Monday February 27th, 2017. Posted by Alex:

https://www.theguardian.com/…/grandmother-deported-from-uk-…

How is this fair? How is this not vindictive? How is this not a failure to use discretion? How is this not a failure of compassion? How is this not a failure of common sense? How is this not narrow-minded? How is this not mean-spirited? How is this not pig-headed? Sorry, pigs, it’s just a turn of human phrase. But having said that, how is this not a failure of humanity?

Sunday January 29th, 2017. Posted by Alex:

Donny, Theresa and the Brexit effect

In her attempt to pretend that there is enough other “free trade” out there in the world to compensate for the financial hit to the UK (lower wages and higher prices, to you and me) that Wrexit will cause, we have seen Theresa May cosying up to a variety of questionable characters, most notably the xenophobic, Islamophobic, misogynistic, serial-bankrupt, short-sighted, bizarrely-yet-in-fact president Trump.

What does she want? A “free trade” agreement. But tariffs are already low, so what does that mean? One obvious part of the answer is that the UK will have to accept food made to shoddy American standards – chlorine-washed chicken, hormone-injected beef reared on gigantic feed-lots, unlabelled GMO ingredients, meat from animals reared with techniques not permitted in Europe. The list goes on. If you want confirmation, or want to know more, you know how to use a search engine. It’s not entirely hidden, in spite of American gagging laws against whistleblowing in intensive farming, the “ag-gag” laws.

It has to stop!

Thursday January 26th, 2017. Posted by Alex:

When spin approaches lie

When is that?

In Theresa May’s  speech to Republicans she is expected to say that “… as we end our membership of the European Union – as the British people voted with determination and quiet resolve to do last year – we have …” (The sentence goes on with more waffle-words like ” sovereign and global Britain”.)

“Determination and quiet resolve…” – where ever does she get that from? Last year’s campaign is acknowledged by all sides to have been divisive and bitter. It was led by fools, fuelled by lies and by appeals to base instincts. It has left the spirit of Great Britain weaker, more narrow-minded and meaner than it was. On that sad day, a small majority (37.4% of the electorate, about 27% of the population) voted to leave.

The result appalled many of those who wanted to remain, and who are still fighting against the damage. The whole thing was, as is well known, fired by the internal politics of the Conservative party, the Eurosceptics who never managed to accept that Britain is and was part of Europe. Britain chose to join the European project, voting in favour in the 1975 referendum by 67% to 33%. But would the Eurosceptics accept the will of the people and get on with it? Of course they didn’t.

The recent referendum, recommending that Britain should leave the EU, was won by a relatively tiny margin. Indeed, the result is so marginal that Theresa May herself is campaigning and voting against the wishes of her own constituency, who voted to remain.

I fully accept that the words of a speech may describe things in a light that may not be shared by all, and it is both normal and proper to embed and suggest an opinion in the way we describe something. Try these:

“Her decision to move to Bristol…”
“Her bold decision to move to Bristol…”
“Her rash decision to move to Bristol…”
“Her brave decision to move to Bristol…”
“Her foolish decision to move to Bristol…”
“Her foolhardy decision to move to Bristol…”
“Her stupid decision to move to Bristol…”
… and so forth.

But I suggest that to describe the rancorous salad of lies, personal attacks and misrepresentation that characterised the referendum campaign as a matter of “determination and quiet resolve” is so far out of tune with reality that it does border on a lie.

But then, it seems clear that she wants to cosy up to Donald Trump, so perhaps it’s simply a matter of horses for courses.

Sunday January 1st, 2017. Posted by Alex:

Fight for me, Teresa

Theresa May seems to be revealing herself as a Class One “say-whatever-you-think-people-will-like-to-hear-at-the-time,-and-preferably-in-words-that-are-vague-enough-not-to-be-falsifiable-later” merchant. After “Brexit means Brexit” (eh?) and “I want a red, white and blue Brexit” (uh?), she claims in her New Year’s message that she will fight the remainers’ case in Europe too.

Now, I am a remainer, or I would have voted to remain had the British government, in its wisdom, allowed me to have a say in my future. In any event, I think we should remain, and I rather suspect that now that the self-destructive, expensive stupidity of Brexit is becoming clear, many of those who voted to leave, for what seemed at the time to be valid reasons, will have changed their minds. Many must now see that they have been sold a pup, and all in the name of what Gove, Johnson, Farage and their ilk thought was their political advantage. In all probability those who wish to remain are now a majority, though only a second referendum will tell.

Therefore, Mrs May, I’d like to ask you what you mean; what is it that I, as a remainer, want that you will fight for? Oh, you don’t want to give a running commentary? Then it seems to be up to me to tell you what kind of Brexit would suit me.

I would like to be free to travel to any European country without worrying about visas, quotas, proving that I’m a fit person to enter that country and so forth.

If I so choose, and if there is an employer in that country who wants me, I would like to be free to work their without worrying about work permits, quotas, proving that my skills cannot be found amongst the native workforce and so forth.

Whether I work there or not, I would like to be free to invest in a European country of my choosing. Perhaps I might like to buy a house there without worrying about capital controls? Perhaps I might like to buy shares in a German company without the same sort of worry?

If I so choose, I would like to be free to reside in that country as long as I wish – to live there, in short.

I would like to be free to trade throughout Europe. In my case, as a translator, it is services that I would like to trade, without worrying about tax barriers and so forth. But I might like to be free to, for example, sell the second-hand flute that I bought some years ago in Ireland to someone in, for example, Britain or Germany, without worrying about tax, customs declarations and so forth.

Oh, and while we were about it, I wouldn’t mind if the laws that governments (of every stripe, admittedly) are occasionally tempted to bring in on the matters above, in the hope of satisfying some portion of the electorate, were overseen by a body with a longer-term, less partisan view. The European Court of Justice, for example.

If you successfully fight for all these, then we will have a Brexit that I would be happy to live with, and even happy to call red, white and blue or any other colour combination that is fashionable at the time. Johnson, Gove and Farage could then dance, cackling, around their Brexit cauldron, proclaiming that they “won”, while the rest of us could get on with living our lives in the most prosperous way possible. That’s difficult enough as it is, after all.

As you will probably realise, at the moment I already have all the freedoms that I have mentioned above. You, in the name of what it is now surely reasonable to suspect is a minority of voters to whom the name “the people” has somehow become attached, seem to want to remove those rights.

It could also be reasonably argued that my version of Brexit, outlined above, is not Brexit at all. Fair comment. But which of those things are you actually going to fight for? Just a tweed Brexit?

Wednesday December 7th, 2016. Posted by Alex:

Post-almost-everything

There could well be several reasons why Teresa May is not willing to say what her Wrexit plan is. The obvious one is that the government hasn’t got one. It may have a flag, but it doesn’t have a plan. Another reason, almost as obvious, is that whatever plan the government has will alienate a lot of people. If it’s a soft Brexit, it will alienate the swivel-eyed Rees-Mogg, Fox, Farage, “leave Europe at any price” brigade. If it’s a hard Wrexit it will alienate everybody who is affected by anything from the availability of jobs to the price of a bag of sprouts. (Not to mention all the taxes that will have to be raised to foot the bill.Oops, mentioned it – sorry!) If it’s an in-between Brexit it will alienate practically everybody.

She is faced by the awkward question of whether Wrexit will be hard, soft, or in between.  Any of those three answers would be bad, and it is still politically impossible for a lot of people to say that the best answer would be the unspoken fourth one – no Brexit at all. To muddy the waters, she seems to have come up  with another idea. Instead of “post-truth”, she is now going for “post-meaning”. The recurring problem with most “post-truth” is that it often still has a meaning, even if that meeting is a malicious lie. The beauty of a “red, white and blue Brexit” is that it means absolutely nothing at all, possibly even less than the famous “Brexit means Brexit”, which does at least carry a strong suggestion that something will happen.

Here, by the way, are some of the guiding lights: what could possibly go wrong?

Thursday December 1st, 2016. Posted by Alex:

Still reeling

I have not blogged since the US election. Why not? Because I don’t understand.

The media world is at present full of gurus trying to explain it. The best of them realise that they are groping  and, like the rest of us, are waiting for  wisdom to emerge. The ones who “know” the answer are probably not worth reading.

I am not one quoting poetry, but the Second Coming by W B Yeats is highly resonant.

Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.
Surely some revelation is at hand;
Surely the Second Coming is at hand.
The Second Coming! Hardly are those words out
When a vast image out of Spiritus Mundi
Troubles my sight: somewhere in sands of the desert
A shape with lion body and the head of a man,
A gaze blank and pitiless as the sun,
Is moving its slow thighs, while all about it
Reel shadows of the indignant desert birds.
The darkness drops again; but now I know
That twenty centuries of stony sleep
Were vexed to nightmare by a rocking cradle,
And what rough beast, its hour come round at last,
Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?
Sunday November 13th, 2016. Posted by Alex:

Free Tesco parking if you buy straight bananas

Laura Leeks was reportedly refused free car parking at Tesco because the only thing she had gone into the shop for was baby formula. According to some jobsworth at Tesco’s, to allow her the free car parking would amount to a promotion of that product, which is not allowed.

Before I get to the point, let’s clear off one or two side-issues: Tesco’s employee was almost certainly over-interpreting the law. In the unlikely event that that is what the law actually means, two reactions would have been sensible. The first would have been to turn a blind eye, the second, though on a different plane, would be to work to change the law. The other side-issue being that while baby formula is clearly not in the same league as, say, tobacco for a harmful substance, it is quite clear that babies do better if they are fed by mothers’ milk. Regulations to prevent younger, often vulnerable, mothers from being aggressively targeted by baby formula manufacturers are a good thing, surely?

The truly objectionable thing, however, was the reaction of the Department of Health. According to the link above:

The Department of Health said the relevant rules are enshrined in UK law as a result of an EU regulation on the sale of baby formula. “These rules are currently in place because of EU law,” a spokesman said. “But our great repeal bill means that when we leave the EU, laws such as these will be debated and controlled by the UK parliament.”

So, the message is clear – according to the Department, we should blame Europe for everything. Never mind the fact that Britain, as a major player in the EU, will and should have played a major part in framing those regulations, that they are indeed “our” regulations. And after the great repeal bill, it seems that we will be able to abandon those annoying things that are designed to protect people but get in the way of trade. We will be able to let Nestlé and the other manufacturers have free rein to use any advertising trick they like to get their products into the mouths of babes and sucklings.

With statements like that coming out from them, one might imagine that the DoH also fell for New York-born Boris de Pfeffel Johnson’s joke that EU regulations required straight bananas. (I say “joke” to give him the benefit of the doubt. More likely, in my view, it was a malicious smear which he knew that he could pass off as a joke when challenged, but that many people would be thoughtless enough to believe.)

Here is New York-born Boris de Pfeffel Johnson, by the way:

 

boris_johnson

Wednesday November 9th, 2016. Posted by Alex:

Second tries and Brexit

Yes, that topic again.

I heard it again last night:

“MPs voted six-to-one to give the decision to the British people.”

NO THEY DIDN’T! MPs voted six-to-one (I’ll assume that figure is correct) to consult the British people. They did that. They had a referendum. An advisory one, as usual, not a binding referendum. We all know that by a small margin on that day the vote went in favour of leaving. An equivocal result, more of an “Errmm…” than a mandate.

The High Court ruled with some clarity that the government must have the approval of parliament before triggering Article 50. And here’s the puzzle:

  • even though most of the Brexit promises fell apart within hours and days of the referendum,
  • even though the depressing price to be paid in terms of increased cost of living, job losses, and opportunity losses have got clearer and clearer as the months have gone by,
  • even though the lies repeated again and again by the “leave” campaign are now staring us in the face

– leavers still want to remainers to “accept the result” as being the “will of the people”.* “No second referendum”, they cry, “just because you didn’t get the result you wanted the first time”. But they want to go back to court and have another try at bypassing Parliament, just because they didn’t get the result they wanted the first time. Consistent, or what?

*Whatever the “will of the people” is actually supposed to be. It’s not a concept I entirely grasp.

Tuesday November 8th, 2016. Posted by Alex:

Secret Brexit negotiations – not good enough, Teresa!

Current government and pro-Brexit spin is making a very big deal out of the argument that the negotiations that are presumably going to take place at some stage are like a game of poker. They must not, therefore “show their hand in advance”, which is to say that they would like their policy-making to be kept secret. I suppose we can assume that finally they have started to make policy and think about what must be done. Can’t we?

Governments, of course, always tend to want to do things in secret. It’s so much easier than dealing with pesky oversight or explaining to taxpayers where their money is being poured. So their position is understandable. But it is bad.

Aditya Chakrabortty has explained with some clarity how this has gone down with Nissan. To summarise, Nissan’s boss says in September that the UK must cut him a deal, and he needs some kind of compensation to stay in Britain. In short order he gets a person-to-person meeting with Teresa May, soon after which he announces that not only will they stay in Sunderland, but they will make the new model of the Qashqai there. Business secretary Greg Clark won’t say how this turn-around was achieved. He asks us to believe that all was required was a gentlemanly assurance that the government has an “intention to find common ground and to pursue discussions in a rational and civilised way”. Clark will not reveal what the written commitments that are reported to have been given might be.

Of course he won’t, because if the secrecy is blown, the queue of CEOs wanting the same benefits would probably stretch from Westminster up to Trafalgar Square. And those forced to rely on food banks or punished in other ways by the government’s lack of care for those with less privilege might get angry about it. In due course, that might even cost seats in parliament, and we couldn’t have that, could we?

The government needs to surround the Brexit negotiations with secrecy because they need to hide how much the country will be bled in order to save face here and there.

Monday November 7th, 2016. Posted by Alex:

Could lying politicians be held to account?

It has been reported that

The director of public prosecutions is considering a complaint that voters were misled by the Vote Leave and Leave.EU campaigns, in contravention of electoral law.

In other words, the question of whether the lies that were told amount to a criminal offence is being considered. Early days, of course, but something to be watched.

We seem to have got to the stage where politicians can tell any lie they like and get away with it because, “that’s politics”, or “people say all sorts of things in and election campaign”. I don’t know how far this will get, but it is more than time that politicians who lie suffered the consequences, including criminal prosecutions.