rooting around for grubs in diverse soils

Tag: labour

A radical Labour keynote speech on the UK and the EU

[This is what Her Majesty’s Leader of the Opposition should be saying. Yes I know I’m biased but it helps to get it off my chest. The blame for the 23 June debacle lies primarily with Cameron, but secondarily with the ineptitude of the current Labour Party.]

Brexit means Brexit.

Except that no one knows what Brexit means. You can keep repeating this motto as long as you like. It remains locked in a verbal merry-go-round. If you don’t know that the words mean, then the sentence, however potent, is meaningless.

Brexit means Brexit? Well, tautology means tautology.

During the referendum the British people were sold lies – from both sides – and were incited against each other and against foreigners. Some of you bought these lies.

There was no manifesto for the Leave campaign, so the peddlers of the lies cannot now be held to account. Although Prime Minister May seems to be trying to do so by putting the Brexit boys in charge of finding a dignified way out of the morass.  And if that is indeed what she is trying to do then I commend her for this, if for nothing else.

But don’t let the Tories fool you. ‘Brexit means Brexit’ is another Tory attempt to hoodwink the people, just like they did with the referendum and with Cameron’s hyped-up renegotiation of UK membership, which no-one really believed.

Brexit means Brexit is a ploy to detract attention from the government’s own incompetence in getting us into this mess, through a swift changing of the guard, swapping a complacent Etonian with a busy Oxonian.

You see, the referendum was never about the interests of the country.

The Tories needed open-heart surgery to get over their Europe fixation. Except with the referendum, they were allowed to inflict the ordeal on the nation as a whole, with uncertain consequences far beyond Britain’s shores.

A thin majority of voters voted for Brexit.

There were, according to the Electoral Commission, 46,499,537 registered voters in June 2016. 17,410,742 voted to leave the EU – that is, 37% of the registered voters voted to leave. 35% of the electorate voted to stay.

Most of the remaining 28% of the electorate were presumably not bothered either way.

Is it responsible democratic government to rush to action against the economic, environmental and strategic interests of our nation, purely on the basis that 37% of the electorate voted to leave the EU and 35% to stay?

Let’s compare this with the vote to join the Common Market in 1975. In that referendum, 43% of registered voters voted to join the EEC against 21% to stay out. That looked like a fair mandate.

The trouble is that referendums have no constitutional place in the UK, so they can be used by political chancers like Cameron to fix party political problems which, until this year, were never a problems for the country.

We must never allow a party – of whatever colour – to hold the country to ransom in that way again.

People have drawn comparisons with the lower voter numbers who delivered landslide victories to Blair and Thatcher.

But that is simply an indictment of the winner-takes-all electoral system. (Which we must fix too.)

At least in a General Election the outcome is only valid for a maximum five years, there is an opposition to the elected government, and there is representation at a local level to reflect the wishes of the majority of the constituency.

We had a vague, dumbed-down referendum on 23 June. No one know what we were voting for, so it acted as a waste bucket for all our problems. And with the referendum, if we allow the Tories to get away with it, there is no going back.

I recognise that people voted against the EU because they believed that the EU was responsible for too much immigration, for pressure on public services and underspending on the NHS, for the watering down of our national identity, for lack of accountability of the elites, for inefficient bureaucracy.

But I do not recognise the vote as a mandate to leave the EU in a way that harms the UK economy, its environment and its strategic interests, that weakens protection of human rights, that causes division within the country, that is used to legitimise hate crimes against people considered to be different.

So until then, with Labour in opposition, we will demand remaining in the EU until the Tories can tell us what they mean by Brexit:

What Brexit will mean for poor communities across Britain.

What Brexit will mean for ever growing inequalities in our country, and for the long term stagnation in median wages which hits ordinary working women and men.

What Brexit will mean for race relations.

What Brexit will mean for peace and reconciliation in Northern Ireland.

We will then demand a clear mandate from the people for taking us out of the EU on those terms.

But with a Labour Government, we will stay in the EU, and yes we will try to reform it.

And we will get on with fixing the real problems, which the people have told us need fixing.

So let the Tory Party mop up its own vomit.

We have real work to do for Britain.

Secrets and Fictions (II)

great chain

Rarely you read something that alters how you look at the world around you. Yuval Harari’s Sapiens: A Brief History of Humanity was one such book for me. It is not a masterpiece. It relies on the familiar large-fonted, sweeping sensationalism which is now the stock in trade of paper publishing, and a lot of his generalisations are for the birds. But with his direct, clipped prose Harari opens up blinding horizons. Like how Keanu Reeves must have felt after his near-death snog with Carrie Anne Moss gave him the ability to see the Matrix. 

Adam’s descendants have faithfully executed God’s instruction to fill and subdue the earth. It was already obvious from the concrete expanses of our towns and cities, intervening deforested landscapes dissected by roads and intense farming. But I hadn’t realised that non-domesticated mammals give humans a wide berth because they have learned  to fear us through thousands of generations of repression and abuse. 

The hitherto unremarkable Sapiens moved out of East Africa across the earth following a mysterious eureka! moment 70,000 years ago: the ‘cognitive revolution’, which Harari attributes to a new skill for forging fictions which suddenly were powerful enough for humans to form cohesive groups of over 150 individuals. Since then all the great fauna considered rivals to our supremacy have been annihilated, including our closest peers, the various other human species like Neanderthals and Denisovans who, far from being the cliched ‘missing link’, co-existed with Sapiens in the same way as there are several species of each other animal genus today. ‘The earth a hundred millennia ago was walked by at least six different species of man,’ writes Harari. ‘It’s our current exclusivity not that multi-species past that is peculiar – and perhaps incriminating… we Sapiens have good reasons to repress the memory of our siblings.’  The leading theories for the extinction of neanderthals are competitive replacement, pathogens, or plain genocidal violence: the last of these would come of no surprise to anyone who follows the news, or even merely considers the trivial unthinking acts of wilful destruction that go unremarked, like the splatting of insect intruders in our homes. Now we are at last ravaging and devastating the oceans, nature’s last redoubt.  

We look for pristine way of life and purity of intent in less civilised inhabited parts of the world, but the fellow sapiens living there are themselves descended from foraging migrants who laid waste to competitor species, like the original human invaders of Australia 45,000 years ago whose depredations wiped out each of the multiple species of large animal inhabitant excepting the kangaroo. Mass extinctions recurred whenever humans first appeared:  the latest being New Zealand 800 years ago. Mankind envelopes the earth like the W.G. Sebald vision of sleep’s death sickle laying people down as night falls progressively around the planet. The archaeological pattern is always the same: first diversity and human absence, then a human bone and a spear point, then only men and women. The casualty list is extensive, and includes the elephant birds of Madagascar 1500 years ago, the giant ground sloth of the americas 12000-50,000 years ago, the diprodopon of Australia. 

The will to conquer is enduring. I heard once that finance and banking have always consisted in the strong and intelligent finding ever more ingenious ways to rip off the weak. Politics is an exhausting and brutal game of shifting alliances of convenience and doublecrossing. The office, the sports field, the dinner party are all powerplays of one man or woman trying to outwit the other. Why am I writing this blog? Because I want people to pay attention to me, to say nice things about me, to like me, and not someone else. 

Those of us who profess to be generous progressives of socialist bent are no different. The Labour  Party is currently in existential crisis because it does not know whether it should be trying to wrest back government or instead to indulge in ideological smugness. Each wing is striving for vindication and superiority.  They struggle to accept that each of us, as we accrete worldly items, a partner, a house, a car, children, become conservative  – we will resist any force which, like Ed Miliband or refugees from Syrian, seems to want to take these away.  It is easy to propound the redistribution of wealth when your possessions are not at stake, such a political stance adds a glam ideological accoutrement to an already affluent wardrobe. No one is immune to this self-absorption: one of the most saintly figures of our day, Aun San Suu Kyi, herself appears completely indifferent to the situation of the stateless Rohingya because that is politically expedient thing to do. 

We all peddle myths. Elites who in the past who used to talk about the Great Chain of Being and social classes, now preach ‘equality’ and ‘meritocracy’.  Back to Harari: ‘Judicial systems are rooted in common legal myths. Two lawyers combine efforts to defend a complete stranger because they both believe in the exisetnce of laws, justice, human rights – and the money paid out in fees. Yet none of these things exists outside the stories that people invent and tell one another. There are no gods in the universe, no nations, no money, no human rights, no laws and no justice outside the common imagination of human beings.’

Our current stock of myths deliver diminishing returns. We now need to formulate a myth which will stave off ecological catastrophe and the Singularity, when the computers take over. Perhaps the former can only be prevented by the latter. 

Once when we were in the Alpes  after a day’s hiking in high summer among the marmottes and ibex, we saw below in the valley a network of buildings, little coloured vehicles mostly parked, a few moving sliently along the roads. ‘Humans are a plague,’ remarked suddenly my closest companion. I jovially shrugged away this uncharitable observation. And yet,  consider the impact of the supreme species of our green- blue globe in an unfeeling, unfathomable universe, and the dark epigram is irrefutable. 

A little perspective can be asphyxiating.