Saturday, 18 June 2016

The Referendum, Jo Cox and Democracy

Amid the Diana-fication, almost the beatification, of murdered backbench Labour MP Jo Cox, it would be easy to lose sight of the fact that Thursday’s referendum is simply that: it is not a General Election.

Judging by the way the media has pitched the whole contest as a scrap between Prime Minister David Cameron and Tory Rival Boris Johnson and UKIP leader Nigel Farage, you’d be forgiven for thinking that if the majority vote is in favour of leaving the EU, that will mean a change of resident at 10 Downing Street.

It won't. If the Leave campaign wins the man tasked with the responsibility of starting the long process of disengagement with Brussels won’t be either Mr Johnson or Mr Farage, but Mr Cameron – if he decides to stay as Prime Minister until his second term ends in 2020.

Daft as it may be to state the obvious, I have a feeling that there are people out there who think this is a first-past-the-post, winner-takes-all party political battle. As others have pointed out elsewhere the ownership of the Referendum is not the politicians but the public. Nor does it belong to the spectre of a slain MP.

Jo Cox did not die for democracy, she did not choose to martyr herself for the good of the cause. As far as anybody knows she was picked on and attacked out of the blue. If she had had a premonition of what was about to happen, I’m sure she would have done her best to have avoided it, at the same time ensuring that nobody else got hurt inadvertently.

I can understand the desire to make a collective public expression of sadness, if it helps people to deal with their anger, bewilderment or sorrow. But the immediate elevation of this reportedly personable woman to ‘stardom’ in the parliamentary firmament – first by the Prime Minister and then by sundry other politicians and journalists – struck entirely the wrong note for me.

And if this process continues when Parliament specially reconvenes on Monday I think public sympathy might turn to irritation, not about Jo Cox but with those exploiting her murder to say something sententious, not to say tendentious, about the current state of democracy in this country and its representatives.

Remember, in May 2008 – long before Jo Cox was elected to be an MP - the House of Commons lost a High Court case to prevent public disclosure of MPs’ expenses. Subsequently, these guardians of democracy tried to scupper proposed expenses reforms.

They eventually agreed to piece-meal reforms after forcing the Labour Government of Gordon Brown to drop a proposal to scrap the allowance for second homes.

In May, 2009, The Daily Telegraph printed a long series of articles from leaked computer discs highlighting some of the practices common in Parliament, such as ‘flipping’ homes to maximise expenses claims and changing the designation of second homes to avoid paying Capital Gains Tax.

The public, on the receiving end of austerity cuts, whose sons and daughters are killed in foreign wars allegedly in defence of freedom and democracy, whose homes are burgled and property stolen usually without any satisfaction of justice, tend to have the same regard for politicians, in both Westminster and Brussels, that they have for journalists and the groomers of children.

The memory of Jo Cox’s life should be honoured. It should not be used as emotional propaganda by those with another agenda.

Monday, 13 June 2016

Jihadi Dave's Own Goal

I can't be the only bear of exceedingly little brain here in the Northern Powerhouse who finds David Cameron's use of the bomb metaphor bizarre.

According to the Prime Minister, leaving the European Union will put a bomb under the British economy. If on June 23 a majority of the voting British public sends us out of the EU he, David Cameron, will have no alternative but to explode that bomb. That's what he told Andrew Marr on telly yesterday.

This is the mentality of the suicide bomber, though I don't suppose Marr told him that afterwards, who removes all culpability from himself on to his victims. Don't blame me, you brought this on yourselves. I'm only doing what you deserve.

Bit of an own goal, that, Prime Minister. As First Among Equals your first responsibility is the safety and security of the country you represent. As such your public threat to blow up the economy is tantamount to treason. It is certainly unwise. After all, where will Mrs Cameron be when Jihadi Dave does the deed? At the very least the metaphor was in bad taste. The likelihood that Mr Cameron's bad taste was unintentional merely underlines what supporting the EU does to your judgement.

I knew the Vote Remain campaign was going downhill when I went to the local railway station this morning to be greeted by young college females handing out glossy flyers spelling out the benefits of staying in the EU. I watched one woman reading this leaflet - most people just put them in the waste disposal bags. She scrutinised it intently for a few minutes, brows wrinkled in concentration - and then dropped it in the waste bag.

This was the same leaflet that came through my door announcing that for every £1 Britain gives to the EU we get ten times that amount back. Well, boys and girls, as we give the EU about £13 billion a year (excluding the climate change money) this must mean that we get back £130 billion every year. That's plainly rubbish, not even George Osborne would put his name to that. Would he?

Saturday, 4 June 2016

The Secret of Change...

The hope of the Remain campaigners in the EU Referendum, is that the public will come to regard the Leavers as a bunch of opportunistic Little Englanders with all the associations of Far Right bigotry that that implies.

Judging by what I've seen of the media-arranged great debate, there is little to suggest that the Leavers will think their way round that one by calmly pointing out that they are neither Little Englanders nor Little Europeans, but citizens of the world and as such see no point in remaining part of a moribund political proces devised by deception and sustained by duplicity, especially when the majority of laws and regulations passed on by Brussels derive from international organisations based in Geneva, Rome, New York and Washington.

The BREXIT vision of an EU-free future, if indeed the non-FLEXCITEERS among them have one, should include a vision of what's likely to happen if the UK decides to stick with the political status quo - yet another EU treaty, more euro crises and more bail-outs, more union, less independence, general instability.

They could do worse than learn from a saying attributed to Socrates: The secret of change is to focus all of your energy, not on fighting the old, but building the new. In other words: this is what we think the future could be outside the EU, this is how we go about achieving it, and this is how long it's likely to take to uncouple our wagons from the Euro-train. These three things seem to be what the general public wants to know. Some expect detailed costings; but it doesn't take a lot of wit to say that, like any divorce, detailed costings only arise once negotiations to part get underway. And in this case those negotiations cannot start until such time as Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty is invoked.

FLEXITEER-in-chief Richard North warned right at the start that no campaign is won on a negative. The Remainers do not appear to have realised this and go on blathering about the dangers of cutting the EU apron strings, as though this had been an important feature of Britain's evolving development as a constitutional democracy. Good God, how did our ancestors manage to cope up until 1973? Personally, I think the public is fed up with being warned of fresh disasters to come by the likes of Michael Heseltine, Tony Blair, John Major, Neil Kinnock, George Osborne and David Cameron. What a joyless lot they and their colleagues are. Have they nothing to celebrate from 43 years' membership of this European club? It's up to the Leavers to evangelise the good news of what life could be like beyond the EU. That's if they have any good news, of course.

Let me know if any of them remembers another saying attributed to that ornery old coot Socrates: I am a citizen of the world, and my nationality is Good will.

Friday, 20 May 2016

Leviathan, or Lizards Rule, OK

Former BBC sports journalist David Icke's beliefs have a cult following all over the world. The conspiracy which resulted in the Treaty Of Rome and all other subsequent treaties, make the appeal of Icke's principal notion - that the world is ruled by shape-shifting lizards - easy to understand.

Who else but lizards in human form with delusions of grandeur would conceive of  spending 100 million euros a year on transferring the European Parliament from Brussels to Strasbourg (and back again) every month? Jeremy Paxman couldn't explain this during his hour-long BBC television programme about the European Union. Any resemblance to the dual empire of Austria-Hungary with its two capitals of Vienna and Budapest is entirely deliberate.

But I suspect the unelected Hapsburgs had better sense of style than the unelected technocrats who see nothing wrong with hiring a special train to transport parliamentary staff and files on a monthly four-hour journey between Belgium and France. Paxman didn't say whether the 100 million euros covered living costs and expenses.

None of the various actors and artistes - Bill Nighy, John Hurt, Emma Thompson for example - who have spoken in favour of the UK's continued membership of the EU said anything about this arrangement. Nor, to my knowledge, have they offered an opinion about the EU Commission's history of ignoring referendums that don't go their way. The European Constitution that eventually became the Lisbon Treaty was rejected by the public of France, the Norway and the Irish Republic; but that didn't make the slightest bit of difference. Why would the Commissioners need democratic accountability when they've got a secure, ever-increasing, budget that hasn't been signed off by auditors for more than 20 years and no voters to explain themselves to?

The slithery politics of this monstrous two-headed hydra reminds me of another reptilian image, that ancient Greek sculpture known as The Laocoon.

This depicts the Trojan priest Laocoon and his two sons, Antiphantes and Thymbraes, being stranged to death in the coils of sea-serpents. These creatures were sent by Apollo or Poseidon because Laocoon had tried to warn the citizens of Troy that the wooden horse they had just dragged into the city as a trophy of victory would bring about their destruction.

If the beleagured Leave campaign is needs a classy, classical, image to symbolise the danger to Britain of the serpentine coils of the EU leviathan, it should consider The Laocoon. And if it wants an historical figure to give its arguments gravitas it should call up the spectre of Winston Churchill. He knew all about the terrible damage inflicted on the rest of the world by continental Europe from 1914 and again from 1939.

Churchill's post-World War 2 idea of a united states of Europe, I believe, had nothing to do with the creation of a federal superstate and certainly not supra-national governance. He would have sent in warships to sink the French navy than submit Britannia to mere subsidiarity status. 

His vision was of Europe as a regional body made up of inter-governmental sovereign states supporting a central global body such as the United Nations Organisation. If the EU did not exist Britain would trade quite happily under the aegis of the United Nations Economic Council (Europe). But I don't suppose Bill, John, Emma and Jeremy know about that.

I won't be unkind though and suggest that none of them have heard of The Laocoon.

Thursday, 28 April 2016

Anti-Semitism and Labour's Sick Rose...

O Rose thou art sick.
The invisible worm,
That flies in the night
In the howling storm:

Has found out thy bed
Of crimson joy:
And his dark secret love
Does thy life destroy.

For those who won't be attending next month's discussion at the Bradford Literature Festival concerning the mysticism of William Blake's poetry, what is the dark secret love of the invisible worm that seems to be destroying the red rose of Jeremy Corbyn's Labour Party?

Can it really be deeply-embedded Jew hatred, planted in the 1930s by British Union of Fascist acolytes of former Labour Cabinet Minister Sir Oswald Mosley? Can it? Really? Not hatred of Israel as a state, as an idea, because Israel wasn't formally voted into existence by the United Nations Organisation until 1947/48. But simple Jew hatred. In the PC parlance of modern times: anti-semitism.

On and off all day I have followed at first with bemusement and then with increasing incredulity the row that has engulfed the party heirarchy, at first over the social media remarks of Bradford West MP Naz Shah and then this morning Ken Livingstone's self-immolation when, in response to a question, he contrived to suggest that Adolf Hitler's original final solution - transport Europe's Jews to Palestine or Madagascar - was analagous with the aspiration of Zionism for a Jewish homeland. From there it's escalated to public accusations of racism and being an apologist for the Nazis.

But by saying on social media in 2014 that Israelies should be transported to the United States, has the hapless Naz Shah inadvertently exposed the canker at the heart of Labour's red rose? 

At first I thought the hullabaloo, which David Cameron helped stir up during Prime Minister's Questions earlier this week, was more of a story about social media. Facebook and Twitter are not private means of communication, of course, but billboards to the world. MPs, entertainers, writers and celebrities hubristically believe that the public will be poorer for not knowing: where they are going, where they happen to be at any given moment, what they are doing and what they think about the latest headline news.

In a wittier age than this one the likes of the late Alan Coren would have had great fun inventing excerpts from the Facebook account of, say, William Shakespeare. 'Just written Hamlet. Jonson says it's confusing. Bugger. Not sure what to think myself. Suppose I'll have to wait for somebody to write Ulysses or Finnegan's Wake to give academics something else to write about.' Or this from Stalin's Twitter account: 'One mujic dead, tragic. A million of them pulling up daisies, a statistic. That's Socialist Realism for you.'

But what's happened today goes way beyond the mis-appliance of IT science by those who think too well of themselves, after all a bit of Facebooking or Twittering can be good fun, informative sometimes. But a statement to the effect that the Jews are massing or gathering is neither good fun nor informative: it sounds like a warning, a warning about an impending threat. Who were these Jews and against whom were they massing?

Nor for the life of me can I understand Ken Livingstone's likening Hitler's aim for Jews in 1932/33 with the strategic aim of Zionism. The only homeland that Jews got out of National Socialism was that archaepeligo of death camps from Southern Germany to the remoter forests of Eastern Poland. I thought this was widely accepted as fact until revisionist historians in the late 1980s put it about that the Holocaust was in fact a Holohoax: the locked rooms into which the pellets of Zyklon B were dropped were in fact de-lousing chambers: Jews had perished from typhus and other contagious diseases, hence the need to incinerate the bodies. This pernicious nonsense went on for several years into the 1990s and may have determined Steven Spielberg to make the film of Schindler's List from Thomas Kennelley's book Schindler's Ark.

I used to ask myself questions about Holocaust deniers. Today I have had to ask myself what is it about the Parliamanetary constituency of Bradford West that induces its representatives to make public pronouncements that strike others as anti-semitic? Before Naz Shah, George Galloway told a public meeting that, in respect of what Israel was doing in Gaza, Bradford was an Israeli-free zone. I didn't think he was announcing a progrom against Jewish people; but his sentiment was denounced in Bradford and in the 2015 General Election he was swept from office by Naz Shah.

Some may say the huge presence of Pakistani-Muslim voters in the constituency is inducement enough to express anti-Israeli sentiments. But that presupposes that all Pakistani-Muslim voters would agree. Some would. In my time I've seen anti-Jewish posters on walls in Manningham Lane in Bradford West put up by Islamicists. But the continued existence of a synagogue in the heart of Manningham is evidence of a willingness among a majority of Muslims to live and let live. Now, I fear, once again, what good name Bradford managed to regain after the 1995 and 2001 Muslim riots may go the way of William Blake's sick rose.

Labour's National Excutive Committee has in the past suspended at least two Bradford West Constituency Labour Parties for activities contrary to the party's book of rules. The undue influence of Muslim clan politics - Biraderi - featured in an independent report by Lewis Baston, called The Bradford Earthquake, following George Galloway's astounding Bradford West by-election victory in 2012, when a safe Labour majority of more than 10,000 was obliterated. Galloway's supporters had outflanked their main opponent by a clever use of social media to talk directly to voters.

Here are three of the key findings from Baston's report which was commissioned by the Joseph Rowntree Reform Trust:-

. The recent political history of Bradford West has been marred by patronage, neglect, bad organisation and even electoral fraud. Both Labour and the Conservatives are implicated in this state of affairs. Local politics have been about a mutual accommodation between elites of each community rather than real diversity, and voters have found this alienating.

.  There is a danger of a political vacuum developing in the city and elsewhere which may be filled by fringe politics, despair or violence...Voters in Bradford West do not feel they have deserted their usual party but that Labour has failed them...

. National messages and campaigning language failed to connect with Bradford West electors' bad experiences of mainstream politics. 

Be careful what you wish for, be extra careful what you blurt out on social media. Personally, I think that public figures - chief constables, sports chiefs, MPs, - should be encouraged to resort to this form of mea culpa. At a time of declining church attendances and a dropping off in the demand for the confessional, social media serves a dual purpose. Confession is good for the soul and is an invaluable source of material to muck-rakers and headline writers. Besides, it saves some journalists the trouble of phone-hacking.

Aspersions of racism are made too easily. The difference between racial prejudice and racism is that the former stems from ignorance and fear whereas the latter, racism, comes from hatred, the desire to persecute and even kill. I wonder if those who readily hurl the accusation of racism at somebody they don't like or with whom they disagree are merely deflecting attention from their own intolerant militant tendency.

Tuesday, 19 April 2016

Show Us Yer Joy

While campaigners for Britain leaving the European Union squabble about facts and tactics the more astute among them might pick up on a point made today by journlaist and former Conservative MP Matthew Parris.

He told an ITV news journalist that both the campaigns for remaining in the EU and leaving it tended to accentuate the negative: staying in was better than taking the risk of leaving, staying in would do more harm than leaving. Parris wondered why the remain campaign was so lacking in uplift: if being a part of EU was worth the time, trouble and expense, surely it was worth shouting about.

A good point, I thought, especially as the June 23 referendum is likely to be decided by the more than 20 per cent of people questioned by pollsters who say they haven't made up their minds which direction the country should take.

Are the undecideds likely to be excited by the Prime Minister declaring in his most plausible head boy fashion that Britain will be safer, stronger and better off in a "reformed EU" than outside it, like poor old Norway for example. It's a pretty uninspiring message especially when repeated, more or less, by uninspiring Opposition MPs such as Labour's Yvette Cooper.

The bland leading the bland.

If, as David Cameron claims, Britain is safer inside the EU marquee rather than outside it, he should explain why since 1973 mainland Britain has been subject to at least 65 terrorist attacks, killing more than 380 people, maiming and wounding thousands and costing billions. These include the M62 coach bomb attacck in 1974 which killed 11, the Birmingham pub bombings the same year which accounted for another 19, the 1988 Panam bombing over Lockerbie which killed 270 and the London bombings in 2005 which killed 52 and injured more than 700. Add on the bombings and shootings over three decades in Northern Ireland from 1968 and the casualties and costs mushroom.

While the EU in its various incarnations since 1973 cannot be blamed for the Provisional IRA or Al Qaeda, what has it done to justify David Cameron's assertion that membership has made us safer? Globally, of course, the Nobel Peace Prize-winning junta in Brussels has proved to be extremely dangerous. It encouraged the atomisation of former Yugoslavia following the end of Communism in Europe and the rage for independence that followed and had a hand in causing the bloodshed in western Ukraine by trespassing in Russia's sphere of influence. Latterly, the EU stands accused of making the refugee problem worse by offering blandishments to Turkey to act as a border guard for south-eastern Europe. On top of all this, of course, the EU's iron law of freedom of movement has led to a million or more economic migrants from Poland, Albania, Rumania, Spain and elsewhere coming to the UK.

You may say, so what? If you did I would reply that neither I nor anybody I know actually voted in any general election favour of any of this. It happened because decisions were made and taken elsewhere and simply adopted first by the Labour Government of 2004/5 and subsequently by the Tory-Lib Dem Coalition from 2010 to 2015.

Let's face it, the EU does not have an encouraging democratic track record. It has a history of ignoring national referendums when the result is not as expected. The people of the Netherlands, France and the Republic of Ireland were told to think again when they, respectively, voted against proposed EU treaties. Leave campaigners appear to have forgotten this in the heat of the debate about whether Britons  - "who never, never shall be slaves", according to the national anthem - should remain or go. Come on chaps, look back in anger at the crap that's been going on since 1973: the wine lakes, the butter mountains (in support of French farmers), the fish thrown back in the sea (in support of a fisheries policy contrary to our interests), the dotty carbon capture policies costing us billions and making millions for India's Tata Steel. Next time you hear business leaders and experts advocating continued EU membership for the sake of the economy, look back at the farce of Britain's short-lived membership of the European Exchange Rate Mechanism and what happened in September 1992. John Major's Government was forced to spend billions to maintain sterling's value on international markets in defence of this discredited system.

It's not as though the European empire has generated any interesting art, literature or music in the last 43 years - unlike the Roman Empire or Napoleon III's French Empire. The only bit of music associated with it that I can think of is the Ode to Joy finale of Beethoven's Ninth Symphony. A rousing and glorious blast of triumph appropriated by a bunch of furtive federalists. Ludvig would not have been amused. So come on, all you remainers, let's see the expression of your joy. Show the doubters and the truculent Europhobes something other than the usual spurious arguments. At least the leavers have a plan, Richard North's 420-page FLEXCIT, contrary to all the chundering in the media. For those who haven't world enough and time there is a 48-page summation available for a fiver called The Market Solution. Added to thse two documents, there is a new edition of The Great Deception, the history of the European 'project' that Dr North wrote with Christopher Booker, a copy of which I recently bought. In short, the leavers, in the words of Sir Humphrey, have well and truly "nailed their trousers to the mast". Which means they can't climb down.

In 1975, on the occasion of the first referendum about Britain's membership of the European Economic Community - the "Common Market" as it was deliberately and misleadingly called -  doubters were assured that joining Europe would make the country more prosperous, stronger, safer even. Forty years and 65 terrorist attacks later the wine lakes and butter mountains have been replaced by an Everest of debt and a schedule of Government borrowing that runs into billions every month. The money given back to Britain by the EU comes from us in the first place.

How different it all is from when I were a lad in Walthamstow, London E17, and Harold Wilson could be heard on the wireless worrying about Britain's "balance of payments", a matter of a few millions either in the black or the red. We thought the news was bad then. Little did we know.

Tuesday, 22 March 2016

Bombing the Soft Europeans

The departure terminal at Brussels airport was made to look like parts of Syria after the two Islamic State bomb attacks yesterday. And I suppose that was part of the purpose, to show soft Europeans what it's like to be on the receiving end of an unexpected bomb.

What the bearded holy terrorists may not know or if they do, understand, is that us soft Europeans have been on the receiving end of bombs of all sorts. We have a tradition of being bombed that goes back to the Franco-Prussian War of 1870, the ill-fated Paris Commune that followed and two World Wars. 

Seventy years ago in July, 1946,  militant Zionist terrorists blew up part of the King David Hotel in Jerusalem, killing more than 90 British military personnel and others. In fact, post 1945 the British have been bombed and shot at all over the world, especially in Northern Ireland. Central London, Guildford, Birmingham and Manchester have all been visited by bombers. Provisional IRA, IS or Al Qaeda, the result is always the same: splintered lives and blood up the walls.

Much of what I wrote in this blog on November 14, 2015, after the Paris shootings, stands for what I think now. My only wish is that television news would show a little more judicious discrimination in what they broadcast. How does showing people running away from a bomb site help anyone but those organising these attacks? And why do the earnest and well-meaning insist on buying into the regularly offered explanation of poverty, deprivation and disenfranchisement, for the radicalisation of young Muslims?

I've heard that excuse trotted out for more than 30 years. The result, certainly in Bradford, has been renewed efforts to adapt mainstream society and culture to the needs and demands of minority groups, accompanied by the usual press release superlatives, 'vibrant', even 'vibrancy', 'diverse' and 'community', as though the various sectors of the people who live here identify with one religious or cultural tendency. In fact, just for the record, life here is a lot more sectarian, tribal, clannish, than that simplification allows.

Crying the poor mouth, as the Irish say, is the usual way of staking a claim to resources. Ordinary people, by whom I mean working class white trash who don't work in education, local government, the media or the Church of England, don't fall for that. The others do. Some of them.

The earnest and well-meaning assume that the deprived and disenfranchised carry out the shootings and bombings. They don't. It's the educated, sometimes university-educated righteous brothers, who seek to impose martyrdom on total strangers. It's not money and opportunities these people lack but humility. 

Let's face it, yesterday was not a good day for the European Union. Prime Minister David Cameron has several times declared that due to Britain's membership of the EU, British people are "safer" and, by inference, the peoples of the 27 other members states are safer too. Safer until the next surprise attack sends body bags and reporters to another European city.