And a Very British Coup

The enormity of what has just happened is slowly sinking in. Have my worst fears been realised, it seems so. It is why i have been so upset and concerned these last few days.

Today’s developments seem to confirm the worst. Today the deadline for nominations for the next leader of the Conservative party (the Tories) and the next Prime Minister of the UK, to be decided by the 120,000 odd members of the party. The coup is that all the candidates are from the hard right of the party, all pro-Brexit and all against holding a General Election in the autumn. So, what this suggests is that Brexit will happen after all, the members of the Conservative party will not be able to do anything about it, the ordinary people who canvas and campaign on local issues). ‘Well that was the democratic will of the UK’, I hear you say. If only it were that simple. what this  means is the completion of the wholesale taking over of the political establishment by the hard-right, a very British coup.

The market fundamentalists, the corporatists will then simply take over. Everyone left in the UK will suffer as more and more wealth is taken away from the general population to give to the few at the very top. Britons will become slaves.

The whole EU referendum was a stitch up job and not an exercise in democracy at all. a dreadful campaign was fought, the leave campaign was orchestrated to offer hope to appeal to those struggling from the effects of austerity, such people have been duped. Even if the vote had gone for remain, the result would have been the same, a victory for the neo-liberals, except orchestrated through the EU, with trade deals such as CETA and TTIP.

This right have been in power for over thirty years and they have been very clever: They allowed housing costs to escalate, trapping people into mortgages or otherwise insecure housing. One thing human beings cling to is having a roof over their head, so fear of losing this can be a very powerful tool. They have made work more insecure, less meaningful, again tying people into the system. Allowing the basic cost of living to rise so high, forcing people to make severe compromises in the attempt to earn a higher wage to strive for comfort and security. Essentially that have put everyone, apart from the lucky few at the top who can milk the system, in debt. Debt is essentially a powerful means of control, it’s not just housing, it’s education too, the ways out of poverty towards a comfortable existence entail taking on huge debts.

This right have also managed to wrest control of the political system. The Tories forced the Labour party into a adopting a soft right ‘Blairite’ position as the only perceived means of winning an election, allowing the situation to continue to worsen and ultimately leading to what has happened this week.

This week the Labour party appear to be imploding. The party members finally elected a moderate left wing leader, Jeremy Corbyn, one of the very few people untainted by the Blairite shift. However as the Labour party benches in Parliament are full of those who have made it up the party machine adopting Blairite compromises, they have failed to see their own situation and have duped themselves into believing that a true alternative to this Tory right plan is possible. It may have been their last chance.

They have even cobbled the Tory parties ancient foes the Whigs, or the Liberal party, by placing them in the position of taking the blame for the worst policies of the coalition government, whilst miraculously escaping blame from those on the right themselves.

Even the real conservatives (the venerable party of old, pre-Thatcher times that believed in a level playing field, family, social mobility, equal opportunities) and the upstart UKIP  has been conned. The leave campaign from this more traditional right had at it’s heart  a campaign about freeing small and medium enterprises and family businesses from the excessive ‘red-tape’ associated with EU regulations, for greater democratic control to truly represent the people. The whole campaign of misinformation was designed to cloud the real issues. ‘To take back control’ was the slogan, these people will not be helped by the neo-liberals in charge as they will find they have even less control.

All this in a society where the mainstream media outlets are very right wing and highly selective in what news they report, have become active conspirators in the coup, even the BBC, once seen as a bastion of fairness, is no little more than a government news agency. If the Tories proceed with Brexit, they can still claim they didn’t think it was a good idea and then blame Brexit for whatever ills befall the UK economy whilst entrenching their own power.

How has this final, coup been achieved. The Tory party contained both this new nasty breed of corporatist, neo-liberals and the more traditional ideology of the real conservatives. for the past thirty years the Tory party has been divided over the issue of the EU. the referendum was portrayed as an attempt to once and for all end Tory squabbling over EU issues and as a sop to UKIP to enable the Tories to win the last general election. However what it really achieved, which I was afraid of, was the effect of eradicating the pro-EU pro social co-operation, real conservatives from positions of influence in the party. Even Cameron himself, can be viewed as the last real conservative, but he couldn’t achieve anything, constrained by the powerful forces in his own party around him and a misplaced party loyalty. The real tragedy is those traditional centre right people, who seem to be the last to notice what has happened.

The people who are wealthy or are people of the hard and moderate right, are probably celebrating. Everyone else now faces some tough choices: Stay and suffer, Stay and fight or  leave and seek a life in one of the few remaining nice places left in the world.

So, what to do? In Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland we have a developed civic nationalism (a solidarity with all people who live in our community) and should campaign in earnest now for independence from the UK. Yes, our economies will suffer even more, but we can ensure the basics of a roof over our heads, heat in winter, food, the opportunity of productive work and hope. Real economic growth will take time. England, will sadly have an even tougher battle, as those in power have been so effective in dividing opposition.

In the pub last night, conversation turned to George Orwell’s ‘1984’ being reasonably educated it is easy to forget that not everyone has read and understood this important book. I wish I wasn’t so paranoid about this, it just seems that the whole referendum was about the destruction of European culture, of support for our fellow human beings, for working together to solve problems, of the social contract. going back to the feudal system, which I don’t think is the country anyone really wanted back.

The thing is there are lots of positive things to come out of the referendum: increased political engagement, a greater understanding of issues and a strong call for a change to address the issues raised. But, my concern is that this hard right government, will continue not to listen and impose some kind of Brexit in it’s own narrow interests that doesn’t resolve the problems but will increase it’s own power and influence, rather than deliver for all the people of Britain. The UK should not to anything other than commit to listening and addressing. the real problems

 

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Keep Calm and have a cup of Tea

Now that some of us have calmed down a bit and people have realised what has happened. It is very clear that the UK is in no way prepared to leave the EU. My last post highlighted some of the issues that would need to be sorted out before a Brexit, should that be what the people and politicians of the UK actually want. Furthermore raising the possibility of Brexit seems to have brought about a surge in ugly racism, which is making many question whether this is indeed a route the UK would wish to go down. We knew the racism was there, but suppressed, it now seems that the racists are having a field day.

Many people, including myself, got a little carried away on results night in thinking that the vote would  immediately trigger Brexit, as Cameron had suggested he would (but we shouldn’t have believed the serial liar). The reactions have highlighted the difficulties of having a binary vote on a complex issue. As I’ve stated before, the vote doesn’t mean as much as some people will claim it does. Referenda rarely answer the actual question on the paper.  What the Brexit vote does show is simply that the British are unhappy with the political establishment and want change and they are also unhappy with the UK’s relationship with the EU (and really any fool could have told you that, without wasting millions of taxpayer’s money), that is it. How to move forward from that is complex, which is perhaps why the two main political parties are holding internal elections to decide how they wish to go forward.

One of the main problems with such a binary vote was it’s vagueness. A more informative advisory referendum would have had perhaps three options:

1/ More political integration in the EU.

2/ Maintaining current relationships with the EU, with  change not related to further integration

3/ Withdrawal from the EU

Many people have been communicating that they were against 1 and 3, but were unable to express this opinion on the ballot paper. There was a feeling that the best outcome was a narrow win for remain, effectively giving the 2 option a win. The polls were suggesting a 52-48 win for remain, and there was perhaps too much trust for opinion polls, now that opinion pollsters have no way of getting a random sample of the UK population (due to change in how phones are used and internet polling methodologies). Perhaps too many tried to game the poll (the UK electoral system encourages such gaming) and vote leave to express discontent, expecting the remain win, that everyone expected, even the UKIP leader expressed this at close of the polling stations.

The difficulty now, is that with the result there is now an expectation of change, but with no clear time-scale or even what they change could be. The adage ‘Keep calm and carry on’ seems highly appropriate. Really, the situation now is simply that the UK is considering changes to it’s relationship with the EU, but nothing is going to change soon. This is challenging for large business making decisions about whether to locate inside or outside the EU, but it is perhaps better to get on with the process of reform than continue with steady decline.

This idea, I talked about yesterday of moving to a federal UK, may gain pace. Having a federal UK would remove the constitutional hurdles to a UK decision to leave the EU, allowing constituent parts of the UK, including possibly the City of London, to make their own arrangements. It would also simplify the process of change, avoiding the issue of multiple decisions awaiting requisite decisions (possibly involving referendums which take months to organise) during a ticking clock time-scale of the two years stipulated in the article 50  of the Lisbon treaty article. Each region could forge it’s own brexit, some regions could remain in the single market, others completely sever ties with the EU. It is a time to be positive, to use this opportunity to explore new options. Differentiation, not to break an already divided UK, but to accept differences and ultimately strengthen the unity of the British Isles.

The other idea is electoral reform. The other thing the whole Brexit débâcle is the huge disconnect between the positions of politicians and the general public, both at a UK and EU level. This has been exacerbated by the antiquated UK FPTP system. There should be no need for referendum in a representative democracy, with an appropriate degree of proportionality,  where the elected politicians make decisions as a representative group of the general population. The UK should not have got into the position where at least 53% of the population are unhappy with something (in this case the EU) whilst 75% of the elected members of the political class are largely happy with the current EU set up. It makes one wonder how many other issues there is such a wide democratic disconnect over? Electoral reform would partially resolve this problem, styrenghening th eUk in the long term, allowing all of the UK to be more quietly governed with the consent from the population. Over the last few days it seems as though the nations of the UK have been radicalised, due mainly, to the failings of democracy to represent opinion. Instead political parties game the electorate with their electioneering, pitting people against each other, playing tribal politics, which is simply wrong. We have to learn to work together, it is so much more efficient.

 

A very British crisis

What a crazy, heartbreaking few days it has been. Slowly it has dawned on the world that the UK voted to leave the EU. Most people did not expect this outcome, including the UK government which asked for the referendum to enable it to win the last election.This has been more political change, more history in a matter of days than we usually get in years. The big subsequent revelations are that David Cameron has resigned as Prime Minister and made clear that nothing concrete will happen until at least September. The upshot of this is that it revealed that the government had no plan whatsoever for this eventuality. As I write the British civil service is frantically  working on all the possible options to put to the UK leadership, when the UK eventually has one. Somehow the government will have to bumble through the next few months or even years in a very British way until some sort of solution is found. Remembering the leave campaign, there were many conflicting ideas about what a Brexit could mean, but no coherent plan, only a list of possibilities.

This extended period is a crisis and potentially tragic: Firstly for plunging the economy into an extended crisis, because financial markets hate uncertainty. Secondly because immigration was a focus of the debate, without the issue being properly addressed, in consequence it has inflamed racism in the UK. The media has been full over the last weekend of attacks on both European citizens and those who are not purely of white Caucasian descent.  With both the two major political parties, the Conservatives and the Labour party, deciding to enter into the internal squabbling of leadership elections, it leaves most of the UK without effective leadership and no clear answers to many questions.

On top of all this is the constitutional crisis’. Scotland voted to remain in the EU and retain the option of holding a referendum to remain in the EU, adding to the complexity of any change in arrangements with the EU. This is further complicated by the issue of timing. The easiest option may be for Scotland to vote and if the vote is yes negotiate leaving the union of the UK, before the issue of the EU is dealt with, then separate talks can be conducted between the EU and Scotland and between the EU and the remaining parts of the UK. However, there have been suggestions of a new deal with the EU, which Scotland may be happy with and remain in the UK, in which case the EU would have to be prepared to negotiate everything before Article 50 is invoked, then either a fresh referendum on the terms of the Brexit deal or a UK general election to everything some sort of legitimacy. There have been many suggestions, and much U-turning from various EU authorities over if and when any negotiations can take place, I have never known so many politicians U-turn in such a short space of time. Furthermore the issue of getting Brexit through the UK parliament isn’t clear with a majority of MPs, the peoples representatives, in favour of remaining in the EU by around 500 to 150. It is entirely possible that after all the chaos, it may be decided that it is simply easier and less traumatic to stay as a full member of the EU after all, the vote wasn’t actually about Europe as such and more an expression of dissatisfaction with the political establishment (see my previous post), to shrug and proclaim that “We’re British, you did know that we are all quite quite mad didn’t you?” . Or possibly put Brexit on hold whilst the UK deals with it’s own internal issues first, which may take years. Meanwhile the people of Britain have somehow got to get on with our daily lives through a possibly extended period of uncertainty.

Then there is Northern Ireland which  voted for Remaining in the EU too, even the Unionist communities were not completely behind Brexit. Basically, it’s an issue for Northern Ireland for various reasons: One, the border to the Republic of Ireland is open [no border controls], many roads criss-cross the border, erecting an official international border would be a nightmare. Two, citizens of Northern Ireland hold dual citizenship rights of the UK and the Republic of Ireland (which is in the EU), effectively meaning Northern Irish citizens would retain full EU citizenship, even though they may live in a country outside the EU. Three, any change in the status of Northern Ireland risks re-igniting the long and bloody conflicts of the troubles of Northern Ireland, the peace between the two sides in which has been after a very long struggle, agreement between the two sides is still fragile, this is a huge huge risk.

Then there is Wales, which has kind of been forgotten about amidst these huge difficulties Wales voted for Brexit, but again, whether this is the true desire of a majority in Wales isn’t clear. Wales is waking up to the fact that it could be left as the even poorer relation of England, run by a rUK (remainder of the UK) government not in the interests of Wales. Wales receives large amounts of regional funding from the EU, largely because the UK government neglects investing in the regions, as most other states do. We are waking up to some potentially very dire drops in our economic condition. Wales could be the big loser from all of this.

However there is always hope. For a devolutionist like me, our hour may have perhaps come. A solution may be full federalisation of the UK. By which each country of the UK achieves full statehood, whilst retaining membership of the United Kingdom (kind of like a mini EU) on equal terms.  England could even have it’s own regional parliaments to sort out it’s own regional funding issues. a constitutional quirk of the UK is that England does not have it’s own parliament, using the UK parliament for solely English matters. It can be imagined that the the Houses of Parliament could retain two chambers, an all England parliamant and an all UK parliament.

The advantages of a federal UK could be the solution to this crises and deserve consideration. The issue of borders would not apply, borders would remain open, each state could impose whatever restrictions they wanted to on non-nationals owning property and working in the country, whilst allowing people and goods to pass through unimpeded. Each region would be free to make it’s own relationship with the EU. For example, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland could, if they wished, remain full EU member states, whilst England could have a separate relationship, doing whatever it wants such as restricting inward migration and being free of EU regulations etc. Each state could even ‘dual currency’ having their own currency and a common UK currency. Of course the rest of the EU would need time to accept a federal UK as a very special region, but I think it could be a workable solution, that could keep all parties reasonably happy. There is a precedent in the position of Greenland, Greenland is part of Denmark but not in the EU, whilst Denmark itself is in the EU.

I have long been an advocate of federalisation of the UK, it may just be an idea whose time has come and a way of resolving the various continuing crisis of the UK.

The Disunited Kingdom

The UK has voted to leave the European Union (EU). I wrote here some months back that I thought the UK may end up leaving the EU when it didn’t really want to. It now seems that this has happened. I was wrong about the turnout, the debate did engage people. It is perhaps because the ballot paper presented a simple binary choice, where every persons vote counted equally, engaged the electorate, unlike ordinary elections. However it also divided the electorate, not merely because it was close but demographically. Some areas strongly supported remaining in the EU (by 3 to 1) in some places, whilst others were strongly for leaving. Furthermore, opinion polls suggest that the young, (18-25) were for remaining, whilst the old (65+) were strongly for leaving.

The UK is used to such huge divides geographically at elections. Political parties target their policies at areas that support them and exacerbate the economic divide, traditionally called the North-South divide. However in the EU referendum, the divide was different.

Wales voted to leave the EU by 52.5% to 47.5%, close, yet decisive and roughly the same proportion as England. People today, the day after, have been asking a pertinent question: “Why did Wales vote to leave when it is net beneficiary [more EU money is spent in Wales than goes to the EU in fees] and does not have the pressures of net immigration on housing, schools and hospitals [in fact quite the opposite]?” Wales gets more out of being in the EU than it does by being in the UK. Trying to find an answer to this question has been  a puzzle.

However when you look in detail at how the vote was split in Wales, a possible answer emerges. The  university towns with high proportions of young people were for remain (Bangor, Aberystwyth and our capital, Cardiff), as were wealthier areas (Monmouthshire and the Vale of Glamorgan). However the big leave support was in the Valleys, being strongest in Blaenau Gwent.

The Valleys are the old industrial heartlands, part of the original industrial revolution, formed in the 19th century to exploit the coal lying beneath, which supplied the iron and later steel production industries. Nearby Cardiff grew as a major world port and was once the largest coal and steel port in the world. People migrated to the Valleys for this work from other parts of Wales, Ireland, England, Italy and the rest of the world. The often brutal nature of the work forged both steel and strong communities.

Heavy industry in Wales declined towards the end of the twentieth century. The Tory UK government, under the leadership of Margaret Thatcher took the decision to close down the mines, with the idea to move the UK to a new, modern services based economy. There were strikes and civil unrest, but the government got their way and left the valleys without alternative industries, leaving behind high unemployment and social deprivation, but argued for as a ‘price worth paying’ to give the UK as a whole the economic growth of the late 1980s and 1990s. The people of the Valleys, with a working class tradition, have always voted strongly for the UK Labour party. During the Labour government of Tony Blair, there was hope that the time had come for the support and investment to make the Valleys prosperous one more. However this support never came in sufficient quantities to establish prosperity, the needs of London and it’s financial services industry took priority.

This story of the abandoned former heavy industry areas, is also found elsewhere in the UK, in the North of England and the central belt of Scotland. It is these communities that seem to have voted to leave the EU the strongest, the former Labour party ‘heartlands’. These communities suffer through Tory UK governments, they have kept voting for the Labour party, but in recent times have not been helped by the Labour party. It is not hard to understand why these communities are very angry with the political establishment, especially when the political establishment who seem to only address the needs of the globally connected cities of Cardiff and in particular London. The Labour party has focussed towards population demographics they need to win power in London. so, when the chance arrived for these communities to vote against the UK and European establishment. In the recent referendum, they voted strongly against the establishment.

Really, just because the issue of the European Union was on the ballot paper was irrelevant, it was a chance to kick the smug world of London based politics, to seek radical change. The real cause of the problems in the British economy stem from the UK government, and not the EU. Indeed today, I have heard some people regret their leave vote, giving the reason that they only wanted to punish the establishment.

I went to a EU referendum hustings meeting locally. I was a little surprised to hear from Valleys people (communities created by immigration) complaining about immigration, even though it wasn’t an issue locally in putting pressure on services. I did hear of resentment of immigrants from the European Union. People complained of all the new job growth appearing in the South East of England being taken up by EU migrants. I have heard the points that Welsh people can’t take those jobs because they have families and can’t afford or indeed wish to move from a nice home  to a tiny room, while young EU migrants can more easily. People were asking why can’t those jobs and that investment come to this area, where it’s needed. so, it seems you can be against immigration even when that immigration occurs far away, the ripples of globalisation. The issue seems to be not immigration as such, but the failure of the UK government to invest in the infrastructure a growing population requires. However it was easier for the establishment to blame immigration rather than their own failings.

This phenomena extends beyond these formerly industrial areas to the wider Britain, outside of London. People who have for the last thirty years seen their disposable incomes fall, particularly with the cost of housing continuing to rise above the rate of growth in the real economy. Where once a full-time worker could have a decent home, support a partner and provide for their  children, this is now much more difficult. Faced with the prospect of a continuing decline in living standards and offered the opportunity of profound change, in leaving the EU, many people over 35 have simply voted for it, they perhaps they sense they have little to lose and everything to gain, being in housing debt and hence with no savings or investments. They ‘want their country back’, to live in easier times, where money moved around the community, rather than sucked away elsewhere, where people had time and energy to put back into their communities.

So, despite the differences of Wales compared to England, there has still been a support for leaving the EU, they don’t really want. What the Welsh and English people do want is a change in the political establishment, for a representative democracy, a politics that helps all of the population flourish. The EU was seen perhaps seen as part of that cosy establishment of the wealthy class.

So, why was there support for remaining in the EU in Scotland and Northern Ireland? I think that  was because in Scotland and Ireland there is a real alternative. For Northern Ireland faces the costs of having the border with Southern Ireland closed, as a border of the EU, which would be costly for communities used to regularly crossing the border. Northern Ireland has it’s own political parties, not tainted by the whims of a London centric government. For Scotland, the devolutionist party, the SNP (Scottish National Party) are in power, but again not tainted by London politics. The benefits of EU membership are thus clearer.

Both Northern Ireland and Scotland, have the opportunity of ridding themselves forever from London politics. Northern Ireland can re-unite to form a united Ireland, in the EU, it seems even Unionist communities their are  more people now open to this in the light of Brexit. Scotland looks likely to leave the UK as an independent country and thus retain membership of the EU.

Which would leave the United Kingdom [well no longer united as ‘united’ comes from the Act of Union with Scotland) as England and Wales. However it is possible Wales could follow Scotland’s path, if the reasons for the leave vote are as I’ve described, that Wales did not vote for brexit because people really wanted to leave the European Union.  Plaid Cymru (Wales’ devolution party) are not yet perceived as the alternative to the Westminster establishment, Much of Wales has stuck with Labour and angry that they have failed to deliver change with the limited powers of the Welsh government. In any case the divisions between people of different areas and different ages leave a very disunited kingdom.

There is always hope. Referenda can engage electorates and this seems to have occured, provoking discussions and finding solutions on the ground to problems. If thsi energy continues, real change can happen, as it has in Scotland. The established order can be eradicated to be replaced with a truly representative government, that acts for the people it serves. Anything can happen. Divisions can be washed away and arguably such a process is easier outside of the EU. The campaigns of inflaming racism towards people perceived as immigrants has stoked the far right and further divides communities. It is a risky course, the establishment will not relinquish power without a fight. Victory can be claimed before the real work of reform is done.  Britain is in interesting times.

I want my country back

This phrase has been heard numerous times over the course of the UK EU referendum. I have wondered what exactly it means to the people who utter it. Most accounts of this phenomena describe it as a  nostalgia for a society from the past, for simpler times and a desire for some of those elements to make a return. This is a sentiment to which anyone over over a certain age can relate to at some point.

For some it is a desire for a monocultural monoethnic conformist world where everyone thinks and behaves the same way. Quite why anyone would want that is beyond me, I grew up in such a world and hated it, I couldn’t wait to get away and explore the world. This view betrays a fear of the different, a fear of our fellow human beings. We are all different, so such a view just seems nasty.

However, often this nostalgia is for positive things. A friend and I of similar age were talking about growing up when we just went off exploring with our friends, climbing trees, building elaborate dam systems in local streams, making complex underground maze systems in barns full of straw bales, generally getting very muddy indeed. As long as we made it to someone’s house in time for tea or not home before it got dark, we were not reprimanded  (well only about getting muddy and we sensed our parents didn’t really mind, that the criticism was for forms sake). This is a world that can be longed for. a world where children are not stuck inside, lacking socialising with their peers, exploring themselves and the world around them. Longed for because it was a healthier childhood.

This EU referendum has highlighted this desire for better things from the past, such as affordable housing, education, secure employment or food. however it seems that instead of looking for the fundamental reasons why, much of British society is now worse, people are instead looking for someone else to blame, in this case immigrants (whoever they are, as we are all immigrants). There was a video on YouTube of a man being shouted at in Bristol to be told to ‘Go back where you came from?’, to which he replied ‘Do you mean Cardiff? [where he was from!]’. I don’t understand why anyone would blame people for things, or specifically people who are in some way different, for the problems. It is systems, governmental policy, not thinking things through, that are the problem.

A hatred of people, creates it’s own destructive downward spiral. Once you start blaming ‘other people’, you disconnect yourself from other people. This is highly dangerous and antagonistic. This is the force that creates terrorist groups such as ISIS, who hate everyone who is not a member of their group. So, people then hate ISIS, which leads to hatred of the people in ISIS, then fuzzy thinking and group-think take hold and suddenly it is all Muslims who are to blame, then all Arabs, then one day you have a referendum on membership of the EU where the debate becomes about immigration. Culminating in today, where a MP (member of the UK parliament) was shot by a gunman because he apparently disagreed with his locally elected MPs views.

For me, the country I want back is one of respect and tolerance. Where you behave as you see fit, without fear that some maniac isn’t going to shoot you, where children will return home at the end of the day.  A world where extremism, such as Nazi Germany was something we read about in history books.

This modern curse of extremism affects all of us, whoever we are, wherever in the world we might be. Last week another gunman killed around fifty people in a nightclub in Orlando, USA. Once we got over the shock that another fifty lives had been lost to this extremist disease, we realised that this was an attack on the LGBT community. I am not a member of the LGBT community and being a white, male heterosexual I haven’t encountered or really able to empathise with such discrimination. Anyway the attack was in a LGBT nightclub. LGBT nightclubs are safe spaces, places where members of the LGBT community can be themselves, with less fear. If you are not discriminated against you don’t know what it is like. I’m only really getting my head around this myself.

Last year I was in Germany. I was walking down the street and a guy shoulder charged into me and ran off. I turned to my friend (my host in Germany) to ask what had happened. He said “Well if you are going to walk around in a floral shirt, this sort of thing happens”. I was wearing a floral shirt and it was pointed out to me that almost all the German men wore striped shirts. It wasn’t for being Welsh, or foreign that I was charged at, but because my attacker assumed that I was LGBT. This incident didn’t affect me, I continued to enjoy my holiday. However if such things were a regular occurrence, an everyday thing, I would feel more and more excluded and perhaps seek out safe spaces where all the other non-stripey shirted people went.

So it seems that extremism enforces sub-cultures, which is the opposite of this nice simple world everybody really wants. So to get out of extremism perhaps requires strange things to happen.

And then there’s me. I have written about how I used to be an extremely anxious person. Someone who tried to exist in the shadows, not stand out, not say what I really thought. I tried to say and do what I thought people expected me to do, but I couldn’t, I failed at this, it is just easier to be myself. I was behaving as if I was being discriminated against, when I wasn’t at all, so I was really happy to realise that I am able to be myself, to do such things as cry when Wales loses to England at the football as I did today. However I have since learned how much of this awful discrimination there really is. It’s not just race, it’s gender, sexuality, age, nationality and many other things. There is this ‘expectation’ that we are supposed to be able to conform to, but no-one can say what this conformity actually is, or what it is for? Traditional values? like living in mudhuts, scraping a living off the land with no modern tools? Following one interpretation of a contradictory religious text, written thousands of years ago, when most people did live in mudhuts?

It’s quite simple, there is nothing wrong with respecting other people. Jesus taught that we should respect other people, why do so many ‘Christians’ act contrary to Jesus? Respect has to be learned. We do all get angry. Anger wells up for all sorts of reasons: when we hear people whistling when our national anthem is sung or when a gunman shoots a hard working woman with two young children. We all get angry.

Anger does not have to lead to hatred, we should all learn to control our anger. Like as children climbing a tree when the branch starts to break because of our weight, after getting to safety our first instinct was to blame the tree! We learn the folly of anger. When our football team loses, we don’t hate the winners, we learn to walk away knowing that our day will be some another day, when a gunman goes on a gun rampage in Florida, we do not blame the non-LGBT community, we feel sorrow for those with lost loved ones. When a politician is killed, though we do really get angry at politicians a lot of the time, we appreciate that they are a human being too and that the gunman is a flawed human being too, just like the rest of us.

So, lets stop blaming the tree. Lets go back to a world where we listen to each other with respect, where we exclude no-one, where our mothers would scold us if we ignored the new kid, where we don’t have problem with people being different as we are all different.

 

 

 

Football, People and Nationalism

Yesterday was a wonderful day to be Welsh. The national rugby team played well against the All Blacks, though lost in the final twenty minutes when the Kiwis turned things up a gear. Then Wales played our first match in the finals of an international football competition since 1958 and won a thrilling game of football, 2-1 against Slovakia. The Welsh fans sang a rendition of Calon Lan (A pure heart), which brought tears to my eyes. Reports came through of the fans singing and socialising with Slovakian and French fans in Bordeaux. Everything seemed so positive.

However, all this was in a context of the bad side of nationalism, the EU referendum debate and violence surrounding the football match between England and Russia. There seems to be a lack of understanding of what a positive nationalism or patriotism is.

A positive nationalism is an understanding of who you are as an individual and of the culture you grew up in, an identity within which to find a place to root yourself, a comradeship with people you share something in common with, people who you can let your hair down with, forget your own troubles and celebrate life together. As human beings we all have so much in common, yet we are all different. so it is good to share what we have in common and respect where we have different ideas. It is always interesting to explore different ideas, to delve into exactly what the fundamental difference is, but respect that difference.

I am a proud Welshman, first and foremost, i have a common feeling with the people and environment of Wales. Nonetheless I am also proud of people everywhere, struggling to make the world a better place to live. I am British, I have friends from England, Scotland and Ireland and appreciate how a wider British culture influences who I am. Furthermore I have particular feelings for the people of countries I have visited, part of their culture has also entered my life. I have nothing against countries I don’t know, they are simply places I have yet to visit, those cultures haven’t entered my life. It is possible to share and celebrate life with people from every culture all over the world, it just means a little bit more when you with people from the same home as you.

I believe that nationalism goes wrong when it is used as a negative force, particularly when it is used to back a political argument.

In the EU referendum there is a valid theoretical argument for leaving the EU. The problem is with the official leave campaign. I went to a panel debate about the EU referendum this week, what frightened me was that it clearly stood out that many advocates of the leave argument harbour a bigotry to immigrants, underneath and underpinning the argument is a bigotry towards people who are not local. It’s crazy as we are all immigrants, the number of people who have families that have lived in the same town for hundreds of years is tiny and so what. Even for those people, some of their ancestors will have come from further afield. I really don’t understand how people can allow hatred to influence their judgement, to appeal to negative perceptions of immigration, effectively to stoke racism to garner support. The UK has it’s problems but the cause isn’t immigration.

I am a football fan, it’s a wonderful game and the camaraderie between fans is a wonderful experience. So what is the difference between supporters of Wales and supporters of England. Perhaps the only real difference is size.

There are some deranged people who like to get drunk and pick fights with people. Football hooliganism is a problem because it allows these people to come together and find another lot of similarly deranged people to fight with. These have always been a minority of people associated with football. However with insularity and a herd mentality encourages people to get drawn into the provocation.

As a Welshman and Manchester City supporter and someone who has travelled around the world, there have been many occasions when I’ve gone to a bar to watch a match and been the only or one of a handful of fellow supporters. So, I have learned to be aware of being a minority and find ways of sharing love of football with people who support the other team. It is always special to be back in Wales, to really let go and be completely passionate about Wales. we even have a word for this ‘hiraeth’ (a kind of longing for home) .I love travelling, but there is no warmer feeling when you cross over the bridge back home to Wales.

However there are people from larger countries, such as England and Russia, where there is always enough fellow supporters to never be a minority, which gives people a wall to hide behind and why build walls, it allows national feeling to be closed, rather than open to other people and cultures. It is not good to always be in a majority or always in a minority, it can distort your thoughts, to separate someone from the self, to take on ideas from the collective without the opportunity to think them through properly.

What I don’t quite get about this misunderstanding of patriotism leading to a negative nationalism is that it seems to equate from an identification with states, rather than people. This leads then leads to a hatred of people in favour of support of a state, it seems so paradoxical. I don’t like the government and don’t feel a real connection with the UK state as such, I feel a connection instead to the people. I also dislike other states which seem to be making the world a worse place. For example, I take issues with the Russian state for invading another country (Ukraine)  it just seems bizarre in the connected twenty first century world for such military action to take place. However I realise that the Russian people are not the Russian state, i bear no ill will towards the Russian people. We all should try to influence our own states to be better, but as individuals we only have a very small influence, removing the current UK regime has long been a problem. No individual can be blamed for the actions of their state (well unless they happen to be it’s leader). Some  politicians will sometimes try to appeal to this perverted nationalism of support for the state, rather than our fellow man, this is wrong and plain weird.

Anyway the UK EU referendum has left everyone confused, myself included. I know many people who have switched from one side to other several times, there is no clear answer. If the polls are accurate, the UK as a whole is split 50:50. I hear a commentator say yesterday that due to the ever shifting sands of public opinion, the result may well be arbitrary. The difficulty with an arbitrary decisions based on peoples feelings on the day, is that the result could well be influenced by peoples national feeling as a result of what happens in the European football championship. Wales will play our friends and neighbours, England on Thursday, one week before the vote it will be a passionate affair, though hopefully will not influence the European Union question.

 

 

Curing Masculinism

You do occasional here about so called ‘masculinism’ these days as a ‘response’ to feminism, from people who don’t appear to understand feminism in the slightest. As a male myself, collectively men seem so far behind women in getting over trying to be something expected of us by our birth gender role. Both men and women are swamped by images of how what our gender should dress like, behave, enjoy etc. and if you don’t quite fit within this definition or at least play along with it, tough, you’re an outcast. Not only is this limiting and destructive, it is so boring and limiting. For example the idea that I grew up with that ‘Boys don’t cry’, beautifully parodied by my favourite band ‘The Cure’. It took me years before I regained the ability to cry when I was upset. How is it great and ‘manly’ to not feel sad about sad things because we are ‘tough’ that we are don’t want to be affected by anything or have to actually deal with it. So many men, never get over this restriction.

Children very quickly pick up these gender stereotypes and very quickly conform to them. There is evidence to suggest that this conformity is the child demonstrating that they have understood. Society does indeed seem to encourage the development of ‘masculine’ traits for boys and ‘feminine’ ones for girls. However in Western culture particularly we have started to question these gender roles. Really, back in ‘cavemen’ times [or should it be cavepeople? oh wait they didn’t actually live in caves (sic)] it helped society together than the generally larger stronger sex went out hunting. However in an increasingly urban world, there is no need to encourage hunting skills, so why does society have this tendency to stick with these traditions?

Then there is a form of sexism that some men have of expecting women to behave in a ‘feminine’ way, which I don’t get at all. The logic seems to be well I have chosen to conform to a definition of masculinity, so I expect everyone else to conform this way too, even the other gender.Or is it more than this, there is this idea to teach people to conform as the idea as doing this will make your life easier, you will fit in and not stand out. However, it seems that these days success is achieved by the people who do stand out, who do take a different direction.

Often other men ask me “But don’t you like women wearing pretty dresses?” because what I find attractive in women, doesn’t fit the algorithm for how it seems most mean assess or a woman’s attractiveness.

Well I do like women wearing pretty dresses, wearing make up and having done something with their hair, but, only if I have seen them wearing normal clothes first. I like to see the change, the difference. Because most of the time the most attractive thing to me a lady can wear is jeans and a woolly jumper.

As a biologist I have spent some time working in jungles. Working in a jungle is hot and damp and in order to protect the ecosystem we don’t wash clothes in ‘modern’ detergents and th eonly way of gettign them dry is for them to get very smoky drying by a fire. So our clothes are always stained, and holey (from brushing past spiky plants regularly). This did not prevent me from finding some of my female companions attractive. When the project was over and everyone returns to a city, there is often a final social get together in a restaurant before everyone goes home. There is an opportunity to wash properly, wear clean clothes and often the women put on make-up. For me these are special times, to be able to see women I’ve been working for for several weeks in a completely new light. They are not more attractive than they were before, it’s just nice to see them having done something with their appearance. However I gather from other men that they suddenly notice how attractive these women are, I don’t get this at all.

I visited Germany last year. In a sense it was wonderful as the women in Germany dress normally (dress down?) most of the time and usually only have a few dresses for dressing up once in a while. I did indeed think that this was a place I would like to live, a society where my preferences were less different. Having said that a guy shoulder charged me for wearing a floral shirt, anyway German men dress appallingly, stripes everywhere) However some people complain that such Northern European women are somehow ‘less feminine’. They are just as feminine as women anywhere else, what perhaps they mean is that such women do not conform to some traditional view of femininity as in other places.

There are some obvious avenues to explore to explain this. Firstly Northern Europe is densely populated and industrialised a long time ago, so there is a bigger gap to a world where hunting was possible, the culture has had time to develop in new post-industrial ways. Secondly there is language. I’m been learning Welsh recently. Welsh like many other Indo-European languages assigns nouns a gender, masculine and feminine. So the language itself encourages speakers to view things in a gendered way. It is interesting that each language assigns these slightly differently, but there is a broadish conformity with traditional ideas of gender. However, in the Germanic languages of English and I believe the Scandinavian languages, this focus on gender has been lost or is rapidly disappearing. For example we now use ‘they’ for a person of unknown gender, or when the gender is not important (even in Welsh nowadays), whereas in Spanish, such a ‘they’ is masculine, unless the group only consists of females (‘ninos’ (male or mixed group of children) and ‘ninas’ (female only group of children).

How gender is dealt with is hugely complicated. We still live in a world where there are gender expectations. If for whatever reason you don’t fit the traditional roles, you have to find a way to deal with the stereotyping. Personally I have got myself into difficulties with women  who have misinterpreted my attention as seeking a relationship with them. I don’t know whether it is always a mistake to let women know that you find them attractive and then quickly ascertain that they are not interested in exploring a relationship with myself or not. However I often find that some women continue to believe I am seeking a relationship when continuing a non-sexual relationship. It is difficult, because I now see how much negative attention women get from men that is pursuing a relationship. It’s kind of like I had to come to terms with being different and to not be concerned that I was being treated in a seemingly strange way.

I think my conclusion that a traditional model of what masculinity and femininity is not wrong, or something that needs to be cured or got over, however not thinking about it at all can have negative consequences. If you happen to fit in, that is a wonderful gift, yet it is still worth understanding how much of that is really you, how much you are happy to conform and find out where you are different. What I would suggest though is that we do all need to discover who we are for ourselves and not blindly adopt roles. Even if you are an outsider, to function socially you require an understanding of the way the majority behave; which is perhaps why children learn gender roles at a young age. Essentially what I am saying that understanding is good and that we need to understand ourselves better and also find what grounds us, what roots us to ourselves and our communities, to realise that everyone else may be on such a journey too.  We should not criticise others for their choices in how they ground themselves, but we should be wary when others try and pressure people to behave to conform.

 

 

Being Positive about the EU referendum

There has been much complaint about this woeful UK European Union referendum, the level of debate from the two ‘official’ campaigns has been very negative and most people seem very fed up of the whole thing after only a three weeks, with another three weeks to go. Most, if not all, UK votes, always seem about choosing between the lesser of two evils.  I shall attempt to take up the challenge of making a positive argument.

Being positive about this decision is not easy, there is no clear, precise argument for either of the two alternatives offered. On the one hand you have the undemocratic EU, which has ignored the will of the people of the EU, left the economies of entire countries in tatters, especially Greece, failed to deal effectively with the migrant crisis from war-zones and is negotiating protectionist damaging trade deals, such as CETA and TTIP. On the other hand is the UK, which is also undemocratic (albeit less so than the EU), ignored the will of it’s own people, failed to effectively deal with immigration and keen on establishing protectionist trade deals. It does seem to be about choosing the least worse option yet again.

There are attempts to frame the argument as about: Democracy, which doesn’t  clearly support either option, Free trade, again this isn’t clear which option would increase free-trade in general. The economy, here it is unclear about whether the UK would be better off or not, it is not possible to predict the future or how the political class will proceed. So it is quite understandable how frustrated people are about this.

So, to positivity, perhaps we have to consider hope. We all want (hopefully) the UK and Europe to be better places to live, work and play. So the question then becomes , which option offers us the best hope of progress? Which option can lead to more democracy, more accountability, freer and fairer trade, more prosperity, a better world for our children to live in?

Really no single person can achieve anything, so it seems that working with the bigger population, the European Union, seems to offer a better hope, which is why I am on the Bremain side.

However, whatever the outcome of the vote on the 23rd of June, that is not the end of this process, it is only the beginning. After the votes are counted we must all work to deliver on those hopes. Put pressure on any politician that lays claim to any meaning about the result, that a vote either way is not an endorsement of anything future or past EU policy, or indeed UK policy. To step up the pressure for democratic reform, to maintain pressure for genuine free and fairer trade, to create a world where people do not blame visitors for their own problems and the problems of their democracy, but instead work together to solve those problems.

With this hope and determination, we can create a better Britian, a better Europe and a better world. stay positive!