21 May, 2015

Disenchantment, Division and Disunity (Part 2)

My dismay at the prospect of another five years of Tory rule (and I choose the word carefully, for “government” seems inappropriate) was set out in my previous blog. There are, however, other worrying and depressing dimensions. Firstly, the prospect of five more years of a government that is in bed with big business and the media is a dystopian nightmare worthy of Orwell. The increasing danger of the infringement of our rights, freedoms and democratic processes being eroded and intruded upon by business and government is, as the leaked Edward Snowden files suggested, all too real. We now accept intrusion into our private affairs as the norm – often justified by the words “security concerns” but equally often we accept them as the inevitable consequence of technology and daily life.

GCHQ - we just accept that it is necessary and that
it should be largely unaccountable 
We largely expect that we will be snooped upon. We accept without questioning the nonsense of security checks at airports and when we read of someone being arrested by security services assume that he or she must be guilty - for the police or security services or government say so. Too often the majority happily subscribe to the appealing but utterly nonsensical and false mantra that "If you are innocent then you have nothing to fear".  But our prisons and history are littered with a wealth of examples proving that this is manifestly not the case  as increasing numbers of accused, arrested or worse, incarcerated people are found to be not guilty and to have been the subject of dubious practice by those wielding  power - government, police or security services. Far too often in recent years these agencies have been found to be rather a dark shade of grey rather than whiter than white. Whether it be Murdoch's press empire hacking phones to sell a few more newspapers; the police falsely arresting or even shooting someone by, at the best "mistake" or at the by worst intention; the government's connivance with dubious security operations from abroad (such as the US) to quietly break all international conventions by the rendition of perceived "terrorists"; or the various security services - MI5 or GCHQ - acting in a totally unaccountable manner infiltrating perfectly legitimate groups or tapping the phones (and e-mail and the rest) of those deemed to be "a concern" - we all have something to fear, even though we are almost certainly innocent of any wrong doing. It might be more subtle that Orwell ever imagined it in 1984 but it is still in principle what he imagined and feared.
It might be a bit of wry
fun but it has a horrible
ring of truth!

And most prevalent and insidious of all - and something that we accept without further thought, it is just an accepted part of modern life - is that the rich and powerful can, and do, wield influence that both overtly and covertly moulds the world to their desires. Only yesterday we heard of how the UK’s largest commercial radio group, Global Radio, advised its stations to drop the HSBC tax story on the morning the story broke for “editorial reasons”. Global, which broadcasts to about 23 million listeners a week, is owned by Denis O’Brien and told its stations not to run reports about HSBC after it was revealed that the bank’s Swiss subsidiary helped wealthy customers store assets offshore in an unaccountable way. At the same time O'Brien brought an injunction to prevent the broadcasting of a report in relation to his private banking affairs. This is the same pattern that a few weeks before had made the headlines when the Daily Telegraph did the same thing and forced the resignation of its chief political commentator Peter Oborne, claiming the paper he worked for had deliberately suppressed stories about the banking giant. He described the Telegraph's stance as a “fraud on its readers”.  In my view it was rather more serious than than that - to use an old phrase the Telegraph were at the very least being "economical with the truth". O’Brien, like the owners of the Telegraph (the Barclay brothers), lives in a tax haven so we should not be surprised that they do not want potentially damaging headlines about their practices - but as I say, we have now got so used to this sort of thing that we rarely notice and most  just shake their heads and accept that it is "the way of the world" . Neither do I believe that it would be much different were Labour in power – which is a sad indictment – but the fact that the Tory party is in bed with big business leaves a worrying taste in the mouth.  Who is running the country and how are we being manipulated are the questions that we need to continually ask but the election result suggests the unavoidable conclusion that most of the electorate don’t really care – and that really is worrying.
How the seats would have looked with some kind of proportional representation. The Tories would have still "won" but there would have been a much more equitable distribution of seats and consequently a fairer reflection of the votes cast and thus, the overall views of the electorate.But, of course, to the Tory party proportional representation smacks too much of
Johnny Foreigner - we don't want any truck with these new fangled foreign systems. We prefer the simple, idiot proof first past the post system even though it disadvantages many of the electorate and produces a totally skewed result. "And anyway",say the Tories "it's an idiot proof system for an idiot electorate - lets keep 'em  dim"

And secondly, as each general election goes by our basic democratic system falls further and further into disrepute; to coin a modern and oft used phrase it is increasingly unfit for purpose. I do not blame the Tories for this – both major parties have a responsibility but the skewing of the results of the election now no longer reflect opinion and viewpoint within the country – they merely favour the big boys. Our “first past the post system is, I believe, increasingly unsuitable for a modern democracy. In the election 1.1 million people voted for the Green party, result one seat; 3.8 million people voted for Ukip, result one seat; 2.4 million people voted for the Lib Dems, result eight seats; 1.4 million people voted for the SNP, result 56 seats. Whilst the Tory party will be delighted to have taken 52% of the parliamentary seats yet only received 37% of the popular votes cast the 7.3 million 25% of voters (some 7.3 million people) who voted Lib Dem, Green or UKIP saw only a total of only 10 MPs between. Had some form of proportional representation been adopted then our new Parliament would have looked very different -  and certainly been more representative of the nation as a whole.The Conservatives would have won 75 fewer seats but would still have been the largest party in the Commons. Labour, too, would have taken fewer seats. The SNP's dramatic increase in seats of 50 would have been curtailed to 25.  But UKIP, the Lib Dems and the Greens would have fared much better. UKIP would have been a force to be reckoned with in the Commons with 83 seats. Personally I would not have liked a greater UKIP representation but, and this is important, it would have been a fairer and better picture of the nation's feelings and that, after all is what a general election is all about - it is not to vote for a government but to vote for a parliament that represents the views of the nation. And, importantly, unless some more equitable way is found of reflecting the views in the country then a large proportion of the voting population will continue to be disenfranchised. Their votes will be seen to have unequal value and people’s disengagement with politics will only grow deeper. The newly elected Tory majority government is a consequence of our first past the post system – for the health of democracy in this country it needs to be changed. But, such is the vested interest here of the two major parties that I don’t see that happening within my life time.

But, in the shorter term, there is one third issue that for me is head and shoulders over the rest in these democratic considerations – the Tory proposals for the repeal of the Human Rights legislation.

In a few weeks time we will be remembering the 800th anniversary of the “signing” of Magna Charta by King John in June 1215. Britain has, since that date, been a world leader and often looked up to and copied in issues of justice, fairness and democracy. Indeed our Parliament is known as the “mother of Parliaments”. In 1647, as England waged a long Civil War, Thomas Rainsborough‘s wonderful – and at the time highly radical - call at the Putney Debates for a form of representative democracy rang out and still rings true, even in these days of universal suffrage: “.....For really I think that the poorest he that is in England hath a life to live as the greatest he; and therefore truly, sir, I think it’s clear that every man that is to live under a government ought first by his own consent to put himself under that government; and I do think that the poorest man in England is not bound in a strict sense to that government that he hath not had a voice to put himself under…” These words should be carved on every school wall, displayed in every public place and be made compulsory learning for all - they are the very basis of our freedom. In the intervening years since 1647 they have been built upon and our society has very slowly but surely become more democratic, fairer and probably more just – the 1832 Reform Act, the suffragette movement and in more recent years the European Human Rights Act of which Britain was a founder have all ensured the security and extension of basic freedoms and democracy within our shores so that today, in theory at least Rainsborough’s “poorest he” does today have a life to live as “the greatest he”.
VE Day 1945. One of the first photographs of me enjoying the VE Day street party in Rigby Street Preston where I lived with my mother. Dad was still in the RAF in India. I am the baby with the white hat on the extreme left of the photo. I am held by a girl called Christine Galt who lived next door and who went on to become a nurse in the new NHS hospitals that grew up with the Attlee government. My mother stands on the right at the back looking anxiously at me. It was a time of optimism, the war was over and everyone looked forward to a better world - which, seventy years later, it seems, we are increasingly happy to ditch for a fast buck.

By a twist of fate, we remembered the ending of the Second World War within hours of last week's general election -  we celebrated again, 70 years after the event, VE Day - Victory in Europe Day. In the aftermath of the war nations of all kinds not only got down to the task of physically rebuilding their lands but of looking to the future and trying to ensure that never again would Europe be ravaged by war and oppression. The result was the European Union and the European Convention on Human Rights – or to give it its full name, The European Convention on Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms - a document intended to ensure the rights and freedoms of all. This is not simply an extension of Magna Charta or any of the various acts and laws that individual national parliaments have agreed to but is rather based in international law so it carries great weight and crosses frontiers. Never again, it was hoped, would a European people, collectively or individually, be subject to tyranny and oppression – the very ideals that the war was fought for.
Theresa May hates it when the European Court prevents her
from punishing or extraditing an alleged criminal or terrorist.
She wants the right to be judge and jury

So, in this 800th anniversary year of Magna Charta and at the time of VE day memories it is a depressing thought that our new government is intent on bucking the trend of the past centuries and ideals by setting out to reverse many of our hard won freedoms and rights by repealing the Human Rights Act and replacing it with their own version.

It is even more depressing, or rather alarming, that the man who will be guiding the nation through this legislation is a Michael Gove – a politician known for his love of the past (or at least his version of it) and his reactionary views. We know that Gove has already stated his desire to bring back the death penalty and he has been equally reactionary as regards Europe - briefly he wants to return to what he refers to "common sense" - whatever that is. If his tenure at the Department of Education is anything to go by he will want to return to the dark ages so far as the law of the land is concerned. I foresee a considerable war being waged between his department and the legal profession. Hopefully barristers and judges will be more successful than academia was but with the government having been given the seal  approval by an unthinking electorate I don't hold much hope - so I am preparing myself for the worst! With Gove's declared love of his version of historical reality - we might now not only look forward to a return of the death penalty but much more besides. We'll be able to enjoy court proceedings resembling those overseen by dreaded 17th century hanging judge, Judge Jeffries; the "bloody assizes"; the Star Chamber; casual torture of the kind common in Tudor England; prison hulks will be moored in the Thames estuary ready to ship out "ne'er-do-wells" to some far flung Guantanamo Bay like prison once they have been sentenced at the Old Bailey; we''ll get used to seeing prisoners like Abel Magwitch in wrist and leg irons and accept as the norm corrupt court rooms as depicted by Dickens in Pickwick Papers, Great Expectations and Bleak House; and maybe a few open air gallows or at least village green stocks will brighten a summer afternoon's picnic. And to bring us right up to date GCHQ (and the US NSA) will be given free rein to snoop, record, and take secret action with no curb or oversight of their activities. I may mock but  the really sad and worrying thing is that cheering on the side lines will be the Daily Mail, the Daily Torygraph and the Colonel Blimps and blue rinse brigade of Tory England. Giving Gove this government post is akin to giving Guy Fawkes a few nuclear warheads to play with. We should all be very afraid - Gove will already be gazing into the future, his perverted vision and mind will be in overdrive.
You read it first in the Mail!

For me, however, what is most alarming is that in voting Tory at the general election whole swathes of the population have shown that they are clearly in favour if this move – or more likely, as with the influence of big business and the media, they just haven’t given any thought. As usual they have been led by the nose by a right wing press, business and politicians who over the past few years have gone to any lengths to discredit the Human Rights Act.

The Right Honourable Michael Gove.
Now I'm the Justice Minister (even though I have absolutely
 no legal qualifications) I'm ready to shape the law of the 
land - but first I'll turn the clock back.
Every European country except Belarus – Europe’s last military dictatorship – is member of the European Convention on Human Rights. Countries on the fringe of Europe – like Russia and Turkey - are also members. The Convention is nothing to do with the European Union it is entirely separate and is an agreement that all countries in Europe will respect human rights. It was drawn up in 1950 in the aftermath of the Second World War and spearheaded by Britain. The committee that drew up its final draft was chaired by British Conservative MP Sir David Maxwell-Fyfe and the UK was a founding signatory and ratified the Convention in March 1951. Each member country implement the Convention in different ways appropriate to their constitution. The Human Rights Act is the British way of implementing the convention into domestic law and was introduced in 1998, to guarantee human rights in Britain. It is this that the new government seeks to repeal and replace with its own version – a British Bill of Rights.

Briefly, the ECHR which our current Human Rights Act reflects establishes the:
  • · Right to life
  • · right not to be tortured or subjected to inhumane treatment, 
  • · right not to be held as a slave,
  • · right to liberty and security of the person,
  • · right to a fair trial, 
  • · right not be retrospectively convicted for a crime, 
  • · right to a private and family life, 
  • · right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion, 
  • · right to freedom of expression, 
  • · right to freedom of assembly and association, 
  • · right to marriage,
  • · right to an effective remedy, 
  • · right not to be discriminated against, 
  • · the right to the peaceful enjoyment of one’s property, 
  • · the right to an education. 
  • · And finally, it imposes a duty upon governments to provide free and fair elections.
Today's Guardian - and other similar newspapers
carried vetting of broadcasts story by Theresa May.
The right wing press made no mention! Mmmm!

These are the “rights” that our new government is seeking to replace with a new “British Bill of Rights"  which, they say, will “remain faithful to the basic principles of human rights, which we signed up to in the original European Convention on Human Rights”. Most pundits, however, see this as difficult if not impossible without simply repeating that various statutes as set in the European mode. In answer to this, more extreme members of the Tory party – including Theresa May the Home Secretary and Chris Grayling (the ex-Minister of Justice) are already suggesting that we should withdraw completely from the EHRC to give  the government  complete freedom to do as it will. The desire of right wing politicians to take control is well illustrated by the story that has just broken in the last 24 hours. It has been revealed that Theresa May is keen to have the power to vet British broadcasters’ programmes before they are transmitted in order, she says, "to counter terrorism". Fortunately her plans have been attacked as "a threat to freedom of speech" by some of her more moderate Tory colleagues but one can see the writing on the wall.  If  she gets her way then broadcasters and other media outlets will potentially be just mouthpieces for the government - in other words pure and simple propaganda.We usually associate propaganda with extreme socialist states like Moa's China or Stalin's Russia but as we saw all too clearly in the run up to 1939 it can be just as prevalent in right wing states such as fascist Germany - and now, maybe, Britain. We should be very afraid.

Michael Gove has been appointed as the new Justice Secretary to lead this assault on the Human Rights Act and in the month when we celebrated VE Day, and within a few weeks of the anniversary of the Magna Charta, the irony should not be lost. We are seeking in 2015 to fundamentally change or maybe even dispense with what British politicians, many of them Tory, participated in the drafting of at the end of the Second World War. Those long dead politicians led by Maxwell-Fyfe, drafters of the original ECHR,  believed that they were drafting an instrument that reflected the very basis upon which our democracy and freedoms are based and which, critically, reflected the very values that we took for granted as the raison d’etre for the war that they had just fought in Europe. A great war had been fought, millions of lives lost or changed forever to ensure these basic freedoms throughout Europe. And now our Tory government is seeking to change all that and as I have commented on several occasions already, the majority of the electorate don’t care – or actually cheer it on.

The Human Rights Act has two aims in ‘bringing rights home’: enabling us to access our human rights here at home in the UK, instead of having to go to the European Court of Human Rights and secondly it seeks to promote a ‘culture of human rights’ by making sure that basic human rights underpin the workings of government at the national and local level. It does this by placing a legal duty on public authorities to respect and protect our human rights in everything that they do. This means that you have rights and public authorities have legal responsibilities for respecting, protecting and fulfilling human rights. This duty is important in everyday situations because it enables you to challenge poor treatment and to negotiate better solutions. Public authorities can also use the Human Rights Act proactively to develop and deliver better services. The duty on public authorities is important because it ensures legal accountability for decisions which affect our human rights. The HRA ensures the protection of the most vulnerable in our society, including child victims of trafficking, women subject to domestic and sexual violence, those with disabilities and victims of crime. These individuals now have not only a voice, but a right to be protected. The Tories want to repeal the Act and to make Britain's Supreme Court “the ultimate arbiter of human rights” in the UK. But doing this will inevitably result in clashes with Europe and indeed with many other nations – not least Scotland, part of the UK and now, following the general election result and the rise of the SNP, potentially very powerful at Westminster. Importantly, if, as those who would abolish the HRA desire, our own Supreme Court does become the final arbiter then it could also mean that the government of the day could very much do as it likes for there would be no higher arbiter. And finally, if the Act is repealed then this, combined with the restricted access to our courts already brought about in judicial reviews introduced by Chris Grayling plus the coalition government’s financial restrictions on legal aid which is intended to ensure that those of limited means can access justice, will increasingly silence the vulnerable, leave vastly more people without recourse to justice and leave great swaths of executive action unchecked and unaccountable.
Two hard liners: ex Justice Minister  Chris Grayling and Home
Secretary Theresa May. If they have their way then our society's
march to a fairer and more just world will stop in its tracks. And
the aspirations that their parents had for a better Europe will
be dead on the water.

Gove, the Tory Party’s Eurosceptics and the right wing press will peddle the usual Tory line that the HRA is nothing more than a villains’ charter, taking away our own “British freedoms”. It has become synonymous with blocking attempts by the UK government to impose whole life sentences on violent criminals and standing in the way of deportation of criminals. Critics say it grants overzealous protection to a right to a family life and protection from torture. They will, as they have done for several years now, blame it for all our nation’s ills – “We are in thrall to Johnny Foreigner” is a loose transcription of the complaint, “Why should faceless people in Strasbourg make laws that overide our English Parliament” in another version of the same moan.. We read almost daily in the right wing media and from the vociferous Eurosceptics in the Tory Party that if we had our own Bill of Rights we could have “common sense” laws and not be forced to do Europe’s bidding. Nothing could be further from the truth. We are not forced to do Europe’s bidding, the only requirement is that our courts “take into account” judgements of the European court; they are not bound by them. Further, although critics of ECHR and the HRA suggest that the problem with the HRA is not so much that there is a fundamental disagreement with any of the enshrined rights (indeed it is mostly accepted that any British Bill of Rights would probably look pretty similar to the ECHR and the HRA) they argue that the HRA has given judges far more scope to ignore what the law says in favour of what they think the law ought to say. At first glance this might seem an enticing argument until one thinks beyond the obvious; the application of the law in a free society is all about such considerations as to how the law ought to be applied, indeed, it is at the very root of fair and just legal decisions. not to take this into consideration runs the risk of simply making "the law look an ass" to use the old adage. To simply apply the law in a cold black and white form is the law of the tyrant. As I have argued on previous blogs, tyranny is the removal of nuance; it is black and white.There is no negotiation in a tyranny - it is the rule of the despotic or Orwellian state. And in the free society we look to our judges - wherever they might be, in London or Strasbourg - to distinguish, provide for and apply that nuance to particular situations in order that the law is applied equitably, fairly and justly.
The right wing press at full throttle - and millions believe it 

Put simply, the ECHR and the HRA seek to ensure that in this modern age governments, powerful people, powerful institutions – be they landlords, politicians, press barons, GCHQ, MI5 or MI6, employers, terrorists or anyone else – are prevented from bullying, influencing or infringing the basic rights, privileges, life and well being of individual and groups of citizens. While the European Convention on Human Rights and the HRA are not perfect, they are the best protection that we have against the power of the over-mighty state and business corporations because the very institution that is supposed to protect our liberties, Parliament, has increasingly to date proved a poor defender of them. The Tory proposal to rewrite these two basic documents potentially will, at the very least, ensure that we in the England take one step nearer to the Orwellian state for legal judgements and infringements upon our freedoms and privacies will potentially be applied in a much less nuanced way for we will no longer have the security and recourse provided by Strasbourg. But in the longer run the Tory plans will simply deprive people of rights, divide nations abroad and divide nations at home. They are a grossly disproportionate reaction to one or two adverse rulings from Strasbourg to which right wing media and politicians have, over the years, taken exception. It also cuts across that basic fairness, dignity and equality that all nations committed to nearly 70 years ago as the great war against tyranny and oppression ended.
The European Court of Human Rights - what the Tories and the right wing media dislike and want to rid us of. Even though we are represented on it and it is hardly  a revolutionary body; it is disliked simply because its wisdom, conservatism and interpretation of the law too often prevents politicians like Theresa May and otheres getting their own way. In simple terms it protects us from the worst elements of the state, big business and those who would infringe our liberties. And the electorate seem happy to ditch this protector of every one of us - as the old Lancashire saying goes: "There's now't so queer as folks"

Sadly, however, like turkeys willing to vote for Christmas, our 21st century electorate are happy, like the children of Hamelin, to follow the magical pipe of the Tory pied pipers and give away these freedoms and rights so hard and long won. From 1215 at Runnymede, through a great 17th century Civil War, via great political, social and legal debate and action leading to legislation and more recently through a great World War we have come to a situation where the electorate are willing to forego all this for an occasional tax cut or the dubious promise of cutting the “red tape” allegedly imposed by those nasty Johnny Foreigners in Europe. We have indeed become the shallowest, most unthinking and most easily bought of generations. Our grandparents and great grandparents and all who struggled to win our freedoms would be horrified and, I suspect, ashamed of us, their heirs.

16 May, 2015

Disenchantment, Division and Disunity - The Next Five Years (Part I).

The next five years -  for most, a portent of things to come
The inquests following last week’s general election have been painful reading for supporters of both the Liberal and Labour parties. The pundits have had a field day as have the many “insiders” who now profess, like Peter Mandelson, to have known all along that things were going to go wrong. Mandelson, a thoroughly unpleasant, manipulative and devious man is, however a skilled and experienced politician so I am sure that his analysis of the Labour failure is sound. But this blog is not about Mandelson nor is it is about analysing Labour’s election defeat: were Labour too left wing or not left wing enough; did they shoot themselves in the foot by not cosying up to the City or did they try to be all things to all men (and women); did they concentrate on the very rich and the very poor but miss out a whole swath in the middle; did they offend “white van man” and did they not appeal to the “aspirational” voters in society; was Ed Miliband the right man for the job – and if not who was and importantly, where is he or she? The answers to all these are beyond me and greater brains than I will have a million answers to them. And in any case they do not overly concern me.
And another

No, what I am concerned with is what the Tory victory says about us as a nation and how I feel about it.

At its most superficial and selfish level I suppose that I am not unduly concerned. Being entirely selfish I might say that the Tory victory is very likely to ensure that Pat and I come out of it reasonably well. We are not rich but “comfortably off”, we have satisfactory pensions, own our own home and, if the pundits are to be believed will probably fare quite well in any future Tory legislation. And, as senior citizens the government know that our views are of some importance; all politicians know that to annoy people like us is at their peril for we are likely to vote. Politicians are well aware that it is easier and far less politically dangerous to annoy, take on, unfairly treat and disadvantage those with little voice in the affairs of the realm – the young, the very old, the weak, the vulnerable, the already disadvantaged and the poor for not only are they easier pickings but statistically less likely to show their feelings at the ballot box. And that superficial and self satisfied, “I’m alright Jack” reaction of mine is exactly the problem and the key to what I really feel about the election result - namely, that I am angry at what so many have done in voting the Tories in. In short, a week after the election (and I have waited this long to comment so that I didn’t make rash comments) I feel ashamed to be British. We have, once again, shown our capacity for self interest and parochialism over more important and justifiable considerations.
Division, disunity, self centred and
crude nationalism

Why do I feel this? – mostly because, as a nation, we have voted for a divisive government and a crude nationalism based upon this self interest. At its most obvious the rise of the Scottish National Party and UKIP - both of which hit the Labour Party hard - indicate that the 21st century electorate of this septic (yes, I did mean septic and not sceptic) isle care little for their neighbour – be he from a different culture, a different class or a different part of the UK. The result in the longer term, I have absolutely no doubt, will be to further sour what was once the “community” of these islands. Cultural/religious groups will be increasingly on the defensive, other parts of the UK will increasingly demand their share of “independence” and thus become more sectional in outlook. The rich will move increasingly into their gated communities and the rest into their ghettos. The Tory government will further ramp up the disunity volume by introducing ever more draconian legislation to enhance or dismay various groups and inequality and disharmony – be it financial, social, cultural or religious - will grow. On the day of his election victory David Cameron said that his government would be about bringing people together as one nation, he used the well worn phrase “a one nation Tory”. But like all sound bites it doesn't strand scrutiny when one looks at the policies that will bring this about.

 In recent days the Tory chancellor George Osborne has set in motion the promised legislation to devolve more and more power to areas and cities across the country. Already we are hearing talk of Manchester becoming a ”a northern power house” and soon to be followed by others – maybe Newcastle, Leeds, Birmingham, Norwich and the rest. At one level no-one seems to realise that this also allows elected national government to walk away from its responsibilities, the buck is being passed further down the line. But far more importantly we are already talking the language of division – for that is what devolution means. Carried to its logical conclusion we will have a geographically small nation split between factious “city states” of the kind that ran riot and ravaged Italy in the Renaissance – Florence, Rome, Venice or Ancient Greece at the time of Athens, Sparta and the rest. Europe’s history has been one of coming together – Italy becoming one nation; England unifying the warring kingdoms of the Saxon world of Wessex, Mercia, Northumbria; the Germanic states coming together as one nation - but we are now bucking the trend and fracturing our small islands. You may think that  my concerns in this area and my examples of the ravages caused by the city states of the ancient and middle ages a bit of an exaggeration. Maybe so and I cannot deny that they also brought benefits - not least the glories of ancient Athens or mediaeval Florence as they became supreme under rulers such as the Medici. But this is the key; true, they flourished, but  at what cost to the rest - leechlike they sucked in the talent and the expertise to the detriment of everywhere else. And if you think that this is just some odd historical quirk that could not happen today then think again. In October 2013 the right wing journal and |Bible of the Tory Party "The Economist" proposed the following in their leader: "In their day they [ the industrial towns of the north such as Burnley, Wolverhampton, Preston, Middlesbrough] were the engines of the world economy, noisy with steam hammers and black with soot - in 1862 William Gladstone called Middlesbrough an “infant Hercules”—but most are smaller than they once were. Despite dollops of public money and years of heroic effort, a string of towns and smallish cities in Britain’s former industrial heartlands are quietly decaying...... The fate of these once-confident places is sad. That so many well-intentioned people are trying so hard to save them suggests how much affection they still claim. The coalition is trying to help in its own way, by setting up “enterprise zones” where taxes are low and broadband fast. But these kindly efforts are misguided. Governments should not try to rescue failing towns. Instead, they should support the people who live in them......spending money or cutting taxes to encourage people and businesses to settle in run-down areas can help those areas, at least for a while. But it diverts talent and business away from places where they would be more successful.....That means helping them to commute or move to places [the big cities such as Manchester or Leeds] where there are jobs—and giving them the skills to get those jobs.....Big cities would be finer still if they were allowed to grow. Many are hemmed in by green belts, where development is all but banned. These push up property prices, putting them out of reach of many people from poorer places. If the green belts were done away with or (more realistically) thinned, some people’s house prices would drop but the nation as a whole would benefit....." 

The Economist's ideas are a blueprint for the Tory of policy of northern powerhouses - pure free market economics - let the market decide and to hell with the lives of people or places. And it is as well to keep in mind the context to this: the Economist is owned by the Financial Times and the Rothschild family and it takes its stance of classical and economic liberalism supporting free trade, globalisation and free market liberalism from the right wing philosopher/economists Adam Smith and David Hume. Margaret Thatcher was said to carry a copy of Smiths "Wealth of Nations" in her handbook. In short, The Economist's ideas are clearly visible current Tory policy. They are ideas which are ultimately divisive and detrimental to whole swathes of the land and the population. But they will make sense and appeal to the Daily Mail and Telegraph readers. When they see an phrase like "northern powerhouse" their hearts will swell with pride - not able to think that the "northern powerhouse" has other less appealing aspects. Manchester, of course, is currently rubbing its hands with glee; Leeds and other large cities are also desperate for some of the action - but not so much enthusiasm in other places where a bleaker future is the most likely outcome.

Devolve, disintegrate and divide are the new 21st century mantras. Other headline Tory policies are similarly divisive: a school system that promotes division and inequality in its organisation, funding and ethos; a welfare system that does increasingly little for those in need or those most at risk and where resources are increasingly cut back in the name of austerity and efficiency; a health service that is to become even more fractured and dependent upon wealth rather than clinical need; a social policy which is increasingly based up private profit or big business rather than upon fairness, civilisation, compassion, and protection from the power of the big corporations. We are, indeed, on a crash course for disenchantment, division and disunity.

And hovering over all this will be the Tory Party’s promise to review/renegotiate our membership of Europe – the crusade of the Tory Eurosceptic, the classic little Englander. Whether we stay in Europe or not is not my concern – although to leave would, I believe be an act of almost criminal proportions. No, my concern is the very fact that we are even considering this avenue seems to me to be saying much about us as a nation.
We have stood on the touchlines of Europe for 4 decades now since Ted Heath took us into the Community and in that time we have, as a nation, consistently moaned and complained, like spoiled brats shouting “It’s not fair, others get more of the European goodies than us”. Our right wing newspapers, sections of the Tory Party, parties such as UKIP and increasingly the wider electorate consistently complain about one European nation after another – the warmongering Germans, the unreliable Italians, the indolent Spanish, the devious French, the dishonest Poles, the work shy Eastern Europeans. And all these Johnny Foreigners, the little Englanders of Tory Britain constantly tell us, come to the UK only to enjoy our benefits and put nothing back. And so it goes on....all races are, it seems to the Tories (and now much of the electorate) inferior to we little Englanders. And yet, and yet, perversely and to illustrate our consistently inconsistent views we envy others like no other nation does. Everyone it seems is better off than we, better paid, better educated, better provided for with health care, better life styles, shorter working hours and the rest. Many of those who disparage most the foreigners who come to the UK to work voted Tory or UKIP last week and they will go off for the summer to their holiday homes in France, Spain or Portugal such is the hypocrisy and double think of our modern electorate. In the “Daily Torygraph” a couple of days ago there was a half page article under the headline “Britain could add trillions to its economy if it only had the education standards of Poland, Vietnam and Estonia” – following years of spiteful criticism of eastern European people by middle England and the political right they actually now applaud them and wish us to copy their institutions. It would be laughable were not so depressing and hypocritical. This is the politics of envy and electorate increasingly subscribe to it. We are increasingly the unthinking sheep led by the dishonest goats.
Oh I do wish we were Polish or Estonian or Vietnamese
then all would be well - says the Daily Torygraph

In recent years this right wing view of the world has had another worrying dimension. Increasingly it has mean that we ramp up legislation to curb free speech and previously accepted basic freedoms all in the name of “security”, the “war on terror” or simple lack of common humanity. England of the 21st century would not win the prize for “Good Samaritan of the Year” for we view others as leeches, lazy layabouts and potential dangers. Members of the blue rinse brigade, the Colonel Blimps, and the Mail and Torygraph readership would have undoubtedly, unlike the Good Samaritan, “pass by on the other side”. In the nineteenth century we solved all problems with Johnny Foreigner by sending a gun boat we now send in the troops, the helicopter gunships and the special forces with great gusto and at any cost. When there is any chance of a good scrap somewhere in the world we are always up for it, money is no object and we can move with lightening speed to bang the militaristic drum and bash Johnny Foreigner wherever he might be. But ask us to play a leading role in humanitarian situations and there is rather less alacrity. Funds are rather more limited, more is left to the goodwill of the great charities and individual efforts and donations. It is both a national disgrace and a telling indictment on the ethics and morals of our government that we are largely washing our hands of the growing time bomb in the Mediterranean and parts of Europe as the inevitable influx of refugees from war ravaged areas rises – all largely war ravaged because we have in past years ramped up campaigns to unseat governments and are now left with the unconsidered consequences. We have happily signed up to the American political and military machine and now dislike the consequences as North Africans and Middle Easterners flee their homelands and head our way – while America sits happily secure pulling the strings on the other side of the world.
Refugees crossing the Mediterranean - our government, a
few months, ago felt the best solution was to leave them to drown
in the event of an overcrowded ship sinking. This would, we were
advised, discourage them. It didn't,
Not exactly a caring sharing position I think.

I began this blog by mentioning Peter Mandelson. In his analysis of the Labour defeat he suggested that the party had not appealed sufficiently to the “aspirational” voters. This theme has been taken up by a number of commentators and pundits and today one of the contenders for the Labour leadership, Liz Kendall has reaffirmed this – that Labour if it is to win power must appeal to the Waitrose shoppers John Lewis shoppers who are deemed to be these aspirational types. (For those not in the UK Waitrose is an upmarket supermarket chain and John Lewis – who own Waitrose – an upmarket chain of department stores). Their analysis is probably correct in so much as it might be saying that in order to win Labour has to appeal to a wider cross section of the electorate than its accepted base. But to use the term “aspirational” in this way links one’s aspirations with economics and wealth – to shop at John Lewis or Waitrose clearly defines you in economic/social terms and the briefest of looks at a map of the UK showing Waitrose/John Lewis stores and the Tory voters will confirm a very high correlation: that these are the very people who voted for the divisive Tory policies that so concern me. And if Labour is to develop their policies to satisfy the Waitrose shopper then who, I might ask, will now speak for those dependent on food banks, who may have aspirations to afford to shop at the cheaper shopping outlets like Aldi and Lidl?

He has one set of aspirations, she (maybe the Waitrose shopper)
has another.
Clearly Labour have to widen their appeal but I might also ask what of those with different aspirations rather than just those dictated by economics or class. What of those who have aspirations for a fair society, a more equal society, a more caring and compassionate society, a society that is greener or reflects cultural diversity. What of those who aspire to a society which doesn’t worship capitalism or one that safeguards the rights of very individual. All these are perfectly legitimate aspirations – it is not just about John Lewis and Waitrose Shoppers. And in any case, I might argue, just maybe the aspirational John Lewis voters so beloved by Peter Mandelson and the Tory party might just be the problem; in the end they represent the unacceptable face of UK society – the self centred, the divisive and the selfish.
Miliband's decency and idealism has been
caricatured as stupidity by the electorate and right
wing press  

Last weekend, only hours after the election result was declared the nation remembered the end of World War 2 – or at least the victory in Europe – VE Day, seventy years ago. The wartime songs were sung, the flags were waved, the bugles sounded, the soldiers marched, heads were bowed in remembrance for those who died and the nation said thank you. It is perhaps a sobering thought, however, that in 1945 when the soldiers returned and the country once again was at peace they said thank you in a rather different way. They turned out and voted heavily against the Tories led by Churchill and voted instead for a better future – for a future where different rules applied. They voted in the Attlee government who promised to bring a caring, compassionate and more just society that eradicated the old divisions and inequalities. They promised a better tomorrow but also one where everyone was valued and cared for. They promised a world where nations would come together rather than drift apart – where unity and brotherhood would be the watchwords and not division and envy. The Attlee government set down the foundations that brought peace, greater equality, improved welfare, care, fairness, justice and compassion and yes, wealth, for the next generations. That different future that the returning soldiers and their family imagined, worked and voted for was rooted in the knowledge of the past - two great wars, division, gross inequalities, rampant capitalism,a great depression, hunger and the rest - they knew that there had to be  a better way.
Maybe says it all about 21st century Britain - we prefer a bunch
of snake oil sellers, spivs, and con men to  simple but honest
 integrity. Miliband's approach may have been naive but it was
 also honest. In the end I ask the question, who would I rather be
marooned on a desert island with? There is only one answer.

It is my view that if Labour and in particular Ed Miliband made a mistake in their election campaign it was one of good faith and naivety in that they imagined and desired a future similar to that imagined by the electorate of 1945 - sadly they were wrong. That Britain non longer exists. Miliband is a thoroughly decent man but sadly maybe out of touch. He thought the best of people and didn't understand well enough that the electorate of of 21st century Britain does not respond or aspire to ideas of fairness, compassion, rightness, equality and the rest that he cherishes. The electorate  may pay lip service in opinion polls to these ideals but in the end, in the secrecy of the voting booth, they consistently vote for greed, self interest and division as they all scramble for themselves. In short, and as I have said in previous blogs, we are now a society that knows the price of everything and the value of nothing. And that is why last week's election result made me ashamed to be British.

06 May, 2015

Fizkin, Slumkey and Homer Simpson – or when elected and the electorate, became the ruler and the ruled.

So, the UK stumbles towards the 2015 General Election. Another few hours of campaigning and then the big day on Thursday. By early on Friday morning we will know the nation’s likely fate for the next five years – or not! Most pundits are forecasting a tight result with neither of the main parties gaining a working majority; a hung Parliament is thought by many to be the most likely outcome and for weeks now there has been political comment and manoeuvring all focused upon the “what ifs” – who will ally with who and which party will form a liaison with the Scottish Nationalist or with UKIP. I have no crystal ball but my own view is that David Cameron’s Tory party will sneak over the line and win – a result which fills me with dismay. Having said that, part of me says that if the Tories are going to win then let them do it; failure by them to gain an outright majority would, I believe, mean that Cameron is ousted from the leadership and if that happened the Tory party will swing even further to the right – possibly under the leadership of the truly awful and worrying Boris Johnson. In that scenario Cameron is the least bad option.

David Cameron and his mate Lord Rothermere - owner
of the Daily Mail
In this uncertain situation there are, however, a few things that I am pretty certain of – and none of the them are good. Firstly, whatever the result, it will not be by what we might call the popular vote.  Many people will simply not bother maybe because they don’t care or can’t be bothered or, as is the case with many electors, they see it as a waste of time since they view all the parties and politicians as equally bad. This, in a democracy is a worrying trend and if politicians are not concerned and prepared to do something about it then they should be. The result of it is that it is highly possible that whoever “wins” will do so only with a minority of the electorate’s support – as with my Cameron scenario, they being viewed least bad option. Secondly, and following this, if there has been one enduring and consistent message from the electorate during this campaign it is that very many people will indeed cast their vote not for the party that they firmly believe has all the answers or the “right” to government but rather they are the least bad option. Again, that is a worrying scenario – neither of the two major parties has spoken with an authoritative voice and spelled out a narrative that inspires confidence in the electorate – each party, it seems is afraid to lose rather than setting out  a policy that will bring victory. In short they are cancelling each other out both playing negative games. Thirdly, as the campaign has continued, the name of the game has been personalities rather than policies; the Tories have vilified Labour leader Ed Miliband, Scottish nationalist leader Nicola Sturgeon has appeared to be superwoman (even though she will not actually be standing for election!), Boris Johnson has lurked in the Tory background like some political bogey man waiting for David Cameron to slip up and David Cameron himself has been very cagey about appearing on TV in leadership debates, perhaps knowing that his shortcomings and those of his party might be exposed in such a scenario. And finally, because of the emphasis on  personality and the negative thrust of the campaigning there has been little real questioning of policy; in my view, we are sleep walking into the next government – whoever forms it.
The Barclay brothers - owners of the Daily Torygraph.
Opps sorry! - the Daily Telegraph!
This issue of questioning of policy has a number of aspects. There are, of course, many people of all political persuasions who will vote for one party whatever: because their parents always voted that way, because their particular circumstances dictate a particular political leaning, because they have always voted that way. But increasingly, as the demographics of the population changes, we are told that there are far more floating voters or people whose circumstances have changed so that they might vote differently than previously. Against this backdrop and against the backdrop of the complex global world in which we live it would seem to me to be critical that we all know what each party stands for and why we should vote for them. To ensure the future of democracy and to use our vote wisely the electorate should be well versed in the issues, the problems and the potential solutions  posed by our leaders of whatever party or belief. Nor should be afraid to make our views known or question and ask for specific clarification of party policy or the views of those seeking our vote on Thursday. Not to do is a dereliction of our duty as voters. Generally, however, the majority do not take such an active interest. Votes are cast without too much real thought – in the end so many are cast as the result of personal prejudice, brain washing by the media or politicians or simple lack of awareness. It is an undeniable truth that political parties are often reluctant to be questioned: during this campaign, for example, the Tory party has banned the Guardian newspaper from its policy briefings – these have only been supplied to the right wing press: the Daily Mail, the Telegraph, the various Rupert Murdoch journals etc. Clearly Conservative Central Office do not want awkward questions being asked by those who might oppose them. We rely instead upon the pundits, the media to tell us what we should do – and the very frightening thing is that the majority of the electorate,  it seems, too often unquestioningly accept the media view. Too many in the electorate can’t be bothered to think for themselves, they allow their views and their votes to be  guided by the latest headlines in the popular press. A few years ago the tabloid newspaper “The Sun” proudly boasted after the general election “It was the Sun what won it” – and it was probably true. Rupert Murdoch’s tabloid clearly wielded a huge influence on the outcome and his headlines and narrative in the days leading up to the election clearly influenced the result. It is not, therefore, a coincidence that party leaders of all persuasion court the media moguls. In the UK  the media – and especially the national press – are overwhelmingly right wing and thus generally supportive of the Tory party. As commerce becomes more global and  interlinked how could it not be otherwise – Murdoch (The Sun, The Times), the Barclay brothers (owners of the Daily Telegraph), Lord Rothermere (Daily Mail) are high profile people in the corporate world with fingers in many corporate pies,  not just the press. They all have a vested interest in the sort of policies promoted by the Conservative party. Given this situation it is not surprising that Tory policy generally gets a “good press” in the majority of our newspapers.  Nor is it surprising that the Tory party often criticise the more balanced BBC as having a left wing bias against them. And we should not be at all surprised, for example, that when an issue like the vast and growing inequalities in both the UK and the wider world is an issue then the right wing are less than enthusiastic about  it. Growing inequality is perceived and acknowledged by politicians across the world, economists, religious leaders, sociologists, academics, educationalists, health professionals and the rest as a  time bomb and a blight on the welfare of billions. It is also viewed as economically  damaging to the welfare of nations. Our own society here in the UK is one of the most unequal in the world - and becoming more unequal b y the day.
When Labour, in its manifesto, said they would 
make taxation fairer by closing the "non-doms" 
tax loophole the Telegraph launched a campaign
against Labour and an especially vitriolic tirade
against leader Ed Miliband. They neglected, however, 
to tell their readership that their owners - the 
Barclay brothers - were themselves "non-doms".
So important is this viewed that inequality was this year made the focus of the Davos world summit attended by Presidents, Prime Ministers and the great and good of politics, economics, business and society at their recent summit meeting. Mark Carney – governor of the Bank of England - at the summit - called inequality “the greatest threat to growth”  so it was not surprising that the summit concluded that reducing inequality throughout the world should be their number one priority and that something must be done; nations should take proactive steps individually and cooperatively to tackle it. Various initiatives were set out and everyone felt good. And yet, just a few weeks later the Financial Times in its leader on the respective election manifestos of the main parties was openly critical of the Labour Party's stance on the issue. It said:“the fundamental weakness in Labour’s plans” is that “Mr Miliband is preoccupied with inequality”.  So much for inequality then!  On the other hand FT praised Cameron and the Tories for having the “political courage” to “shrink the state” and for consequently reducing the tax burden. That is clearly more in sympathy with FT readers; it is also worrying since both policies (reducing tax which tends to benefit the rich most and shrinking the state) are known to play a part in increasing levels of inequality. And it doesn't stop there! - take a look how the FT's “How to Spend It”  magazine, in this election week, suggests their readers might spend their wealth gained from the lower taxes accruing from our austerity, hitting the most vulnerable, reducing investment in public services and  cutting back the state (and so magnifying the inequalities between the haves and the have nots). Forget the fact that our hospitals are in crisis or our care for the most vulnerable is becoming almost unsustainable  – don’t think about, it the FT softly whispers in your ear; you can salve your conscience about the poor and vulnerable by spending £115 on a Turnbull and Asser traditional tie or  £1,250 on a bottle of "A Goodnight Kiss" perfume. Your good lady could use her perfume when she wears her stylish pleated Tulle shirt dress - only £1995. And if that doesn't satisfy you how about a retro style mahogany motor boat  - depending on the model and the size of your tax avoidance you can get one at a knock down price ranging from £100,000 to £500,000. And for that odd afternoon when you have nothing to do why not take tea at "The View From the Shard" - it's a snip at £130 per person. It would go nicely as you view your Katharine Pooley Salta Box which costs only £1260 . And I wonder if the £5295 per person balloon trip in Myanmar (Burma to ordinary folk like you and me!) might grab your attention and your wallet. So much, as I say, for inequality and the role of the Tory media machine. Are we really all in it together?
Don't worry about the welfare of billions across the world suggests the Tory media machine. Don't be distracted by "Red Ed" Miliband and his"preoccupation" with that silly and dangerous notion "inequality" says the FT. Forget what virtually every world expert and authority says of the danger and effects of inequality because  you've got Tory tax cuts and you're entitled to them so chill out and spend, spend spend.  Choose from our selection of "worldly pleasures" says the FT. " Go on - you're worth it"says the Tory media machine (or is that the Tory manifesto?) "and the vulnerable, the poor and the disadvantaged aren't .They're not your equals, not the same as you. You're superior and more deserving; they're simply scroungers who would not know what to do with a 'peekaboo bag'. That's life - they should get over it." 

It’s all very reminiscent of the corrupt election described by Dickens in his Pickwick Papers: the  election is being held in the constituency of Eatanswill (note Dickens’ name for the constituency suggesting the rottenness and greed of the system!) and the description illustrates contemporary elections not too far, I would suggest, removed from today. Maybe we do it a bit more cleverly but in essence the same themes run deep  The candidates are Mr. Fizkin and Samuel Slumkey from the Blue and Buff parties respectively. Mr. Perker - Slumkey's agent - is explaining to Mr. Pickwick the plans to get votes for Slumkey:
'You have come down here to see an election - eh? Spirited contest, my dear sir, very much so indeed. We have opened all the public-houses in the place. It has left our opponent nothing but the beer-shops  masterly policy, my dear sir, eh?' The little man smiled complacently, and took a large pinch of snuff.
'And what is the likely result of the contest?' inquired Mr. Pickwick.
'Why, doubtful, my dear sir, rather doubtful as yet,' replied the little man. 'Fizkin's people have got three-and-thirty voters in the lock-up coach-house at the White Hart.'
'In the coach-house!' said Mr. Pickwick, much astonished.
'They keep 'em locked up there till they want 'em,' resumed the little man. The effect, you see, is to prevent our getting at them. Even if we could, it would be of no use, for they keep them very drunk on purpose. Smart fellow, Fizkin's agent  very smart fellow indeed.
'We are pretty confident, though,' said Mr. Perker, his voice sinking almost to a whisper. 'We had a little tea-party here, last night  five-and-forty women, my dear sir  and gave every one 'em a green parasol when she went away. Five and-forty green parasols, at 7/6d each. Got the votes of all their husbands, and half their brothers. You can't walk half a dozen yards up the street, without encountering half a dozen green parasols.'
'Is everything ready?' said Samuel Slumkey to Mr. Perker.
'Nothing has been left undone, my dear sir. There are twenty washed men at the street door for you to shake hands with; and six children in arms that you're to pat on the head, and ask the age of. Be particular about the children, my dear sir. It always has a great effect, that sort of thing.
'And perhaps if you could manage to kiss one of ''em, it would produce a very great impression on the crowd. I think it would make you very popular.'
'Very well,' said Samuel Slumkey, with a resigned air, 'then it must be done. That's all.'
'Arrange the procession,' cried the twenty committee-men.
The election at Eatanswill - a contemporary print. Is it so very
different today? even in those days it was about "buying" your
vote rather than discussing a coherent policy

There was a moment of awful suspense as the procession waited for Samuel Slumkey to step into his carriage. Suddenly the crowd set up a great cheering.
'He has come out,' said little Mr. Perker.
Another cheer, much louder.
'He has shaken hands with the men,' cried the little agent.
Another cheer, far more vehement.
'He has patted the babies on the head,' said Mr. Perker, trembling with anxiety.
A roar of applause that rent the air.
'He has kissed one of 'em!' exclaimed the delighted little man.
A second roar.
'He has kissed another."
He's kissing ''em all!' screamed the little gentleman. And, hailed by the deafening shouts of the crowd, the procession moved on.
Ah! A royal baby - and the Tory media machine
 is in overdrive and has already made up its mind 
who the baby would vote for.  And it will brainwash 
your mind  too if you allow it.
I’m sure that were Dickens alive today he could/would write something equally scathing and pointed about our modern day equivalents of Fizkin and Slumkey! I’m absolutely positive that David Cameron, Boris Johnson et al would all suffer under his penmanship. And I wonder what he would have made of the opportunities missed by our current politicians to be seen with the new royal baby –  Princess Charlotte! This week we have had a royal baby born in the UK – Princess Charlotte. The press and the wider media have gone into ecstasies about it. The child and her parents have, in one fell swoop, gained god like significance – their taste, good breeding, marvellous pedigree, and overall excellence are so obvious to all, much of the media has hinted. We mere mortals can only stand and gasp and consider our own shortcomings! We have had unedifying scenes of hundreds, perhaps thousands people paying “homage”, draped in Union flags and wearing party hats standing for hours outside the private hospital hoping to catch a glimpse of the royal couple and pledging an oath fealty to this new born child and its rich parents.

And the irony is that these ordinary people, could not begin to afford the night (£6700 plus per night) in the hospital enjoyed by the expectant, mother and many of them would not be able, because of the continuing decline in health service provision, to see their own GP for an everyday  but urgent appointment without waiting for several weeks. It is inequality, indoctrination and propaganda  in its rawest form and sadly the electorate accept it willingly. We are, all too often, unthinking sheep impressed by the glamour and the clever words of the political spin doctor, the royal celebrity or the scheming editor. I said, at the top of this blog, that I suspected that in this tightly contested election the Tories would creep home; when I read of the royal birth I was convinced of it. Just as in Dickens’ time nothing pleases the electorate than a baby, a  royal baby to boot is ideal. One could almost believe that it was made to order, specially conceived to ensure that the Queen’s distant cousin, David Cameron’s  future is assured. Oh.....why am I so cynical?
Yep - they've already been brainwashed and swallowed the
Tory media message.The unthinking led by the unscrupulous

But in the end, and as I have long argued, we get the politicians and the government  that we deserve. As a head teacher for whom I once worked always said (at the beginning of each staff meeting) – “If I don’t hear any objections then I shall assume that you all agree” If we fail to ask questions and make demands then we are treated as sheep. If we are content with the right wing media reinforcing prejudice and doing our thinking for us then so be it. If we are happy to let Rupert Murdoch, the Barclay brothers, Lord Rothermere, multinationals, global lobbyists and the rest influence our government because we can’t be bothered then we will reap the harvest. And in the long term it will be a terrible harvest that we or our children will regret.

There is another dimension to all this - and I believe one that is becoming increasingly critical as the world becomes more globalised and complex and politics open to greater influence by the media and those who would seek power. It is an area that many are unwilling to admit, but I believe it is there in the background - and growing. What is it? In brutal terms it is the electorate's ability to make informed and wise choices and make sense of the wealth of information and influence that is out there. I don't mean by this that everyone should make the same decisions as I - that would soon lead to a totalitarian state of whatever complexion. But it is vital that everyone is informed enough and bothered enough able to reach a considered decision that reflects their own views on important issues, that reflects their own circumstances and needs at the time and for the foreseeable future, and which, importantly, reflects their feelings about the future needs and problems facing the country - and how these might best be met. For what must not be forgotten is that our general election is not primarily to elect a Prime Minister to even as government. It is to elect a Parliament from which a government and PM will emerge and, as such, the Parliament must be a true reflection of the feelings, beliefs, needs  and ambitions of the country as a whole through every individual vote. Sadly and increasingly there seems an increasing number of potential voters who are unable to make wise decisions that reflect these needs, ambitions and beliefs - it may be because  they can't be bothered or worryingly because they simply don't care to find out the issues upon which they might make their choice. In this situation then future of the nation is increasingly in the hands of people who either don't vote, don't care or vote unwisely because they are confused by the whole prospect. And given that scenario it very, very easy for those that would influence us to to do so. This was alarmingly brought home to me when a few days ago when I read some of the many dispiriting comments on Twitter:

  •  Politics is a big blurr to me........ Ive still no idea who to vote for
  •  Iv never even voted........as don't understand it
  •  It's easy....Google vote match, you take a little quiz and it tells you which party matches your views......
In those few words one has it all: no knowledge of what the issues are and what the respective parties represent; not voting because they simply don't understand it; and referring to Google - an international enterprise that may or may not have "interests" in who wins the election - for guidance. We should be very worried.

In his book “The Price of Civilization”  American academic and economist  Jeffrey Sachs forcefully discusses what he calls “the epidemic of ignorance”. Briefly, he suggests that in America at least (but, I think, this is equally true of the UK), the growth of untrammelled commercial TV and its “race to the bottom” programming based upon lowest common denominator entertainment rather than instructive public education, the growth in internet use  and, at the same time, the role of newspapers has meant that his fellow citizens are increasingly ignorant of basic facts about important issues.  They are therefore, he argues, open to influence. He comments “It would be a profound irony if the new information age coincides with the collapse of the public’s basic knowledge regarding key issues that we confront as individuals or citizens.”  He goes on “The insulated mindset of individuals who know precious little history and civics and never read a book or visit a museum is fast becoming a common, shame free condition”. Sachs argues that ignorance can threaten the very soul of the society. “....when the country must grapple with complex choices about taxes, spending, military involvement and outlays and all the rest, the lack of basic knowledge becomes dangerous. A poorly informed public is much more easily swayed by propaganda and much less able to resist the dark manoeuvrings of special interest groups that pull the strings in Washington.”  Sachs is unquestionably correct. Noam Chomsky makes a similar observation in  “Manufacturing Consent: Noam Chomsky and the Media”. Chomsky suggests that the media’s function is to “....amuse entertain and inform, and to inculcate individuals with the values, beliefs and codes of behaviour that will integrate them into the institutional structures of the larger society.” And, says Chomsky,  “In a world of concentrated wealth and major conflicts of class interest, to fulfil this role requires systematic propaganda.”
Newspapers like The Guardian and the Washington Post 
consistently warn against unscrupulous politicians,organisation and 
governments who are keen to influence you and infringe 
your rights. Sadly too few listen - and then complain later 
when they realise what they have lost 
It does not require a mind as brilliant as  Sachs or Chomsky’s to make the connection here: propaganda thrives when those it seeks to influence are ignorant or compliant or unquestioning. Propaganda doesn’t like an alert electorate,  critical thought, complex ideas or questioning for its short comings are too easily found out.  So, ff the electorate is increasingly unable grasp the issues or unwilling to understand or simply doesn’t care then democracy is indeed under threat. Two centuries ago Edmund Burke the Enlightenment philosopher  reminded everyone “All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing”  and if the world is increasingly populated by Homer Simpson clones uncaring or unable or unwilling to ask pertinent and perceptive questions or use their knowledge and minds to consider and make meaningful judgements upon what they are presented with by politicians and the media then there is much to fear in the future.

Last night Pat and I sat down and watched the “fly on the wall” documentary “Citizenfour” about Edward Snowden who a couple of years ago leaked  the NSA security documents to the world and is now living in Russia – much to the consternation of western security chiefs. The film was an impressive piece of work – especially so since it was not acted or hyped up Hollywood style – as it laid bare the deceit of US security organisations and indeed our own UK systems. Sadly, it also laid bare the moral poverty of politicians and those in some position of leadership – top ranking generals, Presidents  and their ilk – where lying seemed as easy as breathing, even under oath. It made for enthralling, if depressing, viewing. But of all the things seen and heard a few words stand out like a clarion call and seem apposite at this election time. When asked by Guardian journalist Glenn Greenwald why he was making the disclosures Snowden quietly replied that he increasingly believed that the system in the USA was no longer based on the principles of the “elected and the electorate, but of the ruler and the ruled”. I would argue that this is even more true in the UK since we do not have a constitution to give a basic measure of protection to ordinary citizens and we have a much more  firmly established class structure to keep ordinary people "in their place".

Homer Simpson - or is it you?
The  massive infringement of civil liberties and the everyday manipulation of basic  rights, the disdain that government and those in positions of power and influence (security and military agencies, global business concerns, parts of the media and the like) that were, and are, taking place became manifestly obvious in Snowden's leaked government files and proved  the truth of his perceptive comment - we are indeed becoming rulers and ruled. So, as we approach this election it is critical that we do not sleepwalk, Homer Simpson like, into a further relinquishment of our basic rights and we must ensure that we use our vote wisely. If past experience is anything to go by I do not hold out any great hopes.