Thursday, 14 March 2019

Red Box III

I’m enjoying this, as Mrs Thatcher famously remarked.
Some more appearances in Times columnist Matt Chorley’s daily newsletter.
Who has had the worst start to 2019 in British politics?
British democracy. (How else could you describe a parliament in revolt against its own electorate?)
Who's your political heroine?
Helen Suzman - for so many years a single parliamentary light shining in the darkness of apartheid.
How has Theresa May handled the negotiations?
She has clearly modelled her approach on Nick Chopper, the Tin Woodman of Oz, who, having carelessly cut off all his own limbs and replaced them with inflexible parts, then got very wet and became too rusty to move.

Wednesday, 27 February 2019

Red Box II

Curiouser and Curiouser. You wait years to feature in Red Box, only to feature twice in a week in early February. Then, lo and behold, you feature twice in a week again in late February. I am beginning to think this must be an easy gig since Times readers are overwhelmingly remainers, just like their columnists, and some balance is required. Can anybody point me towards a publisher of short stories in similar urgent need of my contributions?
Anyhow, on Monday Matt Chorley’s Red Box email published answers to ‘What song do you think best represents the current political landscape?” I got a name check, though not a quote, for the second of my suggestions:
The half-baked understanding of issues and fractious behaviour of MPs could (with a slight movement of the apostrophe) be represented by Frankie Laine's song "The Kids' Last Fight". However, the remarkably desperate efforts to restrict a second referendum's options to Remain or May's Deal (Remain in All But Name) does rather suggest Hank Williams' "Your Cheatin' Heart".
Then today’s question was ‘What is the point of a second referendum?’ My quotation was a perhaps slightly misleading first two sentences of:
The objective of a second Leave / Remain referendum would be to invalidate the first one before it's been implemented so no-one can prove Leave works. Unfortunately, Leave would win again. To remove any possibility of democracy it will, therefore, be Remain versus May's Deal (otherwise known as Remain Mk II). Even Remainers can't lose a Remain versus Remain referendum. Can they?

Friday, 8 February 2019

Red Box

Those who have noted my Blog items and Quora answers on and around the subject of Brexit may not be surprised to find that I subscribe to Times reporter Matt Chorley’s daily ‘Red Box’ email from the political coal face.
Matt includes a daily ‘Have Your Say’ section, in which he invites readers to email him about a chosen topic. To my considerable surprise, this week he quoted my responses on consecutive days.
The first topic derived from a poll of Times readers which found David Cameron attracted most blame for the Brexit mess. In reply to the question ‘What would you say to David Cameron if you bumped into him?’ I apparently sent in the only email supportive of our Former PM. It was, of course, too long, so just the first two sentences merited quoting. Here’s the full version:
David, you should ignore the Remainers who keep blaming you for Brexit. The fact is, you were the first PM in 40 years with the guts to ask whether The UK was happy to stay on the road to European Federalism. According to most of the political elite, it didn't matter whether the people agreed with this destination, just so long as no-one ever asked them. You may not have expected the result, but you had the grace to accept it. That's actually called democracy. It's just a pity you didn't stay on to see it through. Like you, your successor doesn't agree with Brexit. Unlike you, she doesn't understand it either.”
The second question, stemming from Donald Tusk’s colourful simile, was ‘Which Brexiteer would you consign to a special place in Hell, and why?’ Having learned my lesson the previous day, I kept this short.
Since Remainers are 'holier than thou' and therefore expect to be consigned to Heaven, there are no Remainers in Hell. In which case Hell can't really be all that bad.”

Tuesday, 5 February 2019

Will life be better after Brexit?

Lunch in Strasbourg
The decision to leave the EU was taken long ago, yet the sort of questions which were asked back then are still being repeated. The answer is the same. Those who didn’t accept it back then won’t accept it now, because no significant new evidence is available. If they want proof and won’t do anything until they get proof, then sadly they will be part of the problem, not the solution.

Having more control over our national life, because important tools are back in our own hands, does not necessarily make things economically better. It depends upon us. Life after Brexit is going to be more what we make of it and less what we rely on others to make of it for us. It will require all our best efforts.

How many great discoveries were made by people who might have enjoyed a perfectly comfortable life without rocking the boat but wanted better? By contrast, how many achievements fell to grumblers who sat back and waited for those embarking on a new path to fail, so they could scoff and say ‘I told you so’?

I hope I’m wrong, but I get the feeling some people would rather see their country fail than admit the possibility that it could be made a success outside the EU.

A world economy growing faster than the EU is out there, but we have to get out and compete in it. Prosperity won’t be handed to us on a plate. Like most worthwhile investments it will require hard work, risk-taking and short term sacrifice. If a substantial proportion of us sit back and wait for others to prove they can deliver, we shall inevitably neglect a substantial proportion of the new opportunities we might have taken.

The proverbial Five (or Six) Ps work backwards as well as forwards; not only Yea-sayers but Nay-sayers influence the future.

Friday, 18 January 2019

'Sir Robert's Gargoyle' is in Cosy Crime anthology

I'm very pleased to say that my story 'Sir Robert's Gargoyle' is included in the latest of Flame Tree's beautiful hardback anthologies.

Just for once this is a story in which the protagonists are perhaps not in what you would call the first flush of youth. Well, an occasional hooray for us oldies is not out of place. Adventures like this are still possible!

This latest volume in the series is packed with armchair detectives, murders in the vicarage, family secrets unravelling in gossipy ears, and the ingredients of a genteel bloodbath in an otherwise delightful village. Contains a fabulous mix of classic and brand new writing, with contemporary authors from the US, Canada, and the UK.

Classic authors include: Arnold Bennett, Ernest Bramah, Anton Chekhov, Arthur Conan Doyle, Andrew Forrester, R. Austin Freeman, Anna Katherine Green, Maurice Leblanc, Arthur Morrison, Baroness Orczy, Catherine Louisa Pirkis, Edgar Wallace, Israel Zangwill, G.K. Chesterton.

Contributions by Stephanie Bedwell-Grime, Joshua Boyce, Sarah Holly Bryant, Jeffrey B. Burton, C.B. Channell, Gregory Von Dare, Amanda C. Davis, Michael Martin Garrett, Philip Brian Hall, E.E. King, Tom Mead, Trixie Nisbet, Annette Siketa, B. David Spicer, Nancy Sweetland, Louise Taylor, Elise Warner

Wednesday, 9 January 2019

R.I.P. Mac 2012 – 2019


A rapid decline, the result of an unexpected onset of liver disease and jaundice, resulted in our much-loved Dogue de Bordeaux, Mac, having to be put to sleep today at the age of six.

He arrived as a rescue in October 2016 and by the sheer force of his sunny personality and devoted loyalty brought joy back into our home and our hearts.

Mac enjoyed having a large garden and being taken on country walks every day. Before long he was an experienced marsh dog, as witness the photograph above.

As John Oaksey succinctly put it, “One of the worst things about being human is you outlive so many good horses and dogs.”

Strangely enough, we never seem to learn from days of sorrow such as this. We always know we will put ourselves through it again and again. Our animals are a major part of our life and it is impossible to imagine things being otherwise.

The years of happy companionship live in the memory long after the acute sorrow of loss fades, which is as it should be.

Farewell, Mac. And thank you.

Tuesday, 8 January 2019

Why has no-one mentioned the enormous benefits of EU membership?

One of the most disappointing things about the 2016 Referendum campaign was the failure of Remainers to enlarge upon the alleged benefits of EU membership. Instead, the whole thrust of their campaign was negative- threats of cataclysm should the British electorate be foolish enough to vote to leave. Most of these dire predictions were patently absurd, apparently leaving even the PM embarrassed. Where the harmful consequences were real, they were insufficiently widely applicable for most voters to care.

It may be of some interest that the term ‘Project Fear’, used to describe this negative campaigning, had actually been coined two years earlier by Scottish nationalists to describe the unionist campaign during the independence referendum. In both cases the campaign against change took a negative form, leaving optimism almost entirely to the advocates of breaking away. In both cases the response to expressions of aspiration was yet more negativism: you’re lying, you’ll never be able to do that, etc. In both cases, the reaction of floating voters who might have been persuaded either way was to swing away from the negative campaign and towards the positive one. Essentially, it seems, British voters really don’t take kindly to threats.

When I observed the line the establishment, who were almost all Remainers, were taking in 2016, I couldn’t believe they were doing it again. Had they learned nothing the first time? Had they perhaps not noticed that negativism and threats had gone over like a lead balloon in Scotland? If they’d set out to maximise the vote against the status quo, they couldn’t have picked a better tactic. Moreover, given that the status quo wasn’t really available in a rapidly-integrating Europe where the UK needed opt-out after opt-out, the plan was even less intelligible second time around.

I am driven to the conclusion that the establishment has so little practice in explaining themselves positively because political correctness blocks all discussion of alternative views. Bien-pensants regard their own way of thinking as so obviously correct that they think even the dimmest fellow-citizen must necessarily see it too. They take their self-righteousness so completely for granted that they never have to produce reasons why they are right and their opponents are wrong. As J S Mill predicted, they have lost the art of crafting rational arguments. When they do finally encounter opposition, all they can do is hurl ad hominem abuse.

In short, the reason no-one mentioned the alleged enormous benefits of EU membership was that no-one in a position to influence the debate could remember what they were.

Monday, 17 December 2018

Why does May not hold another referendum, as there seems to be no other way out of the Brexit mess?

First, let’s define our terms. What Brexit mess do you have in mind?

To be clear, Brexit itself is not a mess; departure from membership of a voluntary association of states cannot be other than a straightforward matter of giving due notice and letting that notice expire. Being outside the EU is perfectly possible: most countries are. Any attempt to punish a departing member would be clear evidence to the peoples of the EU that they had been lied to and membership was no longer voluntary. Moreover, if the benefits of membership are so few that departures can only be prevented by punishment, then the organisation itself is deeply corrupted and unfit for purpose.

For forty years the UK population were not consulted on the progressive losses of sovereignty involved in the transformation of the EEC into the EU and the latter’s acquisition of its own citizenship, currency and constitution. When the people were finally offered a choice, they voted to leave the EU. The question now is, shall their choice be honoured, as they were promised at the time of voting?

The UK’s pro-EU cabinet, which called the referendum to clear up Conservative Party problems, had not anticipated the possibility of a Leave vote. Despite being unprepared, our Remainer-dominated parliament nevertheless felt obliged to enshrine the referendum’s outcome in law. As a result, the UK is set to leave the EU, with or without a deal, on 29 March 2019. So far, so good.

However, many parliamentarians haven’t yet given up on the idea of thwarting the popular vote. They conceal this inveterate hostility by refusing to enact any specific withdrawal procedure. So now we have a political dichotomy, in effect a stand-off between a population who have given parliament a clear instruction and a parliament which will not accept it.

Claims of parliamentary sovereignty were all very well in the past when power was wrested from the hands of a tyrannical monarch; they’ll ring pretty hollow today if parliament tries to wrest sovereignty away from its own electors.

By your use of the words ‘no other way’, you seem to assume that a second referendum would be a way out of this impasse. In fact, let’s not mince our words, what you are suggesting is that parliament stands firm in its defiance of the popular vote and forces the people to vote again.

With due respect to other respondents who deny that a revolt of parliamentarians against people is a constitutional outrage, I hope you can see that the damage to UK democracy would be potentially irreparable, irrespective of the outcome.

The 2016 referendum produced a horribly-divided, tribal society. No arguments will persuade the vast majority on both sides who made up their minds long ago. Years later, some activists still find it impossible to restrain their bile and contempt for those whose only crime is holding a different point of view. Most people, I think, are just glad the horribly divisive campaign is over and wishing all the wrangling and bitterness was over too.

In the event of a re-run, all that can happen is that the old wounds are opened up again. One-time friends and neighbours who have just about learned to talk to each other once again (on neutral subjects) will be flung back into the cauldron of mutual abuse, now garnished with additional supplies of recrimination resulting from having to go through it all again.

Either the result will be confirmed, in which case the whole thing becomes a needless exercise in societal self-harm, or it would be reversed, in which case this socially-divisive issue will simply continue to fester until a third referendum can be called.

And you can be quite certain it would be called before very long. Another general election is due in 2022 and there’s mileage to be made from the politics of grievance. Look at the aftermath of the ‘once in a generation’ Scottish referendum. Look at the Remainer campaign to sabotage Brexit. This angst is the built-in curse of any referendum system.

In such an event, Leavers would correctly point out that Brexit wasn’t even attempted. The only thing demonstrated by the second referendum, they would say, was the power of vested interests and the political elite to drag our country back into the clutches of an organisation that has shown itself malign and vindictive. The parliament that acted as the agents of that treachery will be derided as a mere cypher, unworthy of either trust or respect. And from such a can of worms, who knows what unpleasantness may crawl out?

Partiality aside, consider for a moment. Someday, somehow, we have to return to being one society, not two tribes; not winners and losers but one people. Does anyone seriously suggest a second referendum is going to help us do this?

(This was my reply to a Quora question.)

Friday, 23 November 2018

Which would damage Britain more, Brexit or a second referendum?

When I was a child, I lived with my parents. They always did their best for me and I was never hungry or shabby. When I grew up I decided I needed to make a life for myself away from home. I met a girl and we married. In the early days of our marriage, we were poorer than I had been when I lived with my parents, but we stuck at it and worked through various difficulties until we achieved a comfortable lifestyle, very considerably better than my parents had enjoyed. And because my parents were good parents they backed me throughout this struggle and were delighted with the outcome.

Now, bearing in mind that your parents may not live as long as you, tell me which is more damaging, to endure through the early difficult years of independence in order to make a good life for yourself, or to give up at the first hardship and go back to your parents’ home where it’s safe and secure in the short run?

There are some unfortunate people who, through no fault of their own, do not have an option. There are some people who choose the second option. But if everyone chose the second option, society would collapse, wouldn’t it?

Let us please remember that the 2016 Referendum was the UK electorate’s first opportunity for forty years to make a choice on the direction taken by the EU.

As it happens, I had read the fine print and voted ‘No’ in 1975. However, I blame no-one who was at that time under the impression that the EEC stood for free trade and nothing more. It’s no good now pointing to old documents, you really had to live through that campaign to know how much pressure was put upon a public that had only a couple of year’s experience of life on the inside and still saw an exciting prospect.

But to all those who now claim that changed circumstances within a scant two years necessitate another plebiscite to confirm our departure, may I politely enquire how vigorously you campaigned for a vote on the loss of sovereignty entailed by the formation of the EU at Maastricht? Were you satisfied with the opt-outs negotiated by Major or did you consider the UK was being marginalised within a determinedly integrating organisation? Not a change in circumstances worth a vote, eh?

How upset were you when the EU constitution, on which we had been promised a vote, was re-badged as the Lisbon Treaty and pushed through regardless of rejection by other countries? Did you worry at all about the erosion of the veto and the rise of majority voting? Did you care when the Eurozone members began meeting on their own to form a common position to put before the European Council, where they collectively outvoted the non-members? More huge changes, but again not worth a vote?

If none of these things caused you sufficient disquiet to call for a further referendum, then I respectfully suggest it is disingenuous to call for one now, when Brexit has not even been implemented and the only new information to hand is that negotiations turned out to be more difficult than expected. In that context, I invite you to bear in mind that prominent Remainers have publicly urged the EU to be tough on the UK in order to assist their campaign to reverse the decision to Leave. In other words, your own team has made a significant contribution to the difficulties of which you now complain.

The electorate gets one choice in forty years, the people make their choice and you think you can campaign with impunity for that choice to be overturned before it is even carried out? Seriously? You think that democracy in the UK will not be dreadfully damaged in the process? Two hundred years after Peterloo, has the establishment truly learned so very little?

Have you taken note of polls showing the low regard in which politicians are already held compared to other groups? In 2016 the government pledged to implement what the people decided. That pledge has not yet been met. If it is not met, then do not expect a restoration of trust in the political system within a generation.