I Paradigm I

It’s an odd time to be a Briton. The UK will formally start the process leaving the EU next week. About half the people of Britain and Northern Ireland will lose something they have had since birth, EU citizenship. For some this will make them feel less European as a part of their identity is stripped away. It may present a paradigm shift.

A paradigm shift is a change to what is normal, a change in mode of thinking, adopting a new set of rules and identities. For example, going from being an anxious to a confident person completely changes one’s worldview. There seem to be rather a lot of these shifts occurring at the moment due to Climate Change and Brexit, to quite fundamental parts of whom we are as humans, what we eat and our identity.

Food

I have written recently about this whole debate between whether the most sustainable diet is plant-based or contain some quantity of meat. There are some visceral arguments flying around. Between the meat fraternity and vegans about which diet is more sustainable, which diet requires less land and is a sustainable management of that land. In my opinion the answer lies somewhere in the middle. However it seems that much of the argument is not based on the science, but rather the “naturalness” of the diet choice.

This “naturalness” concept is rather bizarre as there is very little that is natural about how humans produce food when you consider that humans developed as a species as hunter gatherers. However across the millenia agriculture has developed, allowing larger populations. This agriculture has undergone massive changes since the industrialisation period began some two hundred years ago. Keeping animals inside in a controlled environment feeding them a grown diet, injecting them with chemicals and an industrial process for slaughtering them, is much at odds with practices for the first few thousand years of agriculture.

It is because this form of agriculture has persisted for so long that it has been normalised. Our increasingly urbanised societies do not generally spare a thought for the lived conditions of the animals they eat every day. People who become vegans and vegetarians have thought about this and concluded that modern agriculture is very strange and not “natural” and often make a decision to either stop eating meat or change how they get their meats.

Arguably the debate between these two groups are the traditionalists (even if that tradition [intensive agriculture] is only around one hundred years old) and those that have gone through a paradigm shift in how they think about the rearing of animals for food. Hold that thought.

Identity

Brexit has divided the people of Britain quite fundamentally. Even those of us in the middle have been forced to take sides. The question was whether the UK is better of in or outside of the EU, but Brexit is something else, it is perhaps about differing views of national identity and what is a normal way of thinking about your national identity.

Generally there are those people that consider that the UK nation state is normal, to feel patriotic towards the UK and those that feel differently or are more pragmatic about it and open to different possibilities. This makes sense in the context that the Brexiteers are generally older and remember life before the EU and the Remainers aren’t.

The Brexiteers seem to regard a particular form of British Nationalism as sacrosanct, one which has parallels with the Imperialism and authoritarian nature of the British Empire period.

For example, there have been objections this week to the announcement of Gaelic becoming the default language of instruction in Schools in the Western Isles of Scotland. In Wales, Welsh medium schools have been in existence for quite some time, yet these are often objected to. I don’t get these objections as Welsh and Gaelic are native British languages, so as patriotic Britons do we not all want to maintain the tradition of these languages? It seems these Brexiteer British Nationalists do not view British culture in this way, that they only support certain facets of “Britishness” and not others. You have to be one of this sect to understand what they like and what they do not. These people seem to object to people using other languages than English in Britain, whether it’s Hindi, Polish, Welsh, Gaelic or anything else it seems. It seems to be part of this intolerance of different people.

There also those who object to people who are LGBTQ. Someone said recently that there are two sexes, men and women and this is basic biology. I am a Biologist and I said to her that that is very basic biology, the reality is a lot more complicated and indeed different sexualities exist in other mammalian species. Sex is in our genes and it’s just how biology works. Yet people seem unable to listen to expert advice nowadays. It seems feelings and identity trump science and as a scientist I find that hard to conceptualise.

I believe that the solution to the decline and malaise in the UK economy is to revitalise democracy re-building the economy with Welsh and Scottish independence, Irish re-unification and regional government within England. This just makes sense to me as the most sensible way to improve things. However there are many that object to this, yet they seem to be unable to articulate an argument for the union of the UK, beyond a denial that Wales can govern herself  and a sentimental attachment to the UK nation state. They seem to have not passed through any paradigm shifts.

Diversity Education

There seems to be a general trend in this division between those with a university education and those who don’t. I have even heard it said that universities encourage liberal thought to the detriment of conservatism. There is some truth in that.

A university education is essentially about challenging ideas and assumptions about how things work. It’s about learning how to build a logically sound argument and testing premises. So any traditional conservative values are tested and the only ones that survive are those that have a positive beneficial value and  reason to be conserved beyond sentimentality.

The university experience is also about exposure to diversity, where living with diversity is part of the life of people at universities. When someone goes to university for the first time, they usually live away from home in an area with a different culture. For me I went from a rural Welsh existence to living in a big city in another country; a huge culture shock! You then meet and work with people from different backgrounds, from different parts of the world and you just accept things that are different to what you knew. Through an undergraduate degree course you make multiple paradigm shifts in worldview and your understanding of your subject. Paradigm shifts become second nature.

However for those who do not go to university and never live in a different country, may not get this exposure to diversity or have their ideas so rigorously challenged. It may simply be a lack of training in the skill of coping with paradigm shifting.

Brexit

This Brexit division really has torn apart the paradigm of Britain. The Britain I love and grew up in consisted of people of different backgrounds and places whom for the most part got along doing our own things. I grew up in an area that produces people who are loosely defined as Welsh-British and that chimed perfectly with my identity and as such my identity was of as much value as the identity of any other Briton. However Brexit has blown apart that tolerance of all the huge variance in the people of Britain, there now seems an increasing divide between a narrow British nationalism of arguably the largest minority ethnic group in the UK, the White English and everybody else. The White English, may in actuality be a majority of the UK population, however when you take away those that went to university, the LGBT community and those who married outside of their ethnicity for example, you do perhaps end up with a minority, yet one which has acquired power through Brexit and now seems to feel legitimised and emboldened by Brexit that they don’t need to listen to any voices of dissent and are at liberty to abuse people who are different.

This I find disturbing as Britain  seems to be have become in the control of an insular sect which ignores experts at a time when new modes of thinking and a new economic relationship are kind of required by Brexit and even more so by Climate Change. Britain leaving the EU doesn’t really bother me all that much in itself, but ceding control to people who lack experience of paradigm shifts when the nation state is going through a paradigm shift is worrying indeed.

I just feel that the direction of the UK becoming a less tolerant society is one I do not feel part of anymore. Hence I am Yes Cymru.

I Palindrome I

English Nationalism: A Tale of Two Nations

On Twitter today I saw a tweet which went like this:

Scottish Nationalism Good, Welsh Nationalism Good, Irish Nationalism Good, English Nationalism Bad, Why is England the exception?

The answer is that it isn’t. If we re-frame the question:

Scottish Nationalism Good, Welsh Nationalism Good, Irish Nationalism Good, English Nationalism Good, British Nationalism Bad.

There is then a clear difference, in that the first four are not really nationalism whereas the last is, if we define Nationalism as the belief that a nation is superior to other nations and thus is justified in exploited other inferior nations.

The difference is that these first four national movements include everyone in that nation, whether they identify with that nation or not. They seek fairness and a better political arrangement to allow innovation, investment  and economic development of infrastructure and for their nations to not be ignored. Whereas the true nationalism only serves the elite that identify as British Nationalists to the detriment of everyone else in Britain, allowing policies of repression towards those that don’t fit this narrow definition of “British”.

I think that English Nationalism struggles for it’s voice to be heard, because people find it challenging to differentiate itself from British Nationalism, which is racist and often the Nationalists have adopted both the English and British flags and some identify as English Nationalists. I should point out here that this splitting is in itself complicated, as you can identify as British and not be a British Nationalist, it’s this issue which makes the differentiation unclear.

I grew up in rural Powys, in British Wales and whilst most people from there identify as Welsh, they often share the views of British Nationalists, this certainly doesn’t make them bad people, but they are those that divide the people of Britain (the Britons) into them and us. An issue for the Welsh national movement is that we need the support of these people, but their British Nationalism holds them back from embracing the national movement. It is these people who value conformism and that is a very difficult habit to break, which I talked about in my last weblog.

I feel I could have very easily been one of these British Nationalists as it was part of the culture I grew up in. I just didn’t fit in and in being so kind of picked out the bits that made sense and discarded the rest. It was only through being different and an outsider that made me ask lots of questions, rather than accept what was around me as gospel.

What are these specific things you need to be a member of the British Nationalists beyond valuing conformity. You need to be white, you need to be from a Christian background (actual belief in Christianity isn’t important), you need to be a monolingual English speaker, you must have a distrust of intellectuals, you must not value the arts, you must regard those not in the club as inferior, you must not question authority. Essentially it isn’t merely valuing conformity, it’s being sceptical of questioning or exploring of issues.

When I was at school in a history lesson we were looking at the Cuban missile crisis. One of our activities was to have a mock debate, the class was split between pretending to be representatives of the USA and the USSR. I ended up on the USSR side and made that case as part of the activity. I was pretty much the only one who seemed to understand the logic of the USSR position, indeed a friend of mine admitted they they could not have done what I had just done, I think because it was somehow unpatriotic as the British position was to support the USA, even to the point of not trying to at least understand the other side. So, if you are unable to look at both sides of an issue, how on Earth are you supposed to get to the truth?

It’s ridiculous, how some people are now wary of talking about the Welsh language to me, now that I am a speaker of it. I’ve crossed that divide, there is no problem and it’s quite a nice place to be thanks.

I think it is this lack of questioning that is the mark of the British Nationalists, it explains how such awful politicians as Boris Johnson could have “won” the 2019 UK general election. For example, if you point out how awful it is that food bank use has risen so much in the UK, when there had been no need for such things relatively recently as a terrible development, you get the reply along the lines of “These people whilst perhaps deserving our pity are at fault for getting themselves into that position as people like us wouldn’t” When you point out examples of people who got there by bad luck or being made redundant, they can be dismissed as exceptions!

It is frightening, because when I was young I read the history books there were around and they very heavily promote the idea of British history as glorious and entirely ignore the damage that British policy has done to parts of the world. That accepting that interpretation is patriotic and any questioning makes you instantly ‘the enemy’. The idea that you base your belief system on a lie and adopt a position of not questioning anything is very scary indeed.

How can we bring across people from British Nationalism to the national movements of the nations of Britain? The UK has the highest  inequality in Europe, some of the most expensive housing and transport and is an unproductive and innovation averse economy that is falling behind, when there is no need for it to be.

Wales is not a poor country that couldn’t stand on it’s own two feet without the “help” of the “British elite”, we can afford a National Health Service, free education, affordable decent housing and a coordinated transport infrastructure. The UK is just wedded to the Tory party of not questioning why things are not going well and must, as always lay the blame on others, those who are not British Nationalists.

Brexit as framed as a perverse patriotism is causing unnecessary damage. Only yesterday there were anti-Semitic activity in London. In general there seem to be increases in racism, homophobia and even attacks on people for speaking Welsh.

The portents for 2020 in the UK are not good. Brexit seems to have allowed the nasty Nationalists to feel legitimised by the Brexit votes and all these repressed concerns about our society come out not directed at the useless Tories in charge, but at those who do not share this frankly bizarre adherence to not questioning authority, be they Welsh, Scottish, Irish, English, Black, Catholic, LGBTQ+, Jewish, Muslim, from Mainland Europe, Africa, or Outer Space. Why value being in this British Nationalist minority and ignore the great potential of all the people of Britain? It’s just very disturbing and there seems no clear way of getting people to come together as our nations for the greater good, to open minds and get people to think about these things.

Perhaps the question now is what do we want Britain to be? The Britain of national movements to unite everyone together to make things better or the Brexit if British Nationalism that divides us into us and them. Do we want to go down the path of 1930s Germany that my grandfather took up arms against or be nations progressing together to make a better world? Remember that only 36% of Wales voted for Boris Johnson’s Brexit, or 44% of the UK as a whole. We are the 56%, we can do this.

 

 

 

Socially Conservative Wales

I’ve just returned home from Christmas with the family. Such sojourns can be fraught as people struggle to avoid bringing up politics to avoid arguments. This was more of a problem this year as the UK is fresh from a divisive general election and some form of Brexit now looks almost certain.

I spent a Christmas with people in favour of Boris Johnson’s Brexit, whatever that turns out to be. A lot of people, such as myself who are on what is traditionally described as centrists or left wing are a little confused by this. It got me thinking about Wales as a socially conservative country and I have finally got around to reading ‘A History of Wales’ by John Davies. It seems that people voted for Brexit from fear of change and fear of people who are different, yet Brexit will bring greater changes that remaining in the EU. How does this dichotomy exist?

I’ve written before about the traditional left wing right wing spectrum. In my lifetime the divide has seemed to be around to what extent  national infrastructure should be publicly owned, or left to the private sector. The weight of evidence is that such infrastructure is more efficient and better supportive of private business run by the state, such things as education, healthcare, transport infrastructure and energy. Yet for the last forty years the UK has elected right wing governments that have privatised the UK’s economic infrastructure and it has simply got a lot worse as my Brexit supporting family openly admit, such as potholes on the roads that used to get repaired. Every election has left people like me flummoxed as to why people seem to vote against their self-interest. I think it may be because socially, in the view of those not interested in politics, this left-right divide is still based on an older more social view of the left-right divide.

In my reading of pre-twentieth century politics, before the development of socialism, the divide was between conservatives and liberals (radicals). The conservatives being hesitant about change and liberals being more embrasive of change. On this view it makes sense that urban populations were embrasive of change as they live in a rapidly urbanising world that needed structures to change quickly and a rural population that saw no need to change things radically.

This conservative view of change is also resistant to centralisation. It opposes nationalisation as it takes away decision making to a big city a long way away, in the UK, this was and still is, London. A fear exists that local interests would not be taken into account. It may have seemed that a long established local business was taken over to be run by a government far away with decisions made by people not like us.

This view kind of chimes with recent concerns about immigration and Brexit, that it is metropolitan elites in the big cities or in Brussels making decisions. Furthermore a concern about being governed by people who are different, liberal, who are culturally different, speak different languages, have different religious practises or generally have a different ethnic background or at least socialise with different people and be influenced by them (shock horror). This fear isn’t racist, homophobic, nationalist or anti-Semitic in itself and is perhaps why some conservatives don’t feel it is racist. However such a position is dangerously close to being racist. So if you are close to something like that it is perhaps inevitable that some people will cross that hazy line and be racist, homophobic or anti-Semitic.

I get this, I am socially conservative myself. However I educated myself simply by living away from home for several years and came to realise that people are people and the people in the next town, country or continent are no worse than people from my area and <whispers very quietly> do some things better. However I myself remain sceptical of centralisation and still believe that political power needs to return to communities and a return to bottom up power.

When I was at school I struggled because I am different. Yet, I went along with the jokes about homosexuals as homosexuality was something that happened in those big far away cities and wasn’t viewed part of our culture, as it was seen as something to be repressed. No-one came out when I was at school as they would likely have been beaten up for it. However I now know that I had friends at school were are LGBT and have come to realise that it is quite normal and it’s simply very sad that people were unable to be themselves in my school.

There is nothing wrong with being socially conservative, but you have to be willing to embrace change when it’s needed and to be open to possibilities. For example, to not be racist when you realise what it is and how bad it is. This doesn’t mean that the parts of our culture that are good and cause no harm do not need to be supported, such as the Welsh language, Welsh culture or local businesses.

The thing is that the world has changed a lot and people are still making political decisions based on these deeply held folk understandings of political ideology, rather than from a full understanding of modern economics. An idea such as nationalising an industry to be more efficient to provide a better service is no more centralising that giving control of that industry to the private sector. It’s different now because it’s no longer an established local business that understands a community, where you know someone who knows their family well or ceding power to a remote metropolitan government, but instead it is an even more remote large multi-national corporation, that has even less understanding of local needs than a national government does. For example, the railways in Britain, instead of being viewed as a natural monopoly and an important public service and run by the state, they are now owned by corporations and national rail operators of other European countries, or organisations with less understanding of local needs and solely driven my profit rather than providing as service for their community, because they are not part of that community, that is one of the big problems with globalisation.

Perhaps the even greater irony of this is Brexit. Brexit was billed as taking back democratic control from an overly centralised organisation, the EU, to enable regulations to be set that work better with the UK economy, in particular agricultural policy, I completely agree with this. However, there is no plan for reform of democracy to produce that local democratic control and UK businesses will still have to comply with EU standards to continue to trade as it does now with EU countries. There is unlikely to be this great economic and democratic reform as the Thatcherite Tories are still in charge, and there is likely to be less local regulation as trade deals will be desperately sought with Trump’s USA, India, China and Brazil and local needs are more likely to be ignored than they are now and there will likely be more loss of the social cohesion valued by conservatives. It is still the same Tories that have repeatedly ignored the needs of Welsh communities that will now decide Brexit. In my view, with a Tory Brexit, the way now to ‘Take Back Control’ to defend our society is to back calls for Welsh Independence. Yes Cymru!

 

 

All change II

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These are some figures for the UK 2019 General election. As you can see it wasn’t much different to 2017.

Brexit has divided the UK, pitted the old against the young in a very dramatic way. My view is that it’s part of a huge cultural shift: The older generation valuing unity, conformity and the British state and the younger generation valuing self-expression, diversity and internationalism.

It’s also about change in culture, change can be threatening to a way of life or it can be embraced. Perhaps it is harder to embrace change as you get older as your way of life is more settled. It’s also about loss of culture. The UK has lost local shops and businesses, music venues and communities feel less like communities as there is less to bind them together.

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I wonder if there is a difference in this between Wales and England generally. The two parts of Wales that weren’t affected by the blue tide were the Plaid Cymru seats of Y Fro Cymraeg (Green) and the Labour held Valleys seats (Red). Arguably areas with much stronger local identity than the general case. Communities where there isn’t such a stark divide between young and old culturally, where both change and tradition are embraced. This is possibly less true in the other parts of Wales

Looking at these figures it seems such a vast age based divide. Perhaps a last huzzah for the people of British nationalism. If Brexit had been just 5 years later it would not have happened as new younger voters enter voting age and more 65+ voters die.

I don’t see how Boris Johnson will bring the UK together, his and his parties whole ethos has been divide and rule and it seems so unlikely to change. David Cameron and Theresa May talked about one-nationism, but did nothing about it when in power.

It’s going to be a very rocky five years.

All Change UK

What do the changes brought about in the 2019 UK General election mean? It was an unusual election because the issue of Brexit dominated. Brexit now looks very likely to happen, as soon as next month and whatever happens will probably not be the main issue at the next election. What happens between now and then will continue to be interesting.

To understand this election it is perhaps worthy of considering how UK general elections usually work. The traditional view is that people self-interestedly vote based on their demographic grouping. In this very generalised model there were broadly two groups:

White-collar workers, people who generally work in offices are those who generally havd some spare money to save and invest, these generally vote Tory as the Tories offer reduced wealth taxes, making it easier to earn more from investments.

Blue-collar workers, people who generally work with their hands, tend not to have spare money to invest, are often unionised workers whom generally vote Labour as Labour offer improved working conditions and improved rates of pay.

Hence a traditional UK election is a battle for in-between voters; those who readily switch parties based on whom seems to have the better offer.

However this traditional model has broken down, arguably since the adoption of Thatcherism by the UK economy. This Thatcherism has led to reductions in investment in the wider UK economy, particularly in the ‘provincial’ nations nations and regions of England. Instead the focus has been on making the UK attractive to financial services, favouring capital, rentiers and leading to  ever widening inequality, richer rich people and poorer poor people.

Politically this breaks the traditional model as the general economy isn’t invested in so there are ever fewer people with a little bit of money to invest, but those that do have ever larger amounts of capital. This has perhaps presented a problem for the Conservative party as their voter base is declining. Compounded by the housing crisis, where young people are disenfranchised by being unable to afford decent housing, while older generations sit in housing which has increased in value by doing nothing. Essentially Tory economics has destroyed it’s own voter base. The below chart illustrates this from the last election (I would suggest the 2019 data conforms to this pattern too)

Age-01

The Tories have needed new stratagems to continue to be electorally successful. a popular strategy for struggling governments has been appeals to patriotism. For example the 1983 war with Argentina or involvements with the various conflicts in the Middle East. Arguably military spending is simply useful for keeping failing governments in power.

For the past 5 years, The Tories have used Brexit as a surrogate for war. It has a patriotic appeal, of Little Britain against the big bad EU, fuelled for decades by the right-wing media barons endlessly negatively reporting news about the EU. Frankly, it’s worked. Incidentally, looking at the results, it has been less effective in the Valleys and Merseyside, where the popularity of the UK right wing press, particularly the Sun “newspaper” is less and in these areas there popularity of Boris Johnson is a lot less pronounced, so it seems to hugely influenced by media spin, especially as Jeremy Corbyn was spun as a London metropolitan liberal. We had a campaign dominated by ‘Get Brexit Done’ when the whole Brexit saga was fabricated by the Tories themselves, there are much bigger issues facing the UK economy in actuality.

In any case FPTP has delivered Boris Johnson his majority to “Get Brexit Done” yet the percentage results if split by parties for Leave or Remain in the EU paint a different picture, Leave 46% Remain 54%. It can be viewed as a Brexit or the Union election, yet Boris Johnson seems to want both, to have his cake and eat it.

The 2019 UK general election has returned the UKs worst ever Prime Minister to majority rule (a 5 year effective dictatorship), largely on the back of what could be described as blue-collar workers in neglected provincial towns. With a compliant media demonising the EU and metropolitan liberals as the “enemies of democracy”.

Boris Johnson’s government now faces a quandary, it can take two paths, this is why the next month or so will be very interesting:

Path 1 acknowledges that the Tories have destroyed their own voter base, so need to find a new way to maintain their grip on power, and actually does all they have promised to do, to keep hold of their new working class voters. To invest in the country’s infrastructure in the provinces, to care for the Union rather than neglect it,  to be become the party of the blue collar workers. This would be a huge policy U-turn for the Tory party, undoing thirty years of Tory policy, especially for one that has just expelled it’s moderate wing though, yet may be the new way for the party to retain power.

Path 2 is Tory business as usual, selling off the UKs assets like the NHS to Trump and making money for their already rich friends and allies,  while continuing to  work on finding a new scapegoat to attack for an appeal to patriotism in time for a future election. There is a ready enemy here, the pesky ‘Celts’. Brexit has been based on an appeal to British/English Nationalism. Such an appeal has never resonated as much in the Celtic nations, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland (particularly as in this election the Unionist parties are no longer the majority in Northern Ireland). So much so, that Scottish Independence now looks very likely, though as in Spain, the UK state can stop it by force if necessary. Northern Ireland is heading seemingly inexorably towards re-unification with the Republic of Ireland and in Wales support for independence continues to grow and will continue to grow with a hostile UK government. So there is a very handy ‘enemy within’ to blame for any failure of Brexit to not make Britons poorer.

Essentially the future for the UK over the next five years is whether Boris will continue to dupe the politically uneducated or shift ground and become a stanch advocate of the UK economy. It will be interesting and probably depend on how clean or messy Brexit will be over the next year or two.

Brexit’s Coming Home

I’ve just written a piece about British Identity and am thinking that threatened identities is a large part of the appeal of Brexit.

I’m reminded of a few years ago when I was living in Southern England and was very unhappy. I listened to the Welsh song ‘We’ll keep a Welcome‘ which brought me to tears and made me realise I needed to go home. It is a very powerful song that resonates closely with Welshness. Wales is a small country and there is a srtrong cultural idea that many people need to leave for work or to develop a career, with the understanding that as Welshmen or Welshwomen that they can always come home and there is a hope that they do.

As Welshfolk and perhaps as do people of other communities all around the world we feel that our home may be a shithole, but it is our home. So when things go badly, working with others isn’t really working and you need to go back and re-build or start again there is a hiraeth for home.

This longing for home is very similar to a longing for a time when things were better or stabler. The whole of the UK economy kind of feels like that. You only have to walk down the road outside your house to see the potholes in the road that used to be repaired, or the homeless people on the street who used  to be looked after and helped back onto their feet. So there is perhaps a collective desire to return to how things once were, when things seemed as though they were fine and getting better. From a Welsh perspective it seems that the unions we are a member of are not working for us and that applies to both the EU and the UK.

Hence Brexit, the feeling and the desire for a thing that is akin to finding a place for re-building. I completely understand this, however the problem with Brexit is that there is no plan to enable any such re-building. Brexit falls apart on any hard-headed economic or political assessment.

The Brexit position is generally supported by those over fifty years of age. Those that can remember the post-war period from 1945 to 1979. A time of strong identity with the UK state, which had just won a war with the Nazis, was rapidly losing it’s Empire and there was a consensus to build a new Britain from the broken infrastructure after a major war. A time of collective identification where everyone was working together to build a better future, to grow the pie and everyone made a contribution, whether they were a coal miner or a banker, whether a Yorkshireman or a newly arrived immigrant from a former Empire country. It was perhaps only those who didn’t work who were looked down upon if they weren’t trying hard to find new work.

Then in 1979 everything changed. Thatcherism became the new economics. The people of Britain were no longer told to work together for the common good and grow the pie, but instead to seek  to make your share of the pie bigger, even if it makes the pie smaller, so those who can do this can get more pie and those not willing to be so cut-throat in their economic actions will be the ones to disparage. ‘Greed is Good’ was now a virtue rather than a failing.

Such economics hasn’t worked as fewer people are able to grow their share of the pie and realising the pie really has shrunk an awful lot and some people seem to have very large slices of it. Hence Brexit, a desire to re-build, to return to more old-fashioned ways of doing things that at least worked and produced genuine growth. Hence a desire to leave the EU as there has never really been a true desire in Britain to grow the European pie, all that matters was it was a means to make the UK pie slice bigger, the post war consensus in the UK was never really about re-building Europe.

It seems that if Brexit does finally occur next year, the UK won’t actually be home as there is no home to go to, it is simply a leaving with no idea where to go. Indeed any suggestion  about re-building the UK home such as  electoral reform, confederalism or a return of social democracy have all failed to gain enough traction. All that seems promised by the charlatan Boris Johnson is lies and hot air, which isn’t enough to re-build anything from.

Brexit was tempting to me, I don’t like the idea of centralisation unless there is genuine option to say no and say we can actually do this better on our own thanks, some things are simply cases of too many cooks. Co-operation is great, but you always need to ensure the people tasked with making the decisions are making the right ones, and that has increasingly not been the case. All this Brexit seems to offer is taking control from the EU to give it away instantly via trade deals, in particular with a Trumpian USA.

This Tory Brexit is doomed to failure. We must never forget that we actually want things to get better and that is the motive for doing anything including Brexit. However this Brexit won’t achieve that. As I’ve said so often, we need electoral reform across the UK, to re-build structures so the right decisions get made more often. For me that’s Welsh independence, so the population has some genuine democratic control over the legislature that affects the country.

Brexit or The Death of FPTP?

The UK General Election of 2019 is a very curious beast.  Brexit is of course the major theme of the election, but it’s influence is indirect, this election isn’t really about Brexit itself. However the traditional nature of UK elections has changed in similar ways to other Western democracies and is producing a very divisive election in an divisive atmosphere caused by the tribulations of Brexit over the last five years.

A traditional election in FPTP and indeed Western democracies is a battle between the two biggest political parties, a moderately left wing one and a moderately right wing one. FPTP unlike more modern systems discourages more than two parties as votes for other parties can distract from influence over which of the two big parties wins. Normally, the two big parties fight over the ‘centre ground’ stressing their understanding of economic life for average subjects and their moderate reasonable solutions to the issues of the day.

However, people have got fed up of everyday politics, they see decline, their decline in living standards and feel that ‘something needs to be done’ and have been more prepared to support more radical positions. People are not stupid, they see logn established well-run local businesses go under, their children struggle to afford their own home so continue to live with their parents much later, our bills keep going up, but our salaries don’t. I think we all know something is very wrong with the UK. Coupled with this is the development of  electioneering and how modern media functions. So the traditional view that winning the fight over the centre ground  is the way to win elections has lost popularity has gone.

Instead this ‘traditional’ fight has been abandoned to be replaced by an appeal to fundamentals of left or right wing dogma. Winning an argument is no longer important, but a simple three word slogan to demonstrate an emotional understanding of a simplistic view of a political situation has won the day, look no further than Mr Trump. Political parties now agonise about finding that killer three word combination, to reduce all debate to whether you prefer these three words or the other lots three words. For example ‘Take Back Control’ ‘Strong & Stable’ or ‘Get Brexit Done’. This has been successful as parties then no longer need to develop an argument or even coherent policy. Politically educated electors have worked out their position and it would take huge effort to get them to shift. Instead it seems better to persuade the less politically educated as gaining these votes requires a lot less effort, simply three words in fact.

Brexit is a great example of this. A few years ago it was thought that this issue would tear the traditions of UK elections apart as it was a non partisan issue. People of the centre tend to view membership of the EU positively, whereas those towards both Left and Right wings of the spectrum are more sceptical of the benefits of EU membership, or rather pick on different aspects to criticise.

We seem to have entered George’s Orwell’s 1984 for real. I saw an advert on the telly today for spinning sessions you can join online with an instructor barking out orders ‘Smith, Winston, a man your age should be able to touch his toes!” Despite the bleakness of the decline in our economy staring us right in the face, the ‘Party’ has managed to distract us and divide us with Brexit. We aren’t really discussing Brexit, it’s just become a political game where you have to pick sides and then lay the blame on the other side.

The future of the NHS has come up in this election, again it’s staring us in the face how chronically underfunded it is. We have to wait weeks to see a doctor, even if you have private medical insurance! Yet the Tories use their doublethink to allow people to believe that they care enough and blame the other lot who are against ‘our precious Brexit’ which, incredibly, at this late stage is still undefined.

The politically informed, under FPTP feel they must vote tactically. That a vote for the party that most represents your views is a ‘wasted vote’ and you must vote for the big party that you find least objectionable, that isn’t democracy, just as Brexit isn’t ‘democracy’. Wales has pretty much always returned a majority of Labour MPs, yet Wales has suffered mainly under Tory governments in Westminster. Continuing to vote like this isn’t working for Wales. However, despite this we are seeing the most tactical voting exercise ever seen before. Political parties have withdrawn candidates to let the ‘least bad’ option have a better chance of unseating the ‘worse option’. The Opinion Polls at the start of this election were somethign like 47% Brexit parties (Tories & Brexit Party), 53% Remain parties (National parties, Labour, Greens, LibDems). Despite Remain parties appearing to edge the popular vote, the vote is split more ways. As this election campaign has progressed we’ve seen two shifts. Firstly the Brexit party vote collapse, to the Tories favour and a LibDem fall to Labours advantage. It doesn’t seem as though the Leave:Remain split has shifted at all. No-one has had there minds changed by the election, but more people are voting tactically and that maybe how to bring the outdated FPTP system to an end?

It should be blatantly clear to the British electorate that Brexit isn’t the answer.  Electoral Reform is what is needed to enable the UK to have a government that represents the population and is able to make good decisions, rather than bad but politically expedient ones. However as 1984 tells us ‘Ignorance is Strength’, and the British establishment/ Inner Party have successfully distracted us form what is in front of our eyes, for Brexit to be the answer.

 

 

New Conservatives?

It’s only really occurred to me today what Brexit is. It is simply an internal struggle within the Conservative party in the UK and now may be the point that it is finally resolved.

It has been a long time coming. Going back to the 1979, Margaret Thatcher became UK Prime Minister after a successful election. She won essentially on a platform of increasing the power of capital whilst reducing the power of Labour and Government. It may simply have been for Thatcher that which was needed to sort out the problems in the UK economy from the 1970s. However, it also became the political philosophy of Thatcherism.

You can view the economy of a state as supported by three pillars: Labour (the productive value of people’s work), Capital (The large sums of currency to invest) and Government (Regulation of the economy and spending on public infrastructure from taxation). I would argue that a strong economy comes from an optimal balance of the three, where each pillar is strong but not allowed to dominate. Thatcherism simply states that only capital is important and you can shrink government and the value of labour as much as you can to give more power to capital. I believe Thatcherism is fundamentally flawed, but works as a solution if and only if labour and government are too strong and capital is too weak.

Within the Conservative party of the 1980s, there arose those who adopted the Thatcherite philosophy. It is this philosophy that has held sway over the UK ever since, despite capital now being overly powerful for an efficient economy. The Thatcherite philosophy was built on the lie that everyone can acquire capital, such as the idea of the ‘share owning democracy’. However the Conservative party was built on those who valued conservativism. Conservatism values tradition and traditional structures as things leading to social good and resists change unless it is very clear that specific changes need to be made. Most of the time these two philosophies existed fairly comfortably together. However they have repeatedly come to a head over the UK’s relationship with the Common Market, the EC and now the EU.

The Thatcherites are largely mostly Brexiteers who happily advocate a “No deal Brexit”, they just don’t like the existence of the EU, it is to them a unnecessary layer of government. There is only one legitimate government to them, the UK one and they have been able to control the weakening of the UK government for capital can now flow freely throughout the world.

The conservatives on the other hand have mixed views of the EU, they can see both good and bad things about it. For example as a force promoting peace and stability of European culture, which Britain is very much part of. They are perhaps not huge advocates of the EU but see the need for a relationship of the UK with the EU, thus have nuanced positions, some may advocate leaving the EU but remain in the Single Market or Customs Union.

So when the issue of Brexit arose party members had to decide whether to support the UK remaining in the EU or leaving it has divided the party, before the issue of a No Deal Brexit was discussed and this wasn’t the simple question is has been made out to be.

Along came Boris Johnson, never a Brexiteer, but a journalist who won fame writing humurous anti-EU articles about bendy bananas or chip wrapping paper. To become Prime Minister he needed the support of the Brexiteers within his party so he has adopted the Brexiteer position. Now the issue of a “No Deal Brexit” is top of the UK political agenda, he has to support it and in doing has sacked the conservative members of parliament who are against a No Deal Brexit.

So, Brexit is solely the idea of the Thatcherite Brexiteers, a minority of a minority of the Uk population who have adopted populist language to stay in power and Brexit has practically been solely an internal Conservative party issue, no-one else has had any input into the finer question of what the relationship with the EU should be.

There has been much talk of democracy in discussions of this issue. Maybe the UK is moving towards a better democracy. I have long advocated electoral reform. In the rest of Europe, you can vote for people you support, rather than under FPTP where so many people compromise by voting against who they really don’t want.

What could happen is the current Conservative party morphs into a Thatcherite, hard-right populist party. The expelled conservatives can form a new conservative, unionist centre-right party, bolstered by centre-right people from the LibDems. The LibDems can move to a more natural place for them as a centre left party which leaves Labour free to be a hard-left Socialist party. Hence every party has a clear position and most people who will be able to have a political home if there is electoral reform allowing people to vote for their first choice party.

If the UK can prorogue Brexit until electoral reform takes place, then the UK will be in a position to actually answer this Brexit conundrum and true conservatives can regain their voice.

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

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.