Tuesday, September 06, 2016

Don't want privatised NHS? Then FIGHT for it!

Poll after poll in this country says that a majority of people want a public NHS free at the point of contact.  Our NHS was the cheapest and most efficient health service in the world, as understood by outside opinion, and we are letting the Conservative government take it away from us.

But guess what?  The government is our government and they are supposed to represent us - not their own self-interest or their dearly-held personal opinions.  US.  They represent our interests in parliament and they're doing a bloody terrible job of it at the moment.  SO TELL THEM.  Use the "They Work for You" website to contact your MP and tell them that you don't want people resorting to private medical insurance because they aren't funding the health service properly. 

And if they argue that we don't have the money, point out that they seem to have the money to bomb places and buy a new trident deterrent, and if they don't have the money for the NHS perhaps they could cancel trident or maybe charge multinational corporations a fair amount of tax instead of allowing them to use loopholes to pass money around internally until they don't have any profits left to pay tax on. 

Ad maybe, if enough of us do this, we will get our representative to truly represent us, and pay properly for the NHS.

Monday, September 05, 2016

Arms and humanity

Bombing in Yemen from Wikipedia by Ibrahim Qasim
The UK has become the second biggest exporter of arms in the world.  The promotional leaflets talk about "defence exporters" as though the results of our "defence exports" weren't being used to kill women and children and to bomb hospitals in Yemen

Our whole approach to this must change if we ever hope to have a world in which we end wars.  At the moment we are allowing rich corporations to make money by selling death and destruction to other countries, and we are spending money we don't have on a nuclear deterrent that deters no one.

We need to be thinking about these things on a smaller scale, the one thing about Margaret Thatcher that appealed to me was her ability to do that.  Our renewing trident, for example, is like a family deciding to spend their money on some sort of state-of-the-art burglar alarm while starving in the kitchen.

The arms trade is worse.  That's like a family selling their knives to the next door neighbour knowing he plans to kill his wife and children with them.  We should get out of it.  It starts with making the trade less lucrative by refusing to allow licences for any country that is acting aggressively towards its neighbours.  There's no way that we could be selling arms to Saudi Arabia (who are aggressively attacking Yemen, including bombing Medecins sans frontiers hospitals, against international treaties).

Years ago I saw a documentary about East Timor, and among the facts in the programme was the fact that we were selling arms to the Indonesians knowing that they would be used against the East Timorese... in fact there was film showing the jets we had sold to Indonesia being used against the populace. 

I wrote to Alan Clark, completely astonished that someone who was so active in care for animals, would sell arms to a repressive regime that would use them against their own people.  Somewhere I have the letter I got in reply, which said that the Indonesians had signed agreements not to do that, and basically indicating it wasn't OUR fault if they weren't as good as their word.  Don't forget we also armed Saddam Hussein, who was originally our ally.

It's all a game to them.  It sems to me that if we don't stand up and be counted, they'll simply continue to sell arms while it is profitable, and damn the consequences.

Thursday, August 11, 2016

I'm a nice person! Not a bully, not a trot

One of the things I admire about Jeremy Corbyn is that he has rebelled and voted against the party when his conscience told him to.  I hate that the Parliamentary Labour Party (PLP) has used this against him, trying to claim that they support all his policies, and have only voted against him specifically because they don't think he is a good leader.  They try to claim that they are in favour of democracy and then try to make the coup look like a vote of conscience.  How can it be when they claim to support his policies?  It makes no sense.

The PLP began talking about Momentum, the Corbyn supporters' group, as though they were hired assassins or left-wing terrorists from the very start of the coup.  Aghast at the huge support shown for Corbyn when more than 10,000 people gathered on Parliament Square, they tried to make those people look like loony lefties, violent thugs, or rabble.  From the very first interview on the radio, they talked about calling off the dogs, as they put it, and made it sound as though Jeremy Corbyn had gathered a gang of old militant left wingers to intimidate the right wing of the party. As ordinary members, our realisation that the news media colluded with this view of the Corbyn supporters by not challenging anything the PLP said, and that the PLP had a deliberate campaign to malign the ordinary members of the party, became clear.

They used outright lies (Angela Eagle's window wasn't broken.  a window in the same building was broken and that's a routine occurrence, not part of a campaign of intimidation), lies (Angela Eagle was not homophobically abused at her CLP meeting - she didn't attend) and frankly weird stuff (Joanna Baxter crying on News at One because a legal letter had been sent to the NEC and Owen Jones had texted her a perfectly benign tweet).

I'm not saying there haven't been foul things on twitter and in other places, or that people haven't trolled the PLP MPs.  But it isn't one-sided, Jeremy Corbyn and members of Momentum have been mercilessly trolled.  The difference is that they haven't immediately blamed the other side for not controlling their members or supporters, and haven't demanded action on internet trolling.  Many of the people prosecuted for trolling and stalking members of parliament aren't a member of any party, they are mentally ill.  And it was pretty rich, the PLP claiming intimidation and bullying, when they had bullied (by reports from MPs present) the democratically elected leader of the party, with the most overt personal abuse.

Every time a member of the PLP coup is interviewed, they link Momentum with a negative word or image, even though the people I've met in Momentum have been ordinary supporters of Jeremy Corbyn just like me.  There are people from every walk of life in the group.  Many people are aware of the untruths because they are either members of Momentum or know someone who is.

I celebrated when the court overtturned the ruling that new members of the party weren't able to vote, because I thought it was designed to disenfranchise people who had been promised on the website that they would be able to take part in the elections in the party.  That shouldn't have been promised if it were not going to be delivered, and the NEC ought to be owning up to that and accepting the court's judgement.

Instead I find that Tom Watson, who is deputy leader and pretended to be loyal to Corbyn, has been instrumental in going forward with an appeal against that judgement, which will cost us a lot of money.  Does it seem right that the NEC should be able to use our money to try to disenfranchise the new members who paid that money into the coffers?  Especially when you consider that a majority of the members are in favour of Corbyn and want the new members to have a vote.  Even those who aren't in favour of Corbyn are not in favour of the underhanded double-dealing which has been a feature of the last few months. 

At the heart of this is the question of who is the Labour Party?  Is it the members?  Is it the MPs?  or is it all levels of the hierarchy together?  If the latter, then how do we resolve the problem that the PLP seem to be out of step with the membership.  They seem to have an entirely dfferent view of the party and its chances of election - which for ordinary members seems to be being vandalised by the PLP!

They need to understand that Corbyn will again be elected with a landslide.  They need to understand that the membership are not going to put up with being slandered and libelled at every opportunity, and that when they say negative things about Corbyn or his supporters, all they are achieving is a negative profile for the Labour Party they profess to love, in the mind of the public.

Tom Watson, who is fast becoming the least-liked member of the party, has written that young members of the party are having their arms twisted by trots.  Really?!  I'm a 57 year old supporter, not a trot, would never twist anyone's arm to go with anything but their conscience.  I'll argue the case for Corbyn, but I wouldn't use any violence - again the violent language, designed to cement in the public's mind the image of Corbyn supporters as trots and as violent.  Many young Labour supporters have written to Tom Watson to object to his language and to tell him that they were capable of deciding for themselves thank you very much.

Maybe the PLP and Tom Watson can see that they are not making much headway, and with a new party in mind have decided to damage the Labour Party as much as possible in the process, as the future competition for their new party.  They couldn't have done a better job if they had tried.  Before the coup Labour were three points ahead of the tories.  As each day goes past they are sinking lower and lower in the polling.  A name and website for Future Labour was apparently incorporated in April this year.  I can only hope that they get over there and stop bothering us as soon as possible.

How on earth the PLP and Owen Smith can lecture about Unity and unifying the party when they have been the most divisive and hostile towards the membership of any group in any party that I can remember, I don't know.  They think the public and the membership are stupid and biddable, is all I can suppose.  I am hoping they will get their come-uppance shortly.

Sunday, July 03, 2016

Noam Chomsky wins - we don't have a free press

I am absolutely shocked by the bias in both Guardian and BBC. Particularly the BBC which has allowed Labour MPs in the rebel group to slander Momentum as "dogs" and "thugs" without the least bit of proof that there is any violence given or threatened by Momentum, which as far as I can see is ordinary supporters of Corbyn like me.
I expected bias in the Murdoch press, and any press which is owned and operated by someone with an axe to grind, but I really expected better fromthe Guardian and the BBC. They say that you only notice how inaccurate reporting is when you are close to a story, but this is more than that. They are using negative words to describe Corbyn, allowing claims that he lost the labour vote on remain although 62% of Labour voters voted remain, nearly as many (1% less) as the SNP who had all their MPs onside and campaigning for remain.
That there are newsnight journalists tweeting unattributed negative rumours on twitter accounts which identify them as being from Newsnight is shocking to me. They obviously are partisan. I feel I've wrongly argued in my head with Noam Chomsky for 20 years that our press are not as biassed as he said, only to have him win the argument, because they are.
The Guardian does publish occasional positive articles, but in the main it is a constant stream of hogwash from the partisan Polly Toynbee - who, I'm sorry, should be disbarred from writing anything at all with such a personal grudge against Corbyn. And neither the BBC or Guardian are challenging the renegade MPs on the fact that they can launch a leadership bid any time, and should do this or shut up if they believe in the democracy in the Labour Party.
There were marches yesterday all over the country for Brexit and those are reported. There were also marches all over the country for Corbyn, and those have not been reported. The BBC have a one line report in their Corbyn article on the website, saying there were marches in Leeds and Liverpool of about a thousand. Liverpool was 3000 at least and there were also marches and demonstrations in Durham, Cornwall, Cardiff, Hull and many other places.
They allow Angela Eagle to spin the lie that support among party membership is decreasing while 60,000 people have joined up in the last week. most of them, if my twitter and facebook groups are anything to go by, are joining because they are appalled by the behaviour of the PLP and the antidemocratic nature of the challenge to the leadership. It's scandalous that they allow her space to say things like that and don't properly balance with some facts.

Friday, July 01, 2016

The Immigration problem

I partially watched Question Time last night, partly because I turned over late, and partly because I turned off early.  It was a frustrating experience, because of the things that weren't said as much as the things that were.

The comedian on the panel, Russell Kane, talked about the attitude of his family towards the result and said that Labour had failed to take up the initiative on immigration and address the problems which the people in the country have with it.  He also gave us a window on the xenophobia, saying that his relatives were dancing around the room declaiming that the immigrants who were undercutting their jobs as plumbers and builders, were "going home".

In a nutshell, this is the problem facing all parties in the wake of the referendum vote.  The Leave campaign made a number of promises they couldn't have a hope of keeping (not least all the money for the EU going to the NHS) and that a vote for "Leave" was a vote for controls on immigration.

The problem all parties face is that it can't be, unless we abandon all hope of trading with EU countries and maintaining a relationship with the EU.  This, I believe, is at the heart of Labour's inability to deal with the immigration issue: any realist will tell you that if you want to do business in future with the EU under the single market, migration of labour will be a part of that.

I'm not saying that I think immigration controls would be a bad thing - I have been astonished at how little planning councils and government do for changes in population - but that they are impossible to impose in the way the Brexiteers promised if we continue to trade freely with the EU.

Now, I know that a lot of the people who voted for Brexit for the reason that they feel they are being unfairly affected by the incoming immigrants, will simply declare that we should give up the single market for that reason.  But then we have the overwhelming problem of how to handle the people who are living here under the freedom of labour within the EU - and all the British people abroad who are happily working elsewhere in the EU.  Untangling that isn't going to happen overnight or next week or next year... it's a complex and very costly exercise you're looking at, with ramifications which extend beyond our borders and beyond.

The rise of racist and xenophobic attacks is going to get worse if we don't do something about it, because the people who are threatened by immigration are not likely to be listening to reason arguments about the impossibility of doing what they were promised.  The problem is that their anger is likely to be directed at what they perceive to be the problem - the immigrants - and not towards the people who really deserve their ire.  The self-serving bunch of fools who made the promises in the first place.

Our country has been strengthened by immigration over the course of centuries - from the Romans to the waves of Jewish and Caribbean and Asian immigrants in the 20th century.  The addition of people in times of plenty was positive, adding colour and cuisine to the country.  A lot of the problems we have at the moment are entirely caused by austerity - the NHS underfunded, social housing sold off or under-replaced, unemployment high in areas where old industries have been killed off or died.  But it is easy to see why people who are directly affected by a drop in income because they are experiencing what they perceive as unfair competition from the immigrant community might place the blame on their neighbour and not on the government.

Solving the problem properly requires investment in the social fabric, to the NHS and the social services and social housing.  I think it also makes sense for there to be changes to the rules on free movement of labour, especially when there is a big disparity in living standards between a newly-joined state and the other places in the EU.  It stops states being able to plan for their populations if there can be mass migration from one place to another without any controls.  And moving because you have a job in another state is rather different from moving to another state because you can make more money there.  We have opted out of being able to influence a change, although it is questionable whether there is a will to make that change in the other countries of the EU.

The people who are doing manual or labouring jobs don't have any protection in the current climate.  They don't have job security, they don't have the safety net that once was offered to them, and they don't have the same level of housing benefit or social security to fall back on if they lose their job or come to the end of a contract.  If they are self employed things are even more precarious.  It isn't surprising that they are the ones who feel most threatened by an influx of people.  They are also more likely to be living in areas where there is cheap housing, which attracts people in similar trades.

In the end, people thought they were voting for a couple of things.  Extra investment for the NHS.  Controls on immigration.  The remain camp weren't able to offer anything to counter those promises except more of the same.  It's only surprising to me that the vote wasn't even more decisive.  And our problem now is that no-one can deliver on the promises made.  And that's going to make people angry.

Thursday, June 30, 2016

Jeremy Corbyn for Prime Minister

The referendum result and the chaos in both Tory and Labour parties have forced us to review what we are looking for in leader.  I was appalled to find that David Cameron, despite being paid to be Prime Minister of this country, didn't have a plan for the result which was returned on Friday after the referendum.  We pay the man to lead the country and he makes no plan for June 24.

It seems that both teams in the referendum had no more plan than "win referndum" and looked no further.  The Tories on both sides, Cameron and Johnson, pointed to each other and claimed the other should have made a plan.

Just when the Labour Party could have held the Tories to account, they decided instead to play a game with the leadership of the Labour Party.  Despite Jeremy Corbyn being elected with the largest mandate ever, they decided to blame him - not the people who made absurd claims about the money that could go to the NHS (Johnson, Farage Gisela Stewart), not the people who had made absurd claims about the possibility of access to the single market AND controlling EU immigration, but Jeremy Corbyn was the target of their abuse.

As a paid-up member of the Labour party who joined because I was so impressed with Jeremy Corbyn, I felt betrayed.  I don't think I will be able to trust the politicians who betrayed Corbyn, simply because people like Angela Eagle praised him a few days ago, and reversed her opinion once the leadership attack was on.  Which time were you wrong, Angela, I wondered?   When you praised the gruelling schedule that Jeremy Corbyn had followed, or when you said he didn't do enough?

She didn't look towards Gisela Stewart, who allegedly came up with the £350 million a week slogan, or the others in the Brexit campaign who had been too stupid to understand that access to the single market was not a given and would come with a price tag.  She looked towards Jeremy Corbyn.

I think it was his touching honesty and total belief in the things he says which first attracted me to listen to what he was saying.  Something which is a rare gift in a politician.  If he says something you know that he believes it.  That's something I look for in a leader.  Honesty and integrity.

Over the past few days, people have resigned at regular intervals from the shadow cabinet, and people have announced their intention not to support Jeremy Corbyn.  He has withstood the blows from the people he thought he could count on, those who are ostensibly on his side, but who refer to his supporters - people from their own party - as dogs and rabble.  He has withstood this onslaught with dignity and has not descended into the sort of personal attacks that others might feel justified in making.  He's shown remarkable strength of character.  That's another thing I look for in a leader.

To listen to the parliamentary Labour Party talk, you would think that Jeremy Corbyn was so far left of centre that he was calling for the establishment of a communist state.  But everything I have heard Jeremy Corbyn talk about has been moderate, proportionate, and reasonable.  A return to the public ownership of the NHS (it's escaped the notice of a considerable number of people that we ever moved away from that), looking after the poor and disabled, housing people, giving them meaningful jobs and paying them adequately.  Reducing the gap between rich and poor.  I think they are socialist policies that all the membership would support.   And so his knowledge of what needs to happen and his grasp on the policies that need to change is impressive.  Another thing I look for in a leader:  knowledge, but an ability to say more information is needed if required.

If you were to ask me if I see these things in any of the candidate on the Tory side, I'd have to say that the only person who impresses me is Theresa May.  But she lacks the final qualities I look for in a leader: warmth, human kindness and an understanding of the lives of ordinary people.  Jeremy Corbyn doesn't use his time in parliament to build up money by claiming expenses he isn't entitled to.  In fact he doesn't claim things he is entitled to, preferring to travel on public transport, and use a bike.

He talks to people, acknowledges policemen and others he encounters in the course of his work, and spends time interacting with those that make up the electorate whoever they support politically.  I admire that in a leader.  It's too easy to become part of a Westminster-focussed club and forget there are ordinary people who have spent their hard-earned money on being able to vote for a leader in the party elections.  He doesn't forget that, and we love him for it.

The Parliamentary Labour Party may look for different things in the leader they elect.  Certainly some of them have written lies about having consulted their Constituency Labour Party before resigning, or tales of people on the doorstep demanding a change, as though the ordinary electorate are likely to say those things arbitrarily, and should be allowed to decide who the leader of the Labour Party is.  I'd have respected them a bit more if they had been honest.

Jeremy Corbyn stands for everything I want - more social justice, a return to the publicly owned NHS and looking after the environment and the people in this country.  I want him as leader of the Labour Party, and I would vote for him to be our Prime Minister in a heartbeat.  I think the PLP have seriously misjudged the mood of the country.  And if, as many people are saying, this is all about Chilcot, then woe betide them.  Because we'll support Jeremy all the way if he calls for Tony Blair to be prosecuted.  And there's bugger all they can do about that now that they've failed to oust him.

Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Why do I support Jeremy Corbyn?

I moved north to rural Lincolnshire in 2013.  I love it.  I moved away from a constituency where I was happy to vote for my constituency MP because he had been very supportive of me and other Home Educators in 2004, when the incumbent Labour government had been threatening to change the rules to make home education much more difficult for parents.

He was an unusual Conservative: he spoke against the Iraq war, and stood on a platform with other people from other parties to oppose it.  He cared deeply about the local constituency and attended countless local events and gave his support to local people.  He was a Conservative MP but he was someone who voted with his conscience... which is probably why he was recruited to the whip's office.

Moving to another part of the country and another constituency meant that I had to re-examine the choices I had made in the past.  I think I am probably a natural Green supporter, and I am a Quaker, which means that social justice and equality are highly important to me.

I had been a Young Conservative in my misspent youth, because I associated the Conservatives with individual choice and freedom, and for reasons I can't account for I didn't feel mass movements were a positive thing.  But as I have got older I have become more and more left wing.  I have begun to connect to the things I actually believe in and the world I really want to live in, and it isn't an island of rich people surrounded by poverty, even if I were one of the rich ones.

By 2013 we had the coalition in power, and I was not at all happy at the changes that had been wrought in the welfare system, in the NHS, in the way that corporations and companies seemed to have more power and clout than the constituents that MPs were supposed to represent. I yearned for social justice, for fair pay for fair work, for a politician who wasn't on the make or screwing the expenses system, and who would stand up for ordinary people.

I joined the Green Party and eventually attended a meeting locally, but that attendance coincided with the beginnings of the leadership campaign after the Election in 2015, and as it happened, one of my social media friends posted a video of Jeremy Corbyn speaking.  I watched, found more on youtube and watched those.  Once he had confirmed that he was against fracking, I signed up to vote in the leadership election and then joined the Labour Party.  Here was someone who stood up and said the things I wanted said, who worked for the common good, and took public transport.

In the months since then, my affection and admiration for Jeremy Corbyn has only grown.  When he refused to deal in personal insults and instead insisted on dealing with the issues, when I heard him talk passionately about the need to reduce social inequality and saw how charismatic he was, my support turned into a passion to see him in government, able to implement his policies.

I was grateful to Jeremy Corbyn for something else:  before I supported him I believed we had a more or less free press and that Noam Chomsky was exaggerating when he said that the belief that we had a free press was actually as damaging as anything else.  I have been horrified by the way in which the press handled the first nine months of his leadership and how partisan they are - even the Guardian which was my paper of choice.

It's possible that the people briefing against him have been on his own side for all these months, and if that is true, I think it is disgraceful.  The democracy in the Labour Party was one of the things that drew me to it... if the Parliamentary Labour Party (PLP) manage to oust Corbyn against the will of the membership, that democracy is dead.

I don't want spin, or blustering politicians who don't have any principles and can spin on a penny, I want real conviction and real commitment to serving the people of the country.  That's what I find in Jeremy Corbyn and is exactly what seems to be missing from the PLP who seem to think their views on the leadership overwrite the will of the membership because they are in parliament, eeven when their own Constiituency Labour Party (CLP) are loyal to Corbyn and instruct them to be likewise, please.

I'm no fanatical SWP supporter, I'm a peaceful anti-fracking activist who believes, as Corbyn does, than in the end it all comes down to talking, and we should do that earlier, not as an afterthought.  I'm not an extremist and I offer no threats to those who are in opposition to my views.  But I'm not a pushover either.  I examine what I am told, and I think for myself.  And I support Corbyn because he has shown no lack of leadership in my estimation, only a lack of people willing to submit to leadership.

I agree with him that a resignation would only serve to betray the Labour Party members who are the party and to destroy the Labour Party as we know it.  Perhaps that is coming anyway, but I don't think we should allow the PLP or the shadowy companies and groups who support them to be the arbiters of that.  For if the Labour Party abandons democracy and Corbyn, who will stand up for them then?

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

TL:DR Cheer up! Stand up for what matters for you! Change the world for the better!

My children have been feeling pretty depressed by the result of the referendum, and I think that all the remain camp have been feeling low since the result.  The feeling deepened when it became clear that the Brexiteer plan was “win referendum” and they had no plan in place to deal with the fallout once they did, and the coup in the Labour Party has only made the directionless void in government even worse.

I’ve signed the petition for a second referendum because of the number and size of the lies told to the country, not least that the prospect of a free fall in the markets and prospect of a recession was “scaremongering”.  It is clear that many of the people who voted to leave thought that the gates of the UK would clang shut on the end of the count, and those people are going to be severely disappointed when they realise that the likelihood is that whoever is in government will have to agree a Norway-style agreement to the free movement of labour, which constitutes 80%+ of the movement of EU citizens. So it probably won’t change much.

The ones who thought a vote for leave was a vote for £350 millions plus to the NHS are going to discover that we will in all likelihood be paying the same to the EU and getting nothing in return, rather than the roads and fast broadband and investment for poverty-ridden areas like Cornwall.  If those areas are hoping that government will plug the gaps, they are going to find out how wrong they are.

However, we had an economy and a life before the EU and we can have one again.  During the swinging sixties we weren’t a member of the EU.  The way the country has been over the past ten years isn’t the way I want the country to be.  We’ve been chipping away at the NHS, removing the safety net for poor families, increasingly removing the very things that many people think is drawing others to the UK.  We don’t support families in crisis, we don’t provide for people who are too sick or too disabled to provide for themselves.

We are rewarding the richest in society and not demanding that they pay their fair share of tax, and we are making new laws which favour corporations and companies and not the ordinary people.  We have sold off our water, electricity, railways, and are busy selling off schools and hospitals. 

If this world isn’t the way you want it to be DO SOMETHING ABOUT IT. Join a political party which has a vision you can share - it won’t be 100%, there are going to be things you disagree with.  I joined the Labour Party last year once Jeremy Corbyn said that he didn’t support tracking, even though I had spent a lot of time fighting the Labour Party over their policies on Home Education.  I am naturally a member of the Green Party, but I couldn’t see that my membership was making any difference to what was actually happening, and so switched to the Labour Party.  If the coup against Jeremy Corbyn succeeds, I will join the Greens again.  

This is an ideal chance to examine what’s important to you, what sort of world you want for the future, and to decide to work towards it.  Too often the future is painted in financial markets and the prospect for interest rates and employment and not in terms of who we want to be, as people.  Do we want disabled people starving to death in their homes?  Children to be hungry at school and to need access to food banks in order to eat?  Hospitals losing money because they are paying profit to private companies? This is what we have now.  We can change it.

If you want a different type of Britain, it is time to stand up and work for it.  If you don’t feel able to join a political party, at the very least, support the causes you support, and write to your MP on a regular basis and tell him or her what you think.  They do take notice if a lot of constituents write - not the rote letters that the charities and pressure groups send out, but personal letters, will have an effect.

Set the intention, to support the things you value, and stand up for them.  I don’t think most people in the country are racist or intolerant of foreigners.  I think we are a tolerant, kind, polite society in general.  Don’t let the binary vote we were faced with change the way you think about other people.  An awful lot of them were deceived into thinking they were voting for the NHS, not against the EU.

And cheer up!  Politics is an artificial world but the sun still shines, the flowers still bloom and we have everything we had last Thursday and can make it through this morass.  And if enough people set an intention to defend the NHS, to improve life for the poor, to make the rich pay their dues, to prevent corporations from avoiding their fair share of tax… then maybe we can all change the world for the better, despite the last week.   

Sunday, April 03, 2016

The Machine Stops

From today you have 23 days left to listen to The Machine Stops, a dramatization of the short story by E.M. Forster.  If you have never read the short story (and aren't likely to) I recommend it.  Otherwise make for the text of the short story, which is available here.

I first read The Machine Stops as a teenager in the 1970s.  It seemed then like a lot of science fiction, partly futuristic, but containing some language and elements which struck me as old fashioned, like many of the works of C.S. Lewis and other writers of that age.  It was written by E.M. Forster in 1909, and given that television and radio were in their infancy at that stage, he was able to imagine a world far ahead of its time.  That much was clear in the 1970s when I related the screens and sounds to tv and radio, but didn't really understand the irritation which minute delays caused one of the characters in the story.

The next time I read the story was in the late 1990s, when the internet had become a thing.  I got online in 1998, and soon recognized just how prescient Forster had been, with his imagining of the machine connecting people around the world having hundreds of messages from people in many different places.  Having started with a dial-up connection which often failed to connect me to the BBC website, one of the few UK places to have a website then, I understood the frustration and wish to hurry up by then.

Hearing the story in 2016, I realise that there is much I didn't understand in the 1990s which makes more sense to me now.  In 1998 I was very rare in the UK, writing a blog, uploading it via ftp to the Geocities website.  I was listed then in a list of blogs, and counted only seven UK blogs.  People would say "What's a blog?" and look puzzled if I told them.

The brilliance of the imagined world includes so many of the elements which apply to the internet and the way it works today.   In 1998 being able to attend Webinars was still in the future, and the rise of ideas and originality as a driver for success was still in its infancy. 

More than that, there was a message in the story which I believe was meant to warn us against polluting the atmosphere and making the world into a hostile environment.  The modern listener will immediately conclude that nuclear war has made the surface uninhabitable, but of course the invention of nuclear weapons was not to come for another 20 years when Forster wrote his story.  The industrial wastelands of the north of England and industrial towns elsewhere in the world may have given him reason to believe we might be heading in this direction.

Today I fear that we face a choice, between the continuation of fossil fuel reliance or putting our all into the development of renewable forms of energy.  Our country doesn't have long to take that decision between investing in a future world which can sustain life, and one in which we have ravaged the environment in the search for cheap fuel.  Already in America there are towns subject to poisoned water, increased earthquake activity and pollution from fracking, which have reason to regret allowing corporations with money to direct the policy they follow.

I worry that we are being swept up by a machine comprised of corporations which have mission statements that amount to "make money" which are blind to the damage they are causing, annd the human cost of the pursuit of wealth in the short term at the cost of our futures.  Indeed, the government machine in this country is busy crunching up the poor and disabled and spitting them out, in the pursuit of an ideology which has been dreamed up by rich people who have never had to search down the back of the sofa in order to buy a pint of milk.  They don't understand life in poverty and think that everyone has a support network which will pick them up when the state sanctions the benefits you rely on for food and heat.

Perhaps the message of the story is that we should all beware giving up our human compassion, human life, human failings, in favour of a perfect machine, whatever that represents.

Tum-ti-tum-ti tiddly no more

I used to love the Archers.  I'd listened all my life, initially unintentionally, because it was on in the kitchen in my childhood, and then gradually by choice.  I enjoyed the everyday story of farming folk, and it seemed to me to be fairly true to life - the occasional argument, the odd accident, the ebb and flow of normality and a window into a rural life where it was necessary to get up at 5 am for morning milking or do the night shift in the lambing shed.

I felt affectionate about the characters in the programme, and the way that they matured over time, the antics of Nigel the upper-class twit and tearaway in the local mansion gradually giving way to Nigel the responsible landowner and Nigel the family man.  It was easy to listen to, gentle and entertaining, on a Sunday morning over bacon and eggs, and seemed as English as afternoon tea.

It has to be admitted that the programme began dramatically with fires and disaster in the 1950s but it had settled into a very happy and beloved institution where things seemed normal... a balance of good and bad, nice and less nice, as you find in real life.  With added farming detail.

Then, they drafted in a producer from soaps and everything changed.  There started to be more dramatic events than normality.  Everything suddenly became fly-on-the-wall and first hand, instead of dramatic events being gossipped about over the counter in the village shop, or at the village pub.  Nastiness crept into relationships, and more and more drama was injected until there was nearly no-one in the village who didn't have a difficult relationship or difficult life.

Where the programme had been used throughout its run, sometimes a bit cackhandedly, as a way of informing the public or the farming community about government initiatives or  current concerns in farming, they didn't seem to want to use the dramatic storylines to inform the public in other ways.  Most of their social interest is skin deep nowadays.

The end really came for me when they cynically pushed Nigel off a rooftop, for dramatic effect, not because the actor wished to leave or the storyline called for it, but just in order to punch up the drama.  I hated that, and really I haven't been able to listen to it consistently since.  I felt they'd crossed a line into the type of soap on tv like Eastenders, where constant misery is an excuse for ever more dramatic events, usually centering around a celebration like Christmas or Easter.  Yay!  Happy Christmas, we just ran over/burned/decapitated a beloved character....

I've tried to come back, but instead of the easy, gentle listening experience which used to be the omnibus on Sunday morning, it's become a teeth-clenching, awkward, unhappy event.  I usually last five or ten minutes.  This morning it was two before I was driven to rant in my blog.

I'm sad that the programme has been taken in the direction of Eastenders.  I'd like the original programme back, but I've stopped listening.  It seems to me that Radio 4 has gone in pursuit of another type of audience, and I don't fit the bill any more.  Which makes me sad, because Radio 4 used to be everything I wanted from a radio station - and Radios 1, 2, 3, 5, and 6 don't fit the bill for me, not at all.

Thursday, March 24, 2016

All is one and one is all

Twenty-one years ago I was walking down uxbridge High Street with my daughter in a pram.  I wasn't thinking particularly spiritual or meditative thoughts.  It was an ordinary day, the high street in Uxbridge is always busy during the day and there were people everywhere around me.

One moment it was normal, and the next minute I was floating high above the market house in Uxbridge, aware that I was a part of God and all that is, and also myself.  I could discern other individuals there with me, but I was distinct from them.  There wass overwhelming peace, love, all those things which people who have hd a peak experience talk about.

My attention was turned towards the love I felt towards everything around me.  It's held together with love, that's what holds it in the material world.  I realised it wasn't love towards my fellow man or the birds and other animals only, but love towards the roof tiles, the bricks, the things we think of as inanimate, everything that forms part of the world we live in and beyond.

I have always had a conviction that we - humans - are all connected, and that some people are able to access the consciousness which runs beneath and connects us, but it came as a shock to realise that the oneness of all extended to the inanimate things of the world.  I was at the same time the consciousness that was loving the material world and the consciousness which was surprised by the fact that the love extended to bricks and roof tiles.  I was both at once and myself.

I do not know how long the experience lasted, and I don't know what my body was doing while my consciousness was off in the sky.  I do know that since then I have not had to be convinced of the oneness of all, I have experienced it.  I know it.  It's not something I know intellectually, I know it in my heart.

I don't remember if I told anyone about my experience at the time.  It took a while to process.  But when I did share it some years later, I got such a negative reaction that it was years before I shared it again. 

When terrible things happen, like the bombing in Brussels, the shootings in Paris or the constant bombings in Iraq and Yemen currently, I feel the sadness and pain that the families of those killed and maimed in the bombings have experienced, and I feel the desolation that it causes for those who are close or far from the blasts.  I know that we are eternal beings and so for the individuals who have been killed, they have been, as Penn says, turned over from time to eternity. 

I believe that when we die we experience our lives from all perspectives and experience the impact of the things we have said and done, from all angles.  I pray for the people who blew themselves up and those who are contemplating doing the same, as they are about to experience the oneness of all, and learn the consequences of their actions.  Who would need a hell?  Experiencing first hand the pain and grief that they have caused in their lives will be punishment enough. 

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

A Christian Country

The Prime Minister likes to appear on television around thie time of year to tell us that we are a Christian country. I suppose before you can judge what a Christian Country might be, youd have to come to some agreement about what being a Christian is, and from years of inviting in the people who come to my door to tell me what their version of Christianity or sect associated with it might be, I know that even individual members of the same faith community may have widely divergent views about it.

However, there's one thing that all versions of Christianity concur upon - yes and most other religions around the world. It's that you should treat other people the way that you would like to be treated. It's not good expecting others to be forgiving or merciful when you do something wrong or selfish or dishonest if you do not forgive others when they do similar things to you. The whole philosophy is included in the idea "love your neighbour as yourself".

 Can we say that we epitomise that philosophy? I used to think we did. We had a welfare state that cared for the sick, disabled, elderly and poor, and provided the with the means to live. Nowadays, when people have their benefits taken away from them because they didn't send paperwork they did send, or because they missed an appointment because they were in hospital with a sick child... nowadays I don't think we do. Would Mr Cameron want to be forced through constant assessments for his fitness to work if he had some sort of disability? Would he want to see his wife sink into a depression because she was treated like a skiver when she had cancer, or an amputated limb or blindness?

Of course that's never going to happen to them... but that's not the point. Christianity if it does anything at all, asks you to put yourself in the place of the other and imagine how you would want to be treated. And I don't think this is it. In any case, the idea that we have put all these jobs in the hands of private companies who make profits from the jobs that used to be done by civil servants and public employees, seems bad economics to me. If you have a limited fund of money then it ought to go on doing what you need to do and not on making profits for third parties.

The Conservative party have had a pretty easy time of it, as they managed to persuade the country that they were a safe pair of hands for the country and those profligate Labour people shouldn't be trusted. Except that isn't true, is it, Mr Cameron? Another example of unChristian behaviour, lying and spinning the truth in order to retain power. Companies are playing the game of transferring their HQ to other countries and paying little or no corporation tax, and Boots is one of those companies.

We should be insisting that they pay tax in the country in which their profits are made, and refuse to allow companies to play that game. The trouble is that the people in parliament are also benefitting from that arrangement and so it is unlikely to change soon unless we make it clear that's not acceptable. Personally, I think any MP who gains from those sorts of arrangements with family trusts or companie profits or even large shareholdings, should be disbarred from parliament. They expect people to pay their taxes... treating them the same as themselves would require them to pay their tax honestly too.

Friday, March 11, 2016

Being represented

 I was shocked to learn recently that Boots have moved their headquarters in order to avoid paying corporation tax in the UK. They have been sold and resold in the last few years and have gamed the system to stop paying corporation tax here although there hasn't been a big change in the number of outlets that exist in the UK, or the amount of business. I'd been thinking about the nature of representation in parliament anyway.

 The way that party politics in the 20th and 21st centuries has played out, it is easy to think that MPs and MEPs represent their parties and not the electorate, in parliaments, but that isn't supposed to be the case. They are there to speak for all of us, whether we share their politics or not. They are there to represent the interests of their constituency. That being the case, it is extraoordinary that we have the type of company laws that allow a company to play games with the rules and transfer their profits out of a country where they are made. In the case of Boots this is going to mean that the tax payer is supporting those people who aren't earning enough at Boots to pay their bills, and yet the taxpayer is gaining very little benefit.

What is the benefit to us of attracting multi-national companies who don't pay any tax in the UK? We seem to have reached a place where the ordinary person can be driven to suicide because the government has cut or suspended their benefits, and yet big corporations making billions in profit, are not pursued for their tax - or have been given concessions in the laws of the land that make it possible for them to pervert their company structure to take those profits elsewhere. Should this be allowed? Would most people in the country allow this if it were put to them? I'd expect not. So how have we been represented by people who do allow this? How have the laws of the land been changed to make transferring your assets to your wife and making her a non-dom, or transferring the HQ to a country where you have no branches, possible?

The TTIP is an agreement supposedly between the US and the EU, which is going to put in place a lot of rule which will be adopted in law, which allows companies to charge governments the cost of complying with new rules and regulations if they economically disadvantage the companies concerned. The question is, who benefits, and who is driving this agreement - it isn't the American government, who complain they are unable to see the text of the agreement except three hours at a time, and they aren't able to record the text of the agreement which in the EU is being brought under the 30 year secrecy rule. It isn't the EU who are under the same constraints, not able to read it except in three hour shifts, no recording, etc.

So who exactly is in charge of the agreement? And why should any representative who has the best interests of their constituents at heart, agree to it? I can't see any reason, unless they have a financial or some other self interest involved in the agreement. It is extraordinary that David Cameron has refused to make the NHS exempt from this agreement, and I believe that it will mean the end of the NHS if it is allowed to go through. I can't honestly see what we have to benefit from it, either. I've seen nothing except vague promises of trade with America, to justify signing any sort of agreement. Some countries already signed this type of agreement with america and have lived to regret it. If they have American companies selling power to their people and they decide to fix the tariff for electricity, the companies have to do this, but then they can sue the government for compensation equal to the amount they have lost.

 This applies to any change in law - so if we suddenly decided that, for example, all employees in noisy environments must be provided with ear plugs and headphones to protect their hearing at a lower noise level than is currently set... the companies would do that and then charge our government the full cost of implementing that change. Sound like something we should do? The TTIP includes in it the condition that secret international tribunals should decide on any dispute, and those tribunals will be able to impose vast fines on governments if they impose a change in the rules - however justified - which costs the companies money.

Why WOULD we agree to this? I cannot understand it. Why would we agree to keep the terms secret - shouldn't the population as a whole have a right to know what has been signed in their name? Why would we sign something we haven't been allowed free access to? Would YOU do this for yourself? You'd assume that if some shyster lawyer asked you to read a contract without taking any notes, or having a copy of it that they are trying to hoodwink you. But who is it doing the hoodwinking? I'm assuming it is the rich and powerful corporations in America.

And we shouldn't be even talking to them if they expect to impose these ridiculous constraints upon the process. And I don't understand why we are. If you don't agree with TTIP and you want your representatives in parliament and the European parliament to take the NHS out of the agreement - and not to agree with it, make some noise, write some letters, make a protest. AND DO IT NOW!