Unity, not division

To many of the politically engaged the fact that the Tories are getting over 40% in the opinion polls seems very strange indeed. How on earth can a government this bad be storming to victory in the UK general election? The answer is that democratic elections are never decided by the politically engaged, but by the  larger part of the electorate that isn’t interested in politics. The politicians themselves have learnt this.

So we suffer the mantra of ‘strong and stable government in the national interest’, repeated endlessly in lieu of an answer to any question. It’s seems just mad that the government can simply declare themselves to be strong and stable without any evidence to back these claims. It is repeated and repeated, it’s becomes part of the background hum of everyday life and perhaps to many not engaged with politics then take it on board like a truth.

It is so easy for those of us politically engaged to be surprised at this. It is so easy to forget that for many elections are the time to try and get a feel for which lot, which political party seem less incompetent at running a country. Largely I feel they do this by listening to the media and their own social conversations, largely to assess which political leader seems to have the edge.

In an ideal world, the politicians would present their vision and their policies and argue for them. The media then scrutinise what the politicians say and their policies and present more in depth coverage of the issues. However this happens less and less these days, as a repeated lie until becomes a truth has been found to be far more effective at ‘winning’ elections. A particular problem British democracy has is that the mass media, television and newspapers blatantly support the Tories and skew the scrutiny in their favour. For example, Mr Miliband’s [Labour] energy cap policy derided by the media in 2010 is now championed by the very same media when that policy now comes from the Tories.

I spoke to a lifelong Labour voter last week who felt she couldn’t vote for Mr Corbyn as she didn’t feel she could trust him. Yet she didn’t say the same thing about Mrs May who has no stronger grounds to claim trust. in a personality battle I would suggest Mr Corbyn shades it:

Strong

No-one has actually defined what exactly a strong leader is. I think it’s something like a determined leader, someone who will get things done whatever the opposition. Defined thus, Mrs May has this quality. However not listening is also a weakness and can mean a stubbornness to pursue bad policy. Yet Mr Corbyn also has this quality, the strength and the stubbornness,  having held firm to his beliefs over the decades and been on the right side of history, whilst Mrs May faltered. What perhaps is important is the reasons behind being stubborn, for the sake of your career or to defend a principle.  Mr Corbyn has had to deal with a media and half of his own party determined to undermine him at every opportunity, yet he has continued, that is a strength.

Stable Government

Again a very spurious word to define politicians. Stability can be defined as resistance to change, that the government will endure whatever may happen. With the likelihood of  a supportive party who falter to uphold their own principles to remain in power [I believe the Tories are ditching conservative values], as a government they may be described as stable, but not for any innate properties of themselves, merely their own circumstances. Corbyn on the other hand has been incredibly stable, in his views over the years, it is his party that has been unstable, still recovering from the machinations of Blairism. Unlike May Corbyn appears more willing to listen and find a compromise between not betraying his beliefs and getting things done, such flexibility aids stability in politicians.

In the National Interest

What? This is the Tories who’ve run this country down at every opportunity, selling off the family silver to their pals, only to loan it back at extortionate rates of interest to the people, further crippling us. The streets are full of the homeless, food banks, the NHS are barely coping, housing costs have rocketed, education in decline, a weakened economy and all thanks to thirty years of unchecked right wing government. Whereas Corbyn seems a little more concerned about the country as a whole, his gets things wrong, but the checks and balances will hold Corbyn to a stabel path, more than May and their narrow focus on people such as themselves of the Tories.

I just think that on a clinical assessment of character, Corbyn should be walking this election. Yet he isn’t. The Tories and the media make out Corbyn to be some radical communist who would plunge the UK into some kind of Soviet style planned economy. Whereas to those on the outside he is a mainstream moderate left wing politician and one who would have to dilute his moderate aims in government, to gently start the work of rebuilding this divided broken Britain, rather than continue the work of division and destruction, of us against them, of a minority hegemony always getting it’s own way and blind to the need for balance.

We have had fairly hard right wing governments for 38 years in the UK. The people of Britain have forgotten what a left wing or even centrist government is like. We have had government that have ruled for the minority of right-wing people, now any left wing government would be for the good of our society and everyone within it, a correcting government. The miners dispute which started me thinking about politics is now almost two generations ago and the sense of patriotism and community that connected us all with those communities has largely evaporated. It is the grandchildren of those who said ‘Never trust the Tories’ who are now voting who know no different Britain. The right wing minority has manipulated the people and the economy to maintain a grip on power to the great detriment of the this country and even managed to lay the blame on the EU for its own failings.  So much so have they been successful at this that people are now prepared to vote for the very people who made the mess in the first place, just to resolve the Brexit question which isn’t as important as it has been made out to be. So now we face yet another election, merely to resolve another internal issue in the Tory party. We have no balanced choices anymore, just more extremism or less and we do want less extremism don’t we?

It’s to wake up and say ‘Stop’. The British Isles now needs a radical change in how we do things. Those of you who read my pages here will know that my solution is taking back control, for genuine democracy and self-government. Somehow, we have to get this message through despite the London and Tory centric mass media, despite the Tories illegally throwing vasts amount of money (that they swindled off us in the first place) back at us to secure their continuing hegemony. Wake up Britain!

Fear of Welsh

A lot of people are afraid of the Welsh language. I think that there are a lot of complex reasons for this rather odd fear.

I have just done a whole week in the Welsh language, doing everything in the language, living in a house with fellow Welsh learners under the guidance of our tutor. I remember feeling somewhat scared about the prospect of only speaking in Welsh for a whole week as we sat around the dining room table preparing not to use English.  I was nervous of losing the comfort blanket of my first language for a whole week.

Yet, it was an enormous amount of fun. Perhaps the most important aspect of the no other languages rule for the week was not being able to ask: “What is the word for X in Welsh/ Beth ydy’r gair am X yn Cymraeg?”, not being able to use a dictionary and having to rely on finding ways to describe things with my limited Welsh vocabulary or simply using gestures. This also meant not being able to use the internet for a whole week.

The result of this single rule was to live in the Welsh language, to think in the Welsh language, to enter an entirely different world really. Instead of simply looking for the equivalent English word or expression, I  lived in Welsh, enabling a close personal relationship with the language. It was a very special and unique experience. Indeed it is one most Welsh speakers never experience, as Welsh speakers always encounter someone who can’t speak Welsh in any given week, or simply use an English word for somethign they don’t know how to express in Welsh.

It was very very mentally tiring not being able to use the vast amount of understanding of the English language I have acquired. English almost became a ‘foreign’ language, which meant that sometimes when walking in the street and overhear someone speaking English, it would sound odd and garbled as I was indeed thinking and being in Welsh.

There were a couple of occasions during the week when I would encounter fear of Welsh from English speakers. The first time was when as a group we were laughing and joking  about a Welsh sign. A man approached and asked ‘Are you lost?’ As we couldn;t speak English someone said ‘Dan ni’n iawn diolch [We’re fine thanks]’ and smiled. A smile is almost universal and I’m sure he understood that we needed no help, however he persisted ‘I don’t speak Welsh’. I made an apologetic face ‘Dan ni’n iawn, diolch, rhaid i ni siarad yn Gymraeg yn unig [We have to only speak in Welsh]’. Suddenly he raised his voice ‘ I said that I don’t speak Welsh, you are being very rude’. At which point our tutor, who was allowed to speak English, intervened to try and explain this unique circumstance and an argument proceeded. The thing is this is a fairly unique aspect of Wales and the Welsh language , in that almost every Welsh speaker can speak English too and many monoglot English speakers are troubled by the Welsh language as this man obviously was, he felt threatened by it, that he has encountered a rare situation where he was unable to communicate. The thing is in most of the rest of the world this doesn’t happen, you cannot assume a knowledge of English you encounter people who don’t speak English and you do communicate with gesture and tone of voice and broad feelings are communicated. Having said that there are Welsh speakers who don’t speak English, in Patagonia in South America, a bilingual Welsh-Spanish speaking community and indeed a few Welsh learners from non-English speaking countries. The man had an negative attitude to the Welsh language and was hostile towards it.

I experienced this again after the language immersion experience. For the first day after, i stayed predominantly in Welsh. I visited a local castle and asked for my ticket in Welsh, quite naturally, The lady at the counter responded ‘I don’t speak Welsh’ at which point i reverted to using English and asked politely for a ticket in English, however she shied back from the counter and another lady took over my transaction. Another encounter with fear of the language.

Of course as a learner of Welsh I regularly experience language fear when talking to strangers, particularly first language Welsh speakers, especially when you don’t know their attitude to a Welsh learner. It’s partly a fear of being judged on your ability and risk of appearing to be a simpleton, which in effect you are at the time, and this is coupled with all the incessant language politics we suffer on a daily basis in Wales. My week in Welsh, has helped me grow my confidence in Welsh so much, being in Welsh I don’t have the cloying memories of anxiety I experience in English. It’s like I have a different version of my personality in the Welsh language.

As English speakers, we are just incredibly lucky to be able to travel in so much of the world in our first language, so many British people, never learn another language, never placing themselves in a situation where they have to learn to use another language to communicate. I think that some of these people simply find it threatening when people use non-English languages in Britain, the phrase ‘Why don’t they speak English’ is often heard in the certain circles in English society, lobbied at the Welsh speaking community and other language communities. However, an I have learnt that being able to exist in another language is a truly wonderful experience. As a Welsh speaker, sometimes I want to experience the world in Welsh and sometimes in English. Hiding within only one language and being hostile or fearful of other languages is just a very odd desire, to want everyone else to be as similar to you as possible. As learners we now our fearful feelings are somethign to get over to leave behind, non language learners ar perhaps not ready to take a risk in a new situation and wish to remain fearful?

 

A Sense of Achievement

Towards the end of the year, many people, like myself, reflect on the year that is drawing to it’s close. Often a question asked is what has been achieved?

Conducting this reflection myself I feel I have made substantial progress on the projects I set myself in three areas.

Firstly I had the aim to learn to speak Welsh properly. Whilst I am still a long way off fluency I have passed many milestones and have some competency of the language and feel it is a part of me now.

Secondly, I wanted to make progress in learning and practicing social skills, now that i had overcome anxiety, again i feel I have made substantial progress.

The third thing, was trying to understand why people support right-wing ideas. Whilst a somewhat vague aim, I think I have progressed here too.

I do feel a sense of achievement, a warm fuzzy glow from the realisation that I have exceeded my own expectations. Really, perhaps the main reason why as animals we do things is simply to enjoy these positive feelings.

Another thing people do at the end of the year, is travel home or spend time with their families and do different things, such as watch live TV, which I no longer normally do.

On the telly recently I watched a really interesting documentary about the Waorani tribe in Ecuador. This tribe live in the rainforests of Ecuador, living a basic existence by Western standards. One of the striking things was that the people generally seemed happier than people in Western countries. I wondered what it was that made life somehow better there. Indeed, I experienced this myself when I lived for 3 months in a camp in the forests of Madagascar, a time I was much happier than at home. I think the reason is a lot more than simply living more naturally in some wonderful forest.

It is perhaps to do with this sense of achievement. As humans we essentially do two types of thing. One type of thing is what we have to do to survive (secure food, water and shelter) and things we can do once the survival stuff is done. The non-essential things may involve home improvements, finding way of making our work easier and more efficient and other projects to feel good about being alive, to achieve this sense of achievement, sometimes this sense is heightened when what we have achieved has no effect on surviving, it is done for the pure thrill of doing it.

This men of this Woarani tribe have a ritual where they go out and catch Giant Anacondas. I can understand this, as I loved catching snakes, whilst I was in Madagascar. In the film, the men and indeed the presenter were clearly showing that they felt this sense of achievement. The question then is there a difference in the Woarani experience and Western society?

For the forest tribe, it is clear, where the lines between surviving, improving and fun are, even if many of the things they do combine these elements. It’s the same thing here in Wales, we do a similar mixture of activities, however the lines are not so clear. For example, we play computer games and gain a sense of achievement for finishing a level. Indeed games are designed to give you this sense of achievement. However, at Christmas, a family tradition is to play board games. Arguably this is more fun because it involves the social interactions with other people and in particular people you share long term relationships with.

I know from my experiences in Madagascar that a large part of my own sense of achievement sprang from living in a sealed community of a small number people, where almost all our social interactions were with each other. We were living and working together, suffering problems together, like a tropical monsoon and the river flooding and also sharing our successes. We were emotionally in the same place, most of the time. I imagine life for the Waorani is similar to this. The positivity of the shared success was bolstered because we believed that we were doing something useful. Even though some other people would argue that what we were doing wasn’t useful. The important thing is that we believed in it.

When we play a video game, or go shopping, we do enjoy some sense of achievement. However, this is often not a huge sense as we kind of know that we are not doing anything that benefits anyone else, or indeed ourselves very much. Incidentally, we perhaps enjoy Christmas shopping more as we are doing it for the people we are buying presents for. We don’t really have this big sense of having achieved anything really useful. I believe that doing something useful is a very important part of doing things in general.

I feel a sense of achievement in learning Welsh, not only as a personal accomplishment, but also because I can now contribute to the Welsh speaking community. Similarly with overcoming anxiety, I can now be more helpful to others. Also the same with understanding the right, I feel I can contribute to discussions more usefully when discussing politics. Simply having this sense of usefulness beyond a personal satisfaction is what makes  the sense of achievement feel so much bigger, so much wider.

I often write on this blog about how as a society in Britain, we are not doing well because there is a sense that all our achievements are artificial. It’s a modern curse really,there is rarely a clear link between what we do and a positive outcome. Perhaps too many of our achievements are not useful, not large, not important and this is part of the problem in our society.

The other big change that happened to me this year was taking on what people describe as my first “proper” job. It has been a really fascinating journey so far. I’ve made decisions in my role that have increased the income of the organisation that I work for. It is an organisation that I believe is doing useful things. So I should feel a big sense of achievement. However I only feel the smaller sense, like in a video game, where I receive satisfaction of getting tasks done quickly and finding more efficient ways of doing things. There is a sense that what i do isn’t real, isn’t palpable. I’m not doing my own projects, I’m doing someone elses and I am but a tiny cog in the organisation. I think this disconnect, where the good things resulting from your actions are felt distantly, elsewhere. This sense of an alienation from results affects most modern jobs, especially in offices. In contrast, when i have been doing science and solve a problem or get real results from an experiment i got the big proper sense of achievement. Whilst I am grateful to have a job and be earning a little money above basic need, I feel I should really be getting back to science as soon as I can, even if that means a smaller income.

I think we all want to have moments of feeling a real sense of achievement and it is often better to do those things within our community, with people we interrelate with and share a commonality.

So, this is what I don’t get about, the right and the whole Brexit thing. Across the spectrum of mainstream political thought, is the idea, that most of us relate to, is the idea that we should all contribute to our community, our society. In particular those with more resources should help those who are less able. Like how in the Woarani tribe, when the young men go out to hunt and the old stay in the village to look after the children, similarly we should all have roles in our communities. The right-wing idea that the market, or individual people and organisations should fulfill these roles, by creating wealth, that is then spent charitably, rather than the state is completely understandable, it is one way of getting to this good society that the Western world has struggled to achieve. However, the modern political right in the UK have abandoned the whole community idea, instead to serve a subset of society, or people like ‘us’, people who are conservatives. I just don’t get this and it makes me angry, it’s just so divisive and pits sections of our society against each other, when we should all be working for the good of our communities. I don’t understand why right wing people are not more angry with ‘their’ politicians for dividing society. How can you gain a sense of achievement from making things worse, it’s below the neutrality of a video game, it should be guilt. It is simply harder to gain a full sense of achievement when all you are doing is making a worsening situation just that little bit less bad.

I appreciate that we don’t live in local communities anymore, that we live in our various globally connected niches. However, local communities, where at least geography is shared is so important. It’s why I associate with the Welsh, simply as the people who live in Wales, rather than some weird racial/ religious identity. I think as humanity, we lose a sense of community at our peril. A sense of achievement is greater than hatred of another lot of people.

The Mattress Problem

Having written recently about long commuting, I am looking forward to finding a place to live in the city where I now work. This has propelled me once again into the British housing crisis. I’m resigned to paying over half my pre-tax income to pay someone else’s mortgage to have somewhere basic but reasonable to live in. so once again I have to deal with the mattress problem. The mattress problem is that most rented flats come ‘furnished’ and landlords are often very reluctant to remove their crappy furniture and their disgusting post reasonable use mattresses. The problem is compounded by the housing crisis, where flats are taken within 48 hours of being advertised, so there is no pressure on landlords to make flats reasonably habitable, this has become the tenants responsibility.

In my last rented place, the landlord insisted I stored his mattress in the room,  I then just bought a cheap 12 month life mattress to sleep on and disposed of it in landfill when I left. I even spent the first week or so sleeping on the floor, the mattress was that bad.

This begs the question of how did British housing get into this ridiculous situation? Basically housing has not responded to the changes in the economy. Traditionally we largely lived in the communities we grew up in and secured ‘jobs for life’ locally, so the housing system was built around the idea of homes where people would live long term, if not all their lives. However, the modern economy is built around maximising flexibility in the labour market, where people are expected to move around the world to find roles that suit our inevitable specialisations. Much of the work is by contract, for example I have a 12 month work contract and after that I may move somewhere completely different. We are now expected to move to find work, as globalisation has led to service hubs. Indeed in Powys, where I’m from, the local hospitals have gone and the current debate is over whether our small towns should have high schools. Some studies/ the council suggest that having a hub school is cheaper even with the costs of busing all the children back and forth around the county. Or maybe ultimately the idea isthe transport costs can be passed onto parents rather than the state. My point is that even if you are a doctor, a nurse or a schoolteacher, these days you have to be prepared to move to your specialised hub to work, which compounds the housing pressure at the hubs.

Anyway, I am essentially looking for somewhere temporary to live, which brings me to subject of furniture. Traditionally,  furniture (beds, tables, chairs) were expensive items that stayed with you for life and indeed furniture was often handed down within families; it was well made by craftsmen. Also equipment such as stoves, heating equipment, toilets, baths, fridges and washing facilities for clothes were part of the building or designed into it. So, in rented accommodation these things were often provided and often continue to be so in a very different world. Indeed in student accommodation, which I have a lot of experience of living in, it is convenient not having to lug big bulky furniture in and out of homes and transport across the country every six months.

The thing that has changed is that the cost of producing furniture has plummeted with mass production and furniture is no longer well made, and is no longer expected to last a life time or even a home move. Combined with this is the increase of people in transient temporary homes, leading to a glut of second hand furniture, people buy furniture to suit a home, it won’t fit nicely into the nooks and crannies of a new home so either gets sold cheaply or goes to land-fill dumps. As a society we are a society of consumers, we all have different lifestyles and preferences, so we now expect furniture to suit us, rather than adjust to fit the furniture.  We increasingly live in smaller spaces, so further require furniture that makes use of space efficiently, rather than having little used bulky furniture cluttering up the limited space.

Due to the housing crisis, mattresses represent arguably the thorniest issue in rented accommodation, they are big bulky items that are not easy to transport around the world. A good traditional Western mattress lasts about ten years and provides a comfortable bed to sleep on. However, lugging them around corners, up and down stairs, into vans, in and out of cold storage facilities really reduces their life expectancy. Also reducing their life expectancy is different people sleeping on them. The problem with a good mattress is that they are relatively expensive. A good new mattress is equivalent to a months rent, which for a 12 month let is a significant cost for the landlord and there is no guarantee the tenants will look after it up to a six year expectancy, so landlords provide cheap mattresses that last a year (about a weeks rent), then often they try and persuade tenants to use them beyond their natural life. So landlords do ask people to store unsuitable mattresses, because there is a reasonable chance the next tenant will be more tolerant of a bad mattress, even if the springs have popped out as in my case.

The upshot of this is that lots of cheap mattresses are produced which end up in skips and landfill every year. There is a huge environmental cost to this, as most of the materials are not recyclable and mattresses contain nasty chemicals from their manufacture (particularly the cheap ones). The solution is perhaps to leave tenants provide their own mattresses, yet it is taking a long time for most landlords to accept this solution. However as beds come in all shapes and sizes this often means tenants replacing their mattress every year. The housing ‘market’ hasn’t provided a solution to this problem.

Having browsed the internet for a solution, the answer seems to be futons, the traditional roll-up Japanese mattress, comfortable and easy transportable. I just need to find either an unfurnished flat or a landlord prepared to take away the bed to the tip or store. Why hasn’t this solution been widely accepted? It may be that British people don’t like sleeping on the floor. Traditional British beds are raised above the floor. As children we fear the monsters that live under the bed, and we kind of deal with this by accepting that the monsters won’t come out of their space, the area under the bed is after all only filled with monsters when the lights go out. If there is no space, where do the monsters go? uh oh! Part of the reason for raised beds is to not be troubled by rats at night, as a rat will rarely climb onto a bed with a large mammal sleeping on it. The rats are the monsters, but in most housing these days rat infestations are rare, rather than a part of life.

Of course, these problems also exist for home owners, it costs around £10,000 just to pay all the various costs of moving and then buy new furniture. It is simply not worth the effort of doing this, when transactions take months to complete, that more and more people are looking for 12 month lets in new cities and often letting out their home where they actually want to settle long term, and ahem, finding somewhere to store their furniture, or leave it for the tenants, including the mattresses.

It just seems that the humble mattress, we all need something to sleep on, represents so many of the problems of modern society and Britain has been so slow in developing a work around for the problems of mattresses. My experience of landlords is that they expect tenants to live in conditions they wouldn’t put up with themselves, which is morally wrong; landlords should provide accommodation they would be happy to live in themselves, they are receiving an income from their property after all, even if it is mainly just paying off a mortgage. The problem with this is that we all have different requirements, especially in bedding and furnishings, so such choices should be left to the tenant, who will know their own needs, whenever possible.

Black Sheep and Corbyn

I have written about how I believe that right wing people, conservatives, and left wing people, socialists, think differently. There is scientific evidence backing this theory both genetically and from psychological profiling. I have then argued that society in general should reflect that, economies should be more efficient if they cater for the diversity of people, so people can find their niches to survive and thrive. Yet, the political media  very rarely mention this and thus an impression is created that one ideology is simply better than the other, which I have long argued simply isn’t true. I mean if you accept this theory it becomes absurd to introduce competition or commercial strategies to public institutions like the health service, the railways or the BBC, or expect commercial organisations to fulfil social requirements. ‘Balance in everything’ should perhaps be a universal motto.

The media ignore this is the frenzy of Jeremy Corbyn, being retained as leader of the Labour party today. The left need a political leader  who is left wing. Corbyn became leader simply through being the right person at the right time. It is the weakness of the Labour party that no-one else with a broader appeal is currently available. so, the infighting and a leadership election was a complete waste of time, especially at a time, when an objective assessment of what to do about Brexit is required.

Of course social demographics plays a part, but it is perhaps worth re-considering traditional voting patterns. There used to be much more of families voting the same way and perhaps there is a genetic component to this. So many families will produce the odd person of the opposite persuasion. I grew up in a largely conservative family, however considering genetics, my grandfather, who passed away before I was born was a socialist, so I assumed I had inherited his ‘socialist genes’ rather than been an outlier. Such ‘black sheep’ often chastised for ‘rebelling’ against the family serve such an important role. The black sheep are in a position to argue for balance, to point out that the established way of doing things doesn’t work for everyone, only those who fit in with those traditions.

Broadly, socialists tend to be attracted to public service co-operative roles, whilst conservatives tend to be attracted to market trading competitive roles. I heard a right wing commentator talking about the importance of competition in schools. Yes, competition is important for children, the conservatives benefit from it and it teaches the socialists an understanding of the role of competition. so, it is equally important for children to do cooperative tasks because this benefits the socialist children and teaches the conservative children about the role of cooperation. The point is that neither is better than the other and it si wrong to have one without the other, it’s like the Yin-Yang symbol. Working in public service is as important as working at innovation and producing new products in competitive markets.

I heard on the radio today someone say that ‘Britain will never elect a true socialist’, which begs the question ‘why not?’Britain needs a socialist, a black sheep, to restore some balance to our economy. It is possible that the genetic pool of the British is predominantly right wing, after all the modern British, genetically are a mix of original settlers (which we know little about), Celts, Anglo-Saxons, Normans and Vikings. Added to that mix is the diversity of immigration predominantly from specific regions: Africa, the Caribbean Islands, the Indian sub-continent, Poland etc. Essentially a product of the British Empire period and European wars. This is interesting as the genetic mix still varies across Britain, the phenomena of large numbers moving vast distances is only a few generations old, and not long enough to have truly mixed the genes.

Contrast this to France, with a different history and a different Empire (so a distinctly different group of Africans), has tended to be more socialist than Britain. However it is a very interesting question whether the different gene pools do generate different mixes of left or right wing people, or do populations tend to balance out this diversity.

It’s a pertinent question as the party political landscape appears to no longer reflects the diversity of opinion and people. We no longer live in a world where politicians justify their policies in practical terms. Instead arguments centre around ideology, that one ideology is simply better. It’s like saying that blue eyed people are somehow better than brown eyed people, or that dark skinned people are better than light skinned people, it’s nonsense. Yet we live in a world where respect and tolerance of diversity appears to be in decline and there is a rise in tribalism again. Whichever pigeon hole you slot into, your historic identity, seems to have become more important, when there is perhaps little use in creating needless division. Diverse people have generally got on fine, even the black sheep in the family are usually accepted as full members of the family.

Just listen to the rhetoric of Donald Trump and other right wing leaders, look at the deeply saddening scenes in Syria, the Tory regime in Britain. There is a need for Corbyn, because people like Corbyn have been sidelined for too long. I don’t agree with everything Corbyn says, I don’t have to, I just accept the need for someone like him to drag us back to the centre ground, to create a level playing field, where whomever we are, whatever your social or indeed genetic background is, that there is the opportunity for you to find a role to contribute to the economy and society, whilst accepting that other people are different. a world where we can maximise value so we have the resources to deal with disasters and other problems.

The bitter aftertaste of the Olympics

I really enjoyed the Olympics, I focussed on watching the amazing sport on offer and basked in the warm glow of the success of fellow Britons. However the circumstances of this success has left a bitter aftertaste as what happened wasn’t somehow really British.

TeamGB achieved success by being well-funded and organised, allowing teams of athletes to focus on analysis and incremental improvements in performance. This is great but, hang on, ‘organised’?, well-funded’?? is simply not how the British do things old boy. This support of elite sport is in the context of drastic cuts in grass roots sport, funding cut for municipal sport facilities, slashing in funding for sport in schools, selling over of playing fields for awful developments. I think most people would rather have great facilities than watching some athletes achieve success on the other side of the world. Also, it just feels like we cheated by funding athletes better than other countries.

The funding for TeamGB comes from the National Lottery. The National Lottery is essentially a tax on the poor. It provides hope of a big windfall so people can afford a house and escape poverty, but half of the money paid in goes to ‘good causes’ such as supporting elite sport. Something similar happened when The UK hosted the games in 2012, public funding in deprived areas was cut, to release money to develop facilities in London, which is the wealthiest part of the UK. This happened in Brasil too, a poor country, lumbered with paying for the games for a poor return on facilities for the city of Rio, and they couldn’t even make cheap tickets available for the locals, leading to empty stadia, much better to take the money of a few rich tourists.

Don’t get me wrong, funding of elite sportspeople isn’t wrong, they can be an inspiration for participation in sport generally and dedication to the following of dreams. However when it is the only thing that the UK does really well, it leaves a bitter aftertaste.

Then there was the media coverage, some of  which was horribly nationalistic. I watched the coverage of events on the extra channels provided by the BBC, however the main BBC1 coverage, seemed to obsess over the UK athletes, to the detriment of a comprehensive coverage of the games, also simply not British, we’re supposed to apologise for success. I do expect some focus on the home athletes, but it was a bit much. Then there was the repeated coverage of the ‘Medal Table’ documenting, which countries have the most medals. Yes, it’s nice to see that TeamGB managed to finish with the second highest medal tally, historic even. However the medal table for me is rather nationalistic for what should be a friendly games. I grew up with the medal table being a battle between the two evil giants of  the USA and CCCP. Years of drugs scandals, led the establishment of the idea that medal table success was not a proxy for a nations success, but a representation of a sinister side of nationalism. Jade Jones, the Welsh gold medallist in the Taekwondo, was rapped, for breaking protocol and running with the Welsh flag and the Union Jack, when the rule was only to carry the Union flag (which still doesn’t represent Wales). How easily the cosy togetherness of Britain can break down. I know there is no law for the official flag, but in the stadiums there seemed a lot of UK flags with a light blue background, not the proper dark blue of the Saltire. Well OK, we’re British, we’re just not very good at being united in anything.

newunionflag

Really, the Union flag hasn’t changed in two hundred years. Isn’t it about time Wales was represented properly. Adding the yellow  cross of St David to the flag can be so simple and as you can see, doesn’t have to really change the aesthetic of the flag. There is nothing stopping anyway making this flag and using it to represent the UK.

I think the issue is that Olympics is not representing the best of humanity, not simply being a vehicle for demonstrating what wonderful things human bodies are capable of. Instead, it represents what you can do with power and money taken away from ordinary people and this is just very very sad.

 

British Identity Roots

There seems to have been a major shift in how people define themselves. in recent times we have heard some people see Scottish independence as a threat to their identity and the recent Brexit vote as a threat to people’s European identity. I had thought the idea of associating identity with a state, rather than with people was bizarre. When I read in the news that ‘The British have decided…’, I cringe as it is not the British people but the British state that has decided something. However if people do associate themselves with states, then they are allowing states to effect their identity, which is surely strange, though this is how I believe it once was. There does seem to have been a shift in focus from some people post-Brexit. If identity is grounded in the machinations of the state, then essentially people are rootless and subject to political whims. Really, our sense of identity should not be political, but perhaps inevitably it is. It seems that how we root ourselves as people has changed.

Roots are important, they help provide security for us as individuals, they allow us to recognise what defines us as people and how we are different to that norm, to know who we are. Discovering our roots is essentially realising who we are, the roots were there but we were not aware of them. We particularly notice our roots when we are uprooted to somewhere else, the roots effectively become exposed. An actual examination of roots is something fairly new for many people.

Traditionally, people were rooted to the land, with one big carrot like root, placing someone firmly in a locality and a community. Thus this community defined who they were, how they thought, how they viewed the world. It is only in the last couple of generations that we have moved away from this model. Genetically, the vast majority of people in an area were descended from countless generations before them, when people settle, they don’t move around much, living in that same area. When people travelled and met new people, two questions were often asked: 1/ What do you do for a living? 2/ Where are you from?

The answers to these two questions used to reveal a lot, if not almost everything about a person. For recent generations, these two questions are less revealing, because we are increasingly not defined by our work and are less geographically rooted. Instead of that big fat carrot root, we have multiple, thinner roots that range far and wide. Instead of defining ourselves from our localities and local communities, we root in much bigger networks. This then impacts on local communities as then those living in that community, rooting more traditionally, find many people around them with different roots. so, we can perhaps explain the rise in xenophobia as the expression of fear about roots. Living in a community with people who are rooted in different ways is perhaps perceived as disturbing.

For example a homosexual, growing up in a community with few fellow homosexuals, may find it difficult to root their sexuality, so they will look further afield to root themselves in a wider community and may decide to move to a city where there are more homosexuals. In Wales, such a phenomena has occurred more widely.

I grew up in a rural area and my generation were told and strongly encouraged to move away to go to university or develop a career and then come back to raise a family as there were few employment opportunities in the area. This has happened for communities across Wales. The sense of Welshness is such that the ‘hiraeth’ or pull back to home when you are able is strong. However this does leave communities with low proportions of people in their 20s, denying communities of people with the time and energy to contribute and build things for that community, that is much harder for people to do once they have children to support. I have witnessed this is my own community, there are even less opportunities now than when I was young. However, I have friends from similar areas in Northern England and they have no such desire to return home to economically deprived communities, yet they retain the identity and define themselves as proud Yorkshirefolk or Scousers. The thing is that people continue to root themselves into their 20s, so quite wide ranging roots are formed, often based on your preferences, you find communities of people based on those preferences.

I think because rooting is based on preferences, there is a perception of choice involved. for example that the homosexual I mentioned earlier has ‘chosen’ to be homosexual, rather than simply realised that they always were homosexual.

What is interesting is that the Brexit vote was strongest in deprived communities, left behind communities, communities that haven’t had to develop wide ranging roots adn those communities that have lost their young people; these areas  defined the vote. Whereas the cosmopolitan, wider rooted younger communities of the cities were strongest for the European Union, for the Union of Europe was perceived to have just at least as many problems as the Union of the UK. The advocates of Brexit did not focus on the economic arguments, but on immigration instead, with winning the vote, they celebrated by waving the Union flag. This suggests that the vote was all about identity and not economics. We have a UK Prime Minister including in her first speech a stress upon the importance of the Union [of the United Kingdom].

So, what is the Union, beyond the political union holding together the nations of the UK? The answer is perhaps Britishness, a sense of identity and belonging to the nations of Britain. However the social union of Britain has been in decline for decades. The world wars of the last century, the end of the British Empire period, forged a new one nation Britain, with a new sense of identity and a strong sense of unity, of everyone pulling together to re-build the state after the wars. The new economic policies  of Thatcher and Reagan and an ongoing ‘neoliberal’ consensus of rampant individualism, begun in the 1980s tore apart the sense of a British community. Areas, such as Wales, Scotland and Northern England were sacrificed to fuel a burgeoning Southern England, it was like the family had been abandoned to buy a flashy new car. The sense of the family of Britain, was broken. The sense of Britishness has declined and the notion of Englishness was perhaps newly born (arguably Englishness was entirely entwined with the idea of Britishness). It is perhaps painful for older people to have woken up recently to discover that part of their identity has gone and they perhaps perceive ‘winning’ the Brexit vote as a chance for a return to Britishness. This aspiration seems doomed to fail, as the party in control of the UK and it’s new ideology, is the very one that has ripped the Union apart for all their fine words.

This whole sense of defining yourself, of rooting yourself in a nation, just seems like an idea of the past now. I am of course a proud Welshman, but that is only a part of my identity. I feel rooted, I don’t have a sense of wondering who I am. It is perhaps being an outsider, of being a Welshman living and moving frequently in England in my 20s, allowed me the opportunity to define myself widely, to root myself well, while not becoming a full member of those communities, those areas have also become part of my identity. However, there may be people who feel mainstream, who haven’t travelled widely, for whom this change in how we root ourselves may be much harder to achieve.

 

 

 

Welsh and British, but not European

The UK EU referendum didn’t seem to be really about UK membership of the EU. In many ways it should have been a rational assessment of the the benefits and costs of continued membership of this organisation. However it is difficult to isolate a single issue like that from it’s context. I have read about people describing the campaign as about identity politics, about the end of Britishness, the end of the UK; with Scotland, Northern Ireland and indeed Wales, leaving the union. The campaign has left a very divided confused Britain, in part due to the those under my age being strongly for remaining, whereas those older than me being largely for Leave. It is arguable than in a few years as the population ages, such a campaign would never again be won by Leave.

It does seem that people of my age are on the cusp of this generational divide. My parents were the post second world war baby boomer and the younger generation are the millennials. Perhaps the key difference between these two generations is the second world war. I am a member of the last generation who was able to talk to people who lived through the Second World War, to have had conversations with former soldiers who fought in that war with my grandfather. My grandparents retained lingering prejudice and suspicion of Germans, because they were the enemy and they saw the destruction of British towns and cities wrought by German bombs. However my generation and the one behind me, have no negativity towards Germans.

I have always described myself and Welsh first and British second. It does seem that this identity is on the wane. When I was growing up at international football matches, Welsh supporters proudly flew both the Union flag and Y Ddraig Goch, English supporters almost exclusively flew the Union flag. Here we are in footballs Euro 2016 [and Wales are in the semi-finals, WOW! Dewch ymlaen Cymru! Dan ni’n enill yn erbyn Portiwgal!] where the Union flag is very rare amongst Welsh supporters and equally rare amongst England supporters, who now fly the St George’s Cross. My English friends of my age, described themselves as British and didn’t really understand my pride in being Welsh. In Welsh circles it was often discussed that the English didn’t understand their own identity. However these days, there is a sense of the English understanding that they are English or have some other identity, such as British Muslim.

Going back again to my parents and grandparents. Whilst they rooted for Wales in sport, they retained a support for England when England were playing a non-home nation [the Home nations are Wales, England, Scotland and Ireland]. I think it was the sense of unity that came from the war, of working together for the good of the country, which no-one really talks about nowadays. This was the generation that saw the creation of the National Health Service (NHS), the Welfare state, had jobs for life, a generation that invested a part of themselves in the nation state.

Now these national institutions are under attack, the sense of identity of being British with the NHS. I have grown up with Thatcher and a generation of politicians that grew up under her influence, which has divided the nation of the UK between North and South, which has encouraged economic individualism. Instead of a uniting identity, my generation and the millennials, generate their own identities, based on who they are. It is this generation that positively identify with being European, in a way my grandparents would never do. There is no sense of identity with the British government, people generally don’t see the Prime Minister as our leader as once people did. My identity is with the people who live on these islands, not with those who govern it.

Personally, I do not identify or feel European. I appreciate that I come from a European culture. However I have been lucky enough to be able to travel around the world. Most of my experiences have been outside Europe. So I identify myself as more a World citizen than as a European citizen. The other issue is language. As the UK is an English speaking nation, we have and continue to grow up heavily influenced by North American culture. Yesterday  the USA celebrated it’s independence day from the British. British and Irish people have this dual outlook that is both towards America and continental Europe, that is not perhaps shared to the same extent by other Europeans. It is sobering to think that the British may soon no longer exist as a socio-political entity. I will always consider myself British, though a long standing attachment to England, Ireland and Scotland and the subtle differences between mine and these nations. However if the UK does indeed break up, this sense of a cultural Britishness may also fade.

This sense of Britishness is actively threatened, as there is a division between those who see non-white British origin people as apart from everyone else. This talk of identities has awakened racist abuse and attacks. Yet in the metropolitan towns and cities particularly, people are aghast at these attitudes. This has come to be symbolised by the animosity over this last week between Bremainers and Brexiters. All this on a day before the publication of the Chilcott report, which will hopefully clear up whether the UK did indeed join the US to invade Iraq in 2003 under false pretences, with no coherent plan. A conflict that was a catalyst for the rise of terrorism from groups like ISIS, hundreds of thousands of pointless deaths and suffering, that did not bring about the peace that allegedly justified that war.

I am sure the Brexit vote aftermath will continue for some time. However at least tomorrow, we can forget about it and be carried away by the excitement of the football!

Keep Calm and have a cup of Tea

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

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

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

1/ More political integration in the EU.

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

3/ Withdrawal from the EU

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

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

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

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

 

I want my country back

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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