I’ve dashed this off rather quickly because, although it’s only been brewing in my head for about 48 hours, things in UK politics are changing so rapidly and so insanely that by Thursday the entire country may be under martial law governed by a junta. So it’s not as concise as I’d like, and it should probably be two separate posts.
Still, when the British government are announcing that they might start ignoring the law just because they feel like it, I’m not absolutely sure writing a perfect blog post is terribly important.
[And yes, I know I promised at least a couple more writing exercises, but I’ve been busy, and then travelling, then travelling while sick, and then just sick.]
Comparisons with the English Civil War have abounded ever since the extent of the country’s division over Brexit became clear.
And it’s a tempting correlation. Like the Civil War, Brexit has split the UK along entirely new lines. Rich side with poor, north with south, urban with rural, and family members are almost literally at daggers drawn.
But it’s that “almost literally” that embodies the difference. We’re all furious about it – whichever side we’re on – but none of us are actually going to take up arms and make this a real fighting war.
Of course, that’s partly because we don’t in fact have arms to fight with. Yes, most of us could muster a pointy stick, but that’s about it. We don’t have swords. We don’t (thank God) have firearms. Any pitchfork you might have hanging around the house is likely to be doing exactly that – suspended on the wall for decoration, the shaft long since well and truly hollowed out by woodworm.
But it isn’t even the lack of weapons that makes it different.
As with most wars, the English Civil War had a range of complex causes, including religious differences – the key reason why the Brexit situation isn’t and never can be the same – but essentially it arose because the people of Britain weren’t apathetic.
These days, we have our toasters and our TVs and our steel-belted radials and although we do say something, we do nothing. We protest, we march, we sign petitions and crowdfund billboards, but we don’t take direct action. We don’t (again, thankfully) start killing our neighbours just because they’re on the other side. Why? Because we might lose our perceived personal freedom. Before the real Civil War, things were different. People already were losing their personal and religious freedom, and their possessions. And they weren’t as distant from death and reality as we are today.
The right wing, with their advanced grasp of the best levers to use on the masses, have long since realised this. So they’re not worried. Particularly as the left are still ineffectually trying to combine their parties, or create new left-wing ones, to beat the Tories and bring this madness to an end.
Which leaves me wondering why nobody’s thought to create a party on the right, to soak up the traditional Tory voters and siphon them away from the loonier, Boris end of the party. To establish a common sense, traditional conservative with a small C approach to the whole Brexit issue.
It’s not like there aren’t plenty of Tories who could be involved. Ken Clarke. Michael Heseltine. Dominic Grieve. John Major. I’ve said and thought many rude things about all of them in the past, but these days they seem to be the only people in British politics talking any kind of sense.
All it would take is a rich backer to support individual candidates in every suitable seat – because there probably isn’t time to form a party as such before the next General Election – who’d all stand on a common platform, with a single name. One Nation Tories, perhaps?
I reckon that would split the Tory vote and lose them more seats than anything else, and perhaps bring some sadly lacking common sense onto the UK’s political landscape. After all, Macron did exactly the same thing in France two years ago. Surely it’s worth a go?
So there’s going to be a vote on whether or not to have another referendum. And that means Brexit’s dead, right? Well, no. Sadly not.
For a start, the referendum bill is quite unlikely to pass in the House of Commons even if Labour do come out in support of it, which is by no means certain.
But let’s ignore that and assume it does, and that we have another referendum on EU membership – a “People’s Vote”.
The big problem with this, as all of us who said Brexit was a totally insane idea right from the start know only too well, is that The People are politically illiterate and couldn’t rub two genuine EU policies together if their lives depended on it.
Many polls (yeah, bias, inaccuracy, whatever, not going to discuss that now) show that a vote might not actually produce a result much different from last time.
So let’s say it’s the same – 52% Leave, 48% Remain. Does that represent more of a mandate to leave than the first time around? Does it, in fact, represent a mandate to leave with no deal – currently the only option on the table?
Clearly not. No more would a 52/48 split the other way represent a clear mandate to remain, after all this time and a second vote.
In fact, I’ll go even further. I don’t think even a 60/40 split – either way – would be sufficiently clear at this stage for the other side to just go “It’s a fair cop” and stop being furious about the result. And can we realistically expect even that level of clarity from our fellow Brits? I strongly doubt it.
So even if we have a second referendum, with all that entails in terms of vitriol and – above all – even more delay and concomittant cost to the nation in both money and stress, we still won’t be able to achieve a ceasefire.
Because although it’s never been declared, we’ve been enmeshed in civil war for two and a half years now. The Brexit Civil War.
With rare exceptions it may not be being fought physically, but it’s certainly being fought every day across the mental landscape of Britons and anyone else unfortunate enough to live in the war zone. And it’s having consequences just as serious as any physical conflict.
And given that, perhaps… just perhaps… it’s time for all of our politicians to stop trying to score points off each other and actually come together and do something practical to get us out of this situation?*
By all accounts, this is the position the UK was in at the start of the Second World War, with politicians unable to agree as to what stance to take on a whole range of issues. Then we were lucky enough to have someone like Churchill who could unite everyone behind him.
So with just 71 days to go until Britain crashes out of the EU, who’s going to step up and put the country ahead of their career this time? Because it’s certainly not going to be control freak Theresa May** or her enabler Jeremy Corbyn.
*My own preferred option would now be EEA membership, with a plan to review that on, say, a rolling five year basis. No, it’s not perfect, particularly in terms of the gammon-relevant immigration issue, but it’s a whole lot better than anything we’re currently being offered.
**I have much to say about Theresa May, none of it polite, but that’s a subject for another post. As for JC – as a leftie Europhile I can’t remotely begin to express the depths of my disappointment in that man, so I shan’t even try.
Sometimes things just fall into your lap. Sometimes you have to struggle to make stuff work.
And sometimes the two combine to give you an opportunity to do something mad and exciting and all-but impossible, something that leaves you feeling exhilarated and alive and glad you did it.
It’s only been just over a fortnight since SF author Christie Yant asked who her Twitter followers recommended for proofreading, and I semi-flippantly answered “Well… me”.
But today, when the Resist anthology is exclusively released as part of the “Get the Vote Out” Humble Bundle and starts raising funds for the ACLU, the American Civil Liberties Union, it’ll in part be because I threw caution – and my fee – to the winds and agreed to proofread 350+ pages in PDF format in an insanely short period of time, even though I knew that I’d also be spending a week in the UK, including a full day at a conference, during that fortnight.
Because sometimes, when the time’s right, when the cause is good – in fact, even when the time is wrong, if the cause is a good one – you have to act.
In today’s world, you may think that your actions can’t possibly achieve anything. You may think “Oh, I can’t contribute. I can’t stop global warming or help prevent human rights abuses, or stop the Saudis killing journalists and getting away with it”.
And maybe your contribution can’t be very big. My contribution to this anthology is a small one. But I made it all the same, and it’s helped a bit, and I’m proud that I did it.*
This week I’m also launching a new website for my business (or will be if I can get it to behave). On it, I explain my philosophy in life, which sounds grand, but it’s quite simple:
“If we all helped other people and made their lives easier, the world would be a much better place for all of us”
It’s that simple. Just do that. If you do nothing else today, this week, this year, just do that. As well as complaining about the state of the world and sending cat gifs to your friends to cheer them up, do something small and positive to make the world a better place.
You can do something local and important to you, like teaching elderly people a new language (good for keeping brains active – both theirs and yours), visiting people who live alone, or helping out in an animal sanctuary.
If you’re in the US, you can vote (if you haven’t been removed from the electoral list, that is). And you know which way to vote, don’t you?
*I’ve got to say too, that seeing emails whizzing into my inbox from people like Christie Yant, Hugh Howey and Gary Whitta has been a blast. I’ve also discovered a truly excellent book designer in the person of Matt Bright, who had the unenviable task of converting my proofreading notes into reality in the finished layout.
Apart from the total lunacy of our politicians, one of the big topics for discussion at the moment is, of course, plastic. I gather the BBC have just shown a depressingly realistic programme about how our planet is drowning in the stuff.
I’ve also recently started doing translation and proofreading on a voluntary basis for an organisation called We Don’t Have Time. You may have heard of them before; they’re the people helping Greta Thunberg to get her message to a wider audience.
Reading their material, and above all seeing this article in the Washington Post, about how the Trump administration not only recognises that climate change exists, but thinks the planet is already so screwed that they’re not intending to do anything to mitigate it, has made me even more angry. Maybe it is too late. I don’t have kids, so to a large extent I don’t even care. But even if you’re heading towards the cliff edge and you’re sure your brakes don’t work, you don’t just give up trying to stop the vehicle.
So here’s a thought about how to save on plastic. How about the companies selling us products with “resealable” packaging just save everyone’s time – and our planet’s resources – and stop pretending that this rubbish actually works? Because in my experience, it never does.
I encounter umpteen examples of this particular myth every week, but here’s the latest one.
This is a nice quality organic, fair trade tea, from La Route des Comptoirs, a company that clearly cares about its products and customers. The packaging is paper. But they’re still using one of these sticky plastic labels that seals exactly once and then never works again.
And I wonder what’s the point of this thing? What’s the total cost of designing, selling, manufacturing and applying this completely useless piece of plastic to every packet? Can we not just skip this in future – for as long as we actually have a future?
Meanwhile, if you really want a resealable packet, simply apply a clothes peg (wooden, obviously).
Or alternatively, use tins, or something like this. Genuinely resealable, and recyclabletoo!
(Of course I’m well aware that tea should be kept in an opaque container, but this is all I had to hand at the time – and in any case, they normally live in a box under the kitchen counter.)
I know this is probably going to be painful to read, but I just have to tell you how I feel.
I know it’s not your fault. You didn’t ask to be born. You certainly didn’t ask to be given such an ugly name. And everybody hates you. Even your parents don’t want you. So I understand. I really do. And I feel sorry for you.
I’ve tried very hard to explain you to people, and to try to make it so that you can just dissolve back into the ether and leave us all to get on like we did before – a bit unsatisfactorily, true, but at least we didn’t have civil war like we do now. I’ve really tried to release you from this horrible situation.
But I can’t. No matter how many arguments I lay out, no matter how many jokes or cartoons I share, no matter how many headlines or opinions I quote, or even facts – and there have been so many of these, right back from well before you came into existence – nobody’s listening. A large number of British people still think you’re doing just fine. A small, but to me absolutely incomprehensible number of British people think that even if you’re the worst thing ever, they still want you.
And I’m tired of it, Brexit. I’m tired of hating total strangers because they’re unwilling to look the truth in the face. I’m tired of wondering whether people really believe that the British government has any idea what it’s doing, in any respect other than making its friends even more money. I’m totally gutted at the fact that the main opposition party, headed by a man who I truly believed in, also wants to take the country back to the mythical Golden Age of the 1950s, before all these nasty foreigners came along. As a student of history, I can think of any number of reasons why everything was apparently so much better back then. As a student of reality, I can think of any number of reasons why we’re actually doing pretty well today, if only we’d look at what’s around us rather than at what’s headlining in the Daily Mail or on the BBC. But what’s the point?
I still have many people close to me who are going to be negatively affected by you on a massive scale, Brexit, regardless of what you do next. But you know what? I don’t actually care any more. I’m safe from you, by virtue of being very lucky. And I know that’s all very well for me but what about everyone else, but that’s none of my choosing. I didn’t bring you into existence. I’ve fought you every day for three years.
So we’re over, Brexit. Because it’s not about you, it’s about me. You forced me to think about my identity in a whole new way. You made me wonder whether I was actually British. You forced me to choose sides. Well I’ve chosen. And I’m European through and through. And one thing I’ve noticed about Europeans is that they just don’t really care about you. They’re sorry for you, and a little embarrassed, but they carry on with their own lives and worry about stuff that’s really important.
So that’s it. I just can’t do this any more. Don’t ring me. Don’t text me, don’t Tweet. Don’t send me links to clips from Question Time or surveys on YouGov. I’m unfriending anyone who still sees you. I’ve blocked you everywhere I can, and I’m not going to change my mind. Have a nice life. Or don’t. Whatever.
Yesterday I read this interesting and topical post which, ironically, I found highly offensive. Why? Because of its implication that everybody born before 2001 is some kind of blinkered idiot simply because they don’t belong to Generation Z, and have not, therefore, been endowed with the ‘magic’ powers of that age group.
I don’t care one way or another about gender or race. I’m not interested if you’re Catholic, Muslim or atheist. I don’t give a shit if you’re upper or lower class, providing you’re not an idiot about either. I’m certainly not a rabid feminist. Because, oddly enough, even though I’m a contemporary of the author of the article, I have a really simple view of the world. I think we should all be equal.
I’ve often looked back at my childhood and marvelled at my sheltered, apolitical upbringing. I was born on the Isle of Man in 1968, which meant that as a kid I experienced a kind of Famous Five existence largely denied to my peers growing up on the mainland. Everybody I knew was, by most people’s standards, pretty well off. Now don’t get me wrong – the Isle of Man is a tax haven, but for those of us whose families have come from there for generations this entails nothing positive. There was council housing and unemployment there just like everywhere else. But at the age of 11 or 12 my friends and I would spend our summer holidays travelling around the island by vintage steam train, electric tram, bicycle or foot, visiting medieval castles or scrambling on the cliffs. We could go anywhere safely, and did.
I was 5 when the island had its first murder for 43 years. In many parts of the world this would have been unheard of, even then.
Aged 10, I went home from school one day and asked my mother whether we were Catholic or Protestant, because I had no idea what the distinction meant. 50 miles across the sea to the west, this would have been engraved on my brain from infancy.
In May 1979, when Margaret Thatcher was elected, I thought a female prime minister was a good thing, because I had no idea of the difference in political parties.
Whenever we travelled to the mainland, I was always shocked at the number of burglar alarms, on even the meanest grimy terraced houses. There were, of course, burglars on the Isle of Man – my father was a policeman, and he was at one time part of the Ports Unit, responsible for spotting ne’er do wells on their way on to and off the island. But burglary wasn’t so prevalent that an average homeowner needed an alarm.
I was startled at the age of 14 when I realised that the burnt out buildings and vacant plots littering Liverpool, where the Manx ferry docked, were left over from the, to me, long previous World War II, which the city had never been prosperous enough to rebuild.
But it was at about that age that my innocence came to an end.
I’d already seen through the pitiful instructions for how to survive a nuclear war in “Protect and Survive”, the UK civil defence booklet published in 1980. Living on the Isle of Man, I learned early on what nuclear power was, and what effects it could have in the hands of the unscrupulous and negligent, regardless of what shiny new name you gave the processing plant. And Raymond Briggs’ “When the Wind Blows” finished off any illusions I had left on that score.
The Falklands War and the miners’ strike taught me very quickly what a Tory was, and how they would do anything to profit from and mislead their fellow humans. News coverage of these events taught me that I couldn’t trust the media, either tabloids, TV or even the ‘serious’ papers. (Interestingly, Wikipedia states that the Falklands War was covered ‘in a neutral fashion’. That’s not how I remember it!)
The Toxteth riots opened my eyes to institutional racism in the police force, so I wasn’t surprised that Stephen Lawrence didn’t get any kind of justice until long afterwards.
I was pretty well acquainted with the history of World War II, so I was horrified to discover that, not only did some people deny its worst atrocities had ever happened, but some others – who really ought to know better – were still fighting over the land they’d been allocated at the end of that conflict, illegally trying to expand its borders. And that the Western world was, for some reason, turning a blind eye to this.
I learned of climate change and animal cruelty, sexism and racism. I learned of pollution and the sickness we were spreading through the natural world by our thoughtlessness.
I realised how quickly people could fall through society’s safety net, no matter how comfortable they’d been before. During my master’s degree, I also discovered how rapidly society could collapse when a country is run by a government whose only real policy is to feather the nests of the rich. When I started my course, in September 1990, I was heading for a career in museums. By September 1991, museums were closing at the rate of several a week, as a result of funding cuts stemming directly from the Conservative government’s poll tax.
And then I left the Isle of Man for good and was immediately swamped by the sea of misery and hopelessness that was Britain in the early 1990s. I lived in inner city Birmingham and learned how the social services treat those in need of their aid. I learned how to make a little bit of MOT go a long way to keep an old car on the road ‘legally’, and how to survive on just a few quid a week. I saw people stealing from each other or turning to prostitution to fund their drug habits.
But I also saw people coming together and creating a new kind of society – a self-proclaimed underclass with new music and new forms of mass entertainment, where barter was self-evident and creativity rife. People living lightly in the landscape, taking their small homes with them as they moved, using minimal resources and causing no harm. That new music, those new forms of entertainment and that new way of living were deliberately targeted in the 1994 Criminal Justice Act.
But I was still pretty well off by many standards, and I soon worked out that it was better to be poor somewhere wealthy like Malvern than somewhere impoverished like Sparkhill.
Then came the Iraq war. I remember sitting in a pub where I was a regular, scoffing at the pictures of ‘weapons of mass destruction’ which so obviously showed earthmoving equipment and minor industrial buildings. The ensuing reaction from everyone in that rural pub other than the four people at my table demonstrated that – despite what they would insist today – they all thought I was naive at best and a traitor at worst.
Eventually I got a job. But I soon saw that I had no chance of ever having a decent house, or even a decent quality of life, in the UK. So I moved to France as soon as I could scratch together a few thousand pounds for a ruin in an impoverished area of the country. I think of myself as a European these days, and I’m proud to do so.
But I haven’t stopped despairing over our collapsing ecosystems or the plastic in our oceans, animals being transported long distances in hideous conditions or bankers being paid bonuses for fucking up the economy of the entire Western world. I haven’t closed my eyes to sweatshop countries producing designer labelled clothing for anorexic idiots to wear once in the pages of Hello! then discard like sweet wrappers. I firmly believe that we’re rapidly heading for man-made disaster of some type – though whether climatic, major inter-continental conflict or simply cheap-flight-induced-pandemic, I wouldn’t like to say.
I’ve done very well for myself. I have a home in Sweden and – if the renovation is ever finished – one in Normandy. I have my own business, which is doing better every year. I have friends all over the planet. I’m in the extremely fortunate position of having been able to get Swedish citizenship, thereby freeing me from the clutches of the ravening Brexiters, whose narrow-minded jingoism and sheer ignorance have the UK on a direct course back to IRA bombings and widespread rationing.
So I’m one of the lucky ones, and I’m grateful for that every day. But that doesn’t make me ignorant. It doesn’t stop me protesting against injustice. It doesn’t make me indifferent to other people’s suffering, or accepting of the greed and stupidity that still others wield to create and excuse it.
Just because I was born half a century ago doesn’t mean I don’t see entrenched attitudes and privilege just as clearly as the kids from Stoneman Douglas school.
So, Mr Tallon, don’t include me in your sweeping generalisations. I may not have grown up in the years since 9/11, but that’s not to say I haven’t been in the trenches. And I haven’t been alone. Maybe you’ve never had any empathy. Maybe being American gives you a different experience of life – let’s face it, everyone outside the USA, adults included, thinks that your attitude to guns is totally fucking insane.