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...a blog by Richard Flowers

Monday, April 03, 2017

Day 5932: The Firebird and the Dragon

B-Day:

So it has happened. Theresa May has sent the “dear John” to Donald Tusk (good elephant name, just sayin’) to let him know we are all shooting ourselves in all of our flappy feet by triggering Article 50.

Remember, if we all get BEHIND the Prime Monster, then when SHE goes over the cliff… we DON’T have to follow!

The Brex Maniacs tell us to be optimistic. So I’ll tell you what I am optimistic about: we CAN turn this around. We can FIX this. WE CAN WIN.

Let me put it in a story:



Never upon a time… the Island of Briton was without magic or stories. And the people were sad and angry.

So the King and the Queen put up a proclamation and asked: who among the free citizens will go to faraway lands to return with a magical animal to bring stories to the people.

From the people who stepped forward, the King chose a rich country squire, who spoke with clever words how he knew better than anyone what the people needed. But the Queen picked a stable lass who came from the city with a lot of pluck and a cheeky wink.

So each went out on a boat.

The rich man, who was very old and very wise, sailed off to the lands of iron and gold and returned with a Dragon. And the maid who was younger but some would say wiser, set her boat towards the sun and returned with a golden Firebird.

And the King said to the Queen, the Dragon is very large, and very cunning and very very strong: it can protect us from all of our enemies and they will fear and respect us. What good is your songbird, then?

And the Queen said to the King: what use is a land ravaged by your Dragon. My Firebird will sing and give people hope.

And the Dragon was just as large and just as cunning and even stronger than the King had said, but it was also envious, and avaricious, and gluttonous, and full of angry fire. And it ravaged the land from end to end, eating many of the people and stealing all of their money, before crawling into a deep cave and coiling up to sleep on its huge hoard of stolen gold in the dark heart of its dungeon lair.

And the people heard phoenix song and had hope.

The Dragon woke up angry and afraid. It didn’t like this at all. And it flew out of its cave in a fury to find the Firebird and burn it to ashes.

But from the ashes, the Firebird was reborn to sing its song again.

This made the Dragon even more afraid and even more angry and it came and burned the Phoenix to ashes again. And stomped on the ashes for good measure.

But you cannot kill a song like that. And the Firebird was reborn to sing once again.

Time after time the Dragon burned the Firebird. And time after time, the Firebird came back. Hope born again and again, in spite of every defeat.

And seeing all this, the people started to sing the Phoenix song. Just a few at first. But more and more. And this made the Dragon so frightened that it went away and hid.

And the people were able to live in hope and happiness, at least for a while, until enough of them might give in to greed, or fear, or envy and the Dragon might come back.

Because Dragons live forever. But hope never dies.

We are the Firebird, the Bird of Freedom; however much they burn us, we keep coming back. And we can beat the Dragon of fear and anger. With hope.



As a fluffy elephant, inheritor of the WOOLLY MAMMOTHS, I might just have a better claim to be a NATIVE Briton that any of you monkey-people who wandered here over the Doggerland in the last Ice Age or the many peoples, Romans, Anglo-Saxons, Danes, Normans, and all the rest who migrated here since.

I am English, and like most English I am a bit of a MONGREL. I’ve been a Londoner, an East-Ender; my Daddies are from Stockport; one is half-Scottish half-American; the other is of Yorkshire stock; we are from ALL OVER.

But Europe is my home and my family, a family that has spent my entire life – and my DADDIES’ entire lives (which is AGES!) – working for peace and prosperity, through art and science, through learning and living together as much as through trade. We make each other so much better off in so many more ways than just money. We show the World that there is another way, a better way, than wars and dictators.

The Leave campaign – never fact based – placed its great emotional appeal on two weapons: the grass is always greener and nostalgia for a better past.

Well BOTH OF THOSE ARE ON OUR SIDE NOW.

I want people to remember the great days, the glory days when stopped being the SICK MAN of Europe and started to get better off, when we could AFFORD an NHS that treated people on time, when we could HALVE child poverty, when we could SAVE Bosnia AND protect the Falklands, when we could confidently INTRODUCE Human Rights and Freedom of Information, when we could feel we were good.

I want to them to remember ECONOMIC MIRACLES and COOL BRITANIA and remember that they happened WHEN WE WERE IN THE EU.

But this doesn’t need to be just nostalgia.

Europe will evolve without us, they have to, and hopefully they will become both a stronger economy and a fairer democracy. We have forfeited our right to be part of leading that change. But that does not mean we cannot continue to engage, to listen to what Europe wants, learn from them, help if we are able, if we are asked. Europe will be the green and pleasant land 21 miles away across the Channel.

The Tories have such a NARROW and PETTY vision of Britain, not a Great Britain but a GREY Britain, a cold offshore tax haven, under the choke of the Dragon.

But we can be BETTER THAN THAT. We WILL be better than that.

Tell the story of a Britain that listens to HOPE, not to FEARS, and takes our place again among the family of nations. The story of a people who are look bravely outward to new challenges, not inward to past failures. The story of how we can become again that Great Nation that leads in Europe, no need to cower away.

Tell them we ARE the Firebird. And we can SING.

Wednesday, March 08, 2017

Day 5909: Mr John Humphrys in Muddy Waters

Monday:


Today’s lesson: when @BBCR4Feedback call an hour early and say they can call back in an hour… they aren’t going to call back.

How did we get to there? Well, the usual start to the week – listening to Daddy Richard shout at the radio – was interrupted by a moment of shocked silence when, as he tweeted, THIS happened:

“Jaw dropping moment as John Humphreys asks: doesn't it muddy the waters if we call far right terrorist murder of Jo Cox "terrorism" #r4today”

Life in the Today Programme goldfish bowl...


That generated… a fair number of retweets and replies, one of which said we should make it a proper complaint to the BBC. So that’s what we did, and posted it up on the Facebook too:

“After a jawdropping moment on this morning's Today programme, I have submitted this complaint to the BBC, via http://www.bbc.co.uk/complaints/

During an interview with Assistant Commissioner Mark Rowley, in charge of Counter Terrorism, Mr Rowley warned the public should not forget the terrorist threat from right-wing extremists, and cited the murder of MP Jo Cox.
John Humphreys responded by asking "didn't that muddy the waters" and suggesting that the murderer Thomas Mair was mentally ill.
The judge, sentencing Thomas Mair, said: "There is no doubt this murder was done for the purpose of advancing a political, racial and ideological cause namely that of violent white supremacism and exclusive nationalism most associated with Nazism and its modern forms."
Dismissing genuine terrorism as actions of "lone mentally ill person" is factually wrong and dangerous to public safety. And the implication that terrorism is something done only be foreigners / non-white people / Muslims is dangerously close to accepting the premise of the racists that Thomas Mair represents.
If the police are describing the Jo Cox murder as terrorism, the BBC should not be questioning that, but asking itself serious questions about the climate of right-wing hate that has been allowed foment in the UK, for which the BBC by airing or repeating (as here) the views of these people bears some responsibility.

And THAT generated another lot of traffic and clearly a LOT of other people were quite cross too, because that was when the Radio FEEDBACK programme got in touch and asked if they could talk about that Tweet and the reaction to what Mr Humphrys said.

So they said that they would call between 10am and 1pm, Wednesday. Actually they called at 9.15, just as we were getting on the Jubilee line.

So, IF this ever happens to you, do not let them say: “it’s fine we will call you back in an hour”. No! You say “I WILL TALK TO YOU NOW”!

Anyway, here is what we WOULD have said:

Why was I so taken about by John Humphrys suggestion that calling the murder of MP Jo Cox terrorism was “muddying the waters”?


1.
The Facts – the police, the crown prosecution service, the sentencing judge all agreed that this was a politically motivated terrorist murder. These are not liberal snowflakes, they are serious people. Jo Cox’s killer, Thomas Mair, was psychiatrically examined and found to be in his own mind and fit to stand trial for his actions.

This is the BBC’s own report of the sentencing judge’s remarks: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-38076755 - note the emphasis on the high degree of planning and premeditation, as well as the political motivation. This was not the random act of a “madman”.

The right wing press – who have an agenda – might question this. But I expect very senior BBC journalists to know the facts and not repeat propaganda.

2.
The Context – the interview was with Assistant Commissioner Mark Rowley asking the public to contact the police with information if they are worried or suspicious about their neighbours. And as a Liberal, I’m not 100% happy with his “be afraid and inform on your neighbours” agenda here. So actually, I was giving him some credit when he was reminding people that there is far right political terrorism to watch out for as well. When Mr Humphrys interrupted. But if anything is going to “muddy the waters” it is the suggestion from the interviewer that some terrorism isn’t as worth while contacting the police about because it is a fascist rather than ISIS who is threatening people’s lives.

And I think you could tell that the Assistant Commissioner was somewhat taken aback by this sudden derailing of the interview, too.

3.
The Narrative – because it’s all very familiar to hear white terrorists described as “a lone wolf” or “mentally ill”. These excuses get repeated whenever a white person commits an atrocity like this. Anders Breivek who killed all those children in Sweden; Timothy McVeigh the Oklahoma bomber; Dylann Roof, the man who shot nine black churchgoers at a service in Charleston Carolina; the list goes on, back to the Unabomber and earlier.

The message is “white people don’t commit terrorism; only brown people do terrorism”.

And it’s wrong.

We don’t hear people challenging the idea that the murder of Lee Rigby was terrorism. We don’t hear people suggesting that the shoe bomber Richard Reid was mentally ill. And it’s not like we have no experience of white sectarian terrorism in this country.

The BBC has a responsibility not to perpetuate this myth, which leads to…

4.
The hate crimes – we’ve seen a surge in attacks against women and minorities, particularly people who are immigrants or even just perceived as immigrants, fuelled by the xenophobic language of the Leave campaign and UKIP and now even the more right-wing elements of the government. The murder of Jo Cox happened at the height of the most horribly divisive and racially charged referendum campaign and on very the day Nigel Farage was unveiling his Nazi-imagery-evoking “Breaking Point” poster.

And people want to deny there is a connection.

The right wing, the nationalists, want people to think that only foreigners can be terrorists. They want people to be afraid. But they don’t want it to come back on them. And they won’t take responsibility. They want to deny that there are extremist views on their side, and that among those extremists are some people who use violence and murder for their political ends.

I do not expect senior BBC journalists to be giving support to these people.

5.
The excuse – the excuse given in reply to my complaint was that John was just putting a challenging question. Well, firstly, it wasn’t a question. It might have had the form of a question, but it was just an assertion. It was not posed as a question, more a muttered aside. And it presupposes that Jo Cox murder could not be terrorism if the “question” put is whether that statement muddies the waters.

But also, if you’re going to ask challenging questions, why start at that point? Why not challenge the Assistant Commissioner over why the terror alert is still at the second highest level after years and years, and doesn’t that make it a bit pointless? Or challenge him on the threats that the police say that they’ve defeated – what sort of threats are we talking about: knife attacks, anthrax letters or something on the scale of 7/7? That would give the public a genuine insight into the threat level, in a way that questioning whether Jo Cox murder was terrorism would not.



The Farage agenda gets far too much of a free ride from the BBC already, with UKIP – or their proxies in the Tory Party – on the air far more often than their support however you count it would justify. But this was a particularly poor interview – unquestioning of the authoritarian agenda at the start and then then tossing in this unjustified assertion that would not have been out of place in the Daily Mail.

John Humphrys has a reputation to live up to. We should expect more of him.

Tuesday, February 07, 2017

Day 5882: The Prophecy

Tuesday:


This is a version of my entry to the “Britain in 2030” essay competition run by “Your Liberal Britain”. But because of their 500-word limit you lucky readers get about 50% more stuff!

Congratulations to winner, Lee Howgate, and all the runners up.

Now… I feel a vision coming on…



It is 2030 and Tim Farron’s Liberal Democrat-led government is seeking re-election after a remarkable if turbulent five years.

Sal Brinton, elected as presiding officer of the new Senate of the Commonwealth of British States and Nations, reflects on the three outstanding achievements of the Lib Dem Prime Minister.

First is the rescue of the economy from the disastrous protectionist experiment – the so-called “Trump Slump”. Freedom to trade and travel across 35 countries of the European Union has seen a flourishing of new ideas and new jobs. The young people who had felt their future torn away by “Brexit” rediscovered a new global sprit of Britain. The older generation have remembered that they actually liked going to Europe. True, the end of the pound was a high price to pay for readmission, and the process nearly foundered because of it, but the huge boost given to the economy by joining the Euro at such an advantageous rate has left many wondering at the “Project Fear” scare stories of the discredited Brexiteers.

Second was the healing brought about through the “Big British Conversation”, inspired by the way that new members of the Liberal Democrats in 2015 came up with new ways for the Party to review its goals and policies, which was the starting point for the constitutional reforms. For the first time people across Britain had felt that their ideas were being listened to, that they were in control of the outcome. Not everyone got what they wanted, but almost everyone felt the outcome was fair enough. The conversation has even been such a success that Ambassador Clegg is now being asked to help the Union roll out a similar process to rebuild the institutions of Europe.

Agreeing the framework for government devolution, instead of the haphazard approach that had resulted in a wildly differing powers from Scotland’s Parliament to London’s Mayor, gave people back the feeling they were all of equal importance to the country. Regional identities such as Cornwall, Wessex, Mercia, Yorkshire and Northumbria re-emerged when, after years of nationalist demands for an English identity, it turned out that there wasn’t one.

No one had expected Prince William to decline the throne, but no one was surprised when Kate Middleton-Windsor beat Tony Blair by a landslide to become our first elected Queen. Sean Bean had modestly laughed off moves to make him hereditary King of the North.

The axis of politics had shifted, from the old, backward-looking workers v capital left-right of the Twentieth Century, to the Twenty-First Century “Outward or Inward” of Liberal Internationalists versus Protectionists. The old two-party system had finally admitted it couldn’t cope, leading at long last to fair votes. While the right-wing Tories struggled on in alliance with former-Faragists in the newly-merged United Kingdom Conservative Party, some places saw up to four candidates competing for the label True Labour. Jeremy Corbyn remains leader of one of them. No one is sure which.

(As for Mr Farage, he was unable to take up the peerage offered him in the resignation honours of the last Tory Prime Minister as the House of Lords was abolished while he was still away on a six-month junket in America.)

Third, and in many ways most important, are the foundations laid for a future of opportunity.

Today, the Secretary of State for Sustainable Development Sarah Olney is at the ceremony to break ground on the first of four new fusion reactors, while Environment Secretary Liz Leffman cuts the ribbon on the latest tidal lagoon power plant and is able to announce that the Zero Carbon Britain target has been achieved. Health Secretary Norman Lamb will welcome the completion of the National Health and Care Service, and Home Secretary Caroline Lucas is widely praised for the latest figures that show implementing Liberal Democrat reforms to the drugs law has both cut crime and the number of people sent to prison.

On the World stage, Foreign Secretary Alistair Carmichael is at the United Nations getting them to agree to establishing no-fly zones and safe havens that will protect civilians threatened with war. He was right to resist calls to join further American military adventures, and instead we have pioneered the use of drone aircraft for delivering humanitarian aid not bombs. Meanwhile our forces in the Joint European Defence Initiative, led by Lord Ashdown, have now participated in four UN Peacekeeping Actions and rescued more than a million refugees from the Mediterranean.

Britain is getting back to work. British-made Jaguar-Tesla self-driving electric autocars are driving themselves to France, Germany, Italy and Poland. West Country Hemp is already established as a world leading brand. ARM holdings has bought out the remains of Apple, and are planning to launch a “retro” ZX iPhone. British and international cast and crew are filming Star Wars Episode XII at Elstree. People are working fewer hours but producing more, and Chancellor Ed Balls (International Labour) will announce the increase of the Citizens’ Income, sharing the growth in GDP.

We will build our success on openness to bold new ideas, to sharing our wealth, and on being part of the ever-wider family. This is now a Liberal Britain.

Alas, it’s only just over a month later, and this already seems shockingly naïve. The notion that we might somehow swerve and avoid the worst of Brexit and Trump Presidency has been shown to be hollow in the light of Theresa May’s Lancaster House speech setting out her 12-point plan for a hard-as-nails cliff-edge Brexit and a first fortnight from the new Administration in Washington that has seen a blizzard of executive orders and Constitution-baiting and plumbed new depths of deceit, from illusory crowd sizes to invisible walls to imaginary massacres.

Theresa May makes her plans if not clearer at least fractionally less opaque – and they are plans for a cold and cheerless tax haven Britain, lowest common denominator Britain without social care and a rundown NHS, where the Fat Cats can protect their assets and the just about managing just about can’t.

Now firmly in the claws of the Brextreemists, they drag her further and further to the exploitation right, seeming almost gleefully to desire the failure of our exit negotiations so they can go buccaneeringly alone, quite wilfully ignorant to the fact that we can’t just “adopt WTO tariffs” without the agreement of the WTO’s 169 members, one of whom is the EU.

And our non-opposition Opposition of Jeremy Corbyn is three-line-whipping his Labour rabble to support the Tories as Theresa takes her suicide-leap into the arms of the odious Trump.

And as Boris “punishment beatings” Johnson tells us that it trivialises the holocaust to compare Theresa’s fawning love-in with the man who has placed an actual White Supremacist in charge of America’s security with the rise to power of the 30’s iteration of Fascism, satire lies weeping and bleeding.

So what use is a fluffy little homespun future, when all about us the darkness gathers and the very worst of human spirit is in ascendance? All the use in the world, if it gives you hope.

Find hope where you can.

History sometime rhymes in odd ways. After the Scottish Independence Referendum, the Nationalists were galvanised and swept to stunning victories in Holyrood and Westminster elections. I think a lot of people assumed the EU Referendum would be the same. Except the SNP lost that Referendum, whereas the Farragist Nationalists won on Brexit. And as in Scotland, oddly rhyming, it is the losing side that is now winning.

Support is coming back to the Liberal Democrats. Sometimes in very surprising places. We understand the big swings to the Gold Party in Remain areas like Witney and sensationally Richmond Park, but there are some even bigger swings in those Labour/Leave heartlands of Sunderland and Rotherham. This cannot just be a surge of Remainiac votes; there’s got to be some change of mind behind this.

Perhaps what united and energised the people in Scotland wasn’t crude “nationalism”; it was a sense of a bright future ripped away.

Perhaps what’s behind this change of mind, is a sense that this is not the change people voted for.

Find hope where you can.

Stay strong, my fluffy lovelies, stay safe. Resist the urge to fight hate with hate. Though the darkness closes around us, there is still a hope of light. We will build that Liberal Britain. One day.

Saturday, December 24, 2016

Day 6202: DOCTOR WHO: Steven Moffat’s The Abominable Bride

Christmas


Last Christmas… was the Doctor Who Christmas Special from two years ago, but last Christmas we got “The Husbands of River Snog”, and this year – to save you from tears – I’m going to review the Special from last Christmas. Which isn’t “Last Christmas”. Are you with me so far?




Time can be rewritten. And so can Doctor Who Christmas Specials. The human colony of Mendorax Dellora, as charming and Christmassy a redressing of the sets from “Face the Raven” as you could ask for, feels a lot like a return to earlier Moffat Christmases, whether Sardiktown in “A Christmas Carol” or the town of Christmas in (shudders) “The Time of the Doctor”; the crashing spaceship is reminiscent of the also-meteor-struck Titanic in “Voyage of the Damned” or more apropos the crash of the Byzantium in “The Time of Angels” or Amy and Rory’s honeymoon liner in (again!) “A Christmas Carol”. Crashing spaceships are the new “I Wish It Could Be Christmas Every Day”. You start to get the feeling Mr Moffat’s doing this deliberately.


Steven Moffat, the Grand Moff, has always treated the story of Doctor Who as a palimpsest, even his own works, going back again and again to re-write and over-write what has been before. And always, it seems, to reject closure. He’s never happy to just live with things that end. Even his most famous killer monsters, the Weeping Angels don’t kill – they send you back in time for more life. He’s going to be inconsolable when he has to finally hand over to Chibnall. He’s forever reaching for that get-out clause, to – as the Eighth Doctor might put it – hold back death. Whether it’s rewriting the end of the Time War to save Gallifrey, or going literally to the end of all the Worlds to snatch an endlessly extended extra moment from Clara’s death.

This time he even has his own creation, River Song, accuse him of doing it:

“There’s always a loophole. You wait until the last minute and then you spring it on me. […]
But you will. You'll wait until I've given up hope. All will be lost, and you'll do that smug little smile and then you'll save the day. You always do.”

The life of River Song was always bounded by the fact that it ended where it began back at the Library. Even then, he wouldn’t let her go, giving her a cyber-heaven to inhabit. OR even come back from, in “The Name of the Doctor”.

And he does the same thing again here, giving River and the Doctor one last night together, at the Singing Towers on Darillium… and then teasing it out to twenty-four years. Eventually we’ll have to stop renewing and just return!

In a way, though, it is very Doctor-ish, to keep cheating death, tricking his way out of death.

But you only get a commendation for reprogramming the Kobayahi Maru the first time.


Having said all that, the opportunity to do a screwball comedy across time and space with two of the finest actors working today, written by an author with genuine talent for farce, does kind of make the exercise worthwhile.

All the time they are on the screen together is delightful. Their timing, their chemistry, their obvious enjoyment of the fun they are having.

The supporting cast – makes shrugging gesture – mm, less so.

I’ve never been that taken with Greg Davies, nor the brand of shouty acting that he’s been asked to deliver for the role of King Hydroflax here. Like someone who’s seen Brian Blessed but not understood the subtlety of menace that he can bring to, say, Caesar Augustus, a role that Hydroflax ought to resemble. But, he’s actually there as a slapstick prop, a head-in-a-bag to be tossed about like the quips that Capaldi and Kingston exchange, so I was still laughing out loud at pretty much every scene he was in.

More distressingly, Matt Lucas’s as Nardole was quickly quite irritating: whiny and snivelling and just not given very funny things to do or say. Which is a shame as he’s the one returning this year, though thankfully he appears to have – somehow – got his body back.

I did, however, enjoy the outrageously oleaginous Maître D’, Flemming, played by Rowan Polonski. It’s through his delicious banality of evil that we understand that the passengers of the starship Harmony and Redemption – arrived at in a sudden plot swerve halfway through – don’t believe in harmony and don’t deserve redemption.

And Mr Scratch, River Song’s buyer – not quite Doctor Who versus Scratchman, but whose flip-top head seems very lifted from the New Adventure “All-Consuming Fire” – was very nicely sinister, in a Colony Sarf sort of a way.

But Kingston and Capaldi make a glorious double act. For him, it’s a joy to see the Doctor laughing and grinning his way through the adventure, getting to be the companion, enjoy doing the “bigger on the inside” right, and be the one who knows more than River, just this once. For her, there’s such a range of new and different facets of the character to portray: the lies within lies, or perhaps it’s not lies, it’s acting. When we first meet her, she’s playing Darth Vader, sweeping down the boarding ramp in flowing cloak; then she’s role-playing devoted wife – and so over the top we’re sure she’s not very good at it; then it’s the cold assassin, plotting a decapitation with whom she assumes is a pliantly complicit barber-surgeon; then she’s heroically angry with Hydroflax the butcher for his theft from the Halassi of the diamond that’s stuck in his cranium… and that’s all in the five minutes on board the joyfully retro flying saucer (nice that King Hydroflax can accessorise his spaceship and his robot body, by the way – though I suppose he does have plenty of cash…)

What River’s acting does – and the Doctor notes this when he asks “Is this what you’re like when I’m not about?” – is to flag up the way this story is about different perspectives.

Hydroflax, for example, on the one hand he’s worshipped by millions; on the other he’s loathed as a monster; or the Doctor just thinks he’s a moron; and in the end his own robot body decides he’s just rotting meat.

The passengers on the Harmony and Redemption: are they innocent travellers, as we at first assume? Or are they killers and planet burners, as River tells us? Or are they a cult of Hydroflax followers as they reveal themselves to be?

Even the diamond, the Halassi Androvar, the McGuffin that drives the plot, to the Doctor it’s just downpayment on a dinner date.

And so River herself. Which perspective of her do we take away? Hero or villain? Archaeologist or thief? Righteous or rogue? Warrior or wife? As many faces as, well, as she has husbands.

And what about Moffat? Does he keep coming back and rewriting or is he still trying to capture different perspectives on the same ideas? When – like Big Finish – he inserts more and more stories into tinier and tinier gaps, when he gives Clara immortality in her last heartbeat, is he fishing from an infinitely tiny well or like a fractal unfolding discovering infinite regress within the snowflakes?

Does it even matter so long as it’s fun?


“Happy ever after” doesn’t mean forever, River tells us, just for some time. Perhaps it would be better put as “they lived ever happy after”. But some things even Moffat cannot rewrite.

Merry Christmas.

Monday, October 17, 2016

Day 5769: Marmite Wars are Merely the Beginning

Monday:


Today Captain Clegg launched his third pamphlet on the challenges facing the UK due to Brexit. This one is about food and drink.

Nick Clegg at the National Liberal Club


If you’re still watching POLDARK on the BBC you will know it’s a tale of noble-but-impoverished workers of mine and land, ground down by the machinations of sinister bankers who manipulate the laws and the local dimwit Tory MP for their own ends, and so must turn to smuggling to get goods past the exorbitant import tariffs.

What you might NOT realise is that this is a BOLD sci-fi drama set in the DISTOPIAN post-Brexit FUTURE! With occasional topless scything.

And the reaction was basically terrifying. (To Brexit, not the topless scything!)

That’s not the position of Captain Clegg – who was at pains to point out that we should definitely be trying to save people from their fears by at least agreeing a Norway-style EEA agreement that maintains our trading links.

No, the fear was present in the questions arising, questions from small farms, from small retailers – corner shops and newsagents – who are all already staring down the barrel of disaster as the collapse in the pound sees their prices soar; the sort of everyday working folk whose concerns for their businesses and livelihoods and families are dismissed from the ivory towers of Conservatories like Jacob Rees-Mogg who’s never had to do a day’s work in his life and puts down the questions of ordinary people as “just more Project Fear”.

And another very good question came from the Commonwealth countries who can see their gateway deals to the EU via the UK collapsing and WTO trade tariffs of 40% on chocolate or 50-60% on beef and lamb being imposed by the careless diktat of Liam “Fantastic Dr” Fox, disgraced former Defence Minister and not-yet-disgraced (‘96 days and counting’) International Trade Minister.

Across the continent, the papers are not full – as Cap’s Nick put it – of the cunning of Mr Fox, the honesty of David Davis or the diplomacy of Boris Johnson. No, our friends and allies are instead AGHAST at the language and occasional downright xenophobia coming out of this chaotic Tory government, particularly things like the conference speech of the “Go Home” Secretary, Ms Green Amber Rudd. Less of a dog whistle; more of a traffic light stuck on stop!


Prime Monster Theresa May (or May Not) holds out against delivering ANY answers beyond Brexit means Brexit means a slap on the wrist for ministers who dare to speak the unspeakable, but insists that she has the power to Invoke Article 50 without taking a vote in Parliament. Talk about “taking back control!” Will those Tories – David Davis, John Deadwood, Peter Bone, Rees-Moggy? – who made such a BIG THING of Parliamentary Sovereignty call her to account? Or will they sell their principles in a heartbeat?

MPs were EXPRESSLY told that the Referendum would be only ADVISORY – or else they might have voted for more stringent checks, such as a two-thirds majority, or other thresholds – and those Brexiteers who are trying to say that in passing the referendum BILL Parliament has already voted on Brexit are clearly trying to take away the democratic and sovereign rights of Parliament.

Noted thinker A. C Grayling is writing to every MP to ask them why they are allowing this, and that they should demand a debate AND VOTE on the issue.

It is, after all, their DUTY to “take back control”.

It is clear that unchecked, Mrs Maybe’s unelected administration will see us BOUNCED into the most CHAOTIC TORY BREXIT!

Unilever and Tesco may have come to an accommodation that sees the Marmite back on our shelves, but that’s far from the end of it.

We currently SELL more than £18 billion of food abroad, one of our biggest export industries, and two thirds of that goes to the EU. Tariff and other barriers, like regulations or defining chocolate to be only high cocoa solids, that would exclude British chocolate altogether, will more than eliminate any benefits of the cheaper pound. And THEN we have to compete with the highly subsidised EU food production because THEY’LL still have the much-derided Common Agricultural Policy that WAS pouring billions into OUR farms.

But also we EAT more than we can GROW, so we have to BUY IN more than 25% of the food we need, and more than 70% of that is from Europe.

Companies importing food are going to face a choice of three options: put up prices – difficult in a cutthroat market with discounters already at their heels; cut into their own profits – which are already very tight, especially for small firms that import ingredients to make into prepared foods; or stop stocking certain lines altogether – the Marmite option.

For the moment, big importers will have their prices protected – either by long-term agreements with their suppliers or by insurance (called “hedging”) that will cover the higher cost of buying stuff with a pound that is worth up to 18% less.

But small companies who can’t afford big insurance are being hit with those choices already.

And even the bigger companies, their contracts will run out and, as Tesco discovered, new agreements will need to be made; those insurance policies are to smooth out short-term the ups and downs of the currency markets, not to protect long-term from a major devaluation. And then the higher prices will have to be paid.

In the next year to two years we will see a (first) big spike in food inflation, and that will hit the least well off the hardest.

We need to work RIGHT NOW to protect against an even bigger hit from collapsing out of the Single Market.

As Master Yoda so very nearly said of Bojo’s foreign policy: Victory? There was no victory. Begun, this clown war has.

Steve Bell in the Grauniad

Saturday, August 27, 2016

Day 5714: Brexit Means Batshit or Brexit means Bullshit

Tuesday:


“Brexit means Brexit,” says Prime Minister Theresa May. But what does Brexit means Brexit really mean? You might as well say Wiff Waff means Wiff Waff, for all the facts it tells us.

The dilemma… or trilemma or quadlemma… that faces Mrs May is: how does she satisfy all the different Leaver’s different reasons? And of course she can’t. They’re utterly irreconcilable.

The real choice facing the Prime Minister is whether she faces down that section of the voters who will scream betrayal most loudly or she accepts trashing the economy to satisfy people who voted for magic unicorns.


Look, either you can determine all your own rules. And no one will do business with you. Or you can compromise and have trade.

So either you are batshit crazy. Or you were bullshitting when you said we would “take back control”.

Here’s why:

People who voted Leave will give you one of a dozen different reasons for why they voted – almost all variations on the cry of “*I’m* not a racist!”.

(This refusal to admit that immigration was the big driving force of the Leave Campaign that is the sort of reprehensible moral cowardice that sees Labour’s Gisela Stewart happy to parrot the lies of Farage and Gove and then wring her hands at the entirely predictable (and indeed predicted) outcome.)

“We have valid reasons,” they say.

…Actually they mean “we have morally acceptable arguments” (not like the racists).

For an argument to be valid is has to be true:

  • “Europe stops us barring foreigners from entering the country” is true, but morally reprehensible.
  • “Europe is holding us back from free trade” is invalid because it’s nonsense.
  • “Europe prevents us from cutting workers’ holidays and doubling their working hours” is true but repugnant, and not the sort of thing that wins public support for your buccaneering free marketers.
  • “We should be making our own laws” is invalid because the law needs to be the same for everyone if it’s going to work.


“We should make our own laws”, is one of those big assertions that Leave say won them the campaign. It gained a lot of traction in the referendum. And it’s total nonsense.

The law must apply equally to both sides in any agreement. Like, say, a trade treaty. If one side is going to say they can change the law (possibly on a whim) what is in it for the other side?

Suppose your next door neighbour says that they should make up the laws that govern their house. And they decide they don’t agree with those pesky laws about noise after midnight. Or fly tipping. Or that property is theft?

That’s just the same as when we get, say, UKIP’s Suzanne Evans (on Radio 4’s Westminster Hour) saying we don’t need follow the rules in Article 50 at all; we should just change the law in our own Parliament to leave. Reneging on the Lisbon Treaty would mean that no country on Earth would trust us with those “free trade agreements” that the likes of Ms Evans say it will be so easy to make.

There’s a section of the Leave vote who might be completely happy with that, with no trade with Europe at all. For them, the only satisfactory outcome will be to slam the door to the EU on our way out.

It’s probably not a large section, but you can bet it’s going to be a very, very noisy one.

And they are never going to be satisfied. Because that sort of isolationism is not going to be acceptable to anyone who wants to be able to buy bananas or avocados or for that matter petrol.

For absolutely anyone else, anyone who wants to be able to buy things from abroad and sell our stuff there too, then you are going to have to compromise. Starting by agreeing on the law – the rules – for your treaty.

What you cannot get is the completely disconnected from reality version where we want lots of trade with everyone… but they all agree to follow our rules, the sort of magic thinking represented in the Cabinet by “Fantastic” Dr Fox, the man already picking a fight with the empty room that is Boris Johnson’s Foreign Office.


Two months have passed since THAT vote. The Prime Minister has been able to take a holiday. Labour continue to stage their what can hardly be called leadership election. And thankfully, neither the World nor the British economy have ended in the meantime. In fact we have had positive economic figures for July: retail sales are up and unemployment is down.

But it’s early days. We haven’t actually done anything irreversible yet. It’s still difficult to see how we will not get a spike in inflation caused by the fall in the value of the pound – particularly once fuel bills start to go up in winter. And it’s an awkward question but where is the investment in jobs and trade going to come from, now that companies are looking more to the continental mainland for their European bases?

So far, Theresa May is Wile E. Coyote, running on empty air. We need to know whether what she’s got in her handbag is a parachute… or an anvil. Ideally before she looks down and notices the economic gravity.



We don’t want a recession. So what are the government doing to prevent a bump in the road turning into a shock to the system? Things have changed (or the vote was meaningless Miranda Hart look) so the government needs to say what changes it will make in response. Complacency and inertia won’t look so good with hindsight if things do go pear-shaped.

Putting off telling us what “Brexit” will mean stops the government telling us what actions they will take. “Brexit means Brexit” is actually damaging.

Sunday, July 03, 2016

Day 5662: Messages for Cheadle #4 - March for Europe

Saturday:

Not in Cheadle, but joining many thousands marching on Parliament to show support for the European Union, and to remind people that democracy means listening to the minority not just doing what the victors demand.

Liberal Democrats will give the 48% a voice that will not be silenced.



I’m marching today with thousands of others for a better future and a better Britain than we’ve seen in the last few weeks. Because standing together is better than splitting apart.

I’m marching because the best of British means never giving up. When you’ve taken a knock, to get up and try again. Because Brits aren’t quitters. Even in the rain! [assuming it’s raining]

I've seen a lot of reactions to the referendum. Anger. Grief. Despair. Denial. People who've lost their opportunities to travel, learn and work. People who feel they've had their future ripped away. I've felt those things too.

The country is split down the middle. People who feel left behind. People who feel they've been had by a leave campaign that's already weaselling out of every promise they made. And they just want the 48% to shut up. That's not democracy.

I've seen leaders of Tory and Labour Party panic. Fall into infighting. That's not leadership.

What we need now is hope.

Tim Farron has shown real leadership in this crisis. We accept the result of the referendum. But we're not going to stop making the case for an open, outward-looking Britain that remains a part of the EU.

The Liberal Democrats exist to build a free and fair society. One where no one is left behind. One that doesn't put the blame on migrants. One where there is a better future. For everyone.

Britain is better than this.

12000 people have joined us since the referendum, because they want to hope again.

Join us, and we can bring hope to a new generation.

If you want a better Britain that gets stuck in and doesn't quit, join us.
If you want a better Britain that stands for hope not hate, join us.
Most of all, if you want a fairer, better future for all of us, join the Liberal Democrats.