Poor old JK…

Poor old JK Rowling! I think it’s very difficult for anyone who is what you might call traditionally heterosexual and with a clear biological sex to say too much on this issue and once you start reducing it to the changing rooms in M&S the waters get a bit muddy. Anyway, here’s what I think.

Most children are born with a biological sex except for the occasional hermaphrodite. Medical practice has always been to try to turn the hermaphrodite into what it mostly appears to be. I can’t say if that’s good or bad but it does seem to be, firstly, traditional, secondly, medically considered to be the solution and, thirdly, it probably tallies with what parents want.

Sexual orientation is not a matter of choice. We grow up as we do and while public schools, Catholic priests and old perverts may do what they can to temporarily sway us or give us the odd kinky perversion later in life, I’m inclined to think they don’t change sexual orientation. If you like hanging from the door knob with an orange in your mouth, the sexual fantasy it engenders will, I think, relate to your sexual orientation. I’m open to other points of view on this one but it just seems to me to be how it is.

Forever, the world has behaved appallingly – sometimes more and sometimes less – in its attitude towards non-heterosexual sexual orientation. I don’t think it’s got any better or is, somehow, in some golden age. Children who are gay, in almost any sense of the word, have an awful time of it and may eventually come through it, declare themselves and be well rounded human beings but they will still have memories of bigotry, prejudice and, of course, their own self-doubt and lack of self esteem.

Gender is different and typically the range of gender and its scope is glossed over in all these arguments. Heterosexual people exhibit a huge range and complexity of genders and it’s fair to argue that gender is shaped by family background, experience, environment and, therefore, it is likely also to be formed in the 21st-century by social media.

Not surprisingly, many gay people have explored their own genders as a way of finding a pathway through their sexuality. Within my lifetime, gay people have been tolerated as female impersonators and bus conductors by the same people who vilify them in day-to-day life. I’m hopeful that isn’t the case for gay people today but I suspect it sometimes is.

That’s an aside. People have a right to choose their gender and a right to behave how they like. I think they are entitled to expect people to respect their choices and to be treated as people. If you can’t meet people who are ‘trans’ without seeing them as people I’m inclined to think that’s your problem.

I don’t doubt that social media and 21st-century culture encourages all people to play with their sexual orientation but, as I said before, I don’t think that changes the orientation and what they are really doing is playing with their gender. Lots of people have fun with that and good luck to them!

I think there are big issues related to gender reassignment and to psychiatric counselling which are problematic. Medical intervention is a last resort designed to make people feel better about who they are and, if it works for them, good luck to them but it doesn’t change their sexual orientation even if it makes them more comfortable with it. Unfortunately, it is a business like cosmetic surgery and if a procedure is possible you can find someone to do it but I can’t see it has much to recommend itself but I do think there should be more education in the basics of gender rather than pointless regulation to control it.

There is also a quite legitimate worry that non-heterosexual orientation is being deliberately fudged as being to do with gender which is, of course, just another version of gay people can be cured. It is just doctors this time rather than mad evangelists! Anyone can see why the gay community would find this behaviour abhorrent but, actually, we should all find it distasteful whatever our orientation.

Wrap all these things together and what we have at the moment is a heterosexual right wing group, in the sense that it knows what is good for people, panicking – maybe having an anxiety attack – at what it sees as an outbreak of gender confusion and firing off in all directions to explain what is bad about it. There’s a lot of concern in this group that the result is people masquerading as women and confusing the issues surrounding women’s rights as well as going in the ‘wrong’ changing room. Since blokey blokes have been arguing for fifty years that most feminists are probably lesbians or not really women not much has changed and there are still a lot of people who do not have their proper entitlement to life and a lot of them are women!

And, honestly, there are a lot of young people who are still a bit confused about what they are and they don’t need adults putting them into boxes, assuming they need psychiatric ‘help’, gender counselling and the rest. What they do need is good education and don’t forget that sex education in schools is still largely Christian focused and verging on the deceitful. They also need good parenting and less panic as well as fewer Twitter storms and rants from people with no authority to mouth off about these issues and they need some sensible open discussion. Society continues to be not much help to young people and gender is just part of the problem.

In just a few years…

I met Terry up at the hospital. I was queuing up – hopefully – to get some blood pressure medication but it never arrived. They said there might be another shipment in the next couple of weeks but there were so many of us queued up at the dispensary today that there didn’t seem much chance. I didn’t recognise Terry at first although he lives in our village. He’s got the house on the corner, the one that is beginning to look a bit dishevelled these days. I think his wife must have done the garden and it all looks a bit neglected now.

Terry, isn’t it? I asked. He looked at me without much recognition. You live in our village. I’m still up in the cottages at the other end.

Oh yes, that’s right. Sorry, he said, I have a bit of trouble remembering stuff these days.

Don’t we all, I replied.

Actually, I did remember Terry. I first came across him when he started the campaign in the village to drive the paedophile out. He and his skinhead mates threatened to burn the house down if he didn’t go, so he went! It was hard luck for him really as the allegations were not about him but about the vicar. The vicar lasted in the job for another ten years and then got quietly retired. They said the Bishop had known about it long before but prayed things might get better. They didn’t!

Are you still in the same house? I asked. I’ve not seen you around much.

Must be a few years, he replied.

I think it was that barbecue you had to celebrate Brexit. That must have been in 2020 and you had a flag in the front garden. I think you got the vicar to ring the church bell as well. I remember because I wasn’t too happy about it and I suppose now if it hadn’t happened I’d be picking up my medicines with no trouble today.

I remember that flag. I got it free from the Daily Mail. We had to do something about the coloureds coming in and taking our jobs and stuff like that.

Do you remember how we were going to take control of our borders, I said. Seems funny really when you think what’s happened to Scotland and Ireland.

Yeah, but we didn’t need them. They weren’t really English anyway.

Well, I said, you can’t really feel sorry for Scotland and if I lived there I could get my medicines without any problem. They’ve just put pensions up again and they haven’t had the food shortages either. It’s hard to believe how easy it was to go down to Aldi in those days and stock up on fresh fruit and vegetables.

Course, they’ve gone now, back to Germany and good riddance to them.

They were cheap though. Still I wasn’t so sorry about BMW and Bosch. Anyway, there’s no way I could afford any of them since the 2022 budget and the pension reductions.

I blame the Irish for that, he said. We should have stood up for our rights and sent more troops in. Killed a few more of them!

I’m not so sure, Terry. I think once the government in Dublin asked Europe to help restore order and they landed the German and French troops in Belfast I think we had to accept that Ireland was going to be reunited – but they did make us pay a lot. Reparations they called them.

We should have refused, he answered. Showed them what it means to be British!

Well, we didn’t have much of an army left really did we after the Gibraltar fiasco and the fishing war. I remember in 2020 how we were all thinking that the French would make a fuss about wanting to fish in our territorial waters and how we’d be ready to say ‘Non!’.

It was a bit of a surprise when those Russian factory ships turned up and how that rogue Putin laughed when the British Ambassador went to complain. He gave him a bowl of caviar to take home! Lucky man, since there’s hardly any fish left in the North Sea now and not much left to argue about. You wouldn’t want to eat them anyway after the Sizewell accident.

That was the fault of the French and the Chinese, he said.

I read that too, I said, but the public enquiry said the software went wrong after half the team went back to India and the English replacements didn’t know how to stop the meltdown.

Send them all home, I say, he said.

Well we tried to, I replied. Lost a lot of skilled workers, a load of factory workers and the people who picked the vegetables. And, you try finding a plumber these days! It was worse for the hospitals. I expect you know that seeing as you are here.

Came to see about my hip, he said. The waiting list is now seven years unless you’ve got the new American health insurance. Being my age I couldn’t afford the premiums but at least we’re not pouring money into the health service like we used to.

Shame about your hip though, I answered. I paid up as we had a bit of a legacy and stuff saved up for the kids. We’ve got a policy with American Mutual but it doesn’t cover my blood pressure meds as that’s excluded. In fact, quite a lot seems to be excluded!

Well, at least we’ve taken back control. Stopped the waste and the coloureds!

Yes, I said, but funnily enough it was an Australian who took my job. There’s a lot around now since we did the trade deal. Still, I suppose that a bit of meat that has been frozen on a boat for six months and sent over here is better than no meat at all! And, I don’t think we’d have any industry or a health service without the coloureds as you so rudely call them. They were the ones who stayed and said they liked being British. Shame we undervalued them for so long but there you are.

There are still foreigners though, he said. But, now, we can feel like England, King George and all that. We can be proud to be British!

Pity we got knocked out of the World Cup by Malta then!

The referee was Spanish, he was biased.

I don’t know about the referee, I said, but we went to Spain last autumn. It’s too hot in the summer now with this climate change but it was nice in October.

They’ll be suffering then, he said, without us to subsidise them.

Funnily enough, they seem to be doing all right, I replied. Markets are full of food, there are a lot of new cars around and we were near the new Airbus factory which they moved there from Wales. They’re starting to build Dyson electric cars there soon as well.

How’d you get there? he asked suspiciously.

Took the car. You can get petrol there without coupons. It’s a long wait now to get the ferry though since they closed the Tunnel and it took hours in customs. But it was worth it and we had a great time.

Well I won’t be going there, he said. Yarmouth will do me.

After the cholera outbreak, I’d keep away from there.

I didn’t go in the sea, he said. It’s foreign!

And you still get duty free in Europe, I said. We brought back all two bottles of still table wine we were allowed and a bar of chocolate. It was a feast that night!

Foreign stuff, I’ll stick to what’s English.

Lots of white label cider for you then, I laughed. Anyway, there’s an election coming up so it might all change. You decided who you’re voting for?

The Brexit National Party. Who else? We’ve made this country great again and there’s more still to do! Now, I’m off to lunch.

Enjoy it, I said, what do you fancy?

Chlorinated chicken breast and chips, of course, he answered.

Suddenly, his face contorted in a spasm of pain. He tried to mouth some words which might have been something like ‘Oh Farage’ and then he plunged to the floor in front of me. A hospital syringe was sticking out of his back. A young hospital doctor was behind him.

Time for the revolution, he shouted.

Count me in, I replied.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Before you blame Jeremy Corbyn

I’m appalled, but not altogether surprised, at the pummelling being handed out to Jeremy Corbyn and the Labour leadership and before more people get on the same bandwagon it is good to think for a few moments about how we got here.

Immediately Jeremy Corbyn was selected (by a huge majority of Labour Party members under a democratic process) a sizeable group within the Parliamentary Labour Party set about subverting his leadership. They thought that Corbyn and his Marxist allies were seizing control of the party so that it would cease to be democratic. It turned out not to be the Labour Party that was being bankrolled by foreigners! They claimed that anyone who disagreed with him would face de-selection. It wasn’t the Labour Party where that happened on a grand scale! They constantly stressed potential division and they elevated debates within the party into arguments and scandals. It’s not that this group of MPs haven’t backed the leadership in the election, it’s that they never did – even to the extent of forcing a second leadership election and then still refusing to accept the democratic result. Worse still, with a nudge and wink, they instigated and then fed a flow of critical stories. Perhaps to their surprise, the Party never moved against them and permitted this constant undermining of its own chances from within.

Of course, Brexit played a major role as well but we need to remember that it started with David Cameron who, as Prime Minister, made the absurd decision, in response to pressure from his backbenchers, to hold a referendum on whether the country should leave the EU. The simple majority clause was just plain daft and the campaign was a shambles on all sides. An argument within the Conservative party was elevated to a national issue despite it being largely irrelevant to most people.

One of the reasons why the referendum campaign was a shambles was a political vacuum which allowed the supporters of the no vote to thrive. Newspapers like the Daily Mail, the Sun, the Express and the Telegraph spent the run up influencing the agenda so that the vote was about immigration, foreigners and our imperial dreams. Ever since then, the political agenda has been set by the same newspapers which have turned flag-waving for right-wing ideologies into an art form. This wasn’t driven by the Conservative party but by altogether nastier influences and it’s fair to say that although it has put Boris Johnson in Downing Street it isn’t altogether his show either and there will be a price to pay.

It has also been increasingly obvious since the referendum that the political agenda has been set by the same ideologies and that the BBC assiduously reports what they say without finding an alternative point of view. Seeking balance in this environment – which is already oddly out of kilter – leads to Nigel Farage being given too much airtime and an assumption from anyone left of centre that the BBC is inherently biased. The problem is that ‘the story of the day’ should already come with a health warning!

A failure to control the political narrative has been a real problem for Labour since 2017 and one of the things that made this more difficult was that the voice of the disenchanted Labour MPs was amplified by the Guardian – the last liberal chance for balance. The Guardian provided a weekly sounding board for them, repeating stories from ‘reliable sources within the Labour Party’. Guardian columnists then used these titbits to produce sarcastic copy and a newspaper which has been traditionally associated with radicalism drifted to the right. Sadly, the Guardian has also appeared to have lost touch with its capacity for radical investigative journalism. It assiduously investigated the Iraq war but it hasn’t got to grips with the billionaire bankrolling of the Brexit movement and the Conservative party, or with the sources of the orchestrated campaign concerning anti-Semitism in the Labour Party. This has been left to small groups and to other individuals but it would once have been bread and butter employment for Guardian journalists.

Anti-Semitism was a big issue on the doorstep. The Labour Party is not anti-Semitic but that was not the perception. A policy of supporting Palestine and the rights of its subjects was assumed to be anti-Israeli and by association anti-Semitic. Jeremy Corbyn was seen not to have acted fast enough to deal with something largely chimerical. A cartoon, a meeting to support the peace process, some daft online comments by individuals and so on do not make a political party inherently anti-Semitic. There was a ruthless media campaign designed to say the opposite and it succeeded.

Whatever the Labour Party said it was doing was simply not believed or rubbished as a lie and lies have been a particularly unpleasant feature of the election. A scant regard for truth characterised the Brexit negotiations and the election campaign, particularly that of the Conservative party was triumphantly managed to make the public think that all politicians are liars and that, therefore, Boris Johnson is no worse than the rest.

Detached observers have been clear that setting up Facebook pages designed to deceive and running untruthful stories in newspapers were largely the work of the Conservative party and their sympathisers but that isn’t what people were persuaded to think. Telling lies brought rewards. People on the doorstep believed that the child on the floor in the emergency department photograph was a fake, well after that lie had been rebutted. The BBC and ITV political correspondents both apologised and blamed Conservative party sources for saying that one of Matt Hancock’s team was struck when video evidence proved that he hadn’t been. But, of course, they had already filed their stories!

In the end, it wasn’t the outcome we wanted and the road ahead is anything but smooth if you’re a Labour supporter, it’s not the first time the combined force of the media and the establishment have worked together to destroy a party leader and an agenda for radical change. It’s happened and it’s time to regroup but it is still useful to reflect on why people voted how they did and rushing to blame Jeremy Corbyn does not help.

If you’re a disillusioned Labour voter read this – please!

Okay, I admit that Labour is going to have a bad day on Thursday. My suspicion is that the Conservatives may have an even worse one but that’s not important. As I understand it, Labour is being criticised for not having a clear policy on Brexit, for not supporting Remain, and for having Jeremy Corbyn as leader.

Jeremy Corbyn has been additionally attacked as being the wrong choice of leader although he was democratically elected. He is considered to be too left-wing, pro-Palestine, an international ally of radical left-wing movements and anti-Semitic. At one time, it was thought that he would use his influence as leader to drag the party further to the left and allow left-wing elements to oust sitting MPs so as he could consolidate a kind of Stalinist grip on the party. Momentum was imagined to be the parallel of Napoleon’s dogs in George Orwell’s Animal Farm, hounding and destroying those who opposed him.

So, let’s start with Brexit. Labour does have a clear policy on this which started from a decision to honour the referendum result, shared across Parliament before it took place, so that the issue, it was thought, could be put to bed for ever. Labour cannot be blamed for the existence of the referendum which was David Cameron’s fault entirely. As we know, the referendum was lost and despite the fact that the campaign was corruptly funded and many lies were told Labour agreed to respect that result as it had committed itself to do.

It is sometimes argued that if Jeremy Corbyn had campaigned more vigorously the referendum would not have been lost but it was difficult for anyone in the Labour Party to share platforms with the Conservatives who instigated the thing, who thought they would win easily and would come out of it with David Cameron smelling of roses. Labour did not make it a political party issue but Labour MPs did go out and support Remain in large numbers. In hindsight, some people think that was a mistake but it wouldn’t have been an easy option at the time with the Conservatives desperate to find splits in Labour support which their media friends could amplify so as to cover up some of the gaps in the Conservative Party.

David Cameron went and Theresa May’s government came into power and set in motion the departure of the UK from Europe – again supported by virtually all of Parliament shortly after the result. It should then have been a foregone conclusion for the government to do the deal, or whatever version of the deal it wanted, which would have flown through Parliament, whether or not it was necessary for it to do so then which is questionable, and we would have left Europe some time ago.

Then, Theresa May made a decision to call a snap General Election, a decision which turned out to be almost as stupid as David Cameron’s. Labour fought a strong campaign on achieving social democracy, a better departure from Europe than the Conservatives were promising and with a radical manifesto.

Labour did much better than the media ever expected, perhaps because the media viewpoints, and particularly those of the BBC and the Guardian which might have been supportive, were informed by a constant campaign to destroy Jeremy Corbyn encouraged by disaffected Labour MPs. These people tried to suggest that there were deep splits over nuclear deterrence, to imply that Labour’s foreign policy would be pro-Soviet and that Momentum and Seamus Milne would run the country. In practice, no MPs were deselected but the constant tabloid headlines and the stream of criticism had the effect of reducing the Labour vote. Without that, it is more than probable that Labour would have won the election with a workable majority.

Labour then developed a policy on the Brexit negotiations which was, essentially, to achieve a result which still respected the referendum while maintaining a customs union and free-market, workers’ rights and conditions and UK control over its industrial investment policy. If this could not be achieved, Labour would want a General Election and, failing that, some kind of second referendum. This was considered to be a surprisingly clear policy at the time and many people were surprised – imagining that the arch anti-European Jeremy Corbyn would not want such a deal. The assumption was that he must have been defeated following some internal strife but the reality is that this was a policy worked through from the bottom ranks of the party and well supported at the time.

While negotiations were going on, there were still attempts to discredit Jeremy Corbyn over links with Palestinian organisations and for failing to root out anti-Semitism in the Labour Party. There is no evidence to suggest that the Labour Party is more or less anti-Semitic than society at large but it is more anti-Israeli and the attempts to conflate criticism of Israel with anti-Semitism have continued for some years. There has been evidence to show that there’s been an organised campaign to discredit the Labour Party on this basis probably in the interests of the Israeli state and funded by it as well. It has been a success as well and a difficult and problematic diversion for the Labour Party. When a handful of its MPs left to form Change UK it was one of the reasons they put forward. This is all worth mentioning because it shows how readily the media could have jumped on anything Labour said which appeared to be any sort of reversal, betrayal or indecision.

It is also worth noting that the Conservative party with the help of the Ulster Unionists still had a majority. It is only because the European Reform Group faction rebelled on certain issues that Labour has had any influence whatsoever on events.

However, there are plenty of people around who think that Labour could, somehow, have changed its policy and become a Remain party and this is, somehow, Jeremy Corbyn’s fault that it hasn’t because that is what everybody else obviously wants. In practice, the only way to do that would have been to call a special conference which would have revealed substantial splits in Labour, maybe quite reasonably because of the view that there was a strong Brexit vote in some Labour heartlands which ought to be respected. You can also imagine the media firestorm and political rant which would have accompanied such a conference and because Labour is a democratic party, you can appreciate it would have ended with a compromise quite similar to that already achieved.

To come up to date, it is nice to recognise that Labour has achieved a significant series of defeats for the government on Brexit issues but also necessary to understand that Parliament has only agreed on the issue of No Deal. It is clearly understood even by its supporters that there is no majority for a referendum to be rerun, even with a Labour whip.

However, Labour has used its influence and the ‘discussions’ to gain significant concessions on workers’ rights, a wider acceptance of the notion of a continuing customs union and, more recently, the idea of a confirmatory referendum. This would not be a rerun of the original referendum but would instead offer the choice of a negotiated deal and remaining in the EU.

Finally, we need to underline that the decision to hold European elections is nothing to do with the Labour Party but it is an outcome of Parliamentary indecision and the incompetence of the government. Labour is following its established policies in the manifesto even if it is seen as sitting on the fence when, allegedly, it could change its mind and support staying in Europe. Instead, it has maintained its position which seems a fair choice given the history and even if you don’t agree with it personally.

Where does it all go next? Possibly, the best option would be another defeat for Theresa May and a confirmatory referendum with the options as above. Worse ones include Boris Johnson as Prime Minister reigning with the help of a triumphant European Reform Group or a general election where the continuous carping against Labour creates a situation where right-wing fascists hold the balance of power.

That’s why, whatever you think about Europe and whatever you think about Jeremy Corbyn, you ought to go out and vote Labour on Thursday and encourage your friends and relatives to do the same. If you were planning not to, at least think again for five minutes about what the consequences might be and if you still won’t all I can say is that I tried and you might regret it later.

 

Building the new Maginot Line

I went on the march yesterday. I like to think of myself as number 700,001 but that’s probably being optimistic. The press coverage, at least last night, was unusually generous but I suspect everyone was overwhelmed by the numbers. The tube trains were rammed, Green Park turned into an exit only station and the crowds kept on coming. The front of the march got lost somewhere in the middle as a rolling crowd simply began to move.

You’ve seen the banners; especially the funny ones, the ageist ones the photos of young kids but you should have heard the people. This was simple indignation at the failure of the political class to write a stupid wrong foisted on the country by the multiple failures of the Conservative party and the right wing press – who I sometimes think simply wanted some revenge for being caught out hacking people’s phones.

This roar of indignation and this call to put things right rolled in shouts of protest from Marble Arch through Trafalgar Square and down to Westminster. It was tangible. You could hear it coming. The anger was real but the people were friendly. I think everyone felt a sense of delight and communion that here they were with people who felt like them; anxious, powerless but determined to make a point.

There were politicians there but this was no party political event. It was exactly what it was meant to be, a shared demonstration by people who valued our place in Europe, valued tolerance and open borders and wanted politicians working to make us better, safer and united citizens of the world.

Of course, the sniping and crowing has already started. Did you know that this was the largest demonstration in London in all of history not to be attended by Jeremy Corbyn? TV wanted to say that last night and also to tell us that there was a pro-Brexit demonstration in Harrogate attended by Farage and, at a generous count, around a thousand people. More people went to under seven football yesterday across the nation but Harrogate got mentioned on the news. Balance, you understand.

Will it make a difference? Probably not. Events are still being driven by a fractious, ugly, factional government but at least the people who attended made a point. That will be forgotten in a couple of weeks but, ironically, we’ll be celebrating the centenary of the armistice as we start building our new Maginot Line.

It really is time to stop this Brexit nonsense…

Today, as August comes to a close, we’ve had Downing Street briefing that the EU doesn’t turn up for meetings and David Lidington moaning about the French as if it is all their fault. Everyone seems to forget that for the past six weeks or so we’ve been stuck in the silly season of ridiculous stories and nobody negotiating anything about anything. The media, and I am sorry to say a lot of apparently sensible people, have been going round in circles trying to prove that Jeremy Corbyn is anti-Semitic, which he clearly isn’t, as the latest in the series of orchestrated attempts to oust him as Labour Party leader. Then, the same people have the cheek to moan that he hasn’t got a Brexit strategy. Maybe if they’d shut up for a week or two he could have developed one.

The thinking, but not thinking straight, middle-class remainers think that Labour with a bit of help from Chuka Umunna, who barely counts as Labour at the moment, should adopt a new policy of remaining. This view is soft in the head. Imagine what the right-wing media would do, let alone Jacob Rees Mogg, to a Labour Party founded on democracy and now appearing to reject it on the basis of convenience. Jeremy Corbyn and Kier Starmer are not stupid!

However, if the preferred outcome is to stuff all this Brexit rubbish it requires a strategic approach. There are good reasons for developing one, including the fact that only just over one third of the population voted to leave, the leave campaign told lies and funded their campaign illegally, their campaign was racist, the right-wing media attempted to swing the result, and the Russians might have been interfering. There’s hardly any need to go on! Do we really want to hear another politician going on about the will of the people? The purpose of politicians is to argue that they represent what people actually want and then submit themselves to the vote where people can agree or disagree. Parliament has been at its worst on Brexit, prevaricating and allowing the sloganeering Tory right-wingers to spout their usual guff without proper contradiction.

There’s a chance now with the conference season but, of course, the media will still be babbling on about anti-Semitism, the NEC elections will suggest that Momentum is continuing its takeover of the Labour Party and the Tory party has confirmed they will be focusing on domestic issues. What the fuck is Brexit if it is not the most important domestic issue this autumn, maybe this century?

What we have instead of discussion is the deal or no deal scenario without Noel Edmonds to explain the rules. Since the Conservative right-wing and the DUP who currently hold the levers of power in Parliament are going to keep pushing for a no deal and the Daily Express and the Daily Mail are busy persuading wavering Conservatives that the Chequers agreement is a sell-out it looks like the banker on the telephone is going to say no and that will be a disaster for the UK as I think everyone with even the slightest involvement knows perfectly well. There are, admittedly, a few people with overseas trusts, quite a lot of pensioners who hanker after the Empire and some fairly uneducated people in T-shirts who think differently but I’m inclined to trust the others.

Another group I’m not inclined to trust are members of Parliament. Given the option of going against the government to reject the final no deal scenario, I’m afraid that many MPs in all parties will go back to the referendum vote and blame their constituents. I could go on about how spineless they are and how unprincipled they are but perhaps it is difficult for them. Too bad, for once they need to stand up and be counted.

Where does that leave the vast majority who now want to stay in Europe? I’m happy to estimate that at figure is now around 70% of the population but you’re welcome to argue. You’d be daft if you said there wasn’t a majority though given the original vote, the turnout and the shift since then.

If it comes to it, people will just have to turn out and blockade Parliament with some direct action and we will be right back with the fucking poll tax riots where it certainly wasn’t the government who turned out to be on the side of righteousness. But it doesn’t have to come to that it just needs people to stop dissing Jeremy Corbyn and start talking about the options and how to stop Brexit from happening.

What kind of Bubble do you live in?

As part of the recent national endeavour to bash social media there has been a lot of talk about ‘echo chambers’ and other forms of ‘epistemological bubbles’ – reflective and enclosing ‘spaces’ – as if these are a new threat and a new invention and why don’t we all go back to listening to experts and believing them like we did in some misty wonderful past – the one where the experts said that slavery was good, black people were stupid and wilful, and women had smaller skulls so they must have less brain? Or, if you want a more recent example, think of the experts who found weapons of mass destruction in Iraq!

As a bit of pointless reactionary froth this debate doesn’t really do any harm and, quite helpfully, makes people think about what knowledge actually is. The fact that some academic and a lot of traditional media sources stir this debate has nothing to do, of course, with their own sense of feeling threatened but it certainly keeps it on a roll.

The first odd thing to say about all this is that echo chambers and bubbles are usually for ‘other’ people. Those of us who comment so ‘knowledgeably’ about such things are far too self-aware to fall into the trap of only talking to people who reaffirm prejudices or agree with our points of view. The second is that there appears to be a fair bit of research evidence that people who trawl the internet are not limited in what they view and read online so the hypothesis has to evolve to say that people have a life outside the bubble but form their opinions inside it.

That isn’t exactly surprising and has arguably always been the case. If your parents are rabid conservatives, you are quite likely to end up as a Tory-boy, and that goes for much else besides. People are influenced by one another in their actions and beliefs as, more worryingly, they may be influenced by God, the Daily Mail, Muslim Extremists, Paddy Power and a million other fairly awful things.

To claim that social media constrains people more than this and coerces them into having opinions is questionable. It might make the process sometimes more visible but is not indicative of some substantive change in human behaviour. We do, as social beings, place a degree of trust in what people say, in what we read and what we hear but, hopefully, we also learn to discriminate between sources, to double-check and cross check, and to filter. If anything, social media and the explosion of knowledge in the 21st Century should make us all the more questioning and that can only be a good thing.

What it also does, as it does this, is to lead to a more complex debate about what is real, true, incontestable, supported by the evidence and so on. This seems to be a place where a lot of people get quite grumpy or smart arsed! So, we have had a lot of debate in the last fifty years about global warming and its impact on the environment and it is easy to get hot under the collar – not from the global warming itself but from people like Donald Trump rubbishing the science. However, that doesn’t make the reality any different. In evidence terms, it is fairly easy to establish that global temperatures are rising but much harder to be authoritative about the impact. At a very local level, experts said we should change our gardening habits in the UK because the climate was now so dry we would need tropical plants. They could be right in the future but they were wrong then!

This is an insignificant example compared to melting icecaps but we don’t have to complain about the breadth and/or the quality of debate to know what the issues are and, if we are not fooled, is it right to criticise others as if they are? And, when people clearly have been fooled in recent history as in the Brexit debate and referendum, it wasn’t social media that did the fooling but the ugly combination of devious self-serving politicians and nasty press barons aided by the feebleness of the respectable media and broadcasters.

We should also be cautious when talking about the rise of the far right in the UK as if that is something which is facilitated by Facebook and Twitter. They may supply the apparatus for these like-minded people to get together but the legitimisation of their views comes straight from the tabloid press with its attacks on immigrants, the ease with which it associates race and crime and the constant demands for firm, reactionary, action – something which has been a feature of these outlets for at least fifty years and long before the Internet ever got going.

There’s also a lot of talk now about post-truth as if everything once used to be so certain and is now questioned. For many people we have always obviously and truthfully needed a nuclear deterrent, selective education and public schools, a Royal family and so on, and people have been shocked by opposing views and astonishingly hostile in their opposition to them. It’s refreshing to have a discussion about some of these things but that doesn’t mean we are in the middle of an informational crisis when nobody knows what is true anymore. It’s nonsense to say that experts do not have a role in these debates either when they have something to contribute.

My sense is that quite a few people are lamenting the passing of the notion that knowledge was always true and reliable, supported by the voice of experts who could be trusted. They now think we have the wisdom of the crowd instead, about which it is easy to be disparaging but which may, if people dig a little deeper, be quite critical in the formation of social knowledge. There’s nothing to stop experts standing out in the crowd!

Other people think that this leads to relativism and the notion that anybody can say what they like and think it is as true as what anybody else says. That isn’t what the wisdom of the crowd says and aberrant or unsupported ideas are going to seem no more valid than they have ever been. There’s a sense in which knowledge is always relative: it changes and is modified over time in terms not only of facts but also of perspective, interpretation and status. It would be odd to think of knowledge as not being in a state of permanent flux.

Finally, if you want to talk about knowledge you have to recognise knowledge as the servant of power and control. At its simplest, power allows you to define the boundaries between what is known and what is heretical. Democratising knowledge is a handy step forward in reducing authoritarian power. It is arguable that the collapse of dictatorships in Eastern Europe and the Middle East is largely attributable to a battle between sources of information where the information feeding in from outside effectively destabilised the status quo. And, of course, it isn’t what you know but who you know that still really counts…

Bringing Up Another Body

Fresh from doing her best to stab her fellow novelists in the back and front for writing genre-based novels (something where she appears to be blind to her own scribbling) Hilary Mantel has now started on Princess Diana.

In a long piece in the Guardian, she does what can only be called a hatchet job, the gist of which is well she bought a ticket so if the plane crashes too bad. Mantel manages to be knowing, supercilious and smug. She saw it coming and Diana walked into it with her childish, inexperienced eyes open. The piece is essentially about how she constructed her own destiny and fate but along the way there is a kicking for the British public and their hankering for sentimental claptrap and there are a few digs at people who make money writing books about other people (funny, I thought she did that as well).

Hilary Mantel talks to the Prince of Wales during her investiture

(The Guardian)

Is she an innocent, detached and objective commentator? Well, she clearly subscribes to the Great Man theory of history in her novels even when she writes about women! And, she is pretty clearly a royalist, understanding the importance of monarchs in the social order and the need for everyone else to know their place.

Has she got Diana right? This is probably an impossible question to answer. Princess Diana has been so overwritten and so many lies and untruths have gradually been uncovered about things which were said about her that is fairly easy for anyone to hang their own coat on her hook. However, Ms Mantel does head off in what we might call the ‘dizzy blonde tart who falls flat on her face’ genre without much hanging about.
Psychics, flash outfits, pouty faces are the order of the day rather than eating disorders characterised by the disgraceful behaviour of a member of the Royal family whose upbringing was so chaotic and dysfunctional that he had no idea what he was doing was wrong.

What inspires her to write this kind of bile? That is a really tricky question but assume there is a shadowy establishment in this country which really doesn’t like boats being rocked by the hoi polloi is it possible that somebody, somewhere might have mentioned to Ms Mantel that she does seem to have a poisonous tongue and Princess Diana might be good for a pasting. Any evidence? Well, she seems pretty cosy with the future king who is an avowed fan of her novels and this is an area where she can simper rather than scowl, and she owes his Mrs an apology for accidentally dissing her in the past as you might put it.

Why does the Guardian print it. Another difficult one but there has been a lot of what might be termed pro-Diana stuff in other newspapers (the kind Guardian readers only see on the shelf in Waitrose). Some of it is about the rather dodgy accident which ended her life but much of it reflects the recent documentary where, however snotty you want to be about her mannerisms, she didn’t come over as loony. There is also a kind of middle-class liberal who really likes the novels of Hilary Mantel. She brings history to life in such evocative ways and makes good television blah blah blah but in doing so she also points out the stability of the Crown and how it holds up our country allowing the persistence of those wonderful British values and a class system where everyone knows their place. Who would ever want to live in France where they had a revolution! In other words, she is the ideal person to write this article which I assume is second-hand drivel unless she had a word with the office of the soon to be king who are quite clearly constantly active in media manipulation around this story. It would be nice to be told.

I find it somehow unsavoury. If this is a non-story then ignore it but if it is an issue that reflects on our constitution and how we operate as a nation then investigate it without taking sides.

Princess Diana and how we don’t like to talk about stuff

It has been fascinating this week to see the response to the programme about Princess Diana from Channel 4. I’m not bothered about whether people think it was a good programme or whether it was in the best taste to reveal these tapes but I’m surprised at a lot of the reaction to it which has been, predominantly, to ignore it. There’s the odd intellectual comment about Diana’s legacy playing off the back of programmes like these and there has also been the media counteroffensive with the young princes and the BBC setting out to celebrate the depth of public mourning in the week after she died (quietly ignoring the antagonism to the monarchy and to Charles). No-one seems to have noticed the timing of that either!

Of course, we say this really isn’t newsworthy or even worthy of our attention but that’s a funny attitude. First, it’s strange that these tapes have never been aired in the UK before as if they might frighten the horses. Second, they reveal a picture of Diana which has been systematically edited from the record. She was scared of losing access to her children, she wasn’t bonkers and her bulimia was directly related to the fact that her husband was knocking off Camilla – possibly before the wedding and, certainly, shortly after it. Third, we don’t seem to think it’s strange that the chap who organised the procession for the wedding also seems to have condoned the feudal droit de seigneur which tolerated his wife being shared with the future king although most of us think that the monarchy still epitomises our morality as a nation and the foundation stone of the Church of England! Four, there is a stark admission here that Diana was not only having an affair with her security officer but professed to be in love with him. Five, most of us have edited from our own memories or maybe never really knew that a few weeks after he left the job with her he died in a motorcycle accident involving dazzling lights and a car whose driver says she was pressured into accepting a careless driving charge.

The other odd thing we keep being persuaded to agree with is that the monarchy has changed, reviewed itself and come out better for the experience although there is precious little actual evidence of this. And, the likelihood is that within a relatively short period of time Charles will get the throne, some Dimbleby or other will do a grovelling commentary and old ladies will weep in the streets.

I still think it’s also possible that, at some point in the future, someone is going to blab about the events in Paris which led up the death of Diana – another vehicle crash involving dazzling lights etcetera. It’s funny how these things shift around. I think that with a bit of help from the manipulative media we all believed at the time that Lord Lucan drowned in the English Channel after murdering the nanny but, in retrospect, that is frankly laughable and we were conned by a coterie of aristocrats who saved the skin of one of their own kind. Cleverly, the death of Diana is now lumped with lots of other conspiracy theories like alien landings and the Bermuda Triangle as something to chuckle over but that’s wrong. Even if you don’t believe that the men in grey suits were capable of bumping her off you shouldn’t overlook what a shameful series of events it all was and how, as a nation, we still can’t be totally honest about it.

A cleft stick but not one of Labour’s making

There is a good deal of rumbling comment at the moment about Labour Party policy on Brexit and there was, what might be termed, a clarification yesterday. The party website changed from saying ‘We’ll fight to secure single market membership’ to ‘We’ll fight for tariff free access to the single market’. You might think this is not a very significant change but it’s being used by those people who have always wanted to undermine Jeremy Corbyn to attempt to put a wedge between what he wants from Brexit and what Keir Starmer might be hoping to achieve. There seems to be a suggestion that Labour Party policy is divided and the core of the problem is the dogged determination of Jeremy Corbyn to be out of Europe.

Now, if you’re one of these people who never wanted him to be leader of the Labour Party in the first place, who supported the Parliamentary Labour Party sniping at him, who thinks he is managed by crazy lefties and who didn’t mind The Guardian constantly citing unattributable sources within the party to criticise him and his leadership then this supports your case. You can conveniently forget that he came very close to winning a general election and that he is now in a position where he would win one it was called today. He has achieved substantive policy climbdowns from the Tories whose leadership is currently in disarray. That is actually quite an achievement! But if now you’re using Europe to backup the case you made six months ago and all that blah blah blah, he will never win an election then maybe you just ought to reflect for five minutes.

First off, why the clarification? It is straightforward really. Labour is, and has always been, a party that respects democracy. It votes on everything and it respects majority voting. There is simply no way for the party to indicate, one way or another, that it has abandoned that principle. If it did, imagine the fun the right-wing media would have. At the same time, the single market is a function of the EU and you cannot be a member of the single market without being a member of the EU although terms are sometimes bandied about in a casual way. The change to the website wording is a helpful clarification because what Labour wants, having accepted the vote of the majority of the British people, is the best possible disengagement from Europe, and tariff free access to the single market is the next best thing to being part of it. None of this is difficult and it certainly doesn’t need party members to make it problematic.

That can all be said without assuming that the Tory Brexit is a done and dusted deal. On the contrary, it is anything but. If a stroppy right-wing cast of negotiators walks away in eighteen months time their recommendations will not get through any kind of House of Commons vote, let alone the House of Lords. The government will fall and the next Labour government will be left to pick up the pieces. By then, there may well be a very strong feeling across the nation and in Parliament that the British people did not know what they were letting themselves in for and that what is on offer is not what people want. It will take strong leadership and a consensus across Parliament to stand up and say we want to play our part in a reformed Europe but it will certainly be feasible. Another referendum? Maybe or maybe not but that is one way in which the whole thing can unravel. What is clear at the moment is that that position has to evolve, the options have to be explored and the consequences made clear to people. That way, democracy is supported and delivers a better result.

In the meanwhile, what is most likely to get the country to that position is a strong united opposition to any kind of hard deal. No one would benefit from losing European human rights, a plethora of critical European organisations, the European Court, some kind of freedom of movement and it’s daft to suggest that Jeremy Corbyn wants them all to go. The party, united, wants tariff free access to the single market, so does business and finance and trying to foster divisions in that principled position is wrongheaded and unhelpful.