2019 Election: The Ericle’s Takeaways.

The Ericle cast his vote for The Liberals (Democrats), the same party that he has voted for at every General Election bar one; when as a student at Sussex University in 1969 he campaigned for Labour to oust Julian Amery from Brighton Pavilion. My vote though deeply rooted in my political DNA was, in reality, a coward’s one as there was much that I did not agree with the LDs about, (Revocation of Article 52 and retention of the Trident nuclear deterrent, being the top two). Also, having voted for Ed Davey to be leader, my less-than-positive impression of Jo Swinson sadly proved to be accurate. The ‘sorry’ – and I use the word most intentionally – truth was that I got what I really hoped for: a Conservative victory with a working majority. This, IMHO, was the ‘best-worst’ result from an election where no objective positive was possible, after Lord Snooty’s releasing of the Brexit monster from the Pandora Box that should never have been opened. Sadly the recriminations with regards to Brexit are not going to go away for many years, but I do sincerely believe – especially given the new government’s insertion of a leave-in-2021 clause – that we are at The Beginning of The End

There are some who will want to see the election as a victory for nationalism – the UK’s and Scotland’s. In both case’s the electors that viewed matters through this lens were responding to a perceived disconnect between their framed homeland and a political whole to which they belonged. This will undoubtedly be a feature of many national elections with Europe in the years to come, given an EU that proscribes a political association beyond the national consciousness of its parts. However, to substantially ascribe these feelings to pure nationalism is to miss the point completely as to why The Referendum vote went the way that it did; namely a guttural scream against a central government that seems insensitive to regional and personal pains in an economic downturn.  Both the UK governments and the EU need to quickly and effectively respond to this, if they wish to avoid further fissures. Easier said than done. Both the European & UK governments will have their work cut out persuading separatist factions that they have an empathetic understanding for all parts of their Unions, and that they have an appetite for progressive policies that address regional needs.

The Ericle tends to be a political optimist. Hence his one-year membership of the Labour Party, 2015-6, in order to support Jeremy Corbyn as Leader. Was I mad? In hindsight, I leave the issue of my sanity to My Reader, but the optimism of my expectations was certainly questionable. In politics I am always looking for the middle ground; the franchise that will embrace the broadest community possible. And in this quest, if there is an error in my ways, it is the hope that leaders of political parties will initiate agendas that appeal across the breadth of their membership. Sadly, Corbyn reverted to type and regressed not only to the Hard Left but also to a proposition of a Socialism that was rejected in the 20th century; and certainly had no place in the 21st. Of course, the biggest factor in the 2019 election was Brexit; but this on its own – Remain or Leave – was not the guarantor of victory. The tipping point was the domestic agendas proposed by the major parties and it was the rejection of Labour’s extremist manifesto that ultimately cost them this election.

One – perhaps the only one – personal positive that I can take from the 2019 election has been the active engagement by my daughter in political campaigning for The Labour Party. The Ericle has in the past pointed to his perception that today’s younger folk have a tendency to espouse grand causes – feminism, the environment etc – but not to engage with national politics. Naturally, she is very disappointed with the election result but I am encouraged by her proclamation that she plans to stick with it; and if she discovers, as part of this process, that politics is not only a matter of personal convictions but also about taking the majority along with you, then she – and hopefully many other young people who campaigned with her – will be on a path that will eventually be to the great benefit of the country. I also place some hope that among the arrival in Westminster of over 100 new MPs many are engagingly young. This has only got to be a good thing.

I am still convinced that the UK is a country with its heart in the right place – certainly more so than most others. UK elections are won by parties that gain the support of the centre, and if for this reason alone, perhaps we may be pleasantly surprised to find that Boris turns out to be more of a ‘One Nation Tory’ than most give him credit for. If he isn’t and he reverts to type, then surely a new New Labour or a credible 3rd party will have evolved by the time of next election. I did say that I was a political optimist, didn’t I?

Note: The Ericle is unable to currently accept comments. This facility will be restored in the New Year after the site moves to a secure server. However, I would be delighted to receive comments by email at EricleLondon@gmail.com

UK Jewry is backing itself into a corner of its own making.

In the last couple of weeks, I have become embroiled in a discussion at my synagogue – on which I am in a very small minority –  about whether it is correct for an address made from the platform during our synagogue services to invoke a party political position, based on perceptions of anti-Semitism within the current Labour Party. This immediately followed an invitation to Ian Austin to address our Friday evening service, two weeks ago, on the 81st anniversary of Krystallnacht at which I was horrified at Austin’s invocation to his audience not to vote Labour in the forthcoming General Election to the approval, I need to add, of the vast majority of his audience; reflecting the current thinking of most of UK Jewry. And this was not the first of its kind.

Our rabbi, who is a very sincere and spiritual man – and a man for whom I have the utmost respect – has taken a position that it is his duty to speak out against Corbyn. This is from his most recent message, justifying the invitation, in our weekly congregational newsletter:

The only question we raise today is why there were not more Jewish leaders, scholars and lay leaders, with the courage to speak out against antisemitism and attacks on the Jewish people. As Elie Wiesel has so brilliantly challenged us over the past decades: “Do we really want our children to ask us years from now why we were silent?”

This statement is absolutely incontestable but whether one can conclude that Jeremy Corbyn is that duck, based on what he has quacked and with whom he swims, is far from proven in my opinion. There is some distance between the warning of a perceived direction of political travel and the reaching of conclusions of racial prejudice. More significant is the question as to whether the pulpit a correct place to direct voting intentions. (The Charities Commission says that it is not.) This is what I wrote, following that service, to the Rabbi:

Though I feel totally mismatched to engage with you on this, the fact remains that I did leave synagogue on Friday quite disturbed by elements of Ian Austin’s presentation to us – and I am not an apologist for Corbyn nor currently a supporter of The Labour Party. There will, however, have been quite a few at the service – which is also broadcast to a wider audience – who will be voting Labour in the coming election, and even some who do not see Jeremy Corbyn in the light in which he was cast. Do you have any concerns that they might feel that our synagogue is not a place where they feel comfortable? And is a political issue, such as this, one that should potentially drive such a wedge?

I know that it may be dangerous to quote from a person that I know nothing about, nor as to his ultimate motives. I suspect that I may find major areas of disagreement with Robert A H Cohen but I find myself in broad agreement with what he writes below in his blog Writing From The Edge: Rescuing The Jewish Covenant One Blog Post At A Time:

I’ve been told to fear the prospect of Jeremy Corbyn becoming Prime Minister. I’ve been warned that the Labour Party leader is antisemitic. And, according to a new poll, nearly half of British Jews are considering leaving the country if Labour wins the General Election on December 12th.

Despite the doomsday picture being painted for British Jews, I’m not fearful of Corbyn or the possibility of him reaching 10 Downing Street. Nor do I believe that the Labour Party is “poisoned” or “rampant” with antisemitism. But what has left me horrified over the last four years has been the reckless and irresponsible way in which antisemitism has been used to vilify Corbyn and make the entire Labour Party appear toxic.

For the record, I’m not a Labour Party activist, or even a Labour Party member. I have no particular brief to support Jeremy Corbyn. In local and national elections over the years, I’ve voted for Liberal Democrat candidates, Labour candidates and Green candidates. Geography means I don’t attend a synagogue as often as I’d like to, but I read and love my Jewish prayer book, and at home we light Shabbat candles and we celebrate the Jewish festivals. I worry about rising antisemitism around the world and I care about the safety and security of Jews in Britain. And because of all these things, it bothers me deeply when I see antisemitism become drained of meaning for the sake of narrow political advantage.

The UK’s Brexit induced General Election was always going to be about more than just Brexit. And so it should be. A decade of chronic underinvestment in public services; the growing disparity between rich and poor; our response to the Climate Emergency; and the very future of the United Kingdom itself, all need to be central themes of the campaign over the next month. The one issue that does not need to be part of the debate is antisemitism. At least not the version of the antisemitism debate we’ve been having over the last few years which has become profoundly politicised.

The opening days of the campaign

As things stand, scaremongering about antisemitism is in danger of hijacking the 2019 election. This is not good for British Jews nor for British democracy.

The position of the Jewish Chronicle and the Jewish News, the two most widely read Jewish newspapers in the UK, is entirely expected and consistent with the campaign they have been running since September 2015 when Corbyn was elected Labour Party leader.

As this General Election campaign got underway, the Jewish Chronicle’s editorial stated:

“The impact of a Labour victory is almost unimaginable for our community…The prospect is truly frightening.”

The Jewish News titled its main Op Ed ‘The nightmare before Chanukah?’

What exactly are these editorial writers expecting to happen if Corbyn becomes Prime Minister? Shouldn’t it be possible to imagine it? Is there some hidden anti-Jewish manifesto in Corbyn’s back pocket that only they have seen? Their language suggests they expect immediate discriminatory laws against Jews to be enacted by a Corbyn government or, at the very least, a hostile environment against Jews to be created across the country.

Speaking at a formal dinner of the Board of Deputies of British Jews on November 4 the Board’s President, Marie van de Zyl, also hinted at the dark consequences of a Corbyn victory by saying the Board was “preparing for all scenarios.”

What kind of “scenarios” is the Board preparing for? It’s never made clear because it makes no sense. But a feeling of impending doom is created and left hanging in the air.

The Guardian columnist, Jonathan Freedland, who’s been a prominent left of centre critic of Corbyn since his election, wove the same mood of dread and anxiety in a recent article in which he repeated the now well-worn (and well-refuted) allegations against Corbyn:

“I understand that to many, all this will sound overwrought. I’m afraid that Jewish history has made us that way, prone to imagining the worst. We look at our usually sparse family trees and we can pick out the pessimists, those who panicked and got out. It was they who left their mark on us. You see, the optimists, those who assumed things would work out for the best, they never made it out in time.”

It sounds “overwrought” because it is overwrought. But worse still, it’s feeding a moral panic across the nation and stoking fear in Jewish homes without a credible threat being presented.

But the Jewish establishment’s campaign against Jeremy Corbyn has never been only about convincing British Jews not to vote Labour.

The number of Jewish voters in the UK is tiny. Including adults and children, we make up only 0.5% of the population. There are only a handful of constituencies, mostly in North London, where Jewish votes (assuming they are cast uniformly) could make a decisive difference to the outcome. In any case, the majority of Jews stopped voting Labour long before Corbyn became leader. That’s to do with the economic and social advancement that most Jews in Britain have achieved. Until recently, it’s had nothing to do with Corbyn or antisemitism.

So branding Corbyn as antisemitic has always been about influencing the wider UK electorate. And it may well have succeeded. A poll carried out in April 2019 reported that 55% of respondents agreed with the statement that Mr Corbyn’s “failure to tackle anti-semitism within his own party shows he is unfit to be prime minister”.

Conservative supporting national newspapers, in particular the Daily Mail, The Times, The Telegraph, The Express, have all been enthusiastic amplifiers of the ‘Corbyn is antisemitic’ narrative. Neither these national newspapers nor the more liberal Guardian or the BBC, have shown much interest in seriously interrogating, let along challenging the allegations. The case against our mainstream media in its handling of the Labour antisemitism saga has been well established by media analysts and antisemitism experts in the book ‘Bad News for Labour’ published last month.

Meanwhile, the pro-Remain Liberal Democrats’ leader, Jo Swinson, speaking at her party’s election campaign launch on November 5 came up with the most peculiar, contorted and self-serving framing of the antisemitism accusation I’ve seen so far:

“Most importantly, the reason why people are Remain [on the Brexit question] is about values, and one of those values is so important – is the value of equality – for recognising that people can be themselves, as individuals, whatever the colour of their skin, whatever God they pray to, whoever they are. And Jeremy Corbyn’s complete and utter failure to root out antisemitism in his own Party, is a – just – total dereliction of duty when it comes to protecting that value of equality.”

While this alignment of racism, inequality and support for Brexit may have some coherence when you look to the political right, it’s hard to make sense of it in Corbyn’s case, not when you examine Corbyn’s track record on campaigning against racism or his party’s policies on immigration and refugees. And while Corbyn’s position on Brexit is deliberately ambiguous, painting him as a hard Brexiteer doesn’t tally with his party’s position over the last three years. But hey, let’s not let any pesky facts spoil the antisemitism story.

As for the Conservative Party leader and current Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, he’s happily climbed on the bandwagon by describing his main opponents in this election as: “fratricidal antisemitic Marxists”. I feel sure he will return with characteristic enthusiasm to the subject as the election campaign reaches its climax.

For a more detailed account of how the right is exploiting and abusing antisemitism during this election, and over the last few years, I’d recommend the article by antisemitism academic Tony Lerman in Open Democracy.

The case against Corbyn’s Labour

So what is the case against Corbyn? And does it stack up as the show-stopping, moral argument against his gaining elected high office?

It’s always been difficult to disentangle the allegations of antisemitism from the wider divisions within Labour over Corbyn’s shift of the party to the left. The growing influence of more left-wing Labour members at the grass roots and within its national decision making bodies has been fought against by Labour MPs who favoured the Blair/Brown years of Labour leadership. Antisemitism has, in part, become a proxy battle in a bigger ideological war over how Labour should respond to decades of neo-liberalism and more recently austerity. So motivations can be, and have been, mixed and complex.

It’s impossible to understand the personal criticism against Corbyn without recognising that it’s nearly always in the context of a wider debate over the behaviour of Israel towards the Palestinian people.

Corbyn has been a long standing campaigner for Palestinian rights for decades. Those official and establishment Jewish voices that say they fear a Corbyn government tell us they do so because they fear a radical change in the safety and security of Jews in Britain. But a more credible explanation for their accusations is the possibility of a radical change in the attitude of the British government towards the State of Israel. But in merely expressing the possibility of a political motive behind the attacks, one quickly becomes branded as anti-Jewish. Freedom of speech gets buried alive in this war over the meaning of antisemitism.

Having noted this central aspect of the saga, it’s also true that some on the left make themselves, and by association Corbyn, easy targets for justified criticism. The left’s emphasis on the wrongs of empire, colonialism and racism lead to a small minority expressing an obsessive and un-nuanced understanding of Zionist thinking which too easily trips into antisemitism.

It’s true too that Israel/Palestine has become a totemic cause on the left, much as South African apartheid was in the 70s and 80s or the Vietnam War in the 60s. But there are perfectly legitimate reasons for wanting to highlight Israel as a nation with a long and on-going history of human rights abuses which western leaders choose not to act against. A few on the left will make the lazy mistake of falling into anti-Jewish rhetoric to explain why this has happened. This in turn enables the professional advocates for Israel to label all anti-Israel criticism on the left as founded on nothing more than antisemitism.

The questions we are then left with are: how great is the scale of the problem and how well has Corbyn dealt with it?

Let the numbers speak

The precise scale of reported antisemitism within the Labour Party became clear at the start of this year when Labour’s general secretary, Jennie Formby, released detailed numbers covering accusations of antisemitism made against Labour members between April 2018 and January 2019. This covered the period during which media interest in the story reached fever pitch in the summer and autumn of 2018.

The 673 accusations as a percentage of party members amounted to 0.1% of the total Party membership. However, 220 of the allegations were rejected through the disciplinary process which left 453 (or 0.08% of party membership) accused, found guilty and disciplined. Of these, only 12 were considered serious enough to warrant permanent expulsion.

Further analysis of these figures, and other data, and their comparison to survey data of antisemitism in the UK population as a whole, has been carried out by statistician Alan Maddison. The upshot is, there’s less antisemitism in Labour than you would expect to find in the UK population as a whole (which is already among the lowest in the world). In fact, reputable surveying in 2017 by Jewish Policy Research, showed that antisemitism was more prevalent on the right and far right than on the left in the UK.

“Levels of antisemitism among those on the left-wing of the political spectrum, including the far-left, are indistinguishable from those found in the general population.”

Which again begs the question as to why all the focus has been on Labour since Corbyn became leader. The numbers suggest we should be looking elsewhere.

What about Corbyn himself?

If Jeremy Corbyn is truly antisemitic he must be the most unusual and eccentric example of antisemitism ever displayed by a British political leader and perhaps any political leader.

When you are told that a politician is a diehard antisemite you don’t expect to then discover that over the decades he’s signed dozens of Early Day Parliamentary motions condemning antisemitism; helped organised protests against anti-Jewish marches; visited the Terezin concentration camp to commemorate Holocaust victims; attended numerous Jewish events in his constituency; and read the war poetry of Isaac Rosenberg at his local Remembrance Day service.

The list of antisemitic ‘crimes’ by Corbyn which have been ‘unearthed’ to ‘expose’ his guilt all crumble for anyone who bothers to do some fact checking or examine the context in which they happened.

If I have criticisms of Corbyn over his handling of antisemitism it’s that he did not defend himself or his party more robustly.

He should have toured the TV studios during the spring and summer of 2018 to refute the allegations made against him. He should have invited his accusers, in particular Campaign Against Antisemitism, and the leaders of the Board of Deputies, Jewish Leadership Council and the editor of the Jewish Chronicle, to debate face to face. He should have given a platform to Palestinian voices to demonstrate the problematic nature of the IHRA “illustrations” of antisemitism. He should have given a major speech setting out his understanding of Jewish history, of antisemitism, of what does and does not count as fair criticism of Israel and Zionism.

The strategy of not giving more oxygen to the allegations through direct engagement turned out to be wrong. It just encouraged more vilification.

The failure of Jewish leadership

But the greatest failings in this story have not been Corbyn’s.

Over the last four years the formal leadership of the Jewish community in the UK, aided and abetted by Jewish community newspapers and the Campaign Against Antisemitism, have succeed in making the task of fighting anti-Jewish behaviour harder and more complicated.

They have exaggerated a problem within Labour and enabled a false narrative to take hold in the public’s understanding of the issue. In doing this, they have made antisemitism into a party political football.

With their promotion of the IHRA document as the international ‘gold standard’ of wording rather than the “working document” its authors describe it as, they have imposed on politicians, local authorities, universities and Churches a weak and deeply flawed definition of antisemitism.

They have promoted illustrations of antisemitism which are already chilling free speech and denying another people their history and identity.

By turning antisemitism into a political battleground, they have created ‘good Jews’ and ‘bad Jews’ – those that are allowed to speak with a Jewish voice and those that are condemned as traitors.

The campaign against Labour has never been about reforming or educating a small minority or rooting out a tiny hardcore of antisemitism. This has been about regime change. Only Corbyn’s resignation as leader was ever going to be truly acceptable.

With a General Election campaign now in full swing, Labour candidates and Labour activists, and indeed Labour voters, are being told they are actively promoting antisemitism or at least ignoring the concerns of the Jewish community in Britain. It’s no longer just Corbyn that’s being vilified. It’s half the country.

Meanwhile, Jewish families have become fearful under entirely false pretenses.

This is not good Jewish leadership. This is a dangerous failure of leadership.

If Labour loses this election and antisemitism allegations are perceived to have been a key factor in the Party’s defeat, what will be the long term political consequences? How will millions of voters perceive our Jewish institutions and leaders and indeed Jews in general?

A better debate on antisemitism

Whatever the result of this General Election, we’re going to need a better and very different debate about antisemitism in Britain than the one we’ve been having.

Antisemitism is real and it’s growing. We need to face into the role Israel plays in generating antisemitism. We need to recognise that Zionism can be experienced as both a movement for Jewish liberation and as a project of racist, settler colonialism. We need to be clear from which political direction the most serious dangers to Jews and other minorities are coming from. For some on the left, there is a need to learn some Jewish history and appreciate why so many Jews feel such an emotional tie towards Israel.

As for those who currently claim to speak in the interests of Jews in Britain, they too could do with some serious historical and political education. Or perhaps just early retirement.

 

I am deeply concerned.

Petition against Palestinian Authority salaries for terrorists.

Whilst the UK does not directly fund the salaries of terrorist prisoners, it is morally unacceptable that British taxpayers’ money is being used to fund essential services and public sector salaries in the Palestinian Authority at the same time that the Palestinian Authority is wasting its own resources on rewarding terrorists. As a donor state the UK is entitled to call out  and condemn this reprehensible practice.

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Please sign the petition here to the UK Government about the shocking new revelations that the Palestinian Authority is increasing salary payments to terrorist prisoners.

To: The Secretary of State for International Development

We the undersigned, note the report published by Palestinian Media Watch (PMW) on 3 July 2019 (here), which states that:

  • In the months January – May 2019, the PA’s (Palestinian Authority’s) expenditure on salaries to terrorist prisoners and released prisoners was 234 million shekels (over £52 million)
  • This figure shows the PA has increased its salary payments to terrorist prisoners by 11.8% compared to 2018
  • The PA Ministry of Finance put its budget expenditure reports back on its website only after PMW exposed that the PA was hiding its finances
  • The reports reflect the PA’s decision to plunge the Palestinian economy into crisis and punish its public employees by cutting their salaries, while guaranteeing the payment – in full – of the salaries to the terrorists

We do not understand how the UK assessment of the MoU between DFID and the PA can have concluded “that the Palestinian Authority continues to demonstrate a credible commitment to a range of DFID ‘partnership principles’, including the principle of non-violence” when the PA is paying salaries to terrorist prisoners.

We call on the UK Government to use its leverage as one of the major donors to the PA to insist that it ends the practice of paying salaries to convicted terrorists.

We get the Leaders we deserve.

When Dave called The Referendum, not for a moment thinking that the UK would opt for BREXIT, nobody could have conceived the social and political stalemate that we have been living through these past three years. Looking back on it now, it is hard to imagine that the country was so ignorant of the difficulties that lay ahead. Back in 2016, we were aware that there was an Irish issue attached to a departure of the EU but the word ‘Backstop’, as it relates to this issue, was nowhere on the horizon. But, what really dismays me about these last three years is how the vast majority of personal opinions have not shifted in response to an evolving situation.. This fact is exactly what blindsided Mother Theresa in 2017 when she asked for a bigger BREXIT majority and she received a wafer-thin mandate reflecting exactly what had happened before. And two years later nothing in terms of public opinion has really changed. And this stasis is directly reflected in the positions taken by our political leaders

 MAD

Der Spiegel this week published the immensely amusing cartoon above and The Ericle was amused with the rest. However, stepping back from the ‘cleverness’ of it all, I am asking myself where the thrust of joke really resides. Yes, yes, Boris is an imperfect individual – and the Conservative members who promoted him party leader are a bunch of Middle-England Oldies – but are we not really playing a collective blame-game; one where as individuals we refuse to adjust to new realities?

Albert Einstein is reputedly accredited with saying that “insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result.” Well something has now changed: we now have a single-minded government with cabinet members all ostensibly singing from the same hymn-sheet. Though, The Ericle is by a long chalk not a standard-bearer for the new Government and is far from comfortable with the cut of Boris’s jib, I do however see that what he is attempting is potentially game-changing. Furthermore, I believe him when he claims that he would much rather leave with a deal than without. And the best way this can possibly come about is by taking the position “We leave by October 31, come-what may” and prognosticating it with absolute conviction.

I am far from sure which part of the saying “Some are born mad, some achieve madness and some have madness thrust upon them” applies to Boris. However, I do recognise, as an International Relations graduate, that negotiating foreign policy requires different skills to those require for the conduct of domestic politics. Indeed, it is reasonably argued that presence of MADness – Mutually Assured Destruction – has spared the world from global warfare since WW2. So, if Der Spiegel wants to see Boris as ‘Mad’, that is no bad thing. However, if we are minded of Shakespeare’s words that “Men at some time are masters of their (own) fates” then it is our personal sanities that are brought into question.

My reader will have noted that I have been on both sides of the BREXIT debate; having voted Leave in 2016 to being prepared to vote Remain in the event of another Referendum. Surely it must be crystal clear to all concerned that we can’t Leave and Remain? Something has to give. Do we really want to continue debating the issue for another 3 years? What is at stake here is Society itself and that is why The Ericle wishes this matter to be resolved in the shortest possible time. For three years now, no other issue has really been given oxygen, and gawd-knows this country has issues. So that is why I am hoping that public opinion and the country’s parliamentarians fall behind Boris’s proposed direction of travel and that by October 31, this horribly divisive period of our history ends and we can begin focusing on other vital matters of national importance.

 

Bored with BREXIT?

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Like any sane person in the UK, I am sick and tired of discussing BREXIT but it is a conversation that won’t go away. My fearful anticipation is that it is a generational conversation that won’t end, as it is one that really is about the undercurrents & forces that are swirling in the world:

  • the shift of economic & political power away from the First World
  • a slow-down in the World Economy
  • responding politics of nationalism and economic self-interest
  • political leaders that exploit all of the above

These are dangerous times.

My generation has lived the full cycle from post-war optimism and economic good-times to the opposite end of the spectrum. Moreover, we have lived from a time where the needs of society played some role in individual consciousness to one where self-interested entitlement best describes The Public Soul. Given that peace-to-war & feast-to-famine cycles are enduring to this world, it is a socio-psychological model of human behaviour that is nigh to universal. But we are a generation that expected otherwise and the fact that the cycle has lasted the length of a lifetime may yet be the best indicator that belies the dictum plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose, (the more things change, the more it’s the same thing). So, even while my guts tell me that we are entering an inevitable night, there are some straws to clutch on to that suggest things may yet be different:

  • economic co-dependence
  • the internet Global Village
  • the threat of MAD – Mutually Assured Destruction

Even if the above factors do apply the brakes to our momentum towards a cliff edge, undoubtedly we have a bumpy road in immediate prospect.

Which brings me back to BREXIT. I despair of the politicians that are using the ‘Backstop’ to fuel their political ambitions for it is a Red Herring. As Mother Theresa asserts this is a Withdrawal Bill and a fair Final Settlement will always need goodwill on both sides. For heaven’s sake, no compromise can offer everything to all sides. So, FWIW, I do truly believe that the May Deal – tweaked or otherwise – is our best direction of travel, as it’s a solution that offers something to all sides.

And if you believe that these are my last words on the subject, may I respectfully refer you to the fairies at the end of the garden….

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BREXIT: A Failure Of leadership

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The Ericle can offer my valued reader no great insight as to whether yesterday’s proposed Brexit Withdrawal deal is as good as the UK could get. Although I am not fundamentally against it, what I am completely clear about is that the choice that should be before decision makers, at this time, should be one between the deal that is currently on the table and a fully-expressed alternative; namely a well-constructed comprehensive Hard Brexit (“The Cliff Edge”) plan. To which – as I have argued for in a recent posting – another referendum should take place, which includes the 3rd option of Remaining. This is the real betrayal that has taken place over the last 2 years; not the deal as is currently muted. Rather the May government, either by incompetence or design, is holding a gun to the country’s head to either accept a deal that has been driven almost entirely by maintaining a status-quo for Big Business or face chaos. For chaos is indeed the alternative on offer and this is the crime that has been committed.

The above can be of no surprise to those who have been paying attention. On the surface there are 3 prime forces at work:

  • a narcissistic selfish electorate that is only concerned with its individual well-being
  • politicians who pander to this neediness and defer from responsibilities of leadership as opposed to re-election
  • greed (the Thatcher & Blair years) & austerity (Brown to present)

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However, there is an elephant in the room – the UK Civil Service. This elphant is not invisible but it is certainly Teflon-coated. No other UK institution is more immune from scrutiny and criticism. It chooses to represent itself as per Gus O’Donnell on a recent Peston on Sunday – dismissing accusations that the civil service was trying to thwart Brexit – as being imbued with ‘honesty, objectivity integrity and impartiality’; to which the former Cabinet Secretary added that the problem wasn’t with his side (the civil service) but with… Brexit!!!  Sir Humphrey could not have said it or done it any better. The Senior Civil Service (‘The Mandarins’) has long been criticised for being as much of an Oxbridge elite as are our political leaders. And like its political masters’, claims of the ‘death’ of the Old Boy network are severely exaggerated. It, therefore, shouldn’t shock anybody who is in tune with the many cosy coteries extant in the UK that like the politicos The Civil Service planning for a No Deal was tardy and incomplete. Moreover the executive & admin levels of the civil service – those chaps responsible for implementing non-functioning wasteful IT contracts & the like – are unlikely to have compensated for their seniors’ shortcomings.

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The situation we thus find ourselves in is a ‘very British’ one. As a country, we are prone to grandiose ideas but with a follow-up that is inefficient and drawn out – the 3rd Heathrow runway and High-Speed Rail come easily to mind. However, once Article 50 was triggered (a tragic political mistake) the luxury of an ever-lengthening deadline was removed from the equation and our historic inabilities have come to the fore. Perhaps it is true that we have the leaders that we deserve. But, to mix my metaphors, we have talked ourselves into a corner and we are now left in a boat with only one paddle when there should have been two.

As I write this, cabinet ministers are dropping like flies. This only brings me more to the conclusion that I reached long ago. This decision is not one that can be taken by Government fiat or by a Parliamentary vote. The situation requires another referendum that includes the Remain option – or, as is most likely, a National Election to the same effect.

What a way to run a railroad!

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A 2nd Brexit Vote is indeed The Only Democratic Option. But….

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It seems to me that it would be totally unreasonable – and, in fact, totally undemocratic for there not to be a 2nd ballot. There can surely be no disagreement that though the 1st Brexit referendum called for a vote to leave the EU in principle, it did not validate an exit under any terms.

Since June 2016 it has become crystal clear, putting aside the issue of government competence (surely that should be ‘incompetence’ – Ed), that the matter of negotiating an actual disengagement is a Gordian Knot of incalculable proportions. Indeed, in a previous blog piece (see: here) I expressed the sentiment that the whole process seems now to have been a 21st-century version of national St. Vitus’s Dance. Many commentators, including Robert Peston in his excellent book WTF, have analyzed the vote for Brexit as a ‘Perfect Storm’ of issues that reflect the underlying socio-economic conditions of the UK in the early 21st century rather than a majority vote of a specific nature. To which must be added the inconvenient truth that the unwritten UK constitution became a democratically flawed instrument once Maggie Thatcher trampled all over it.

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In the 1960’s, at the birth of my political consciousness, I became attracted me to the Young Liberals who espoused a middle-ground, social democratic, political position that I have held through to this day via my support of The Liberals, the SDP and the Liberal Democrats. Since the 2016 Election, I have bemoaned the fact that I no longer have a party to vote for. My ears thus pricked up earlier this week listening to an interview, on Radio 4’s morning news programme, with Philip Collins who was arguing for the vital need for a new social-democratic party to develop in the UK. As a result, I started to read his book, Start Again: How We Can Fix Our Broken Politics, which was published on Thursday. In the opening chapter, he observes that:

  • “the Conservative party has dragged the nation into its own private feud,
  • the Labour party has fallen victim to a juvenile anti-capitalism
  • while the brand of the Liberal Democrats is fatally tarnished”

leading to a fundamental break in the ‘unconscious contract’ (i.e. The Unwritten Constitution) between the political classes and the public it serves. He goes on to argue that, given the current social bankruptcy of our main political parties, this rift will lead to even more undesired consequences unless a new party evolves that provides answers to the following 10 issues of our times:

  1. How does Britain make a living?
  2. How do we reduce inequalities of income & wealth?
  3. How do we provide a home for all?
  4. How do we make technology work for us?
  5. How can we improve life chances?
  6. How do we ensure justice between the generations?
  7. How do we restore faith in politics?
  8. Where should power lie?
  9. How do we create an Open Society?
  10. What is Britain’s place in the world?

Tick, tick, ten times over. I agree wholeheartedly with Philip Collins’s view that the two current main political parties can, and will, not address these issues and that the evolution of an impactful party that does so is sorely required. However, I am the strongest believer that the strength of a country’s social & democratic values is reflected in the institutions that serve it. That is exactly why the centre-piece of my national political credo has always been electoral reform and why the Liberal Democrats weak-wristed pursuit of change via the 2011 Alternative Vote Referendum broke my political heart. A strong social democratic political party is certainly what the UK needs to lead the country forward, but true long-term change can only come via electoral reform that ushers in a constitution that enables positive voting and provides legal & political checks-and-balances.

If Collin’s analysis and conclusions are to bear fruit, it will require politicians with the courage to abandon short-term vote-getting in favour of longer-term interests. This will require a change of direction of individual voter attention away from self-interest towards the needs of the nation as a whole – in other words, that society that Margaret Thatcher claimed no longer to exist. There is a solid truth in the ironic notion that a country gets the government it deserves. Which brings us back to the notion of a 2nd Brexit referendum. If this ever takes place and the result is seen by the victors as a vilification that they were right, and that those that didn’t originally vote like them were wrong, it will achieve nothing of any long-term consequence. Our politicians have not served us well, of late, but we haven’t helped ourselves either. We need to learn, and quickly, the import of JFK’s most famous imploration:

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BREXIT: It’s not too late to stop this MADNESS!

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Almost 50 years ago, I well remember seeing the Ken Russell film, The Witches (1971), in which group madness takes over the inhabitants of a town resulting in the burning on the stake of the central character of the film – a priest, played by Oliver Reed. The film was based on a 1952 book, The Devils Of Loudun, written by Aldous Huxley and based around a real event that took place in 17th century France. Huxley, no stranger to the idea of dystopia, clearly saw those real events as a significant historic counterpoint to Brave New World, his futuristic novel of foreboding.

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The phenomenon of societal madness is a well-documented one. In most cases, the madness is induced by the elevated presence of individuals or groups, who orchestrate events for their own purposes. In tribal groupings, the orchestrators are now often labelled as Witch Doctors, very often whipping up proceedings at the behest of their Tribal Elders. Such events are not restricted to primitive tribes. In the Middle Ages, they took place not only in Loudon but in other centres – so much so that participants were thought to have become afflicted by a medical condition:

Dancing Mania, (also known as Dancing PlagueChoreomaniaSt. John’s Dance and St. Vitus’s Dance), was a social phenomenon that occurred primarily in mainland Europe between the 14th and 17th centuries. It involved groups of people dancing erratically, sometimes thousands at a time. The mania affected men, women, and children who danced until they collapsed from exhaustion. One of the first major outbreaks was in Aachen in 1374, and it quickly spread throughout Europe; one particularly notable outbreak occurred in Strasbourg in 1518. The phenomenon was poorly understood, and remedies were based on guesswork. Generally, musicians accompanied dancers, to help ward off the mania, but this tactic sometimes backfired by encouraging more to join in. There is no consensus among modern-day scholars as to the cause of dancing mania. Theories proposed range from religious cults being behind the processions to people dancing to relieve themselves of stress and put the poverty of the period out of their minds. It is speculated to have been a mass hysteria, in which physical symptoms with no known physical cause are observed to affect a group of people, as a form of social influence. [WIKIPEDIA]

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It seems to me that history may look back at The Brexit Referendum, and its aftermath, in not dissimilar terms – a 21st century manifestation of social madness. It is certainly true – or at least, I trust it to be true – that the intentions of the Tribal Leader in question, David Cameron, were quite the opposite; to still once-and-for-all a madness that confronted his Party. But madness it was nonetheless:

  • madness of leadership to even offer such a major status quo change on the basis of a simple majority
  • madness to pose a bipolar question on a multi-faceted issue
  • madness to invoke Article 50, and put the UK in a 2-year straight-jacket, without parliament agreeing on what sort of Brexit we want.
  • madness of us to participate in the whole process

It is this last point that worries me greatly. I did participate wholeheartedly in The Referendum buying into the proposition that the European project is misguided. Following the election of an isolationist Post-Truth American President, I have changed my mind; but that is beside the point. What vexes me, as an honours graduate with a degree in politics, is that I joined in so enthusiastically in The Brexit Dance; completely impervious the complexities, difficulties and inevitable resulting mayhem. If I, as an ‘educated & informed’ individual, danced along then what chance did the proverbial ‘Man on the Clapham Omnibus’ have of reasonably sitting the dance out. You may say that wholesale abstention would not have changed anything but the legitimacy of the process would certainly have been undermined.

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Last week, I attended a 3-day Summer School at The London School Of Philosophy. One of the papers presented was on the subject of Stupidity. After offering up several options, the reader of the paper eventually proposed that STUPIDITY is when you propose a concept when you ‘know’ all the reasonable objections to it to be true. One of the examples he gave was to continue to smoke when one ‘knows’ that smoking leads to premature illness or death. Is this not what we are doing in continuing with The Brexit Dance?

There are so many reasons why we should NOW be calling a halt to the dance. These seem to me the four principal ones:

  • we can’t decide what we want
  • everything the current world is telling us is that the UK needs to be party to major European political decisions
  • we have run out of time to reach a mutually acceptable agreement
  • Brexit is tearing us apart as a society

If the above doesn’t convince you, let me offer you one other thought to chew over. The majority for Brexit in June 2016 was approximately 1.25 million. According to the Office For National Statistics, some 600,000 persons die each in the UK. So by end-March 2019, given the 72% turnout, approximately 1.2 million, of those who voted, will no longer be with us. It is not entirely unreasonable to project that at least 1 million of these would be elder folk, the generation that overwhelmingly voted for Brexit. Factor in that by 2019 those aged 16-18 in 2016 would now be able to vote, then it is not at all unlikely that we could be leaving the EU based on a minority, not majority, decision!

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It is not my intention to suggest that voting, either way, was wrong or right. Rather, that it surely must be obvious to all that the conditions, internal or external, are not conducive to the taking of such a radical national change of direction. This view is further supported by shifts, afoot within the EU, on many of the very issues that so exercised the opinions of Brexit voters. And yet here we are – Soft Brexit, Hard Brexit or No Deal Brexit –  on the brink of heading up a cul-de-sac, trapped by a questionable result carried by a small majority. History is full of examples – World War 1 comes readily to mind – when nations carry out actions based on values that are not fitting to the true situation at hand. Surely there must be some way that the UK can yet escape from the trap of this ill-conceived decision and come to its senses?