10. Living with Uncertainty

8 11 2017

And so months have passed, a general election come and gone and now Parliament seems to be  taken up with with sexual misbehavior scandals and claims. For a moment there is a pause while the media get taken up with the results of a computer hacking that yet again reveals questionable activities in respect of overseas money handling, but no doubt the pendulum of the news cycle will swing back again and the unsavory behaviour of those who have been voted to rule over us comes under the spotlight yet again – with yet again unpleasant revelations. And all the while the Brexit process continues or appears not to continue.  That is the thing about negotiations; it is like playing poker and a hand is not revealed until the end and until then, doubt, questions, and all the time the media piranhas circle and watch and then dart in with acrid words. It is not a pretty sight.

It seems to me that this whole process is designed to reveal the worst of mankind. Observe the politicians from all sides, squabbling, jeering, sneering, jousting among themselves, out to capitalize on every slow move, every unwise word, every foolish misbehaviour. The absence of statesmanship appears rife and the very ordinariness of these people shines out and we are left wishing for a Churchill or his like who will stand like a rock in critical times and give us hope, but we seem to look in vain.

And then the media. I watched the other day the Governor of the Bank of England give a press conference as he explained why he was going to raise the bank rate by a quarter of a percent.  It was a clear and comprehensive explanation. And then the floor was thrown open to the media to ask questions. The first came from a BBC representative and then a journalist from the Times. I have a friend in America who says they used to trust the BBC but no longer. I felt the same about the Times. Bias and criticism that is self-serving seems to be the name of the day so often.  Both these two men as they asked their questions left me thinking, “Were you not listening? He explained that just now – very clearly! Why are you asking such questions?” I am still a subscriber to the Times which I often enjoy for it is still, I believe, one of the most clear cut papers and yet it appears so often to allow that snide, edgy writing that looks for the worst.

I have been an observer for a number of decades, of the state of the nation as far as ‘moral outlook’ is concerned and have commented more than once  that I believe the decline in moral standards, the undermining of ethical standards, can be directly related to the decline in belief in God in our nation. I have watched it and I think it is virtually measurable. It is a fact. It is also, therefore, not surprising.

On a good day, each of us would subscribe to a society that goes with the second half of the Ten Commandments. You would be an idiot to say that you think stealing or murder or adultery are good things and indeed you could take the argument much further and suggest there are many more things that do NOT make for a good, just, and harmonious society, things which we wish were not part of our national community, and which I have tagged in the first three paragraphs above.  Most of us agree to these things but we simply don’t have the power not to do them. Self-help is the name of the game and it fails us, and so we are left with this cycle of revelation; the behaviour never changes just the revelation of what is happening. And yes, we are glad that the media are there, pouncing on these people higher in the pile of society from whom we expect better than we are getting, but then we become saddened and jaded by the whole thing.

Is there hope? Oh yes, there has to be otherwise we might as well take a trip to a Swiss euthanasia expert and end it all now.  Oh yes, there is hope, the hope that perhaps prayers will be heard, perhaps a voice of sanity will arise in the public consciousness and perhaps a spirit of honesty and integrity will sweep through the corridors of power, whether they be in Westminster or any other instrument of society.  But it is not enough simply to analyse; there must also be endeavors, little ones and big ones to bring goodness in the midst of the darkness – overcome evil with good as the famous apostle once said.

9. Democracy Assassination

30 10 2016

Brexit Blog 9:  Democracy Assassination

And so it goes on

In the fourth of these Brexit blogs, titled ‘The World of Posturing’ I warned about the various groups who sought to undermine the democratic will of the British people. I also, in Blog no.3, wrote about the impossibility of prophesying the future outcome of Brexit. Put these two together and look at what some very public figures have been saying recently and you provide an x-ray of the person in question, if I may put it like that.

Let me put before you three such figures who, in recent months, have stuck their heads up over the parapet of public awareness and revealed characters that, very mildly, are lacking (at least based on their most recent performances.)

Ken Clarke

Unwise Speaking:  Let’s start with a gem from the Times: “Mr Clarke, who first entered government in 1988 and left in 2014, claimed that the prime minister had no plan on how to execute Britain’s exit from the European Union.  Nobody in the government has the first idea of what they’re going to do next on the Brexit front,” he told the New Statesman.” (The Times 29th Sept 2016) 

He then went on to say, ““The idea that I’m suddenly going to change my lifelong opinions about the national interest and regard myself as instructed to vote in parliament on the basis of an opinion poll is laughable.”  So Ken Clarke has been made a member of Parliament over the years merely on the basis of “an opinion poll”? Here was a man we all thought to be intelligent and yet who puts this referendum, possibly the most important vote in thirty years, down as a mere “opinion poll”!!!!!

Accepting the majority in a democracy:  One of the comments at the end of that article rightly went on to question the idea that Ken Clarke could read the mind of the Prime Minister and, we might add, especially when his own mind is so closed.          For at least a century we have lived with party politics, and before that individuals, who disagreed with one another. It’s what democracy is about – being able to voice a view and letting there come a consensus of the majority, which the rest abide by.

I have often in this blog in the past commented how in this country we have moved away from ‘absolutes ethics’ or morality, and we are now observing the fruits of this in the anarchistic attitude that says today, you are wrong, I am right and I will do all I can to overturn you.  That essentially is what Ken Clarke has been saying. That is legitimate up to an election but after that, live with the majority decision; that’s what elections are all about.

Understanding ‘Negotiations’: Again and again, and I have commented on this more than once, there is this complete blindness, it seems, in some as to how you go about negotiations, and you do no show your hand until you have to. Even more, if you are not part of the policy making group in government, of course you may express an opinion, but beware of looking stupid if what you say ignores these obvious things.

Tony Blair

The Times speaks again:

The former prime minister risked angering supporters of Brexit by suggesting today that a vote could be held in parliament, or in a second referendum, on the new deal Britain strikes with the rest of the European Union. Mr Blair insisted that it was right to “accept the verdict of the people” delivered on June 23, but claimed that public opinion could change once the “reality” of Brexit becomes clear. The issue is not whether we ignore the will of the people, but whether … the ‘will’ of the people shifts  

He told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “When we held the referendum on June 23, we knew what we didn’t like about the European Union.  “But we haven’t yet seen the alternative. We don’t yet have the details of it … the reality of it.”  He said that if it becomes clear that the new EU arrangement does not make leaving “worthwhile” or tariffs will punish British business, “there has got to be some way, either through parliament, an election or a referendum” to rethink. Mr Blair has repeatedly made clear his opposition to the decision of 17 million voters to leave the EU.”

This is the man (admittedly looking every year of a ninety year old) over whom public opinion has been divided ever since in his wisdom he led us into a war against a despot who had – but didn’t have – weapons of mass destruction, without any real understanding of the workings of the Middle East and without any real plans how to help the country after the war was over. The result has been constant conflict and, some have said, been the breeding ground for militant Islam in the form of Isis. This is the man who now has the temerity to suggest that if you don’t like the outworking of an election, you can annul the election. If that had been applied to his time as PM it might have been considerably shorter! Apply that to Margaret Thatcher’s time in 10 Downing Street and she too might have departed the scene very much earlier with workers of all kinds breathing a sigh of relief.

Nicola Sturgeon

Now Nicola Sturgeon, head of the SNP, often comes over very well in the media. She has a winning smile and quite clearly, often has winning words. Without documenting her comings and goings over recent months, suffice it to say she has been playing the tables but for what end in mind, may still be a mystery.

If she was heading up a country that had wanted Independence a year or so back, and if she headed up a country in a strong financial position, her posturing might be understood. But to quote another source, “Just a few weeks ago, her officials released national accounts which show that, thanks to low oil prices, an independent Scotland would have the worst deficit in the EU, worse even than Greece. Independence would mean sado-austerity for Scotland.” (The Week 22nd Oct 2016) Scotland’s leaders appear to place their hopes after Brexit in going independent and attracting investment from the EU but the imponderables of that have had economists wondering.

The telegraph reported earlier this year, Income taxpayers in the rest of the UK will continue to subsidise Scotland by billions of pounds every year even after the Scottish Parliament wins control of the levy, a major new report published today has concluded.” (Telegraph 22nd March 2016) Since then Nicola Sturgeon has been pouring our reasons why their government is not overspending and seeking to make a case that greater freedom would enhance Scotland’s chances of increasing tax revenues. Highly speculative and equivalent in throwing more chips on the table at a poker game.

What haven’t we learnt?

Early on in these blogs I wrote about how so often the ‘experts’ and those in the know actually don’t know and are proved wrong. The falling pound, which I covered in the previous blog, is good news for exporters and bad news for home consumers and so, as I have watched recent articles, yes, yet again we have those bewailing the falling pound and saying nothing about how it has been benefitting others more generally, but still the articles come.

I referred not long back to Andrew Marr’s “A History of Modern Britain” and have just started to reread it. The opening page screamed at me, “We learn nothing from history.” He was writing about how everyone expected Winston Churchill to be re-elected in 1945: “Few people thought the wear leader could lose power. Most Labour leaders assumed he would be returned. So did the apparently well-informed City experts, the in-touch trade union bosses, the self-certain press, the diplomatic observers passing back the latest intelligence to Washington and Moscow.” They were all wrong!

Our last general election in which David Cameron came through triumphantly was a complete fiasco as far as the pundits, pollsters and the BBC prophesying throughout the evening, were concerned. I hear the echoes of a song from last century, “Oh when will they ever learn.”

A final conclusion: Question: How can journalists, MPs, columnists, commentators, and others pontificate so constantly about outcomes? Answer: Because there is such a tidal wave of reporting and commenting and abusive demeaning of the ‘others’ that there is little possibility in the years to come that anyone will be held accountable for these days of uncertainty, and so maybe Andrew Marr will write a history of this period and all that has gone on in it, with a starting page line, “We just didn’t know.”





8. Understanding the Pound

18 10 2016

Brexit Blog 8:  Understanding the Pound

Why is the Pound Important?

For many talk of ‘the Pound’ is confusing so here is an ultra-simple approach to ‘understanding ‘the pound’:

Imagine these exchange rates – we’ll use big figures for ease (but they are never this big):

  Pounds Sterling US dollars Euros
Week 1 1 4 6
Week 2 1 3 4
Week 3 1 2 3

What this imaginary table means is that

In week 1 you could exchange your pound for 4 dollars or 6 euros

In week 2 your pound will now get 3 dollars or 4 euros

In week 3 your pound will now get 2 dollars or 3 euros

In the language you see in the press,

In week 1 the pound is strong

In week 3 the pound is weak

A stronger pound is shown by a lower figure for pence per euro/dollar, as it takes less sterling to buy a euro or dollar

A ‘weaker pound’ is shown as a higher figure for the other currency, as it takes more sterling to buy that currency.

(The exchange rates go up and down according to international trade in currencies, rates of inflation and various other international economic factors)

See below, the cost of buying 1 dollar or 1 euro according to the above example table:

   1 US dollar 1 Euro  
Week 1 25p 16.6p Stronger pound
Week 2 33.3p 25p  
Week 3 50p 33.3p Weaker pound

Good news or bad news?

Let’s consider different people:

1. Holiday maker

In week 1, going to France you could have got 6 euros for your pound – lots to spend for few pounds used

Week 3, you only get 3 euros per pound, i.e. you either need to spend twice as many pounds to get the same number of euros or accept you will only take half the number of euros.

2. French Business man

He sells his item at home for 6 euros.

Over here his price tag will be £1 in week 1 but £2 in week 3

i.e. it will be less attractive (more expensive) here in week 3.

Consequences:  with a ‘weak pound’ imports are more expensive and will either not sell so well (luxury goods) or will push up cost of living (essential goods)

 3. British Business man

He sells his item at home for say £1

Over in France his price tag will be 6e in week 1 but 3e in week 3

i.e. it will be more attractive (cheaper) there in week 3

Consequences: with a ‘weak pound’ exports are less expensive and thus more attractive abroad. Good for British manufacturer who may expand his business, take on more staff, helps employment, puts more money into pockets for spending in UK.

(In reality the price ticket changes would not happen so quickly as there are usually a number of buffers [in money or goods held] that means prices take a little while to react.)

And what did the Press say?

Pound hits 31 year low as hard Brexit fears grow  (Oct 4th)

(Sounds bad news)

Sterling fell to a 31-year low against the dollar today amid fears over a so-called hard Brexit. Philip Hammond, the new chancellor, has warned the economy faces a “rollercoaster” ride.

(and then later….)

a 31-year low of 1.2643 against the dollar last night   Oct 7th


Sterling stuck in Brexit-inspired spiral (Oct 11 2016, The Times)

(a bad sounding headline followed by….)

The pound fell by half a cent against the dollar to $1.2382 yesterday as traders continued to worry about a possible “hard Brexit”.

(But near the end of the article….)

Lord King of Lothbury, the former Bank of England governor, told Sky News yesterday that fears over the behaviour of the pound since the referendum were overblown.

He said: “The economy was slowing somewhat before the [Brexit] vote and we are in a position where the rest of the world is not offering us much help. I don’t think we should fear [Brexit]. It’s not a bed of roses, but nor is it the end of the world.”

Indeed, a former International Monetary Fund executive has claimed that the slump in sterling is a blessing in disguise after years of overvaluation and helps to break the stranglehold of the financial elites over the British economy.

“The idea that Britain is in crisis or is on its knees before the exchange rate vigilantes is ludicrous,” Ashoka Mody, a former IMF deputy director for Europe now at Princeton University in the United States, told The Daily Telegraph.

The UK economy is rebalancing amazingly well. It is a stunning achievement that a once-in-fifty-year event should have gone so smoothly.”

(and also interestingly, reporting the same….)

Pound needs to fall further’  (The Telegraph – 11 October 2016)

The slump in sterling is a blessing in disguise after years of overvaluation and helps to break the corrosive stranglehold of the financial elites over the British economy, according to a former bail-out chief for the International Monetary Fund.  “It is desirable from every point of view. The idea that Britain is in crisis or is on its knees before the exchange rate vigilantes is ludicrous,” said Ashoka Mody, the IMF’s former deputy-director for Europe and now at Princeton University.


Don’t Panic – think!


7. More on Immigration and Borders

18 10 2016

Brexit Blog 7:  More on the Problem of Immigration and Borders

Picking up on Racism & Immigration

Without doubt, although one of the main planks of the Leave side was to do with curbing immigration and having secure borders, this does in fact present us with difficult areas to work through. We started thinking about racism earlier on in these blogs but I believe we need to emphasise a crucial point in much of today’s public thinking and argument. Our earlier definition about racism spoke about feelings of superiority and inferiority. I suggested that it is not racist to merely speak of the differences between nationalities. Indeed, I would go on to suggest that we should relish and enjoy our differences. I believe we will lose something if we lose our differences.

I hinted at or suggested that some nationalities on main-land Europe, even though being part of the bigger body, resent influences trying to make them the same as others on the other side of adjoining borders. Perhaps they don’t realise that this must be the ultimate goal of those who would want one and only one Federation of Europe. If you really follow the argument through, different languages and different practices speak of division and division is the anathema of those working for one Europe.  Possibly it has been some sense of this feeling that has resulted in a majority vote for leaving the EU in Britain and is also being seen in (at present at least) vocal minority parties in some of the EU nations, as we noted in an earlier blog.

The Particular Problem of Assimilating into a Country

Now perhaps I may also pick up on one further thought that I missed in earlier writings. It is on the question of assimilation of people who come from abroad and want to be part of our community. Now maybe at some later date I will wax eloquent on some of what I believe are good features of this green and pleasant land but for the moment I think it is fair to suggest that if someone wants to come to our country to benefit from job opportunities or benefits generally they should also be asked to truly become part of this community as it already is. As commented before, I realise we have not done well in this respect in the past but it is never too late to start thinking about it.

Now note the wording there – ‘this community as it already is’. Now I accept that communities in a modern world are likely to be changing all the time but – and I believe there is a big area here for debate and discussion which has not yet happened – there are likely to be a number of ‘norms’ of the beliefs and lifestyles of any particular country which it may wish to hold on to and therefore it is reasonable to accept they want to take steps to hold onto.

A number of times over the past thirty years various Prime Ministers and their governments in the UK have warily approached this subject with talk of citizenship and the like. The USA, after all, requires this of immigrants wishing to become American citizens. Our own governments have been wary about this because most have not wished to link what appear to be moral issues with nationhood. Nevertheless, the recent referendum threw up the issue of feeling excluded or not being cared for by government, which some have suggested was at the root of the referendum result, certainly in the Midlands and the North.

In her closing speech at the recent Conservative Party Conference, the Prime Minister used the word fairness some sixteen times I believe in her speech. Now that is certainly an indicator that she has taken note of various polls and research papers about how people felt, but one might hope that it is more than a mere political knee-jerk reaction and might in fact be a sign of a nation that isn’t afraid to face moral issues, talk about them and do something about them. It has to start somewhere.

So how do you bring people into the country and help them assimilate into the existing community and accept its norms? An intriguing model for this can be seen when desiring to be a permanent resident of the Cayman Islands, known in films at least, for being a ‘tax haven’ south of Cuba.   Having lived there for eight years an application for permanent residency will involve the individual showing that he/she is, to put it in the simplest of terms, a benefit to the islands, by way of such things as having an occupation that benefits the islands, no doubt including education, experience and training that will benefit the islands, perhaps have local investments and certainly be financially stable, and be able to show they are the local community minded and are involved in activities that benefit the community.

Don’t laugh, I am not going to suggest those rules are applied to the UK because half the population, I suspect, would fail!  Nevertheless, it may not be unfair to ask would be immigrants who intend to stay here more than a set short period be asked to show some sort of similar intent. Speaking reasonable English would be a good start. Good in theory but perhaps difficult in practice – which is why we should be talking about these sorts of things when we are talking about immigration, and we need to acknowledge we have a lot of years to catch up!

General Problem of Border Restrictions

But back to the problem of borders.  There appear to be three particular problems that we, and Europe generally, are struggling with to do with borders. They are as follows:

  1. The problem of security

France and Belgium have demonstrated painfully over the last few years, the problem of keeping out terrorists when you have open borders. As much as there has been co-operation between security forces of different countries (and it would be a foolish continent that would exclude Britain from such cooperation in the future), it has clearly been inadequate.

The Leave side has seen control over immigrants from across the Channel as a means of making the country more secure, although very much more needs to be done even if there were stricter border checks. But we have a unique problem in the existence of Eire and Northern Ireland where traditionally border security has been relatively low key. Without fencing the entire border between the two countries, this is always going to be a problem area.

  1. The problem of a mobile work force

Much recent rhetoric has focused on the need – as declared by some employers at least – for there to be an open door policy for migrant workers. Recent proposals by the government sent out ripples of concern: “Amber Rudd, the home secretary, put forward plans for a visa-entry scheme for skilled migrants. Her plan would close the door to low-skilled migrants from the EU.” (The Times 17th Oct 2016).  Philip Hammond suggested that members of the Brexit cabinet committee should continue examining options and the media immediately leapt on apparent divisions.

But there is the dilemma over migrant workers. Do we

  1. Allow in only skilled workers
  2. Allow in some low-skilled workers who already have jobs to go to
  3. Allow in anyone regardless of work skills

In addition to these, despite living in a heavily technology- reinforced society, there is always the difficulty of keeping tabs on people who enter or seek to enter the country simply to visit family and friends, or even refugees who might be hear short-term. The fact that we have ghettos is not only a reminder that we have not assimilated people very well into our nation, but also that is has become very difficult to keep track of people who wish to stay hidden. No wonder the security forces constantly ask for more money to expand.

  1. The problem of trade barriers or trade tariffs

Here tariffs are taxes imposed on imports and have been traditionally used to control imports. Of course to do this we need to have agreements with other countries to whom we might wish to export otherwise they may retaliate an impose high taxes on our goods going into their countries. The idea of such taxes is simply to make the goods prohibitively expensive so they will not be bought. That helps our Balance of Trade (Imports versus Exports) but not if we have restricted our own exports as we have tried to limit imports.

And So…

Wherever you look at the issues pertaining to Brexit, there are questions needing answers and more often than not they do not appear easy questions, which means that those in power in the Government and the Civil Service will be working very intensely to work out what the questions are, as well as looking at what potential answers may be.

The issue is complicated by three significant factors

  • The other EU leaders, some worried more about the state of their own countries
  • The general world economy which will influence our economy regardless of Brexit,
  • Both sides – Leave and Remain – who will feel defensive or attacking, simply because it is ultra-clear that there are those who purport to have a voice in the country who want to sound off and influence the outcome, one way or the other.

This leaves one wanting to shout to shout to those within that last group

  • Shut up and let the powers that be get on with it without having to constantly fend off your rantings (media, parliament, nervy business, etc. etc.)
  • Be patient and allow them to have time to formulate questions and answers without being under pressure from you; you are hindering a good outcome!

And a final word. Remember, with all the focus on Brexit and the UK, there is a danger that we fail to see the economic and financial turmoils still gently simmering in a number of the EU countries.





6. The Problem of Immigration and Borders

12 10 2016

Brexit Blog 6:  The Problem of Immigration and Borders

In the previous blog I started pondering some issues to do with racism – what it actually means and how it may not be a cause of defensive feelings over perceived job losses. I also noted that most obviously there can be a link between racism and immigration – but not necessarily. This last point is important because some arguments for curtailing immigration – which has clearly become a big issue both before and since Brexit – have purely economic reasons behind them and not racial reasons.

Part of the EU concept has been to remove borders as far as free access to people is concerned but this raises a variety of questions. Immigration (Dictionary defn.: the action of coming to live permanently in a foreign country’) is clearly a contentious issue so let’s try to identify some of the basic questions that arise in respect of people wanting to come into this country.

Basic Questions about Immigration:

One aspect of the basic problem of immigration was neatly put by Matthew Parris in the Times (24th Sept 2016) in an imaginary discussion between a Minister and his advisor:

Minister: “You what? Take me through this one more time. We should make a reciprocal treaty with every other nation in the world to accept any of their citizens with “a well-founded fear of persecution in their own country”. Every country? Any of its citizens?”

  1. Who should come?

In the fifties and sixties, we opened the doors to refugees from the war, e.g. Poles, and then later those we needed to fill jobs that no one else was taking, e.g. from the Caribbean. So we have two groups to consider: refugees and workers.

  1. How many should come?

Initially we didn’t worry because the numbers were not great. Indeed, today, if we were talking about a mere thousand Syrian refugees, we would not be debating the subject. What worries us is unlimited numbers and the effect that such numbers might have.

  1. What effect will they have on this country?

Here for many is the biggest worry.

  • Some focus on the thought that immigrants will take jobs at lower pay and thus undermine our employment economy. Linked with this are concerns about putting a strain on our housing supply.
  • Some worry that we have just not been good at bringing immigrants into our population and assimilating them in such a way that the characteristics of ‘British-ness’ are not diluted.
  • A closely linked worry from an historical perspective is that large numbers of immigrants from a particular country or race, tend to huddle together and ghettos are formed.
  • Some suggest there is no coincidence that criminal gangs, whether exploiting drugs, sex or whatever, often have a link to a national immigrant grouping.
  • Perhaps closely allied to that worry is the worry that with the influx of people from Middle Eastern countries, will come a number who are already terrorism orientated.
  • Another vaguely related worry (in that such people come from similar Middle Eastern countries) is the worry that some immigrants from those particular countries come bringing in practices that are alien to a civilized Western culture, e.g. various negative aspects of badly treating women (bride purchase, female circumcision etc).
  • Others (and David Cameron worked against this at least for a 5 year period) worry about a straining benefits system being broken by immigrants needing care.
  1. What forms do the arguments take?

On one side we hear, “We need to be caring and compassionate and take in all these needy people” while on the other we hear, “We need to distinguish between economic refugees looking for British jobs, and genuine political refugees but also recognize that we are a limited island with limited resources.”

The problems of refugees

Matthew Parris’ article focused on the persecuted and went on to suggest that a radical overhaul of the Geneva Contention Protocol on Refugees should come about, joining those who, to quote Wikipedia, “have argued that the complex nature of 21st century refugee relationships calls for a new treaty that recognizes the evolving nature of the nation-state, population displacement, and modern warfare.” i.e. the world has changed so much that to take in massive numbers fleeing from the world’s war zones is putting an undue strain on receiving countries.

Angela Merkel is an example of a national leader who has been suffering in the polls for her open doors policy which is clearly disliked by a number of Germans. The sight of the refugee camp at Calais has evoked, I suggest, three different common responses:

  • Compassion and anguish, especially for children there,
  • Anger at the hijacking of lorry drivers by apparently ‘desperate’ fleeing refugees,
  • Anger at the sense that just maybe Calais is part of the international chess game that nations play, in this case, France, to put pressure on other nations, in this case, England.

The Reality of a Combined Europe?

The ultimate goal of the European Union must be, as some have already suggested, the complete removal of all borders and the uniformity of all laws, taxes and tariffs, but while there are pressure groups within each country fighting for their own cause that is unlikely. Indeed, even prior to the referendum an article in the Telegraph declared, “Voters in France, Italy and the Netherlands are demanding their own votes on European Union membership and the euro, as the continent faces a “contagion” of referendums.” (Telegraph 23rd June 2016) Not everyone in the EU is as enamoured with it as the Remain protesters would like to think.

Even more, as some of the most economically stable countries look at the less stable countries and wonder how it will be before they are called to bail them out, the reality is that everything in the EU garden is not as rosy as many would like to think.

Not only is it in respect of general economies, but also when it comes to trade across borders. Beyond those three countries mentioned above, that same Telegraph article went on to note, “business leaders handed a considerable boost to the Leave campaign by saying it would be “very, very foolish” to deny the UK a free trade deal after Brexit. Markus Kerber, the head of the BDI, which represents German industry, said that 1970s-style trade barriers would result in job losses in Germany.” Varying views about all aspects of Brexit appear across Europe as well as in the UK.

We will pick up on further specific problems with border restrictions in the next blog.

5. Racism and Reality

10 10 2016

Brexit Blog 5:  Racism and Reality

Racism: Dictionary Defns: “the belief that all members of each race possess characteristics, abilities, or qualities specific to that race, especially so as to distinguish it as inferior or superior to another race or races” or “prejudice, discrimination, or antagonism directed against someone of a different race based on the belief that one’s own race is superior.”

Now I put the above definitions up as a starter for the consideration about one particular aspect of the rumblings about Brexit that have come from the Remain side. We’ll look at it more fully in a moment or two. Things have happened post-Brexit and I would like start to examine in this blog the claims of racism that are made and then perhaps go on to consider other problems to do with immigration, which is an associated hot topic.

London thinking versus the rest?

It is a strange world we live in and certain aspects of Brexit suggest that London is a little island of liberal thinking that may be ahead of the rest of the nation in ‘reasonable’ thinking. It is clearly where the heart of the media resides but merely because London media and advanced liberal thinking (sometimes akin to Christian ethics but from different motivation) declares something, it doesn’t mean the rest of the country believes it and agrees with it. A recent example was the furor that arose over young people and sport and homophobic chanting and general opposition to the gay outlook. The fact that it hit media headlines shows what many already know, that not everyone in the nation agrees with the liberal agenda of London.

Racism does happen

The Independent newspaper recently wrote, “The full extent and true nature of the “blatant hate” that has beset post-Brexit Britain is today detailed for the first time after The Independent was given exclusive access to a database of more than 500 racist incidents compiled in the weeks since the EU referendum.”   Let’s assume the Independent figures are accurate.

So the Brexit equivalent is the apparent wave of racist incidents that have occurred since Brexit. Rather than take the popular apparent media view that this is caused by Brexit (although the Independent quote doesn’t say that) I would suggest that it was there long before Brexit and a study of headlines over the last three years, say, will show that job security and immigration have been linked subjects in some parts of the country for a long time.  All Brexit did was release in the minds of those who already felt this, a freedom to act wrongly to express their feelings.

Racism or simple defensiveness?

An observation of the Prime Minister’s final speech at the recent Conservative Conference clearly indicates she and her ministers are now patently aware of the hostility to those who have come into this country and taken jobs here, by some already here who felt threatened and aggrieved by that. The words ‘fairness’ or ‘unfairness’ cropped up 16 times and the word ‘fair’ a number of other times.  For example, “if you’re one of those people who lost their job, who stayed in work but on reduced hours, took a pay cut as household bills rocketed, or – and I know a lot of people don’t like to admit this – someone who finds themselves out of work or on lower wages because of low-skilled immigration, life simply doesn’t seem fair.”

It may be of academic interest, but nevertheless true, that merely because certain parts of the population feel threatened by (as they see it) their jobs taken, does not mean they fit the definition above of racism. Superiority or inferiority may not come into it – merely that “this is my land and you are taking a job that should be mine.”  Let’s face it, that has been a similar argument that has been used historically by a variety of Unions whose members fought off others encroaching their domain as they saw it.

Wider ponderings about racism

Let’s refocus on that original definition of ‘racism’: “the belief that all members of each race possess characteristics, abilities, or qualities specific to that race, especially so as to distinguish it as inferior or superior to another race or races” 

Already above I have suggested that protectionism or defensive anger against perceived threats to jobs is not necessarily the same as racism (although racism can be part of it). Now because so much casual hot air is expressed about such subjects as racism, we need to look more carefully at just what specific words being used actually mean in common usage.

Let’s consider the word ‘race’ in the above definition. Usually the first and more common definition found is:

“A group of people identified as distinct from other groups because of supposed physical or genetic traits shared by the group.” 

Notice the ‘physical’ or ‘genetic’

Now notice a wider definition that, I suspect, has sneaked in with questionable origins:

“A group of people united or classified together on the basis of common history, nationality or geographic distribution.”

From this second definition we would assume that long-term inhabitants of France would be called a ‘race’ or similarly inhabitants of ‘Germany’ are a ‘race’ by these standards. How about the Dutch or the Swiss or the Italians?

The inherent demand (because ‘racism’ is being used as a morally bad word in modern society) of the above definition is that it is wrong to suggest that the inhabitants of any particular country have particular characteristics that mark them out from other countries.

Tell a Frenchman this, or an Italian this, or a German this, and I suspect they will be offended. Cultural stereotyping in dangerous and so an inhabitant of the USA might be upset if someone suggested they were all ‘extroverts’ (which is clearly not true), while a German might be pleased if you said you thought a primary national characteristic (not the only one) was ‘industrious’. Websites referring to the English are likely to include such words as, “Stiff upper lip, resolute  in the face of defeat, self-depreciating and fair play,” all generalizations.

But here’s the point, both of my starting definitions speak about ‘superiority’. We’ve already noted that different counties are known (rightly or wrongly) for their national characteristics. Don’t confuse ‘different’ with ‘superiority’.  I would suggest that the language of racism is so often used as a weapon to demean the other person’s argument. It is also the language of the person who has had little contact with other nationalities. Do we have to like the apparent national characteristics of another country? No, but it will depend on what it is. Is it wrong to observe different characteristics? I suggest not. Is it wrong to look down on others for their characteristics? I suggest, yes. The demand to be like everyone else in Europe is both unrealistic and unknowing. We’ll say some more in the next blog. There is enough here to chew on.

4. The World of Posturing

9 10 2016

Brexit Blog 4:  The World of Posturing

Posturing: Dictionary Defn: Bravado, Bluster, Pretension, adopting a bold posture or stand

One of the difficulties, it seems to me, is the stance that the many groups with vested interests in Brexit take, or to be more precise, the motives or reasons they have for taking those stances. When listening to, and then responding to, the various outpourings from these groups I would suggest that we need to bear in mind their motivations before getting all hot under the collar about what they are saying. There are five particular groups that come to my attention in this respect:

  1. The EU – preliminary to negotiating

From all of the reporting that has gone on at least for the last year, I would suggest that a number of parties on the continent are as much in a place of fear and trembling that I have previously suggested some of our Remain people are in. At least two of the leading countries of the EU have serious financial problems and in the run up to the referendum I watched a number of experts (unfortunately before I was recording such comments, so you’ll have to take my word for it) using such words as ‘potential bankruptcy on the horizon. There may be more than those two. There are at least two leading EU nations who are facing a major crisis with an aging population with inadequate future pension funding. There may be more than two. The EU has problems of its own and time may reveal those problems are terminal. Wait and see.

But the next biggest problem the EU has, and it’s equally big as our own, is how to go about and negotiate our departure. Views on how to go about this for the benefit of both sides (anything less will produce stalemate) are many and varied.

Mathias Döpfner, German chief executive of Axel Springer, the publishing house, recently said “I very simply think that in the long run continental Europe may suffer more from Brexit than England itself,” he said. “We should not take this whole Brexit decision as a way to blame the Brits. We should take it like a wake-up call for Europe to refresh its political approach. I count on the pragmatism and the free-market orientation of the British people and they will find ways to attract foreign investment and be an important business hub.” (The Times 27th Sept 2016)

Every time Angela Merkel or some other EU leader launches off about Brexit negatively, remember they are setting out the table for negotiations, and you always start from the hard or high end of bargaining. If you read the report that said, “Angela Merkel won thunderous applause from hundreds of German business leaders yesterday as she warned that Britain could not retain full access to the EU’s single market unless it allowed free movement of people,” (The Times 7th Oct 2016) remember she is setting the table for negotiations and that one aspect may not run with everyone. The truth may well be that actually German car makers want to be more open to us and us to them, than their present chancellor ‘appears’. Again, watch this space.

  1. Labour (including labour-sympathizing newspapers)

Recent rumour has it that Tony Blair is talking about coming back into the fold to make a bid for the Labour leadership. I suspect there would be many who would forgive him Iraq if there was a saviour on the horizon who might have a chance of pulling Labour back from its apparently extreme left wing tendencies at the present time. Is David Milliband too entrenched in the USA to ever think of coming back?

Whatever the realities of the Labour party’s anguishes, one thing is sure: it makes life easier for the Government to just get on with the business of working out Brexit without too many distractions from the Opposition. But remember whenever you hear rumblings about Brexit from the Labour fold, bear in mind they are the Opposition (just) and Brexit is always a good target to throw things at – but that’s what Oppositions do, don’t forget.

But my heading also includes labour-sympathizing newspapers. Let’s steer away from potential law suits and simply say, you know who we mean. If you are looking for unbiased, objective reporting and comments, this is not where you should be looking and if you do read them, remember their bias.

  1. The General Media

In some parts of the media there is this thing which is supposed to be healthy but on one side can appear boring and on the other, if you only spot one side, very biased. It is called balance. Watch the BBC interviewing people in the street over any particular ‘hot’ issue, and you will probably find equal numbers on both sides being picked up by the reporter.

The Times also appears particularly good at this. On one day a ‘comment’ article appears slating the PM’s approach and then the next day there is another writer saying how well she is doing. It can be a confusing world and it can be negative if you miss the ‘positive day’. Be careful.

But all newspapers live by creating interest and sometimes replace ‘interest’ with ‘controversy’. Watch for apparently terrible headlines and then think about the reality of what they are saying. Consider for example the headline from various papers: “Brexit negotiations may cost £65m.” The implication is how terrible this is. It is in fact quoting a Report called ‘Planning for Brexit: Silence Is Not A Strategy’ from the ‘respected’ Institute for Government and one paper includes the line, “The new Prime Minister is also criticised for her “silence” on her position and for not beginning exit negotiations.”  Perhaps someone in that think-tank needs to think a bit more about what happens when you line up for important negotiations;  you don’t rush, you take your time and don’t let foolhardy or less experienced negotiators influence you. This is a new day and none of us – on both sides of the English Channel – have trod this ground before. Yes, it will take a time to settle and that includes within the workings of the Government and the Civil Service. Give them a chance!

  1. Remain Enthusiasts

I have already touched on the ‘sour grapes’ mentality but it is there without a doubt, those who say, “I told you so,” the moment the pound goes the wrong way, as well as those who take any opportunity to remind us that they said it was a bad thing to leave. These doom-sayers are still around and they will no doubt pop up regularly on the roller-coaster it is suggested we are on. I think in the last war they were called fifth columnists

  1. ‘Experts’ who spoke contrary to Leave

Allied to the Remain Enthusiasts are the ‘experts’ who said, “It is wrong” and who are now nursing their wounds because we the great ignorant British people ignored their counsel.  In the light of what I have reported under heading 3 above, you do sometimes wonder if people simply say or write things because they have a job reputation to build, an ego to appease, or simply be seen to be doing ‘something’.

We live in a world where image and ego often rule and, yes, it may be right, what that report quoted above said. Perhaps there have been ‘turf wars’ over who does what, as they struggle to find out what they are supposed to be doing.  Perhaps individual ministers do yet need to learn to say nothing until they’ve all agreed it, but as I’ve said, it is early days and a number of these people have never trod this ground before. Let’s have some grace to give them space to learn the ropes, because the odds are that neither you nor me would want their jobs with the hours they put in and the pressure they are under to perform.


3. The Great Unknown

8 10 2016

Brexit Blog 3:  The Great Unknown

The Bizarre Nature of the Referendum

The most bizarre thing about this referendum has been the great uncertainty factor. The government led by David Cameron and George Osborne in particular made big play about how terrible it would be if we left the EU and they rounded up and pressurized a whole bunch of influential leaders all of whom produced a whole variety of prophecies of doom. In the short term at least these have been proven to be very wrong.

In the debate between Nigel Farage and David Cameron, the then-leader of ukip was first asked why all the experts were saying leaving the EU will be a catastrophe. He cited the advice years ago from the experts to join the ERM which went wrong and then later advice to join the euro with warning of how bad it would be if we didn’t, and they were wrong.

While not wanting to rely upon a leader who appears to move in and out of the leadership of a party which some say has outlived its original purpose, there is a truth that is quite evident that actually trying to forecast how the future will work out is a mug’s game, and in the short-term at least that forecasting has been largely wrong.

The campaigning before the referendum, on both sides, was often frenetic with wild statements being made while the rest of us looked on and knew deep down, NO ONE KNOWS how it will work out either way.

Blinkered Vision – Limited Knowledge

Looking back on the campaigning it seems like there was either a loss of reality that personal bias brings or things were being said with the intention of steamrollering truth for the reason I’ve just given and so the outcome was, “We must say anything to win our case because we don’t actually KNOW what outcomes there will be, but we are sure WE are right!”

There have been those who have said, “We need to have another referendum because the  Leave people were not told the full facts and the vote was taken on imperfect information.” I like the old adage that says, “The one thing about history is that history teaches us nothing.” I say this because if this is true – and it is almost certainly true of both sides because neither side could see with a certainty what will happen – then history is indeed repeating itself.

Andrew Marr in his weighty tome, “A History of Modern Britain”, makes an interesting point when he covers the referendum that took us into the EU when he says, “More than thirty years later, the bigger question both about Heath’s triumph in engineering British membership and then about the Labour referendum, is whether the British were told the full story and truly understood the supranational organisation that they were signing up to. Ever since, many of those among the 8.5 million who voted against, and younger people who share their view, have suggested that Heath and Jenkins and the rest lied to the country, at least by omission.”

He goes on to suggest that may not be entirely true yet concludes, “Yet both in Parliament and in the referendum campaign, the full consequences for national independence were mumbled, not spoken clearly enough.”

From all he says, going on his information, no doubt voices were raised in all directions but with such monumental decisions, it is almost certain the entire truth will never be known.  Back then we took a leap of faith. This year we have taken another one. The past forty years have suggested many ups and downs of life within the EU and no doubt, in the next however many years, there will be similar ups and downs but now on the opposite side. The question has to be, will we do all we can to make it good? Some of the ramblings on this blog may, hopefully address some of the aspects of what is happening and what might happen.

Self-fulfilling prophecies of doom or success?

In the aftermath there have still been predictions that it will yet go pear shaped from doom-mongers of Remain which somehow feel like ‘sour grapes’, we didn’t get our way so we’re going to make it sound bad so it might go bad and we’ll be proved right and you wrong.

IF this is true, then surely this is the equivalent of shooting yourself in the foot. Fact 1: We had an election. Fact 2: That election was won by the Leave side.  Fact 3: We don’t rerun elections because we didn’t like the outcome. Fact 4: The present Prime Minister in her desire to honor the will of the majority people as shown by the referendum result has decreed we will honor that and Brexit means Brexit.

It is always possible that this decision will turn out to be the worst decision made by the country for a long time (although I personally don’t think it will) but surely it is in all of our interests to do all we can to see that that decision works for us as a nation, and for Europe as a close trading group in the rest of the world.

One with the EU?

In a remarkably statesmanlike and somber mood, Boris Johnson on the morning of the result said the following: “it does not mean it will be any less European. I want to speak directly to the millions of people who did not vote for this outcome, especially young people who may feel that this decision involves somehow pulling up the drawbridge because I think the very opposite is true. We cannot turn our backs on Europe. We are part of Europe, our children and our grandchildren will continue to have a wonderful future as Europeans, travelling to the continent, understanding the languages and the cultures that make up our common European civilisation, continuing to interact with the peoples of other countries in a way that is open and friendly and outward looking. And I want to reassure everyone Britain will continue to be a great European power, leading discussions on defence and foreign policy and the work that goes on to make our world safer.”

Who back then, at the time of the referendum could have guessed that the wisdom of a new woman Prime Minister would ever make that speaker the next Foreign Secretary?  Whether those words can be fulfilled will, in a measure, be determined by the EU itself, and that subject must be part of a separate discussion. Watch this space.

2. Why we voted as we did

7 10 2016

Brexit Blog 2: Why  we voted as we did

Why we voted as we did: an initial response

From the outset many voices have been raised in trying to explain the outcome. Bearing in mind, the referendum occurred on Thursday 23 June 2016 with the results coming out on the 24th, the following is a remarkably apparently accurate ‘instant’ assessment: “Although the vote has to be interpreted as an instruction to withdraw from the EU, it sounded in the early hours of Friday more like a howl of rage and frustration by one half of the country against the system of power, wealth and privilege perceived to be controlled by an elite residing, well, elsewhere.” (Rafael Behr – The Guardian – 24 June 2016)

I say this in the light of the Rowntree Foundation report that came out in August 2016 and which stated, “Put simply, older, white and more economically insecure people with low levels of educational attainment were consistently more likely to vote for Brexit than younger people, degree-holders, minorities and the more secure middle- and upper-classes.” (Rowntree Foundation Report: Aug 2016)

Both follow the idea that there was a divide in the nation that has been variously been labelled as London versus the rest, or north versus south, or rich versus poor, or old versus young.

Why we voted as we did: wonderings

Having said what we have said, I have my own personal wonderings, and that is all they are. Before the vote I was aware that in my family, my sons, and to a lesser measure my son-in-law, were all verging on definitely remain while I, the patriarch of this family was definitely for “let’s leave!” This seemed to conform to the patterns above but then as there were soundings being taken around the country on TV, I was surprised at the number of young people who were saying they wanted out – but it is of course possible that they fitted into the lower educated or economically insecure groups that Rowntree spoke of, who really know?

If it was young versus old, then here is my take on that. I am absolutely certain that for the last fifty years there has been a trend in demeaning Britishness (I will look at this again in a later blog on racism). On one hand we have become more affluent and multicultural while on the other hand we have become less secure and less proud of being British, and subsequent governments have allowed ‘foreign investors’ to take over large parts of industrial Britain so we are very much tenants of a land increasingly owned by others.

One of the surprising features of the post-referendum period has been the violent opposition to Brexit by those who quite obviously voted to remain. Never before have we seen the idea of “we don’t like the result of this election so let’s have another one until ‘we’ get our way”. I would suggest that behind this is fear of going down a slippery slope of isolationism into poverty because we are no longer being nurtured and cared for by the EU. (I believe that is an inaccurate perception anyway).

My own voting to leave came purely from a gut feeling that this was better for us as a nation, providing a possibility of challenging us (and our young people) to think better of ourselves and take on a new national pride (which I will no doubt refer to again in the future) and all the good things that can go with that.  I have a punchline comment to all this but will leave it to the next blog as I want to limit the length of each one to make it more readable.

Brexit: 1. Intro & Referendum Results

6 10 2016

Brexit Blog 1: Referendum Results

Why write

I suppose before I really start writing I ought to acknowledge why I am writing about this particular subject on this blog. I suspect it is because I have a feeling that history is rushing by and, as I have come to notice recently, so often we miss so much of what is going on around us, and then we look back with a sense of loss. It is, I suppose, the inevitable outcome of being in a news saturated society, and a world that is so busy and constantly changing.  One of these days someone will, no doubt, write a book cataloging just what went on in this momentous year for Britain but all I hope to do is catch up in a most basic way on some of the key aspects of the referendum and the Brexit phenomenon.

Unlike my other blogs, this one has no intention of being spiritual as such. My qualifications for writing are that I have a background of Law and Economics which have given me a certain ability to read and legalese and to observe the goings on of governments, and I am a keen observer of the reporting of the media. It is my intention to pick up on a number of aspects of the referendum and of Brexit, noting particularly what others say and making some basic comments thereon. In this first blog of this subject, I will simply catch up on the results of the referendum as a starting point.

What Happened

It is now over three months since that momentous vote that said ‘we want out’. To remind ourselves the results for the UK as a whole were

                      51.9% (17,410,742 votes) votes for out, and

                     48.1% (16,141,241 votes) voted to remain.

The results for the individual parts were:

England: Leave 53.4% (15,188,406 votes) Remain 46.6% (13,266,996 votes) Turnout: 73.0%

Wales:  Leave 52.5% (854,572 votes), Remain 47.5% (772,347 votes) Turnout: 71.7%

Northern Ireland: Leave 44.2%(349,442 votes), Remain 55.8%(440,707 votes) Turnout: 62.7%

Scotland: Leave 38.0% (1,018,322 votes), Remain 62.0% (1,661,191 votes) Turnout: 67.2%

England and Wales went for Out, Scotland and Northern Ireland went for Remain. It is interesting that the two ‘Out’ regions both had higher turnouts than the other two.

The Significance of the Vote

I realise I have now used the word ‘momentous’ twice above. The dictionary defines that as of great importance or significance, especially in having a bearing on future events,’ which I think is a pretty fair description of what has happened this year and is why I am now writing.

A Guardian writer called it ‘historic’: “The UK’s historic decision to end its 43-year love-hate relationship with the European Union represents a turning point in British history to rank alongside the two world wars of the 20th century.” (Patrick Wintour – The Guardian – 24 June 2016) Dictionary: ‘historic = famous or important in history, or potentially so’.

What is interesting about those two words is that one seems to look forwards to the future outcomes and the other looks back and compares it with comparable events in the past. Whether it ranks alongside the two world wars, I’m not sure and only time will tell.