Groundhog Days

Every morning seems the same here in the UK, like groundhog day. The latest on parliament, the EU and Brexit.

  • What Theresa May said
  • Theresa’s deal
  • what Junker/Barnier/Tusk said
  • what Merkel or Macron said
  • who gave her short shrift
  • which cabinet ministers said what
  • cabinet splits
  • who just resigned
  • the Northern Ireland border
  • the DUP won’t agree to anything (apparently)
  • frictionless trade
  • no deal
  • hard and soft brexit
  • managed no deal (what in God’s name is that?)
  • people’s vote
  • people didn’t know what they were voting for
  • the will of the people
  • cannot let down the people who by chance I happen to agree with
  • where Labour stands
  • the five tests
  • vote of no-confidence
  • no majority in parliament for any deal
  • bring back control
  • fishing grounds
  • THEY are not being flexible
  • and on and on.

Thank God they’re about to break up for ‘Christmas’.

And yet, it’s disgraceful that government/parliament is taking time off when this riven, blighted country is about to fall of a cliff – all of their own making.

Featured image of two groundhogs taken by Joyce Hopewell.

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What was the problem?

I’ve never really understood the case for Brexit. What was wrong with over 40 years of peace and prosperity? Of course there were issues to be addressed, there always are. In a recent issue of The Times, Max Hastings neatly summarised the situation we, the UK, find ourselves in with Brexit.

Three years ago any thoughtful citizen could identify the principal problems facing Britain: productivity; Londonification; the flagging education system; a society financially skewed in favour of the old and against the young; Islamist extremism; funding of the NHS and welfare; stagnation of real earnings; job losses to technology.

None had anything to do with the European Union yet a faction of fanatics not only believed, but was successful in convincing millions of voters, that if we could only escape the thraldom of Brussels, a Heineken transformation would overtake the country, miraculously refreshing everything else.

I don’t agree with all of his list of problems, but leave that aside. Why did Britain stop worrying about the most important issues facing the country (many self-inflicted by Conservative austerity) and instead focus all its energies on the single issue of Brexit, as indeed it continues to do today?

The catalyst issue was immigration, which Brexit will probably in the end not significantly address because of sheer economic necessity. But how did the ideas become so prominent in the public domain, such that the Brexit vote was lost by the Cameron government against all expectations?

Essentially, the problems of the status quo were projected on to questions of nationhood and Europe because the political establishment and the media had not, since the New Labour years, seriously engaged with the European project. It appeared from the start that David Cameron insisted on being a right wing outsider in Europe, rather than a mainstream player, pandering to the right wing of his own party. When he needed European help with the immigration issue, the help was not there, because the bridges had not been built.

It did not help that a significant portion of the mainstream media were very anti Europe, reflecting the self-interested views of their rich owners, reinforced by the amplification of reactionary viewpoints in the ghettos of social media.

The final nail was the referendum, called to see off UKIP, in which it succeeded, but with the result no one expected.

But wasn’t the real problem more in London than in Brussels?

No Deal Nonsense

There’s a lot of nonsense currently being put forward about ‘no deal’ being a viable Brexit option. It is not. Chaos would clearly ensue across so many areas – products, services, health, fisheries, policing, finance, etc. The list is almost endless. Governments that created such chaos both in UK and Europe would not last long.

In any case there will still need to be a deal in each of those areas. The idea of ‘no deal’ is fanciful.

If UK just walked away from all its commitments and relationship with Europe, which country would subsequently have any confidence that UK would stick to any deal?

There’s also a lot of nonsense that ‘nothing is agreed until everything is agreed’ – in an environment where there is clearly insufficient time for every detail to be resolved. Sensible politicians will make agreements of principle and resolve the detail later.

The true cost of this crazy Brexit enterprise is becoming increasingly apparent.

Competition and Co-operation

Having watched Rich Hall’s recent excellent BBC4 programme, ‘Working for the American Dream’ on the development of the USA, and coming across the United Nations focus on sustainable development, led me to this reflection.

The USA was built on conquering supposed virgin lands, and people making loads of money by exploiting those lands, their resources, indigenous peoples, and the people who actually did the work. The system was essentially competitive, and at the top the US system still is. It appears to be still dominated by those with money and power, and there is an apparent aversion to co-operative ideals – hence the bizarre denigration of ‘socialism’ as in some way bad, and the refusal to countenance universal health care.

Due to the size of the USA and its economy, this system has to some degree been exported across the world, but significantly resisted by more co-operative or collaborative approaches, notably in Europe, where provision of social and health care are regarded as important. US disdain of this has become clear, in the shape of the Trump administration, which even appears to seek to undermine the great collaboration of the EU.

Meanwhile, the UN wrestles with the issue of sustainability in a world of incredible challenges on climate, biodiversity, resource depletions and all their consequences. What is clear is that there are now no virgin lands to be colonised, and indeed we must create some to give nature adequate sanctuaries. It is also clear that the world’s problems can only be resolved by co-operative approaches.

Of course, in psychological terms the adolescent stage of development of ego is characterised by differentiation and competition. As we develop and grow psychologically we naturally open up more to love, empathy and co-operation. A similar process operates at a ‘nation state’ level.

The world cannot wait for the USA to ‘grow up’, but if only it would.

Featured image shows tug of war at 1904 Olympic Games, St. Louis,
by Charles Lucas via Wikimedia Commons

 

A three-way Brexit poll?

I found an article in the 21st July edition of The Economist quite intriguing. It analysed the results of a YouGov poll in June 2018 which actually did a 3-way poll on preferences for Remain, Soft Brexit, Hard Brexit (as suggested in June by MP Justine Greening). The intriguing part was that several voting systems were used.

First past the post: 1. Remain 40, 2. Hard 37, 3. Soft 14

Shows the country deeply divided. Few people profess to want the soft Brexit being pursued by Theresa May.

Alternative Vote: 1. Hard 47, 2. Remain 44

When the 14% soft votes are apportioned according to second preferences, the result is reversed and Hard wins. Of course, this pretty well reflects the result of the 2016 referendum.

Comparisons (Condorcet Method): Soft beats Remain, Soft beats Hard, Hard beats Remain

When people are asked to compare the options, two at a time, Soft comes out as the winner. So deep down this suggests that the soft Brexit being pursued by Mrs May is the compromise that in the end satisfies most people.

Beware voting system!

Although plausible, a three-way referendum could actually be rather problematic and totally dependent on the voting system used, let alone the interference effects of Big Money and Russian Bots!

 

Polarity

Polarities obey polar logic, which is not the same as having logical opposites. Polar opposites exist by virtue of each other – they need each other. Eg day/night, inner/outer, understanding/imagination, left/right brain, material/spiritual, masculine/feminine, magnetic poles, yin/yang.

Shifts in the relationship between the poles give rise to imbalances that inevitably need to be rebalanced. This is not a logical process but requires imagination and creativity.

If the imbalance is not corrected, stasis occurs, the polarity loses its active, creative, character – the polar system is not working. Eg if we focus entirely on the outer at the expense of the inner, life becomes shallow and without meaning, meaning coming from inner experience. One might imagine a materialist world devoid of inner/spiritual experience to be meaningless (cf Beckett, Sartre) or a surface life of triviality and entertainment (cf today’s popular culture).

Look at politics for another example. There is a clear polarity between the capitalist entrepreneur and the needs of labour – if you like, capitalism vs socialism. Since the 1970s the balance has been shifting away from socialism, a process driven by people who believe that one ‘side’ can win. They are deluded. Inequality gets ever greater. In a dysfunctional system, no one wins.

Or consider integration of UK with EU (remainers) vs UK being totally independent (brexiteers). Full independence is an illusion, just as full integration is probably not desirable. We need the benefits of both. Theresa May seems to be trying to tread that necessary balancing line between the two, as is, probably, Jeremy Corbyn. Good luck to them. A sudden ‘hard brexit’ would simply mean years of hardship, until a new balance of the inevitable relationship is achieved.

The Chinese yin/yang picture perfectly encapsulates the nature of these polarities.

Inspired by Gary Lachman’s book ‘Lost Knowledge of the Imagination’, p122. 

Animal sentience

Animals clearly have an inner life, feelings, emotions, and so on. You only have to observe them. Start with a pet.

So why the great animal sentience debate? Because somewhere along the line some people started treating animals as objects whose sole purpose was to be eaten, shot at, exploited. Great factory farms became necessary to give cheap food (in the US, Soil Association estimates 99% of chickens, 90% of pigs, 78% of cows are ‘produced’ in concentrated animal feeding operations – CAFOs – animal factories). Farms in UK are gradually increasing in size to stay economically viable. Great swathes of land in the UK are managed to produce birds to be shot at, which is indeed a common sport across many countries. How long is this barbarism to continue?

Fortunately scientists have decided that animals are sentient. Thank God they’ve confirmed the bleeding obvious!

Hurrah for organisations like the Soil Association, whose ambition for animal welfare is for all farm animals to live ‘a good life’ within 10 years.

It seems that EU is moving in the right direction of recognising animal sentience, as is the UK. But this is clearly going to be a major issue in any future post-Brexit trade deal with the US, when they will want us to buy their barbarically produced cheap food as part of the deal.

The root problem is abstracting human affairs from inner values and morality, leaving the money monster in control. We really do need to reclaim our humanity, our inner compass, our conscience.

Absurd Brexit Process

I have to keep coming back to Brexit from time to time, this time inspired by ex-UK-Foreign-Secretary David Miliband on today’s now-biased BBC radio 4 programme, Today. Basically time is slipping away and negotiations within the UK cabinet have not yet concluded, let alone those with Europe. Time is running out fast.

Miliband suggested that the UK is being held hostage to the hard Brexiteers in the cabinet, who do not mind crashing out of EU, despite the untold misery that is likely to cause.

The cabinet argues over two possible ‘solutions’, neither of which EU thinks will work. The so-called max-fac ‘solution’ has a hardish border, but some magical technological fix will avoid it becoming a major bottleneck. No max-fac is going to stop border smuggling in Ireland by legions of white vans. Even minimal delays will destroy ‘just in time’ supply chains. This seems like cloud cuckoo land to me.

The other solution appears to involve UK acting as a tax collector for EU, but being otherwise disengaged. Well maybe, but that would involve a huge amount of trust, which will come under great strain when the UK starts making separate trade deals to EU’s disadvantage. (What is this big deal about trade deals? UK will clearly never get a better deal than the larger EU would.)

Basically the UK cabinet collective appears to be disconnected from the real world.

The position of the Labour Party and some moderate tories on retaining some form of customs union seems the best way forward, as does membership of the European Economic Area – if we must proceed with this absurdity of Brexit.

Oh, and it was nice to hear, in David Miliband, a politician speaking with the gravitas and understanding you might expect of a prime minister. What a shame Labour drove him away.

Anything good about Brexit?

It has for some time been suggested to me that I should write a post on what is good about Brexit. I’ve struggled with this, as there appear to be few advantages compared to the enormous disadvantages. Yes Brussels is a large bureaucracy, with all the disadvantages that entails, but getting out of the club never seemed a sensible option to me, rather than working to reform it from within.

Most important is the reason that the EU was invented – to bring together the European countries and avert for future generations the possibility of further wars such as those that disfigured preceding centuries right up to the World War. The worst conservative government in my memory has, by their own incompetence, put all this in jeopardy, dividing the country in the process and endangering the European enterprise.

In today’s speech former UK Prime Minister John Major has expressed it all very well. His speech is well worth reading, and a salutary reminder of what is at stake and the importance of the UK government taking parliament and the people along in this supremely hazardous enterprise. Major is certainly an elder statesman worth listening to.

There are no positives that counterbalance this monumental mess.

 

Geography and Stupidity

The breakout of WW1 is a haunting occurrence for those of us born in the dying days of WW2, which finally brought an end to the European conflict begun in 1914, leading to the peace of the European Union since then.

How did that prosperous and confident Europe of the late 19C descend to such a self-defeating process?

It seems the answer lies in geography and stupidity. Read More »

Brexit turkey evidence

More evidence of Brexit turkeys voting for Christmas in this Birmingham University Regional Paper on the economic impacts of Brexit, reported in today’s Guardian. What the paper aims to analyse is “the exposure of regions in the UK and the EU to Brexit, via an analysis of the nature and scale of their trade linkages”. (The paper itself looks rather complex – not easy reading.) The featured image shows the paper’s illustration of the level of impact by region.

Key findings include:

So it’s pretty clear who has the strongest negotiating hand in the forthcoming trade talks.

 

Driving in France

Somehow it got to be over 40 years since we first drove to France, and being francophiles we’ve done that most years since then. The driving experience has changed somewhat!

It’s the early 1970s. We arrive at Dover for the cross channel ferry. The time waiting on the dockside is busy – cleaning the headlamps, putting on beam deflector stickies, then applying yellow paint to the glass. All headlamps had to be yellow in France, a law designed in wartime to distinguish French civilian vehicles, but retained until reversed by EU conformity standards in 1993.

There was a magic in sailing away from the White Cliffs and seeing the French coast gradually coming into view, followed by the unfamiliarity of driving on the right.

The most scary part was knowing that French drivers treated priorité a droite as a sacred right and, particularly within towns, would zoom out from any old side road without even looking. It was easy to forget, and the odd fright ensued.Read More »

Verdun

The memorial museum at Verdun in Eastern France gives a striking impression of this central point of one of the key battles of WW1. Between 1916 and 1917 French and German generals rained down uncountable munitions on soldiers in a hell on earth, with multiple initiatives and counter-initiatives. The museum gives a good feel for the reality of that war for those involved – a sobering experience.

As at the Somme, the result was essentially stalemate, with hundreds of thousands killed on both sides and a traumatised generation of Europeans and their allies.

Fortunately the Americans came along and sorted the battle out with overwhelming force. But nobody got the subsequent politics right at Versailles and we had to go through the whole thing again with WW2.

europe founding fathersThe Bishops Palace in Verdun has an exhibition showing how the whole experience led to the establishment of the movement towards a united Europe, including pioneering spirits such as Jean Monnet and Winston Churchill. What an inspirational project that was, after the horrors of the extended World War – indeed it still is for many people.

europe founder chuchill
Churchill

Sad that weak UK governments have created the Brexit process because of disagreements they were not willing to work at and resolve within the EU.

And equally sad that European politicians have not so far shown the vision to help the UK around its genuine problems.

Ghent

The Friday SquareIn the square of the Vrijdagmarkt in the delightful medieval centre of Ghent in Belgium, there is a statue of a local luminary – Jacob van Artevelde. He is so honoured because Ghent survived the 100-year war between England and France due to his efforts at ensuring neutrality and maintaining links with England. The statue points towards England.

Of course England has always had close ties with Europe, and periods of major influx of Europeans, such as the Romans, Angles, Saxons, Vikings, Normans. And we’ve been involved in so many continental wars over the centuries, culminating in the World Wars of the 20th century, when we took in many more as refugees.

The wise men of the immediate post-war world decided to link the countries of Europe together to avoid the possibility of future pointless wars, encouraged by the British, and Winston Churchill in particular. Of course this led to today’s European Union.

Strange then, that unscrupulous UK politicians have fostered the very nationalism that potentially leads to wars to engineer the UK’s exit from that Union. Something about ‘taking back control’ and ‘making Britain great again’ – the freedom to go off on our own, ‘do deals’, form alliances, and repeat unlearned lessons of history.

They should be ashamed of themselves.

Hopefully the duped UK populace will support a change of course in time.

Inline image by Sergey Ashmarin, via Wikimedia Commons

Biophilia and Necrophilia

Erich_Fromm
Erich Fromm in 1970

In The Heart of Man, first published in 1964, Erich Fromm looks at the problem of good and evil from several interesting perspectives. One is that of the ‘love of life’ versus the ‘love of death’, or biophilia versus necrophilia. We all have within us these opposing tendencies, so there are questions of balance and direction in life.

What is the difference? “Life is characterised by growth in a structured, functional manner, the necrophilous person is driven by all that is mechanical.” Really be in the natural world to know what life is. The opposite is to live in fear, desire control and predictability, demand ‘law and order’.

As a former concentration camp inmate, Fromm was obviously heavily influenced by that experience, and Adolph Hitler provided his supreme example of a necrophilous person, with Stalin not far behind.Read More »

Inside someone’s game

“Some of us are trying very hard to make things better, but an attack like this reminds us once again that we are inside someone’s game.”

These were comments made by local Afghans reacting to the ‘mother of all bombs’ recently dropped by the US, as reported by Yes Magazine.

The suffering Afghans are well and truly stuck within the games played by their politicians, the Taliban, the Americans and other players. Indeed, we are all in some way ‘inside someone’s game’, usually among the rich and the powerful.

Brexit provides a good example – a game invented and fomented by those with a particular perspective on power and who should wield it, played against the European institutions that tend to act as a brake on their power, all cloaked in a populist, nationalistic and xenophobic framework.

As these games pan out, the important thing is that we actually attend to what is really happening and what is required in the situation, and do not get carried away by the mass mind encouraged by the game. If you’ve ever felt the intense crowd feeling at a football match, you will know how easy it is to be swept away by the emotions of the game.

The nightmare unfolds

Thus my Brexit Nightmare unfolds, and the EU is informed of UK intention to leave, triggering article 50.

Sensible politicians in UK and EU would by now have got together and found a path forward. But commonsense behaviour is not the order of the day, and right wing nationalistic bigotry sounds off against EU purist fanatics.

In the midst of all this Theresa May, and no doubt many European politicians, hope to find a compromise that will keep the majority happy. But she seems too beholden to the right wingers, does not appear to have built the necessary bridges in Europe, and suffers from the effects of the years of David Cameron slagging off the EU and refusing to constructively engage. All to keep the tories united and in power.

What chance the EU can agree on a solution that is not punitive for both parties, each hoping for jam tomorrow?

Thus the efforts of 40 years, of several generations of politicians, are slowly unravelled in the name of ‘taking back control’, which simply means a bit of power moved from Brussels to London. All fired by concerns of immigration, which everybody forgot to say is the price of a thriving modern economy. And at a time when the great globalisation project on which Brexit was premised is being rolled back.

Thus the UK slowly drifts into a less prosperous future, where the right wing slowly achieves it’s long term aim of undoing the welfare state and national health service. Who will suffer most – the old and the poor,  the turkeys who voted for Christmas. In fact everyone will suffer, as travel and commerce become more bureaucratic, the pound goes down even more and prices go up.

And where is the UK political opposition? Centre left leaders appear to have become irrelevant.

A nightmare indeed. Let’s hope we wake up soon.

The year the good guys lost

From many perspectives, 2016 was a disturbing year, when many of the certainties of the post-WW2 consensus broke down. All over the world, forces seem determined to put the clock back – break down the EU, vote in authoritarian right wing governments, re-establish white supremacy in US, and US dominance over world, re-create the USSR, re-establish the caliphate, stop the establishment of democracy,  establish Chinese dominance in E Asia… The spectre of the uncertain 1930s hovers in the air.

It is easy to be discouraged. We just need to remember the truism that the day is always darkest just before the dawn. And the only thing we can influence directly is our own psyche and doings in the world. There is always room for hope, and being the best we can in the world, fulfilling our own true selves.

See the Dalai Lama’s quote in the featured image.

I was brought up watching Westerns on TV. Remember, the good guys always won, and sometimes villains were redeemed.

Quote and featured image from Brainyquotes

Hair of the Dog

Or should it be ‘Out of the Frying Pan…’.

Forty years of the great neoliberal globalisation project has taken its toll in terms of destroying jobs and communities across the West. Of course there have been winners and losers, and as ever the super winners are the rich and super rich.

As many commentators have observed, the resulting discontent has been a major cause of the phenomena of ‘Brexit’ in the UK and ‘Trump’ in the US.

Europe has been protected from some of the extremes of neoliberalism by its tradition of social democracy and looking after the people. The European Commission, for all its faults, has been a bulwark against some of the forces of free trade, not afraid to take on the biggest corporations.

What a paradox then, that Brexit appears to be leading the UK into the hands of a free market right wing. The UK parliament, lacking even any safeguarding constitution, will be the only defence against global forces driven by the rich and powerful. Trade will appear to be all that matters in the global race to the bottom – surely creating more of the problems that are so concerning to people who wish to rip up the European project.

More paradox in the US, where electors appear to have chosen a leader from that very super rich class that has caused the problems they are concerned about – moved jobs to China, kept their money out of the country rather than invest, fought against social and environmental changes, demanded tax reduction or simply avoided paying taxes… Of course, his chosen team is mostly also from that class.

Paradoxically, it is just possible that reality and the occasional influx of common sense will ensure that it turns out all right. Let’s hope so.

Featured image ‘Killer chihuahua’ by David Shankbone, via Wikimedia Commons

 

 

Run by abandoned children?

I was just pointed at the 2014 article by Nick Duffel in The Guardian Why boarding schools produce bad leaders, which, based on his research, makes a persuasive case that premature abandonment in a boarding school environment damages the psychological development of the individuals involved.

“It leaves them ill-prepared for relationships in the adult world and the nation with a cadre of leaders who perpetuate a culture of elitism, bullying and misogyny affecting the whole of society… turns out people who appear much more competent than they actually are. They are particularly deficient in non-rational skills, such as those needed to sustain relationships, and are not, in fact, well-equipped to be leaders in today’s world.”

Now look at the UK parliament and what do we see – a culture of elitism, bullying and misogyny. Look at our recent history with Europe – David Cameron appears to have spent his years in office grandstanding with Europe rather than developing relationships. The result – he had no allies when he needed them, and we are saddled with a damaging Brexit. The job was to make Europe work, not to break it.

The whole EU referendum debate was between these people, the ‘big personalities’ – Farage, Cameron, Osborn, Johnson, Gove – having the unreality of an Oxford Union debate where an interesting motion was being debated, but perhaps not really in touch with the importance of what it was they were debating. Did they ever really address the ‘big picture’ rather than the simplistic polarity of ‘economy vs immigration’, which will always be a compromise.

Duffel goes on to describe ‘privileged abandonment’:

“Prematurely separated from home and family, from love and touch, they must speedily reinvent themselves as self-reliant pseudo-adults… Paradoxically, they then struggle to properly mature, since the child who was not allowed to grow up organically gets stranded, as it were, inside them. In consequence, an abandoned child complex within such adults ends up running the show.”

Look at the ridiculous childish put-downs that are a staple of parliamentary ‘debate’, particularly at Prime Minister’s Questions. Look at the ridiculous attachment to centuries-old traditions that simpy make parliamentary procedures look farcical.

So are we really being run by immature adults with abandoned child complex, big egos lacking empathy, and is that why things are such a mess in these post-Brexit days?

If so, do we really want another of them to be the next prime minister?

 There is much more insight in Duffel’s article and , no doubt, in his books and on his website http://woundedleaders.co.uk/