Jamie's Notes

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Video from the front in Portland

‘Great civilisations are not murdered. Instead, they take their own lives’ – so concluded Arnold Toynbee after investigating the fall of different civilisations through the ages.

Whatever your political persuasion, scenes like these from the City of Portland yesterday must give you the chills. To an outsider like me, this just looks like a country at war with itself.

Au revoir, auf wiedersehen & arrivederci

I’m hesitant to see politicians and politics in entirely black and white terms. I believe that the majority of politicians are hard working, and in general want the best for their constituents. I don’t expect them all the share the same views as me. I’ve voted left and right, depending on my outlook at the time and have no particular love or hate for any political party. The single quality I’m looking for is competence.

It’s been a while since we’ve had anyone competent in charge. Boris survives on bluster, and that falls apart pretty quickly under challenge. May was.. well, I don’t really know what May was. Cameron was competent, though I didn’t agree with all of his policies and certainly not with some of his latter decisions.

Tony Blair was probably the last Prime Minister that was both competent and closely aligned to my political thinking, though we all know that he had his faults too. Despite his errors he was thoughtful, intelligent, charismatic and competent. Why is it that leaders with such qualities are so few and far between? I suppose a better question is: why do we not vote in people with those qualities?

Here he is effortlessly dismissing a eurosceptic MP with an off the cuff quip. There’s a warning for David Cameron here too – which he probably didn’t give enough thought to at the time.

Here’s a bonus video of him giving Nigel Farage the same treatment.

Christ. It seems such a long time since the UK has had a leader with anything about them.

Time to show restraint

Michael Gove says that we will have to ‘show restraint’ in our shopping habits when stores reopen in mid-June. We won’t be allowed to try on clothes & shoes, or test make-up. Essentially, don’t bloody touch it unless you’re going to buy it – like my mother used to say. It’ll be like internet shopping, but you have to pay for parking and then run the risk of catching a deadly disease. Such fun – buy one shoe, get one fatal lung malfunction free.

People will also be allowed to meet others in private gardens, so long as they stick to the physical distance guidelines. Good news, particularly for grandparents, but it seems to me that most people started doing this weeks ago and that the public as a whole is a few steps ahead of the official guidance – which nobody has really tried to enforce.

The problem is with the quality of the messengers. None of the cabinet inspire any confidence that they have the remotest clue. Take Matt Hancock, our beleaguered Health Secretary, for example. You can tell that he’s as surprised as we are that he’s in this position because he looks completely bewildered when the press asks him a question – like a supply teacher faced with a precocious class that knows more about the subject than they do.

But that’s what you get when you relegate anyone with a spine to the backbenches, and all you have left to choose from to form your government is a small group of supine but spineless cretins.

Election 2019

I’ve been trying to put my finger on what it is about this election that I find so bleak. I wrote, and then binned, about four hundreds words on why I think the whole thing sucks – because I figure enough has been written on the detail by people much smarter than me.

At it most basic level an election is a simple choice. Just choose a tribe: Lib Dem, Labour, Tory, Green – depending on your view of the world at that particular time. I’ve always been pretty sure who I will vote for by this time and that choice, and its certainty, is like being embraced by a warm coat on a bitter day – except this time the choice is between a coat that smells bad, one that fits poorly or one with arms missing.

So, for those that are struggling to make a choice like me it all becomes a little disconcerting – especially as the media cranks up to fever pitch during the final few days. Make your choice. MAKE. YOUR. CHOICE.

I will, but for the record, all my options suck.

Auribus Teneo Lupum

For those that don’t follow the machinations of British politics – and I would understand if you chose not to – a leadership election is about to get underway. Between general elections and ill-conceived referendums, leadership elections are about the only other thing that breaks up the monotony of parliamentary democracy. As the party holding the election is currently in power the winner will become Prime Minister. Why anyone would want this job is beyond me, but that’s how it is. The next Prime Minister will be (probably) the biggest influence on the direction that Brexit takes from this point forward.

One of the underdogs in the race is Rory Stewart. He’s had an interesting and varied life outside of politics (Brad Pitt bought the rights to a film about him) and appears to be clever & coherent. This means that he’s got no chance of winning, but his ground campaign is pretty interesting and he’s doing a good job of putting some of the Brexit nonsense to rights. Rory is against a no-deal Brexit (yay), but he also thinks that a second referendum would be a mistake (boo). A couple of months ago I would have strongly argued that he is wrong, but acceptance sets in as time goes on and I’m developing some sympathy for this view. His reasoning is straightforward and nothing to do with sovereignty or democracy or any of the other tropes that Brexiteers wheel out, simply that there’s no point in an exercise where the result will only tell us what we already know: the country (or at least those that vote in these things) is still split. A referendum only solves the practical issue of whether we stay or leave – it does nothing for the social or political fallout, which will far outlast it.

The latin term auribus teneo lupum translates to ‘hold a wolf by the ears’ and is used to describe situations where doing nothing and doing something are equally risky. A more modern interpretation would be dammed if you do and dammed if you don’t. It feels fitting for our current predicament.

Architectural Renders of Temporary Commons

The Palace of Westminster, home to the House of Commons and the House of Lords, is literally falling down. Putting aside philosophical musings about whether this is a reflection on the perilous state of our democracy, the situation has become so severe that MPs are going to have to move out.

I take some dark pleasure from imagining specific MPs having to beg for hot desks around central London like many local government workers now do, but that wasn’t ever going to happen. Instead, they’ll have to slum it out in these temporary digs:

A shame that they didn’t have the option shake-up the layout a bit – or to move it out of London – but I rather like it.

Liars, populists & cretins

I’ve tried to avoid reading about Brexit for the past year because it’s a really good route to short-term depression.

Roughly two years have passed since the UK Government prematurely triggered Article 50. There’s been lots, and lots, and lots of talk since then, but in reality very little has happened – well, quite a lot has happened, but very little of the big stuff that needs to be done by the deadline has happened.

The EU 27 set out their position early on:

  • The UK chose to leave, so they’ll leave and lose access to the benefits of being a member.
  • The EU will manage the exit in a way to cause the least damage to the EU, and hopefully the UK (but they’re the ones that chose to leave, so…).

Seems reasonable. Brexit, as far as the EU is concerned, is a legal process and an exercise in damage limitation – not a negotiation. The UK fundamentally misunderstands this as intransigence.

The UK, under the Chequers proposals, asks for access to the single market (with the ability to strike external trade deals – though with who, nobody yet knows), along with opt-outs from freedom of movement, paying into the EU budget and being under the jurisdiction of the ECJ.

The EU have not been particularly enthusiastic about these proposals,since they undermine the core structures of the union, and the UK has been banging its head against this wall for the past six months.

Theresa May tried to use an EU summit in Salzburg to go over the head of the intractable negotiators and appeal to the generosity of the individual member states, but this failed spectacularly and without benefit of a better plan, she threw a wobbler and announced that it would be Europe’s fault if Britain crashed out without a deal, and that they need to prevent it from happening. The irony is delicious, but there we seem to have become stuck.

Theresa ‘Strong & Stable Leadership’ May is at the mercy of the cretinous elements of the Conservative Party, no one can quite understand what the Labour Party intends to do, and time is ticking.

For a very readable view of the current status of the EU talks, read Chris Grays Brexit Blog. For a giggle (or a cry), read these reports of meetings between the PM and Angela Merkel.

The absolute state of the Labour Party

Politics in the UK is still mostly viewed in terms of left and right and the baggage that comes with them. I don’t subscribe to any strong views on either; good politics should pull ideas from across the spectrum and so I naturally gravitate to parties than govern from the centre. New Labour, under Tony Blair, was probably the closest that there has been to my ideal. It embraced capitalism and globalisation, but also enacted transformative social programs that improved the lives of the poor and vulnerable. It embraced Europe and was confident on the national and world stage.

I have voted in every single one of the four general elections that have taken place since I became eligible to vote. Labour has had my vote in all but the 2010 election, when I voted Conservative and helped to bring in the first Coalition government since the Second World War. The reasoning behind this vote was simple, the scale of government debt following the financial crash scared me, and they were they only party advocating significant reductions in government spending.

I voted Labour again in 2015 and was rewarded with a Conservative majority in Parliament. I joined the Labour party, the first time that I have ever been a member of a political party, and began to campaign for them. I delivered thousands of leaflets. I attended branch and constituency meetings. I even, albeit briefly, served as Chairman for my local branch. I sold the Labour message wherever I went, but then Jeremy Corbyn happened.

The Labour Party has now been out of power for seven years, having struggled to shake of the demons of the past or find a message that resonates with the electorate. It elected Jeremy Corbyn, a left-wing outlier who had never held or even sought high office as its leader. His MPs tried to overthrow him when it became clear that he was incapable of any form of leadership, only to bungle it and have him elected again under an even bigger majority. The Party now finds itself a perpetual and maddening turmoil. I cannot vote for Jeremy Corbyn to be our Prime Minister because he simply is not fit to hold that, or any other office of government. He is a third rate politician, of little genuine intellect but narcissism by the bucket load, buoyed by the cheers of his enthusiastic & devoted supporters to continue his bungled experiments with power. I cannot forgive him for the last eighteen months, where he has time and time again failed to hold the government to account while they succeeded in tearing up our membership of the EU. All of the evidence would suggest that the Labour Party is facing annihilation in this coming general election, and I whilst I genuinely grieve at that prospect, something good will have come of it if this maddening experiment is brought to an end.