30 October, 2016

Open for Business - or Tales From a Grubby Little Island

Mourinho (top centre) and Charlton (centre bottom row)
Can there be a telling metaphor for the way that our society has declined and coarsened in recent years than this photo taken at Manchester United’s ground Old Trafford yesterday? Manchester United Manager Jose Mourinho banished (again!) to the stands during yesterday’s game following his abuse of the referee at half time. Sitting immediately below him is Sir Bobby Charlton – a man who represents, and has always represented, all that is good in sport in general and football in particular – never booked, given a yellow card or sent off in the whole of his illustrious career at Old Trafford and for England. In this same week another of our great footballing sportsmen, Gary Lineker (like Charlton never cautioned, booked or sent off), was savaged in the right wing, Tory and tabloid press and by Little Englanders for his Twitter comments supporting humanitarian efforts to solve the refugee crisis and for criticising our government for their lack of any credible humanitarian response to the refugee situation. We should hide our individual and national heads in shame at what we have allowed ourselves to become and for what - especially since Brexit - we have allowed our country to become.

In this same week, too, we have read of the refugees in France having their makeshift shelters bulldozed while our elected representatives, the British government, largely turned their backs; it seems that the parable of the Good Samaritan would get little hearing in modern day England (and I choose my word carefully there). Hate crime and foreigner bashing (either verbal or physical) seems much more in tune with the current social and political  climate than the Samaritan’s little bit of doing good for his fellow man.
Mr Nice - Gary Lineker

But whether the government, the Tory party, the Little England Brexiters or the tabloid press like it or not, we have an obligation here and we are more than partially responsible for the flood of refugees. In our "wisdom" we teamed up with George Bush, and bombed and lit many of the fires that now glow bright the middle east, and for that we are now reaping the rewards such as they are. We are, too, hugely lucky that the French are, in many ways, taking the heat off us by doing our dirty work by keeping the refugees on their side of the Channel. The French are right to demand that we now do the decent thing and take our "fair share". Doing the decent thing, however, seems not to be much in the mind set of contemporary England.
The sanctimonious and self appointed guardian of
the nation's morals - the Sun newspaper was quick
castigate Lineker for his criticism of the UK government
and his support of humanitarian efforts in Calais

And, to put an ironic and unacceptable twist into the whole scene we have read this week, with tears in our eyes (not), of the dreadful life that United manager Mourinho now has to endure as (he tells us) he is having to camp out at the 5 star Lowry Hotel in Manchester while he earns his millions. His life, he says, is miserable; his wife and family are still in London and he can't get out for a meal because of the paparazzi and has to endure the awful life of dismal Manchester far away from the bright lights of Kensington and Chelsea. Life is truly tough for some, my heart should bleed for him, but strangely it doesn't. I wonder if he can relate to the refugees also far from home and family but with little or no prospect of life in a five star hotel any time soon. It’s been a tough old week for Mourinho – forced to live in a five star hotel, being banished to the stand for his unacceptable behaviour and his team only managed to draw a game they should have won! Well, as he sleeps in his silk sheets at least he isn't going to be bulldozed out of his luxury bed tonight – every cloud has a silver lining!
Let’s be quite clear. The refugee situation is not easy nor is it one that can simply be wished away with good intentions. It is a very real problem and will continue to cause very real and severe repercussions throughout Europe for years. These will only be resolved with long term careful, coordinated  planning, organisation, administration – and a huge amount of goodwill. But to misquote Shakespeare “There are tides in the affairs of men....”  - in this case when, quite frankly, to stand by and wring one’s hands, as our government is doing, is not an option. When German Chancellor Angela Merkel opened the German borders to an influx of refugees a few months ago she may have acted in political terms rashly but it was, in humanitarian terms absolutely the right thing to do. What she was perhaps wrong about  was not having the administrative  back up in place to make it a success - her humanitarian impulse was also badly let down by other nations, most notably ourselves. The refugee situation impacts upon the whole of Europe – and will continue to do so whether we like it or not but since this impact will be upon the whole of Europe we are obligated to act in concert with our neighbours to ensure the issue is resolved and humanity triumphs. It is not an issue that one country can solve or take a stand upon - we are all in the same boat and we sink or swim together.

Sadly, however, the Brexit vote is a clear signal of our intention to be in our own boat, think only of ourselves  and to no longer be members of the European club acting in unison with our neighbours. If pushed, I might further conclude that following the Brexit vote and our government's abject response to the situation in Calais,  the increased level of hate crime in our cities and the general level of anti foreigner comment in our everyday society, tabloids and right wing media, we have lost all right to class ourselves as fully paid up members of the human race. Our selfish and inhuman outlook and morally compromised position in taking this isolationist and xenophobic standpoint at the expense of other human beings - be they refugees in Calais, foreign workers in our care homes and health service or legitimate workers contributing to the wealth and well being of our country via their expertise in commerce, industry or any other walk of life - means that we should all be very afraid for the future that we are offering our children and grandchildren. It is against a backdrop of such morally bankrupt and extreme isolationist viewpoints that people like Hitler gained credibility. Our children and grandchildren will not thank us for what we have done and are doing. The Brexiter’s cry is one of independent action: "look after our own" and "charity begins at home" is the cry from Westminster Tories and from the Brexit streets of England; it is the same cry as“I’m alright Jack pull up the ladder”, of "my home is my castle" It is also  the cheap and nasty way of getting us off the European/refugee hook. We dress it up in all sorts of fine language “regaining control of our borders”, “reclaiming or sovereignty” and the like, but these are merely euphemisms for sticking two fingers up to our nearest neighbours and to the tide of homeless migrants. Brexit allows us to reject coordinated action with our neighbours, dismiss common decency and to ignore the plea of French President Hollande to "do the right thing" and take our “fair share”. Like the priest and the Levite in the parable of the Good Samaritan we have passed by on the other side, unwilling to help our neighbour(s) be they the refugees, the French or any other of our European friends.  The only difference is that in our modern day working of the parable it is the other side of the Channel not the other side of the road upon which we are “passing by”. Brexit has given us a mistaken but nonetheless  perceived and powerful justification for our lack of humanitarian action. In doing so it has demeaned and lessened us all.
Our tabloids lampooned and criticised
England manager Allardyce but are at the
same time symptomatic and part of the
culture of a fast buck, dishonourable
action and questionable morals.

All this is a total and unforgivable nonsense. We are not only the laughing stock of the footballing world, unable to compete at the top level but we then compound our failures and appoint managers like Sam Allardyce to be manager of England who in turn disgraces himself and the country by involving himself in shady deals to accrue even more wealth. This whole sad episode is a mirror for our  wider dealings with our fellow nations and in meeting our obligations – humanitarian, moral and political – we are found seriously wanting; the French, Germans , Dutch and the rest must scratch their heads in puzzlement and sadness as they wonder what we, a once great nation known for its upright stance and innate sense of fair play, are doing and why we are behaving in such a crass, self centred, devious and dubious manner. 

But hey – not to worry! As Theresa Mayhem and her cohorts tell us “Britain is open for business” – and that, of course is all that matters in modern day England - following the money. Sam Allardyce was certainly keen to follow the money - he is the supreme metaphor for what we have become. In modern day England Allardyce's real crime was not doing shady deals but getting caught - such are the depths to which we have plunged in our everyday life be it in government, the City, or the home or the market place. Everything - every form of behaviour, every viewpoint, every action or belief is tolerated or excused or sanctioned in the quest for money – in sport, in society, in politics - and from the top to the bottom of society all is defined by its monetary value not its true worth. There is nothing so low that we will not sink to it in order to make a fast buck - in the final analysis that is why so many in our nation decry and dislike the rules and expectations of the EU for civilized behaviour. It is why the EU Human Rights Act is so despised in England  by the right wing and Tory press - it is about treating people with dignity and respect, it is about being a good neighbour; in short it is another manifestation of the Parable of the Good Samaritan and we in England no longer "do" the "good neighbour thing" - all is money and the school of hard knocks where Samaritans and "do gooders" have little place.  As we saw a couple of days ago a few metaphorical back-handers to the Nissan car company and all’s right with the world; St Theresa has a smile on her face, it is "fantastic news" she tells us - "Brexit Britain is open for business". It is the same with the government’s decision to plough ahead with the extension at Heathrow. The deciding factor was “It is good for business”.  Forget climate issues and the ruination of the planet, forget the nonsense of building in one of the most density populated bits of not only England but also the world, forget issues of whether we actually need this given that Brexit  we are told will impact upon our airport capacity needs for many years, forget the categorical promises given by the previous Prime Minister, David Cameron who said only a year or so ago “No ifs no buts there will be not extension at Heathrow” – business trumps all. In modern Britain integrity and doing the right thing is dismissed in favour of a few extra quid in the back pocket.
The hard nosed face of Brexit Britain

And the reverse of this is also true. We can magically find billions for Heathrow and almost certainly for the “sweetheart” deal with Nissan but in this same week we have read that the police are now acting as “carers” for those with mental health issues – police officers having to sit outside cells because we  refuse to afford to fund  proper mental health facilities. People with mental health conditions arrested or taken into custody by police cannot be found appropriate mental health care facilities so are banged up in a cell. Our schools, too, are not exempt in this “dash for cash” – the raison d’etre of post Brexit Britain and our post Brexit government. We read that subject such as art history, archeology and various classical studies are to be “dropped” by examining boards – they are no longer viable or worth the cost. So, we increasingly demand that our young (who will one day be the old) are versed in only the “hard” subjects that will make both them and the nation hard cash. So, they will be able to calculate and know the cost of a flight to Athens, Florence or Baghdad from newly expanded Heathrow but will know little or nothing of the culture or history of these far off cradles of western civilization. They will be able to afford a season ticket for Old Trafford but be unlikely to see the great sportsmen such as the like of Charlton or Linker; instead they will witness two teams of footballing mercenaries colliding on the pitch while their leaders, people like Allardyce and Mourinho, appear from their five star hotels, scowl, abuse the referee and count the notes in their wallets before disappearing back into their cosseted luxurious world far from the bulldozed tents and desperate faces of Calais.
Ah! That's a bit better, all smiles now.  Those pesky refugees and other such
distractions are all forgotten. Moral action is such a bore and a chore - and there's
no votes in it in post Brexit England. Let's keep things simple and keep the
Brexit punters happy.We are open for business as usual so it's a few more
back handers for our business friends, a few more directorships for us and 
money in the bank for Joe Public to spend on  his beer and his lottery ticket.
 It's win, win all round - unless they start thinking and asking questions that is!

But, worry not – for Brexit Britain is “open for business”; our leader, St Theresa, told us so! And as long as the cash tills clatter and companies and individuals make their fast buck we can all forget the darker side of the national psyche and what is happening only a few miles across the Channel. We can all block out the hate crimes, the treatment of the weakest in our society or the blatant and corrosive social, economic and educational inequalities that stalk our streets. Forget the morals, forget doing the right thing - the Good Samaritan and his tale of being the good neighbour is long dead in 21st century England. We have become a very grubby little island and nation – unable to recognise or distinguish what is right or just or good or worthy - interested only in ourselves and our own advancement. Oliver Goldsmith wrote almost 300 years ago: "Ill fairs the land, to hastening ills a prey, Where wealth accumulates and men decay"; it's modern day version in today's England might be "The Good Samaritan is dead - but we're open for business as usual selling his clothes. Any offers accepted"  Goldsmith was right three centuries ago - Brexit and its supporters merely confirm it.