that, as though we are trying to place ourselves at the top of some hypothetical ranking. In my book it never looks good if we use superlatives or claim accolades ourselves. Let others bestow those.

On his return from Brussels after negotiating a change to the UK’s membership of the EU, Prime Minister David Cameron was obviously confused (or maybe using the term merely for effect, if I’m being generous). ‘Let’s make Great Britain greater’, he implored. His speech writers clearly hadn’t got the message.

Then Scottish trawlerman from Peterhead, Jimmy Buchan, interviewed on BBC Radio 4’s The World Tonight a couple of nights ago was clearly mistaken. Complaining about EU interference in the fishing industry and the imposition of ‘unfair’ fishing quotas, he claimed a Brexit vote would permit our fisherman, unfettered by such regulations, to have a thriving industry once again (wishful thinking?), and make Great Britain great again.

And then this, just yesterday, in a report about reaction among immigrant Muslim women in the UK to ‘requirements’ that they should become fluent in English. ‘People from third world countries contributed to turning Britain into Great Britain . . . ‘ Undeniably, immigrants from all over have contributed to the well-being and growth of the UK. However, they haven’t made it ‘Great’; it was Great already. But they have made it better.

I just hope that the racist bigotry of some political parties and elements of others does not hold sway when we come to cast our ballots in the EU referendum on 23 June. We might end up as ‘Diminished Britain’.