Until the cows come home

Some lovely Belted Galloways

Greta Thunberg set off this week to sail to New York to deliver a speech about climate change at the United Nations. People have attacked her for this. Not attacking why she is doing it or issues of climate change. They are attacking her for being a sixteen year old girl. Mature adults criticising a sixteen year old girl for being a young girl. What on Earth is going on here?

I remember being sixteen. I was utterly confused by the world. The crazy way society is organised, the sheer amount of plastic starting to appear in the supermarkets and simply how inefficiently the world was organised. This had already led to huge losses of forests and space for wildlife in the world. Surely, this is crazy, I thought, how is the world in general not aware of this and why aren’t things being done to sort these things out.

I could have devoted my life to raising awareness and getting these things sorted out. I didn’t because the messages as I was getting was that I was too young to understand and in any case my peer group in the farming community I grew up in thought my views were weird. I was the exception, I was the minority. I was also suffering from social anxiety, partly because I was different. However I can completely understand Greta’s position and thoroughly admire it. We really do live in a world where sixteen year olds can be right and fully educated adults can be wrong.

Nonetheless I became vegetarian and tried not to produce too much waste and kept voting for politicians who expressed a commitment to sorting out the environment and making society a little less crazy and kept talking about the issues. This isn’t enough, it’s a drop in the ocean, the actions of one strange person are not enough. To make big societal changes you have to grow a movement, find a way to get your message across clearly and fight and fight and fight until the cows come home.

One problem is that I grew up in a society that encouraged compromise: You have to behave a certain way to fit in, you have to dress a certain way, you need to do certain activities and not do others, you need to get a well-paying job and then if you do all these things you may be in a position of authority and then you can do something about it.

To get there or even just to get any job, you have to compromise for example by commuting, wasting the resources of 2 hours of car travel everyday or helping an organisation you don’t like. You have to buy plastic wrapped bananas, because you can’t afford the unwrapped bananas in the posh shop.

However this doesn’t work, it took me a long time to realise this. Firstly you end up twisting your personality into knots to try and act the “right” way, you can’t trust what you think and thus lose access to your natural abilities and do some very strange things. All these compromises stack up, you try to justify them all and and up with some very strange positions and being objective about any issue becomes more difficult. Secondly, all the authority figures aren’t doing anything useful and their ability to change things, even they really want to, is minimal.

There has been a growing awareness of these perils of conformity. Society in Wales and across Europe has become much more accepting of difference, whether it be sexuality, mental illness, race, religion, language &c. Fortunately it is now much easier to be a minority and be accepted. When I was young people people hid themselves so much more for fear of being “found out” and probably beaten up for it. BAME families had to be constantly demonstrating exceeding the highest moral standards to be accepted in society, whereas any lapses from white people were quickly ignored and forgotten about. To get to this better position took a lot of fighting, campaigning organisations, pride festivals and so on. We have started to live in a world where being in the privileged class is no longer a pass ob to a position of authority. It’s a lot less likely that by sheer luck you happen to be someone who matches the prevailing conventional personality and attitude traits so have some authority. People who cared about the environment were sidelined, fortunately that is becoming less the case.

Now that we live in a world where difference is much more in the open and that is much healthier. However  it has created a opposing reactionary force. A force that seems largely composed of those that were able to conform, that being in the privileged group no longer makes things easier for them and they don’t like it. This has created division and turned things into black and white issues. It seems that it’s no longer a question of how much of an issue climate change is, but rather that people that advocate much more needing to be done as the goodies/baddies and those that advocate not doing anything about it as baddies/goodies. The skill of being able to view arguments form the other side seems to be being lost. This ignores all the complexity inherent in the issue.

There just seems to be so much ignorance of the advantages privilege confers. Perhaps largely because if you are lucky enough to be privilege you don’t notice the advantages you have. In Wales, we are fortunate in that our history gives us an insight into both sided. Wales benefited hugely from being a part of the UK, as a country close to the heart of the British empire. Conversely Wales has also suffered from being a “England’s last colony”. Arguably the Welsh suffer both from the guilt of imperialism and the exploitation of a subjected people. As a Welsh white male I have benefited from being regarded as a member of the dominant group and suffered from being an outsider at the same time. Yet there must be a lot of people who don’t have this dichotomy or are even aware of it.

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My social media feeds have almost been flooded by posts like the above about agriculture being unfairly attacked for the contribution of methane from ruminants to climate change [I don’t know how they got to these figures, would question them, I’ve included them for illustrative purposes]. This is largely because I know a number of small family farmers who are worried about their future. Methane is ‘bad’ as it’s a terrible greenhouse gas, but that doesn’t mean you can’t have any, we all fart. There is evidence that suggests than grass fed cows produce a lot less methane than grain fed cows, which small farms specialise in. So the ‘all the cows are bad’ rhetoric is overly simplistic. It’s getting worse as small farms are going to the wall as they can’t compete on price with cross-subsided big [unsustainable] ag’.

On the other hand I also see the posts of the type ‘Everyone should go vegan’. Again this is overly simplistic. Maximum sustainability includes some farm animals. Also in sustainability terms having meat from a local animal is better sustainability wise than shipping something from the other side of the world where it’s grown with stupid amounts of fertiliser on heavily degraded soil.

The sustainability answer lies somewhere in the middle, where nothing gets banned, there is just some things humanity needs to do a lot less of. The problem is that measured arguments don’t get a full hearing and drowned out by the simple messages that resonate with people: ‘Eating animals is natural’ ‘Veganism will save the planet’ ‘Welsh is a dead language’ ‘Let’s take back control’.

Such easy slogans are easily debunked and have long been debunked, yet still they somehow persist. Humans eating animals is natural and has been done since pre-history, but modern intensive agriculture of the last hundred years is not ‘natural’ by any definition. Reducing land devoted to growing food will help the environment and will probably improve many people’s diets, but won’t by itself save the planet. I think reducing average meat consumption in the Western world to something like 10% of current consumption is something like this part of the answer, but it’s how we do it that matters, not the headline figure.  Os mae’r iaith cymraeg wedi marw sut medra i sgwennu hwn [If the Welsh language is dead how am i able to write this?]Greater localised democratic control to reduce negative impacts of large scale global solutions is a way forward, this was the phrase that arguably won the Brexit referendum in the UK. Yet no-one has yet suggested any democratic or constitutional reforms for after the UK leaving the EU that will achieve this.

I’ve written before about how Brexit is divisive and lumped people into being Leavers or Remainers. The ‘Take Back Control’ phrase was more about a general despair with the crazy world we live in  (remember my second paragraph), for traditional values and communities where everyone could relate to each other (apart from the outsiders who know how to keep quiet) because the actual Brexiteers are against electoral reform (perversely in my view). I think there is also an element of wanting life to be simpler, more traditional and this view is most heavily supported by those losing privilege; the white, heterosexual, conservative older generations who did what they were told.

Maybe there is simply a frustration as people who have sacrificed parts of themselves to conform, put up with plastic and long commutes to try to get some control over their lives. Was all this personal sacrifice for nothing? I share this feeling as someone who overly tried to conform and still do to some extent to stay in employment. It could simply be that this young girl comes along who isn’t compromising. She’s travelling the world without using an aeroplane and has become an authority and has helped raise awareness and put pressure on those with power, by not compromising. This kind of breaks the conformist contract, many Western cultures have, that the feeling is she doesn’t deserve influence as she hasn’t done all the horrible compromising, so shouldn’t have a voice. The ability to conform is highly valued and gives people solace. However, she is right in my view, as I was at 16 and we all need to get over ourselves and not criticise people for being right, but instead support them and help build momentum behind sorting out the horrible mess our economy and society is in. We need to unshackle ourselves from our personal hangups to enable humanity to make it to the next century until the cows come home.

Greta Thunberg on her way to America

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Send in the Clowns

Boris Zip Wire

The Tory party has today voted for Boris Johnson as the new leader of the party. Tomorrow Johnson is likely to become the next Prime Minister of the UK. It is time to reflect on how this happened. How the two union states who once claimed to be bastions of democracy have been reduced to being led by two populist television personality junkies, Boris Johnson and Donald Trump, a former comedy panel show star and a former reality telly star.

Somehow these two clowns have managed to further plummet the deepest darkest depths of what used to political debate even deeper, where populist catchphrases are more important than an informed reasoned argument.

Brexit has become the final nail in the coffin of the United Kingdom. In a bizarre twist, Johnson doesn’t care two hoots about leaving the European Union. Going back a few years there was a weekend where purportedly Johnson was deep in thought and made his decision about which side of Brexit would Boris be on, Johnson being known as a man utterly without principle. Would he back his university chum and then Prime Minister David Cameron in Remain and position himself to take over the top job from Cameron or would his political career interests be better served by leading the Leave campaign. He chose the latter and the rest is history.

Brexit has suited populist politicians well. In the three years of endless shouting about Brexit there has been precious little ‘debate’. It’s been about base feelings and hunches, rather than reasoned argument. The populists just need to sound positive, find the right people to blame and find the catchphrases that ring with popular feeling and hey presto, you are in a position of power.

Still we hear the cries of ‘Take back control’ from the Brexiteers to solve the UK’s problems, without even a vague hint of how exactly these problems will be resolved. There is an irony in the phrases ‘Take Back Control’ to deal with the Brexit issues: immigration, the chronic housing crisis, declining standards in education and healthcare, declining incomes and infrastructure, all of which have been caused by the decisions of Tory politicians and virtually none by decisions of the European Union; it really isn’t regulations governing port authorities or chip wrapping paper standards that have caused the UK problems. Rather it is a base appeal to extreme solutions, to extreme left and right, to divide and hope you end up in the majority group.

What better way to distract us from all these problems than a clown and blame the liberals for not supporting the Brexit scheme. For you can’t trust liberals, they think about things and work things out, much better to trust the clowns, and the easy answers of blaming minorities, any minority, because it must be minorities that have caused the problems and not the majority who voted in successive Tory governments?

So who will Boris and the Brexiteers blame once they can’t blame “Europe” anymore. It could be us Welsh and Scots. The “precious union” of the UK that oddly keeps being talked about in these times.

If you’ve read this blog before, you’ll know that I support Welsh self government and I have done for decades. I am not a separatist, I’ve never particularly wanted the UK to break up, I’ve simply wanted the needs of Wales to be considered, and the needs of the North of England to be properly considered; for I lived in Northern England for a number of years. In my view there has long been a need for the UK to decentralise and not have every decision made to benefit the already wealthy in South Eastern England.

Now the UK is led by yet another clown, putting career and party before country and divided the Britons with Brexit the solution is now independence for Wales, the opportunity to sort ourselves out and support Scotland and the regions of England to address their local problems. Thus we can start the process of building things and infrastructure to create the mutual benefits of developed nations and not merely serve the establishment elite. For Brexit is run by the elite, even if they say the words that it isn’t them, that it’s other Europeans or different coloured people, the establishment are running Brexit. Yes, we need to “Take Back Control”, but not from the EU, but from the broken UK establishment.

We should not listen to the quick easy answers of the clowns, but instead those who have long advocated mature solutions. Britain is in such a mess now, Brexit itself doesn’t really matter whether it stays in the EU, adopts Theresa May’s Brexit Deal or leaves without a deal. Brexit is a distraction. The real issue is democracy in Britain, it is that which needs re-building from the bottom up. Doing this in an orderly peaceful way is not going to be easy.

What is the Brexit Party?

The Brexit party won 32.5% of the popular vote in the recent European elections, the biggest party. What were all these people were voting for is difficult to ascertain as this political party has no policies, apart from wanting Brexit to happen. To try and understand I watched some news reports of vox-pops with supporters of the Brexit party attending Brexit party rallies. A few common themes were expressed:

  • A disdain for centralised government.
  • For government to better support the livelihoods of ordinary Britons
  • For a return of British social values
  • A disdain for globalist free market elites

I agree with all of these, yet fail to see how a Brexit party would further these causes. The way I see it is that these issues are why I have taken an interest in politics and been saddened my whole life why the vast majority of fellow Britons haven’t done anything about the decline of Britain instead propping up the Tory parties of the Tories and New Labour when they visit the ballot box.

It’s really the fourth point, about elites. The Brexit cause has been advocated by elites. The Nigel Farages and Jacob Rees-Moogs are the elite and want even more globalist free market solutions, rather than the radical alternatives I would argue that Britain needs.

Brexit was a stitch up. We were offered two choices, Remain [in the EU] and Leave [the EU]. A remain vote would have allowed the current elite to carry on business as usual, or a Leave vote to remove all the protections of the EU and leave the UK exposed to the worst excesses of global “free market” capitalism. The only way for Brexit to work would be a radical transformation of UK democracy, to give the UK governments that genuinely reflect the needs of the people of Britain, that actually address the four points above:

Devolution, increased powers for national, regional and local governments. To ensure that every part of the UK gets it’s fair share of investment, by investing in infrastructure and local solutions.To address the housing crisis, to enable people to gain meaningful employment that paid the bills and left a bit over for discretionary spending. Rather than life to get ever harder, despite notational economic growth. For a return to community values, for courtesy and respect for all. For local businesses to have a level playing field with giant corporations.

I have always supported anti-establishment causes for all these reasons. Yet instead of a clamour for reform, for support for those who have consistently argued for reform and tested the solutions for decades, popular support has grown instead for the single issue Brexit party, who focus on immigration and the EU as scapegoats for the UKs problems rather than the UK governments. Worst than that rise of the Brexit party does have very worrying parallels with the rise of fascism in the 1930s.

The generally accepted history of the 1930s is that the global financial elites had messed up, causing recessions across the Western world and declines in living standards. People looked for solutions, and in Germany, so arose two extreme solutions, the Communists and the Nazis. These extremists fought each other on the streets, but over time it was the Nazis that rose to power in Germany with devastating consequences. The Communists, laid the blame correctly in my view at capital, but were too extreme in suggesting that all capital is wrong. The Nazis were far worse, instead laying the blame at minorities, the Jewish people, Homosexuals, Romanis and so on.

Who are the Brexit elite blaming for everything? Immigrants, Muslims and people who can speak languages other than English. Is it not a worrying parallel to draw?

It’s just very disturbing that when people finally seem to be waking up to the idea that globalised neo-liberal “free market’ capitalism has failed, instead of rallying together to support change, that support has been taken by a group using disturbing nationalist imagery and refuse to argue for their solutions, but ask people to trust them that they have our interests at heart. We live in a world where  that happened before and people were taken to gas chambers.

Those advocating genuine positive change and the radical reform Britain needs are still on the sidelines and the elites are still in control. Brexit is achieving nothing, it only divides people. We need to come together and work on solutions that deliver real benefits.

 

 

 

 

The Elixir of Confidence

To the anxious person the idea that there is simply a potion to quaff to give confidence is a compelling one. There are also ideas of potions of strength, luck and of invisibility. There are actually drugs that you can take to temporarily achieve changes in mental states. Often the anxious person feels trapped in their anxiety while ‘normal’ people seem to get on with their lives in a permanent state of self-confidence.

However anxious people are not permanently anxious and neither are ‘normal’ folk permanently confident and never anxious. It’s simply that anxiety seems the default setting, yet anxious people still experience the occasional short euphoric bursts of confidence. At such times I’ve often wondered what are the conditions that cause me to feel confident and could I replicate them regularly.

There is no complex alchemy involved. At a very basic level, it’s simply when you are enjoying yourself, or even more simply just happy. However such occasions are relatively rare. The real trick is make this enjoying yourself the default setting. This is perhaps a little more complicated.

That default happiness perhaps requires a couple of things to be true. You have to live somewhere you like, in surroundings and a community of people you like. You also have to work somewhere you like, somewhere you feel you are making a valued contribution and are relaxed doing whatever mundane tasks are part of doing that work. Whilst this sounds simple it can be very difficult to achieve. Very few people achieve this absolute dream situation, most of us have to make compromises somewhere in the attempt to be as happy as we can be.

It’s not that simple as we are social animals, we need to be told from time to time that what we are doing is worthwhile by people we respect and not have lots of people continually telling us that we are not doing anything worthwhile. People need affirmation.

Often it seems that the economy, our families and restrictions in how much money we can make all conspire to thwart our simple aim for happiness. As anxious people continually over-think things and have a negative outlook as they gather data and understandings of what is going on around them.

I felt rather depressed and lethargic last Sunday. It seemed crazy as I’d just spent a week working at the Urdd Eisteddfod in Cardiff. A week where I enjoyed myself, working at an event I have huge regard for;  and basically trying to make up for missing out on it when I was a child and I was a very anxious child. Whilst I’m still not fully fluent in Cymraeg,  living in the language somehow makes me feel more confident as I’ve written about previously. I caught the anxious me coming out to ponder why I was feeling bad after a happy week. Of course, it was just a come down and I needed rest and some me-time. I suspect most people who had lived on the Urdd Maes for the week were also feeling similarly down.

My point is that the difference between the anxious is that the feeling down and worried is the usual position and the happy worthwhileness of the Eisteddfod is the exception, while for the normal folk, this is the normal situation. Basically I think I suffered from anxiety for so long as I simply wasn’t doing something worthwhile, somewhere i liked with people thanking me for what I was working on.

Overcoming anxiety for me was realising that when you get everything right, you can be a normal confident person for sustained periods. During that period of revelation, there was a time when things hadn’t worked out well and I was feeling down. Everyone else in my group was feeling down too, it was strange to me to be in-tune with how everyone else was feeling and I perked up when others started to perk up. However the rest of the time I was exerting energy on finding solutions to the problems we faced, rather than dealing with my anxiety.

It’s like football. Part of the reason I like going to football matches is the tribalism, being in a team of like minded people, sharing the ups and downs together and the feeling of confidence of feeling accepted for who I am. Trying to match that situation in real life is a challenge to find, especially in a world where so many people seem to end up happy without any seeking of it out.

Hei Mister Urdd

A March in Cardiff

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On the 11th of May 2019, a bright spring day, there was a march for independence for Wales in the centre of Cardiff, Wales capital city, organised by All Under One Banner and I was part of some two thousand people calling for independence for Wales.

For me it was the most surreal march I’ve ever been on because Welsh independence is a cause I’ve believed ever since I came to understand politics and where I stood within it. I’ve been an outsider, in a small minority in so many things and there had never been quite enough people passionate enough to get this thing going, but it happened and it was so life affirming, to be surrounded by a huge crowd of people who felt pretty much the same way on positive solution to a political issue, rather than most political demonstrations being against particular things.

Having always been in the Welsh Indy bubble has been a fairly lonely place. Most of the time, over the years I’ve been called upon to defend this idea and  to make the arguments for it and no-one has yet offered a better solution. I’ve always been pretty flummoxed as to why there wasn’t more support for this principle. However in recent times support for independence has been growing, particularly in the context of Scotland narrowly losing their 1st independence referendum. and I’ve felt less alone

I went to the march on my own as I was sure of seeing many familiar faces, which I did: I am culturally ‘middle class’ and been learning to speak Welsh for the past three years. However there were other sorts of people there, from all across Wales, from Cardiff and the Valleys but also bus loads of people from all across Wales. That is what is wonderful about going on protest marches to meet people who are different to you, yet have come to share some of the same conclusions. How has this happened in recent times?

I grew up under Thatcherism, I’ve lived under it all my adult life. I don’t like things getting worse, not doing anything about the problems in our society and tolerating decline. Yet after every UK election we’ve had Thatcherite governments, it has seemed inevitable and that there is a paucity of ambition in the UK that keeps voting them in. Now there does seem to be a pivotal moment of real change from the economic crash of 2008 and the subsequent years of austerity where more and more people have seen the cracks in the UK state and then Brexit has highlighted to so many people on the need for a change of direction and how much of a mess UK democracy is. The Brexiteers (establishment [London] City Fat Cats who’ve sold off the UK’s silver to create wealth for themselves and safely placed it off-shore) and their nationalism have used that desire for change to push their Brexit, to divide and rule in exactly the same way the Tories have done.

Perhaps, we can hope that genuine change is coming. To me independence for Wales has always been the solution because my core political belief is in democracy and more importantly bottom-up democracy, from the individual voter not from the political party. Some more people have woken up to this and if this movement keeps growing a new shiny democracy will emerge in Wales and hopefully spread throughout Britain and beyond.

Brexit is not the biggest issue facing Wales. whatever your views on the UK’s relationship with the EU, just changing that relationship is not going to deliver prosperity to Wales or anywhere else, Independence can deliver that, we don’t have to keep exporting the wealth of Wales to the towers of London as has happened down the centuries, we can keep it in Wales to do things like make sure we eliminate poverty at home.

It was just a few hours of singing and talking to new people on a pleasant afternoon in Cardiff, but it can be like each and every day, if only everyone in Wales comes together for a better future. Cymru Rhydd, Ymlaen!

Across the Brexit divide

The Brexit chaos at Westminster is shared by people in my life. This week I even had a conversation about Brexit at the supermarket checkout. In normal times politics does not get discussed in this situations. the pace of some very confusing politics is causing a wider confusion.

Brexit has been an interesting subject for me. As for once I am not in either groups at the ends of the spectrum (the Union Jack waving Brexiteers and the EU flag waving Remainers). I’ve fallen into the remain camp as perhaps I don’t really like sitting in the middle. Britain has been regarded as a tolerant nation but seems to be becoming less so. This division is quite worrying. Such a division is where a community focuses on where they are different rather than what they have in common.

I’ve written before about how if the Brexit referendum had been ‘Should the UK have a looser relationship with the EU’ to hold back from a centralising political project and just cooperate as much as possible, I feel there would have been a huge majority for this. I also feel that the people of the UK would agree that our political system is broken and that our economy is weakening, that these two things are linked and that we should do something about resolving these problems.

However this Brexit has instead divided us into Brexiters and Remainers. With all the chaos in Westminster and now we are into a two week extension of the ticking clock of No Deal explulsion from the EU, to me the sensible thing to do is revoke Article 50, drop the weight of concern about the relationships of Europe and instead fix things in Britain. However the Brexiters seem to have an obsessive zeal with leaving the EU at any cost and fixing the mess afterwards in a chaotic political situation. This seems a somewhat unreasonable position, especially as the Brexiters have not spent the last two years building consensus and putting forward a plan of action for a post-Brexit situation.

There was a pro-Brexit march in London today. Watching these things I just see a tide of angry white grey haired men.

I have talked  about outsiders, or minority groups and privilege on these pages. If one thing defines this group of people, the Brexiters is that they do not consider themselves outsiders, they consider themselves the majority. On paper, from opinion polls and so on, it is clear that they are a minority, albeit a sizable one. As white men they are privileged and usually get there way, they vote Tory and get Tory governments, they vote for Brexit and Brexit happens. As a group they seem to little realise how much privilege they have and what it is like to be in a minority group. I have never voted Tory, I’ve never voted for anyone who has won an election [well apart from once for a Police commissioner, but no-one else really cared much about that election, and my area has not become a post-apocalyptic crime riddled wasteland since]. My interests are minority interests. but many of the Brexiters don’t perhaps get this because they feel they are in the majority for most things. Whilst everyone else may be making reasonable arguments and trying to find a consensus, they worry that everyone else is trying to stop their Brexit as if they are people who have never had anything their way and this is the one thing they are passionate about. Yet on any other topic this group tend to be dismissive of the ‘one thing’ of other groups, whether that’s LGBT rights, the Welsh language, Vegans and so on.

I just feel hope that understanding will increase and that we can all work together to make our society a better one to live in. to do that we need to listen to every group and genuinely engage and look deeply into grievances rather than casually dismiss them as many of the Brexiters (and indeed Remainers) seem to do. In some ways I feel that Britain needs more chaos just to ram this point across to everyone. Hopefully we have reached peak-chaos and can start re-building our society and our political system.

Brexit: The End of the Beginning

I’ve really tried not to write about the daily machinations of Brexit, largely because it would merely be venting my spleen on the whole inept mess and that it is pretty much as I feared and  predicted almost three years ago.

These are very dark times for democracy. The UK government has spent three years avoiding making a decision and not letting anyone else have an input into the Brexit decision making process, no consensus has been reached and the government still have no plan. It’s kind of worse than that as the UK seems further from consensus on the relationship with the EU than in 2016. All sorts of knee-jerk opinions continue to fly around, the same knee-jerk opinions that were shouted three years ago, nothing has developed or progressed and all the other problems the UK has have been sidelined.

Really the sensible option at this point is to just forget about the whole thing. National unity is more important than endless division, get back to the day job and then start to have a proper discussion about the UK’s relationship with the EU. A betrayal of the Brexit vote would be ignoring the causes of Brexit and not looking for solutions to them.

The same three options that have been on the table since November last year are still on the table, a week before something has to happen because of Article 50 was invoked by Theresa May. The difficulty is that none of the options end Brexit, they are the end of the beginning and the UK continues this endless discussion of what Brexit is.

It’s probably worth stating what the three options are:

1/ “No deal Brexit” – The UK leaves the EU on the 29th of March or perhaps now the 12th of April. Expect chaos.

2/ “Theresa May’s Deal” The UK enters the transition period on the 20th of April and negotiations start for the future relationship with the EU. Not so much happens but politically this gets even more divisive. Noting that this deal does three things, Sets up the rules for EU citizens in the UK and UK citizens in the EU (those that haven’t been able to dual citizenship into their host countries anyway), Settles how much the UK pays the EU for outstanding commitments and the whole transition process rules (maintaining the UK border in Ireland and current rules for now)

3/ Revoke Article 50 and stay in the EU until the UK works out whatever it is it wants. Cue the Eurosceptics continuing to moan, but a lot louder than they did before.

It’s an utter mess, I expected it to be this mess, which was why I voted remain in the first place. Remember my warning about ‘Don’t trust those who claim they knew what Brexit was?’ there seem to be a whole lot more of them now. Option 3 just seems the most sensible choice, given the utter failure of the political class to do anything for three years and the Brexit advocates never putting forward any plan at all. Whether you supported Brexit, remain or are somewhere in-between this is just crazy. An analogy, the kitchen needs cleaning, so you decide to clean the kitchen, but you have no plan, instead you just grab a bottle of liquid detergent wildly spray it around the kitchen and then declare that the kitchen has been cleaned, it hasn’t it’s just a mess, that’s basically the state of Brexit and the UK at the moment.

It could have been so much easier, with the UK leaving the EU, but remaining in and establishing a single market tier with a separate parliament to agree single market rules (EU and EEA countries) and none of this Article 50 nonsense.

I can’t predict what will happen in the next weeks, but it will be bad.

 

 

Failing the Tebbit Test

In Brexit Britain, one of the things being weakened often seems to be tolerance towards people who have different views on things. The most obvious one is that between Brexit Leavers and Remainers, yet it seems to go much wider than that. The craziest example perhaps being people getting triggered that a chain of shops started to stock vegan sausage rolls. This intolerance can be taken as simply being not liking the fact that other people like or are interested in different things. Or more strongly, an objection to people thinking through issues more than they are prepared to. A little flippantly, there is the view that the British were too tolerant, accepting rubbish coffee. Again I would argue that it doesn’t have to be one or the other, that it isn’t about tolerance levels, but rather a rejection of nonconformism, that there is some unstated worldview that we must all adhere to to be truly a particular kind of ‘British’.

A Victorian view of Britishness that a ‘Briton is any mans equal’, ‘Britons shall never be slaves’ suggests that to be British is to celebrate nonconformity, within the rule of law. Creating social politics of argument for those laws to be changed. However in recent times a rival view of Britishness seems to have emerged, of promoting conformity to the values of the British establishment, coming from the Brexiteer minority. This rival view of Britishness was exemplified by the Tebbit test…

I was never a great fan of Cricket when I was a child. However I became ill for a few days when a test match was on the telly and I ended up watching the whole match, between the West Indies and England. I began to understand the game and got more and more out of it as I learnt more about the game. As the days passed I found myself rooting for the West Indies team. By the end of the match there were my team.

Some time later, cricket came up in conversation. I mentioned that I support the WIndies [West Indies as it appears shortened on television screens] and was told that I also fail the Tebbit test. The Tebbit Test is a test of British nationality. To pass this test you must support the England cricket team. The test was a response to many people in England supporting the teams of family and cultural tradition. For example the grandchildren of immigrants to the UK from India, would support the Indian cricket team, despite being more British than Indian. Tebbit’s view of British nationality was that they should support England as it is the national team of the country where they live. Yet here I was a white person whose family have lived in Britain for as long as it is possible to tell, supporting a team other than England and failing the Tebbit test.

Generally, I do tend to support my own national teams, it’s the obvious first choice. There is no Welsh cricket team, so I felt myself to be a free agent. It was only later that it was pointed out that the England cricket team is actually the England and Wales cricket team, but the Wales bit is rarely mentioned. So technically I’m not supporting the Welsh team. Technically this is true, but support of sports teams is a commitment for me. I had already nailed my colours to the mast, I couldn’t change, even if I wanted to.

Supporting teams isn’t really a choice. You don’t sit down with a list of teams, weigh up the pros and cons of each team and make a rational decision. I feel that teams choose you, that there is some connection made that makes you scream “Yes, I am with you”. It often is the first team you are exposed to, which is why we tend to support our own national teams, the one that shows you what that particular sport is all about.

Yet here in Cricket, perhaps more so than in other sports these two rival views of Britishness clash [over five days of intense competition under a blazing sun]. The ‘Victorian’ view of tolerance within the rules and the ‘Tebbit’ view of intolerance of non conformity. I am very solidly in the ‘Victorian’ view camp. It may simply be being Welsh. Being Welsh we both love the whole of Britain and most of its people and culture yet oppose the British establishment that still treats Wales as a colony of England rather than an integral part of Britain. It may just be not being part of that white English conformist establishment, that the Welsh share with the descendants of migrants from the former British Empire countries, or those who fail to conform by being LGBTQ or Catholic and so on.

The cultural divisions of Brexit seem to have broken along these two rival views of Britishness. Sadly this isn’t a matter to be decided over a civilised game of cricket, with the honours won only until the next test series. It seems instead to be a political divide, quite different to the traditional left right spectra and one with the potential to turn ugly. Britain could be walking towards a disaster based on these two visions of what on earth Britishness is anyway clashing, whilst the Brexit debate seems caught up in the backstop debate over the UK border in Ireland. Worrying times

Ruddy Millennials

One of the most striking things about the history of the last two centuries in Britain is the constant change of society. Traditional ways of life were uprooted and populations subjected to a different world to their parents and grandparents generations. In Britain the post WWII generations, the Baby Boomers and Generation Xers were perhaps the lucky generations who saw quality of life improving during their adulthood in a transformative century.

Those that arrived to adulthood after the year 2000 were branded the Millennials and who have been perhaps the first generation in those two centuries to see quality of life fall, albeit shielded by the explosive rise of the internet at the tail end of the last century. This generation face a global environmental crisis a declining economy and for the most part an insecure home.

These problems were foreseen by the previous generations but far too little was done to avert the decline. Largely because the right wing establishment ignored the problem.  The problem being not only a lack of sustainable development and poor planning but a wilful releasing of national assets into the pockets of the privileged few of the establishment. This establishment is but a tiny part of the British population, but they were enabled to ignore the problem by hoodwinking a sizable portion of the population to support their continued and increasing seizure of resources.

The two most obvious failings were in Housing and Transport. Back in the 70s and 80s Housing and transport were relatively cheap. Almost anyone who had a full time secure job and didn’t blow their disposable income on living it to the max could afford to buy a house near where they worked, surrounded by businesses to make their lives easier. However the rot started. Hypermarkets began to crop up on the edges of the big towns and cities. Cars were cheap, the roads relatively empty, so those in the suburban areas could easily go to these hypermarkets and make savings on their grocery shop than visiting the traditional baker, greengrocer and butchers shops around the corner. This was seen as being modern, where successful people went for their shopping to visit these cathedrals of commerce and convenience, people who felt like they were doing ‘the right thing’. Today, almost all those local shops have gone and the health and quality of life of all has suffered. Now we have no choice but to travel miles to a small number of foodstores and are forced to buy whatever rubbish they sell.

It was and is very sensible to own your own home. Paying off a mortgage is a lot cheaper over a lifetime than paying rent, yet was a little more every month, so some compromise of use of disposable income had to be made. so renting got the stigma of something for young adults and the feckless. The feckless as surely these people could also get a secure job and a mortgage too if they didn’t go the pub every night of the week?

Which of course the formerly ‘feckless’ did, in the  70s, 80s and 90s lots of people bought their own homes and went to the pub to socialise less as mortgages were only a little more per month than renting. The problem was that the establishment made it difficult to build enough new homes for the growing number of households and alowed new builds to be of lower quality than the older housing stock. so values of homes shot up. Paradoxically this made people who had homes feel richer, more successful and people who had done ‘the right thing’.

By the 90s housing costs were getting very silly. Those whom had been lucky enough to have or able to borrow capital saw that buying a second home was a very sound investment, even if they didn’t rent it out as it could be instantly sold for a profit and it was sensible as a good way of funding a retirement from work. At the end of this period, where these investments were becoming harder to acquire, many were sold cheaper properties in Central and Eastern Europe. effectively to continue the British Empire tradition of exploiting the resources of other countries rather than build useful things.

It became difficult for young people to buy houses or even rent near where they wanted to live or work. However if only they looked a little further away they could find somewhere affordable and travel in. Over time those distance increased to the point when somewhere in the 90s  there were no longer cheaper areas to move to. Suddenly for most of Britain you lived miles from you work and social life and food shops were a few miles away, so you needed your car for everything, and no new roads have been built, the public transport system remained a mess and so all these journeys are a lot slower today because of traffic congestion as not only those who were ‘doing the right thing’ were waiting at the traffic lights, everyone was.

It is too late for the Millenials as now it is more expensive to rent than to buy and the banks won’t loan you the money as you don’t have a secure job, you do short contracts and they have stricter lending criteria now with the lack of economic growth. So Millenials are trapped having to run a car to be able to access a job and having to pay high rental costs, high indirect taxes and essentials being more expensive, because all the businesses are paying very high rents too, so have no real spare income to save or invest. They work hard to pay the mortgages of an older people they are not even related to. This is a huge problem not just for the Millenials but for the economy.

A problem for several reasons. It has created a culture of rentiers, where if you have capital you invest in land or tangible assets that give you a good return (which is essentially everyone else working to make you richer rather than producing a valuable good) rather than investing in production of goods and services. It denies young adults decent disposable incomes. Young adults should have disposable income as they don’t yet have families to support and it is they who make decisions in the market about what to spend money on which will be the technologies and solutions for the future. It quite cyclical, there may be a good business case for a new concern, but not enough people able to afford it to enable it to be developed into something that is an improvement to replace an older thing. It also stifles time and energy for learning skills and time to develop new things, it erodes the  entrepreneurial spirit as young people can’t as easily go off to create something new as they are tied to a job as they are tied to paying the rent and other debts.

This all suggests a need for a radical change, to raise productivity and sustainability, to improve quality of life and to reduce harm to the environment. So the establishment produced a brilliant wheeze to distract us all, Brexit. The older generation fed a constant diet over decades of blaming the Common Market, EC and now EU for every woe. It was EU rules and EU immigrants to Britain that were causing all the problems so the papers say [i.e. not us in the Establishment who could have kept Britain really growing but chose not to]. The Brexit vote coming a decade after the 2008 crash where the decline of the UK economy was much noticeable to the typical person (house prices have been stagnant apart from a London bubble), Brexit has achieved its end of being a distraction from the actual causes of the decline of the economy, divided the nations into Brexiteers and Remoaners and achieved the good old British divide and rule strategy that has always worked so well for the British Establishment.

It is any surprise that the majority of people under 45 years old voted Remain, whilst a majority over 45 voted Leave. The idea that those who couldn’t afford their own house and didn’t have a decent disposable income must surely be feckless people has rooted in a national consciousness, however now it simply isn’t true . They who have drunk deep of the idea that they are successful people who do they right thing and hold onto the idea that elsewhere in Britain are the unsuccessful, the feckless who are causing the problems. Or if you have missed out on this success, then it is their fault that you are not so (the EU, Socialists, the Scots, the Welsh, Hippies, Immigrants from other EU countries, Single Parents, Catholics, Jews, Muslims, Ginger haired people, Northerners, Southerners, University educated people, People who like Marmite, Fat people, Vegans, Buckets of picked herring and so on]. Of course none of these people or entities are the problem. The British Establishment and large corporations have colluded to make more capital for themselves by destroying the social capital and infrastructure in British society which is the real driver of economic growth.

Of course there is a lot wrong with the EU, it is part of the Establishment too. I’ll wager you would get a massive percentage support across Europe for the sentiment ‘There is a lot wrong with the EU, it needs radical root and branch reform’. I’m not averse to leaving the EU as such, but it isn’t the panacea it has been suggested and certainly not as Thersa May has been doing. I wholeheartedly agree with the sentiments of ‘Taking Back control’, Democracy and the benefits of a united Britain.

To get there, to this world where we can improve quality of life, genuinely tackle climate change and okay Unicorns if you want, by making the economy work for the population of the economy, where innovation and skill are rewarded, but having fat lumps of capital from not producing anything of value isn’t, we do need radical reform. It’s just that leaving the EU and leaving the Tories in charge of that isn’t going to achieve that because they are the Establishment, it’s going to make things worse. First we need to stop Brexit and then the real work begins of transforming our society back to a growing developing society. For that work has to involve giving communities back control, for devolution, for localism, for decisions to be made by people like us who live where we live, who we share our towns with. That means strong local councils, Welsh and Scottish independence, better quality housing that you have a stake in, rather than paying someone to live there or taking money from someone else living there. We have to work together, rather than against each other. Margaret Thatcher famously said that “There is no such thing as society” but there is society, but Thatcher tried to destroy it, to remove  the benefits of mutual cooperation. All Brexit has done is divide us and made finding solutions to our problems harder, it’s time to stop Brexit.

Keeping it Peel – Cerddoriaeth heb Saesneg

The BBC have produced a program compiling bits of various sessions of Welsh language rock music that were broadcast as part of John Peel’s regular radio show. There’s even been a recent re-mix of Datblygu’s hit “Maes E” and one of my favourite bands of the time, Melys have a new LP due out next year; exciting times.

This was of interest to me as I used to listen to these sessions when I was a younger man and also because I can now speak Welsh. So, listening to these recordings was strange as I was listening to something I used to hear in an unknown language to one I now speak; a big wow basically.

I’ve never quite understood this English language bias in the British media. There is an awful lot of English language music out there and sure, you can be perfectly happy only listening to English language music. However you would always be missing out of the even bigger amount of non-English language music that is out there. It’s music, there is no need to be able to grasp every tiny nuance of the lyric to appreciate the song and you rarely do that on a first listen anyway. Yet despite the efforts of people like John Peel, British radio continued to almost exclusively play English language music.

The reason the Peel program was so important to people who liked interesting music was that in the pre-internet era there were so few places to hear things that were not deemed popular. Records were expensive, an LP cost around £10, 20 years ago, almost exactly the same price as a CD now. today however you have the advantage of being able to listen to the entire album before purchasing a hard copy and people now only really buy hard copies to support artists they really love, whereas twenty years go you would occasionally take a punt of something because you liked the album cover which no-one would do these days.

There is almost no need for a John Peel show nowadays. We have the internet and the whole gamut of music available to us twenty fours hours a day at the touch of a button. Yet do people take advantage of this blessing by listening to the strange and obscure to us in the hope of uncovering a truly magical piece of music? Commercial radio is as awful as it ever was and I suspect it’s the same people who listen to interesting music now as then, despite the improved availability.

Welsh language music, specifically y Sin Roc Cymraeg / Welsh language Rock Scene, as opposed to the equally dull “daytime” Welsh language music that is as bad as “daytime” music anywhere else. Welsh language rock has always struggled to be heard outside of the Welsh speaking community. John Peel was one of the few who understood the value in exposing the scene to a wider public, because it was interesting music. Yet it is still largely ignored outside of evenings on Radio Cymru. It is simply not one of the major options on a service like Spotify, there is nothing to guide you to it unless you are actively looking for it. Such services always guide you to popular contemporary music. Alffa achieved one million listens on Spotify recently, which suggests things may be changing, but is still a rare exception.

It’s not just Welsh language music, there is world of wonderful music out there outside the English language. I just think it’s a shame that it isn’t easy to stumble across and that in today’s divided world there needs to be more exposure to the different the non-conventional, that other cultures exist than white male Europeans. Some music such as Soul has broken through, but so much has not. I’ve also heard of a friend post about discovering the wonderful Mongolian band, ‘The HU’ recently.  There is just so much wonderful music out there: Perfect pop music or k-pop from Korea. Folk music from Central Europe, wonderful Volksmusik form Germany, French Pop, Vocal trios from Georgia or Icelandic Electro or Russian string trios.  You simply don’t need to understand the language to appreciate the music. All of the linked examples demonstrate that all languages are great for music. They are all female fronted, but as a  heterosexual male myself, I just find more beauty in the female voice. It just seems mad to restrict oneself to music in English, when there are so many languages in the world.

The very sad truth is that for most musicians who want to earn enough to make a living from music have learned they need to sing in English to make enough money. Many Welsh language bands release songs to English to try to achieve commercial success as do bands across Europe. The Eurovision song Contest, once a competition where everyone sung in their native language is now a predominately English club. It’s very sad, because music written to appeal commercially is often dull, whereas that written to express your real thoughts is almost always much more interesting.

There is even a kind of liberal objection, that such ‘folk music’ is Nationalistic or promoting separatism, as if everything being the same, having no diversity, is somehow a good thing. That maintaining traditions is the opposite of being an open inclusive society, that seeking to conserve things is somehow wrong. If anything the white, male European/North American model is really not the one culture for humanity to have. There are so many interesting musical and cultural traditions out there, that are surely foolish to ignore or shun support for. I still don’t understand why so many people don’t look beyond the narrow confines of English language commercial music, especially in these dark days of Brexit, Trump and the rise of the far right. without it we would never have wonderful cultural mixes such as Bhangra combined with Scottish Highland bagpipes