28 March, 2017

"Dream of things that never were......"

As the ramshackle funeral hearse that is Brexit carries the rotting corpse of what was once a respected and honourable people and wends its creaking way towards Wednesday March 29th the UK Prime Minister Theresa May will write the letter that will trigger Article 50 and thus the formal process of the UK leaving the EU. We are witnessing the last few days of what was once a great and justifiably proud nation. On Wednesday, for reasons far more to do with sating the delusional appetites of the Tory Party who are intent upon clinging to some clapped out notion of an imperial Great Britain clothed in the Union Flag and basking in the long lost glow of a  forgotten Empire, than for any national good we are turning our backs upon our nearest friends and neighbours and “going it alone”. Like Captain Lawrence Oates that brave hero of Scott’s ill fated endeavours at the South Pole in 1912 as he stepped out into the icy wilderness, we are announcing to the rest of the world “We are just stepping outside....we might be gone for some time”.
Muddled thinking and headless chickens -  the defining  characteristics of the
whole Brexit debate debacle.

For as long as we have been members of the EU the Tory party has bickered and complained. A look at my previous blogs over the past five or six years reminds me that I have so often voiced my surprise that the Europeans have so graciously and for so long put up with us and our constant whining. Like spoiled and badly behaved children in playground we have constantly squealed that "It's not fair", that others have a bigger slice of the cake than ourselves, or that we have no friends to play with. Our near neighbours in Europe have watched like unhappy parents, embarrassed and bemused at our childish antics, and, I am sure and not a little offended, as year after year we have displayed a grudging unwillingness to put aside our misguided jingoistic belief in our self importance, our perceived natural superiority, our outdated beliefs of former greatness, and worst of all, our selfish egocentricity and plain rudeness to our friends and neighbours. England (and I choose my words carefully here) has long had a tradition of genteel politeness, of doing the right thing, of impeccable manners but in the past half century large portions of the Tory party and the right wing of society have proved themselves to be both boorish and thoroughly unpleasant individuals with regard to our friends across the Channel. The Brexit campaign has now spread their ill manners and loutish behaviour to a wider public - now Everyman can heap his scorn and venom  upon Europe and Europeans as a salve to his and our own failings and weaknesses.

As the years have passed, a largely unthinking electorate has allowed itself to be indoctrinated with spurious tales of Johnny Foreigner and his alleged evil plans to infiltrate and demean our  nation; the ready assistance of the head banging sections of the Tory party many of whom still hark back to the extremist speeches of Enoch Powell half a century ago, and more latterly the extremist support of UKIP, the right wing press, and a series of dubious political opportunist such as Michael Gove, Nigel Farage and Boris Johnson has ensured that a culture of blame, fear and division has taken root in the national psyche. We are now, as a nation, both unwilling and indeed unable to take responsibility for our own problems and shortcomings but are quick blame others for all our failures and our ills; Europe and Europeans are intent on one thing, argue the Brexiteers, the taking over and reducing of Great Britain to a nonentity; it's all part of an evil plan, they argue, cooked up in the corridors of power in Brussels or Paris or Berlin. The golden dawn of Brexit, we are told by its promoters, will restore us to our former glory and allow us to keep out these vengeful  foreigners, bring us untold wealth, ensure that we all have jobs rather than having them robbed from us by those of a different skin or creed. Brexit has become, in the eyes of its followers, the panacea for all our perceived ills. Well, maybe, but I don’t think so.

For me, however, there is a different  and more important, more far reaching narrative - not one that defines us or Brexit in economic terms,
Jingoistic nationalism - rabble rousing
propaganda. As Joseph Goebbels said: "Say it
often enough and eventually people will
believe you". And the Brexit Homer Simpson
voter swallows the lie.
important thought these might be - but rather one that asks the questions "What are we and what ought we to be?" Throughout the Brexit debate I have never been much moved by the economic arguments that we will be better or worse off, that jobs will be more or less plentiful, that only those entitled to will be able to claim benefits and all the rest of the well publicised pros and cons of remaining or leaving Europe. I don’t dismiss these as unimportant but they signal how, as a society, we have become increasingly defined by wealth and possessions rather than high ideals and great vision. When we finally leave Europe I have absolutely no doubt that
 life will go on, we will adjust, some things will be worse and maybe some better; the sky, however, will not fall in. But there is something infinitely more important than economics and its associated impacts; indeed, for me it is the only thing of importance about our withdrawal from Europe. It is about what it says of us as a people. Are we a people who will work with others for the greater good; are we a people who are willing to extend our goodwill to others of any creed or colour; are we a people who see our future as positive contributing members of  the wider world? Or, are we, as Brexit defines us, a people who wish to build barriers, who wish to deny our interdependence with others, who wish to always blame others for our problems and failures, and who wish to abdicate our moral, social, economic and political responsibilities to the wider world and to our nearest neighbours for a quick buck? For me there is only one answer and it is about brotherhood, goodwill, contribution, and acknowledging that we are all human sharing the same aspirations, desires and faults. I am horrified at the ease with which this country has so easily turned the world on its head and conveniently forgotten the reasons why our fathers and grandfathers in the immediate post war period worked to establish the infant European venture and bring peace, brotherhood and no little prosperity to a continent that for centuries had been riven with distrust, division and war. We should be both ashamed and alarmed at the ease with which we have walked away from our responsibilities to both our neighbours and ourselves.
David Davis, Theresa May, the corpse of Enoch Powell (the
Tory MP who half a century ago prophesied "rivers of blood"
if immigration continued and whose ideas are alive and well
in Tory mentality), and Boris Johnson.

The whole sorry shambles is best summed up by American political satirist and pundit Patrick O’Rourke who describes Brexit and its American counterpart, the election of Donald Trump as President, as “self criticising exercises”. The term is that used by US security forces when discussing a terrorist bomb maker who, in constructing the bomb, blows him or herself up by accident. It is apposite for we are indeed manufacturing an unconsidered and unintended national suicide, constructing a bomb which may well devour us. Brexit, when it finally comes, may or may not be an economic catastrophe but it will certainly be disaster in more important ways - namely that we will have lost a major part of our very humanity and the right to call ourselves respected citizens of the world. And as we put the last wires in place, and even at this late hour, we are too stupid to recognise that fact. President John Kennedy once remarked that “An error doesn’t become a mistake until you refuse to correct it” – the errors in our national thinking have been consistently exposed in the months since the Brexit vote and still the Tory Party and the extremists in power refuse to acknowledge the flaws in their reasoning and correct the error by changing course. But instead, like Patrck O’Rourke’s metaphorical bomb maker, they are as characters in a macabre Morecambe and Wise comedy sketch gleeful, insanity gleaming from their swivel eyes, as they connect all the wrong wires to all the wrong terminals!

So on Wednesday I intend to redress the balance just a little – at least in my own home, and especially in my office where I sit writing this blog. It will not stop Theresa May signing the Article 50 letter nor it will cause some great and mighty social media campaign to suddenly thwart Brexit; neither will it stop all those delusional politicians and voters who seem so keen to renege on our political, economic, social and moral responsibilities. It will, however, for about 25 minutes make me feel better because it will remind me that I am human and humans, unlike most of the animal kingdom, have ideals, beliefs, hopes and dreams. They have  feelings of responsibility towards each other, a moral context in which they operate and above all a spirit that encompasses the ability to act generously, humanly, sympathetically and justly. I will endeavour to rekindle a little of this lost generosity of spirit that the followers of Brexit have brought to my country...... and at the same time I will remind myself of what we might be and  perhaps can be. Rather than gnashing my teeth or otherwise showing my anger or distress as Theresa May signs the letter effectively making us just a little less human and taking us further from our European friends and neighbours I will instead listen to some music to remind me of more important values. Instead of trade deals, reducing immigration, getting rid of the alleged benefits scroungers, or controlling our borders I will listen to a work that demands that we extend the hand of friendship to our fellow man and woman and that we join all nations in celebration of our common humanity.

The piece I will enjoy is not just any music but one of the very great pieces of the world that defines us as humans. Some might argue that it is the greatest musical work every written and whilst I might challenge that assessment I have no hesitation in saying that this work is undoubtedly one of mankind’s two or three defining works of  western art and culture and in my ideal world on Wednesday March 29th every radio station across the nation, every CD player, every digital gizmo would sound out this piece. Every choir, orchestra and flashmob would get together to sing it out so that we might all be reminded of what and who we are – first and foremost humans who must live as brothers and sisters and not pawns in  grubby deals to be done to satisfy the accountant or the banker or the little Englanders who would close us off from the world and the rest of mankind. It is a work that was written as the modern world slowly emerged in the early years of the nineteenth century. It is a work that was considered at the time to be revolutionary both in its musical format and in its inspiration. It is Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony, or more precisely, the final movement from that mighty and wonderful work. 

The last movement is choral and its glorious words and music are without doubt some of the most inspirational, powerful and sublime ever written. It is not without reason that it is the anthem of the Council of Europe nor is it without reason that it is frequently used in times of great anxiety or mourning such as in the immediate aftermath of 9/11 for it is about brotherhood, friendship, empathy, love of our neighbour and love of all mankind no matter what his creed or colour. It is, in short, all that Brexit is not; where Brexit seeks to divide and despise the final movement of the Ninth seeks unite in love.

"Ode to Joy" The Final Movement of Beethoven's 9th Symphony: The Choral

Beethoven took the words of his countryman the German poet and philosopher Friedrich Schiller’s mighty poem Ode to Joy and set them to his glorious music. To hear the work is not just to hear great music it is to be forcibly reminded what it is to be human. It speaks of our brotherhood of humanity rather than the cynicism, pettiness and scepticism of those whose horizons are limited; it speaks of aspirations great ideals and not of vilification and grubby motive. It reminds us, and anticipates John F Kennedy’s words of a century and a half later when he told his fellow countrymen: This country cannot afford to be materially rich and spiritually poor…….Our most basic common link is that we all inhabit this planet. We all breathe the same air. We all cherish our children's future. And we are all mortal.” Oh, that this quote was not broadcast far and wide and rammed down the throats of Nigel Farage, Boris Johnson and the rest in the run up to the Referendum! But try explaining those concepts to the average Daily Mail reader or the unthinking nodding donkeys who, Homer Simpson like, were looking for an easy victim to blame for their ills and problems  and so voted for Brexit. Try explaining humanitarian ideals or concepts such as ethical action to  the delusional Tory, or those mindless right wing UKIP leaders Paul Nuttall and Nigel Farage, or political opportunist Brexiteers such as Boris Johnson, Michael Gove, Liam Fox or David Davis; the effort will undoubtedly prove to you once and for all that Napoleon was on to something when he noted that “In politics stupidity is not a handicap”. So on Wednesday I will sit quietly - and maybe  a little sadly - and listen to Beethoven and Schiller's great words and music to endeavour to refresh my belief in the ultimate goodness of man:

Ode To Joy

O friends, no more of these sounds!
Let us sing more cheerful songs,
More songs full of joy!
Joy, bright spark of divinity,
Daughter of Elysium,
Fire-inspired we tread
Within thy sanctuary.
Thy magic power re-unites
All that custom has divided,
All men become brothers,
Under the sway of thy gentle wings.
Whoever has created
An abiding friendship,
Or has won
A true and loving wife,
All who can call at least one soul theirs,
Join our song of praise;
But those who cannot must creep tearfully
Away from our circle.
All creatures drink of joy
At nature’s breast.
Just and unjust
Alike taste of her gift;
She gave us kisses and the fruit of the vine,
A tried friend to the end.
Even the worm can feel contentment,
And the cherub stands before God!
Gladly, like the heavenly bodies
Which He sent on their courses
Through the splendor of the firmament;
Thus, brothers, you should run your race,
Like a hero going to victory!
You millions, I embrace you.
This kiss is for all the world!
Brothers, above the starry canopy
There must dwell a loving father.
Do you fall in worship, you millions?
World, do you know your creator?
Seek Him in the heavens;
Above the stars must he dwell.

All men become brothers.......... But those who cannot must creep tearfully, Away from our circle...... You millions, I embrace you.......This kiss is for all the world.....Brothers, above the starry canopy......There must dwell a loving father”: not much there about controlling borders, building Trump like Mexican walls or turning away those in need. Indeed Schilller actually says those who cannot be brothers must “creep tearfully away from our circle”. Sounds to me a lot like he is describing our Little Englander Brexiters, those who would make us Europe’s “Billy no mates”!
The Daily Mail will write any spurious
nonsense to drum up sales and pour scorn on
Europe. The really worrying thing is
that more people read the Mail than any
other paper. That fact alone tells you all you
need to know about the intellect and 
mindset of 2017 England

The words of Schiller’s great poem may seem old fashioned today but in being so they remind us of where our priorities should lie; they speak of higher things than trade deals or controlling borders; they speak of fairness and worthy action rather than injustice or jingoistic nationalism; they speak of the joy in and of all humanity not the funereal cynical drum beat of the Brexiter. Almost half a century ago John Lennon wrote in his song Imagine:You may say I’m a dreamer, But I'm not the only one, I hope someday you'll join us, And the world can live as one.....” he wrote; well we all need dreams and ideals, something to aim for something higher than ourselves and in a western world obsessed with itself, with its selfies and its “me, me me” outlook on life especially so. So, tomorrow I will  dream a little. I will listen to Beethoven’s mighty music and Schiller’s great words and dream of what we might be not what, sadly, we in the UK have become. And as I listen and dream I will think of another comment by John F Kennedy: “The problems of the world cannot possibly be solved by skeptics or cynics whose horizons are limited by the obvious realities. We need men who can dream of things that never were.”
The Brexit negotiators plunging the depths

“Dream of things that never were”.......dream not of Brexit and its follower and their Homer Simpson culture of blame, vilification, or of selfish obsessions; dream not of pushing our would be friends or those in need away; dream not of making grubby Trump like Brexit "deals" or of using people as bargaining pawns in the Brexit negotiations; dream not of the false god of economics and the grasping hands of the me, me, me society which demands more, more, more at whatever the cost to our very humanity. No, listen......... and "dream of things that never were" ...........and dream of a better time and place than March 29th 2017 Britain.


  1. Sitting, reading your article, listening to the complete Beethoven's 9th Symphony, which I am sad to say will end at 12:30, this Wednesday afternoon, but already the music has moved me to tears, smiles, warmth, waves of goose~flesh, ebullience, despair and a deep sense of belonging and loss.
    Ah, Ludwig van, what a genius, and Tony Beale, thank you for writing this piece and describing why I feel the way I do about this poor "deal"
    What a piece of work is a man.

    1. Thank you Antony. Like you it is without doubt a feeling of loss.I am also angry that w are now told we must unite - I'm sorry but not in my name. How dare Mrs May be so presumptuous to suggest that I must put aside my deepest and most passionately held beliefs on the nature of my humanity and my relationships with my fellow man. To suggest that we must put aside our beliefs and convictions is to question and usurp the very nature of our freedoms and of democracy itself.