25 April, 2017

"Bread & Circuses"

The sub heading to my blog has been, since I set it up several years ago: “Personal perspectives on people, places, politics, passions and preoccupations of a seventy something”.  Anyone, however, who has been unwise enough to read my ramblings will know that it has been politics that have, by far, taken up the lion’s share of my mad cap scribblings. When I retired over ten years ago, having for many years promised myself that I would spend my retirement writing  “grumpy old man” letters to The Guardian or The Times,  the setting up of a blog was just another vehicle to further my long held ambition to fly the flag for social democracy and at the same time comment upon and hold to some account, the  politics and politicians of the Tory or right wing persuasion. I never expected, believed or even desired that my various ramblings would change the course of the life of the nation or bring about the revolution – nor have they. But I did hope that in writing them and, however badly, arguing my case I might clarify my thoughts and maybe those of others – for good or ill. I was also firmly of the view that in the world of the late 20th century and now the early decades of the 21st century where globalisation, rampant capitalism,  the consumer society and, latterly, austerity was, and is, taking an increasing stranglehold on the hearts and minds of politicians, and wider society, it was important for those of more social democratic beliefs to press our case, to keep the flag flying, and to try to repudiate Margaret Thatcher, George Osborne and now Theresa May’s mantra that “there is no alternative”.

But no more. Sadly, in recent months I have increasingly concluded that enough is enough. The political battle appears, at least to me, lost. Populism and extremism have become the mainstream substitute for reasoned ethical debate and action. The rise of  Donald Trump and of the far right in countries like France and the Netherlands,  Brexit, UKIP, and the increasingly right wing Tory party with, at its head a number of politicians who one would not wish to share the air of the planet with let alone a lift, plus a Prime Minister who, despite reminding us at every opportunity of her Christian background and heritage, seems incapable of acting in any vaguely ethical or Christian way, all suggest to me that my social democratic vision or values are now a lost cause. I am not by nature a quitter – indeed, without being boastful I know that many who know me see my staying power and ability to pursue something to the end as being a defining characteristic. But such is my despondency at what, especially in the UK, politics and society has morphed into in recent years, that I do not have it within me, nor do I have the desire, to beat the drum any longer. I well remember the last assembly if each school year when I was a teenager and at secondary school. We always sang the same hymn year after year, Heavenly Father may thy blessing rest upon Thy children now...."   I can still remember its words well. Verse two reminded the assembly of the importance of knowing when to speak and when to say nothing, ending with the line: "When to speak and when be silent, When to do and when forbear". Well, I have reached that point, it is the time to be silent and forebear!

From where I sit the political narrative is increasingly driven and scripted by big business, nationalism, populism and the right wing media; extremism, in various guises, has gained the ascendancy but this has been brought about by a number of factors – not just evil politicians and rapacious business men. Western societies – and especially our English political and social scene - have got the politics and politicians and leaders they and we deserve; the electorate has allowed them to come to power and influence. Almost two millennia ago Juvenal, the Roman poet and satirist, on watching the decline of the once great Roman Empire commented ”The people that once bestowed commands, consulships, legions, and all else, now concerns itself no more, and longs eagerly for just two things - bread and circuses”. So, too, it is in our society – we care only for “bread and circuses”; gone are the great visions and the high ideals. The populace has forgotten why they called for and increasingly demanded some measure of social democracy a hundred years ago when abject poverty, insecurity, ill health and illiteracy were the norm for most. They have forgotten the wars which for centuries had ravaged the world and Europe in particular. They have forgotten that the years of social democracy through the late 1940s, 50s, 60s and 70s delivered standards of living, opportunity and social justice quite unimaginable to those born before these years. Instead, in the society of today, working and dreaming for a better tomorrow is passé; the “I’m alright Jack” mentality infests the hearts and minds of the many. “Having a laugh” appears to be the raison d’etre of the majority. Visit any social media site and you will positively wade through banal “quotes” promoted as pearls of wisdom and their common message is “Enjoy yourself – you’re worth it.” Gone are any thoughts of endeavour or thinking on higher things; Juvenal’s other damning comment on decaying Rome has a huge resonance today in contemporary England: “All wish to possess knowledge, but few are willing to pay the price”. We have become a land obsessed and delighted by the mediocre and the shallow, preferring the celebrity culture to the intellectual or learning culture and this not only infects our minds but determines our actions and our politics. In short, in England – as in the USA and increasingly other western societies - ignorance has become a shame free condition and its repercussions can be seen everywhere:

·         The inability or maybe unwillingness of left wing parties and politicians to articulate alternative agendas and policies to those espoused by parties of the right is now almost complete. In the UK especially, the inability of the Labour Party, its politicians and its members, to not only inhabit the real world and to learn from past experience but, more importantly, to offer its followers and the electorate something to which to aspire is unutterably depressing.  Many suggest that Labour was in a similar position in the mid 80’s when the Party of Michael Foot was at an all time low. The position is not the same. Whilst it is true that Foot’s Party was soundly beaten and in the political wilderness they had coherent policies argued by one of England’s great politicians and debaters of the age – Michael Foot. The Party’s manifesto was not what the electors wanted and this was shown in the polls, but it was a policy, clear and unequivocal. Today, however, the Labour Party is just a mess -  a rag bag outfit of third rate chancers lead by Jeremy Corbyn -  a man who might have the best of motives but is, on a daily basis, shown to be totally inadequate, and worse doesn’t realise it. The problems faced by the left are visible in all countries but nowhere has a party of the  left shown itself to be so inept and lacking in vision and competence that Corbyn’s Labour. I need only to think of Ed Balls following the general Election defeat of 2015 to verify my beliefs. Here was a man, shadow Chancellor of the Exchequer, tipped as a possible leader of the Party and maybe one day Prime Minister. He lost his parliamentary seat in the election and by some kind of warped reasoning decided to make a name for himself by becoming a “national treasure” on the banal and hugely popular  mass entertainment programme Strictly Come Dancing. His reason, when asked, was that it was "something he had always  wanted to do" and that it would help him “re-connect” with ordinary people. Can there be a sadder verdict on a senior politician and potential leader or indeed on the values and interests of England’s 21st century electorate. Juvenal would have recognised this – he saw it daily as mighty Rome declined.

·        The greatly worrying, but well documented trend in western societies - but especially so in the UK & USA - where ignorance is increasingly a shame free condition which in turn results in reasoned debate and thoughtful solutions being in increasingly short supply. In a world where issues about political, social, economic and every other policy are, by their very nature, increasingly complex the electorate is too often unable to grasp the issues, unwilling to research them, and keen to take the easy quick fix solutions offered by the unscrupulous popular media and its spokesmen.

·         From this there is, too, a wider malaise. In a world where the “race to the bottom” TV and wider media schedules and offerings are seen by the majority as good and worthy we have, as Ed Balls’ actions confirmed,  largely lost the ability to discriminate and judge what is of worth. The pluralist society  that we all now inhabit has moved on from simply being a society where diversity is recognised to a society where anything goes; Strictly Come Dancing  considered as worthy as The Royal Ballet  or the latest gratuitously violent Hollywood offering the equal of Hamlet;  as an Oxford  don caustically commented, and in doing so incurred the wrath of the popular press in 1993, “[in the contemporary world] lavatorial graffiti are not to be distinguished in any qualitative way from the drawings of Rembrandt”.

·         In this world of Homer Simpsons the fool is king and the king might vote with his wallet or his heart but never his head.  Against this backdrop a largely ignorant electorate is easily influenced.   Populists paint the world black and white and turn fears into political capital. Mantras like “Take back control” or “Brexit means Brexit” are slogans that we hear everywhere – simple, easy to repeat, easy to not think about – all that the unthinking and increasingly intellectually challenged electorate is able or desires to take on board. We have an American President (and many of our own politicians, too) who pass on their thoughts and what laughingly pass for policies in 140 character Tweets – they know that these are the most that the contemporary mass electorate can or wish to intellectually grapple with. So, we have the paradoxical situation that in a world becoming more complex the answers offered by politicians are becoming simpler, less nuanced, less detailed, black and white; banal and trivial catch phrases for an increasingly banal, trivial and uncritical, unthinking, unquestioning electorate.

·       This inability to discriminate or think carefully, has, now almost daily consequences. No longer do we ask questions about whether or not an action is right or just or fair – but simply does it work, how much does it cost. Increasingly in the UK and the USA our politics, politicians, business leaders and the wider society have become arch pragmatists – justifying their policies and actions on its results not its rightness, worth or justness. Over a hundred years ago American philosopher William James commented: “Pragmatism asks its usual question. ‘Grant an idea or belief to be true,’ it says, ‘what concrete difference will its being true make in anyone's actual life? How will the truth be realized? What experiences will be different from those which would obtain if the belief were false? What, in short, is the truth's cash-value in experiential terms?”  Quite – the growth in pragmatism as an underpinning to politics and society has  reduced all to cash value rather than its intrinsic worthiness or decency.

I could go on but will not – I have written it all before; enough is enough. In my eyes the battle for the social democratic hearts and minds of the electorate is long lost. I will maintain my blog - but without the “politics” element: “Personal perspectives on people, places, passions and preoccupations of a seventy something” will now be its subject matterThe UK, but more specifically England is what it is; it is time for me to move on. Einstein once reminded the world that “Insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results.”  That is how I feel and I do not wish to continue to bang my head against the wall somehow hoping for a pain free result.

Last week two things caught my eye which I have thought much on in recent days. Firstly, I read an article at the top of which was the headline: “Nobody likes us and we don’t care”. For those who do not live in the UK and may be unfamiliar with this rather unpleasant message it originated many years ago (and is still in weekly use) at the south London football club Millwall. The club has long had a reputation for disreputable fans and its often uncompromising brand of football. The club’s stadium – known as “The Den” and its team are known as “The Lions” – can be a daunting and threatening place for visiting teams and their fans. Similarly, when Millwall fans travel away to fixtures there is always the potential for threatening behaviour. The fans, however, take a pride in this; they are the Lions, their home is the Den, “Enter here with fear”  is their message. And, as their chant implies, “We don’t care that we are disliked or perceived as unpleasant people – in fact we are proud of it; nobody likes us and we don’t care!”  The article went on to draw an analogy between the chant and the Millwall fans’ perception of themselves and the UK’s record over many years in relation to Europe in general and the EU in particular. It was correct. For as long as I can remember we Brits have disparaged foreigners and have found every opportunity to promote ourselves as something superior to the poor, well meaning but deficient rabble across the Channel, who have not had the good fortune to be born English – or, worse still, been foolish enough to born further afield in Africa, Asia or elsewhere. We have been willing participants when it came down to disparaging those of a different race, colour or creed and once we became unwilling members of the EU have pleaded consistently for some kind of special treatment. The ignominy of being “ruled” from Brussels, Berlin or Paris was too much; “We don’t deserve this” has been the cry, “to be treated  so unfairly by these jumped up foreigners”. Like the Millwall fans we proudly, but confrontationally, say to our neighbours, who we perceive as opponents rather than colleagues, "We are Brits, lion hearted, fearless when roused - don't mess with us or it will be the worse for you."  As with the football fans it seems quite right and natural to us to hold this position for rooted deep in our national psyche is the notion that anyone who is not English is the opposition and therefore is a threat, not to be trusted, to be overcome. And in being so we have made ourselves thoroughly unpleasant. As the Brexit campaign showed, and still shows in 2017, we Brits worry not who we upset or treat badly, for we are, in our own minds, superior, the only nation fit to “rule the waves”. Just as the Millwall supporters chant, so we in England, too, revel in the notion that “Nobody likes us and we don’t care” .

The second item that came my way was more personal and, for me, more concerning – an email (or rather emails) from a friend of many years who is married to an Austrian and lives, as she has done, for twenty or more years in Austria. Stephanie is a Brit and also an Austrian and her emails, asking various pertinent and searching questions, have winged their way through cyberspace since Brexit. With Theresa May’s opportunistic calling of a General Election with its declared intention of quashing all opposition to her and her policies  Stephanie’s questions have, in their different ways, asked the same things: “Why is the British government behaving as it is?”  Why have the British voted for Brexit when the EU gives you so much? Why is Mrs May so intent upon a hard Brexit? My Austrian friends have a lot of good will towards Britain but they don’t understand the country’s actions, can you explain them”.  As I read and tried to respond to Stephanie’s questions I was, for once, lost for words. I could repeat the sort of comments that I have written here or in my blogs, but I genuinely could not answer her with anything meaningful as to why, as a nation, we are behaving in such a way. The only thing that came to my mind as I pondered this is the newspaper article that I had read a few days before; we are doing it because we have, as a nation, lost the capacity to act thoughtfully, responsibly, decently, or fairly. Like the Millwall supporter – we are doing it because we can and we don’t care what anyone thinks. We see only ourselves and, both individually and collectively, feel free to display our child like egocentricity as regards Europe at will. We have, as I have suggested, lost the capacity to think about things such as worthiness, virtue, decency ideas, ethics, or ideals. If  we did still retain these capacities then we would not be behaving as we are. At its root the English national psyche is now governed by the principle “What’s in it for us?” – all is reduced to that great rationale of the pragmatist. Gone are the great visions and high ideals and sadly, those who should guide us and lead us – the politicians, the pundits and opinion formers, those with power - have lost the ability to articulate a different narrative about what it means to be a worthy English citizen or nation in the twenty first century. We have lost the ability or desire to think of issues of the greater good, the innate goodness of humanity and the consequent moral imperative to work for the mutual good of mankind. The Labour Party, once a beacon for social democracy and, even when  not in power the conscience of the nation, is seemingly  now incapable of even thinking about these things in any meaningful way. Instead, they navel gaze and come up with bizarre electioneering tricks like offering extra Bank Holidays because they know that in the “me, me, me” world of 2017 this is where the hearts and tiny minds of the electorate lies not in thinking about coherent policies or considerations of the rightness or justness of an action. As the Labour Party offers in its election manifesto extra Bank Holidays to capture the imagination of a society bent upon having a good time Emmanuel Macron, front runner in the French Presidential race, talks of giving all French 18 year olds €500 cultural passports so that they might enjoy and develop their understanding of French and wider culture and of cultural pursuits. The cynic might argue that this means nothing and these passports might be “spent” upon trivial pop music and the like. That may well be true – but try telling the English electorate that they will get cultural passports and  Joe Public will look at you askance. The very idea would be ridiculed in the popular press and dismissed by much of the electorate as 'upper class posh tosh'. The author of any such idea would be branded "out of touch" such is our aversion to terms like culture, learning, high ideals, great vision, the common human decencies, worthiness and the rest.

At the top of this blog I mentioned the hymn that I remember singing at the end of each school year as the oldest children left to go out into the big wide world and in which they were reminded of how they should conduct themselves. I am not overly religious and the words now, in the brash, cynical and coarse society that is the UK, seem out of place and irrelevant; quaint ideas from a bygone age. But  now, in my eighth decade, I am firmly of the view that as a society people today need forcibly reminding of these common decencies and of what constitutes good and honourable action towards our fellow humans:

Heavenly Father, may your blessing
Rest upon your children now,
When in praise your name we hallow,
When in prayer to you we bow;
In the wondrous story reading
Of the Lord of truth and grace,
May we see your love reflected
In the light of his dear face.

May we learn from this great story
All the arts of friendliness;
Truthful speech and honest action,
Courage, patience, steadfastness;
How to master self and temper,
How to make our conduct fair;
When to speak and when be silent,
When to do and when forbear.

May your Spirit wise and holy
With his gifts our spirits bless,
Make us loving, joyous, peaceful,
Rich in goodness, gentleness,
Strong in self-control, and faithful,
Kind in thought and deed; for he
Teaches, ‘What you do for others
You are doing unto me.’

I fear, however, that in the society of Trump and Brexit, of globalisation and rampant capitalism, of the Daily Mail  and social media the words and sentiments of the hymn would be quite alien to today's citizens. Sadly, I would also argue that, in a nutshell, that is why we, a once great society, are behaving as we are: we have lost many or most of the common decencies and aspects of humanity  such as goodness, gentleness, self control, truth, grace, kindness, steadfastness and the other qualities  listed in the hymn. We are unable and unwilling to pay the price to learn and apply these or to take the trouble to think great thoughts,  or to have high ideals. Instead we now want the easy options, the 140 character Tweet policy, the quick simple answer because in 2017 England all that we are interested and can take in is the easy answer, the easy life, easy food, easy entertainment, lowest common denominator thinking, untroubled by Johnny Foreigner and his ideas, his talk of culture, justice or fairness, of human rights or mutual cooperation. We have become the  junk society, eating junk food, satisfied with junk entertainment, reading junk tabloids, believing that junk is the new chic or high culture. We are, in  the Brexit/Theresa May  world of 2017, a "bargain basement country" where cheapness is the watchword of our economic, intellectual, social and moral life; we have become  the scavengers of Europe and the wider world, nothing is too low for us to sink to, gone are any principles because we no longer understand that concept. Everything, if it has a justification, is judged by its result not by its intrinsic worth; we are the land of "never mind the quality feel the width". We are the land where millions avidly read Facebook posts and Tweets believing them to be insightful commentaries upon the nature of  culture and of mankind itself; we are, indeed, the land of “bread and circuses” and so what if “Nobody likes us.....well, we don’t care”.

05 April, 2017

“When we're rich as Croesus Jesus! Won't we see you all in hell”

Theresa May’s visit to Saudi Arabia this week tells you all you need to know about contemporary Britain, its politics, politicians, values and morals. It also tells you much about May herself – the daughter of a vicar who really should know better.

In an area of the globe which can at best be described as an unstable time bomb, her trip is, she tells us, to develop Saudi Arabian ties which are important for UK security and prosperity. Speaking to the BBC, she refused to criticise the bombardment of Yemen, which is estimated to have killed more than 10,000 civilians and displaced more than 3 million people. When pressed she acknowledged that she will discuss humanitarian issues, aid measures and women’s rights in the region but at the same time justifies our selling of arms to the Saudis by saying  we do that in order that we are able to raise these other issues: "So rather than just standing on the sidelines and sniping, it's important to engage, to talk to people, to talk about our interests and to raise, yes, difficult issues when we feel it's necessary." Sadly, she rather shot herself in the foot by adding “These countries” (Saudi Arabia & Jordan), are "important for us in terms of security, they are important  for us in terms of defence and yes, in terms of trade........ Gulf security is our security and Gulf prosperity is our prosperity."  When asked what "the May doctrine of foreign policy"  was she replied "that everything we do is in our British national interest.....It's in our British national interest to have good relations around the world so we can trade around the world - that brings jobs and prosperity to the UK......It's also in our national interest to ensure we're working with others around the world to maintain our safety and security - and yes, it's in our national interests to ensure that the values that underpin us as Britons are values that we promote around the world - and that's what we're doing”.

In short, in Mayland, the only thing of interest and value is our own self interest. We will not condemn in case it hinders our getting that trade agreement - the UK’s ethical line in the sand appears to be easily bought. “Buy your slightly soiled  values and morals here. Brexit UK has discontinued lines, straight off the back of the lorry, no questions asked!” seems to be the rationale and sales pitch.

Mmmmm?.......presumably these “values that underpin”  we Brits and which we wish to promote in the middle east include cluster bombs and the rest. So I ask myself how does all this square with the continuing famine in Yemen, and civilian casualties from the Saudi-led - and UK-backed - blockade and attacks on rebel forces which means that we sell arms at one end of the process and the pay out in foreign humanitarian aid at the other. And I further wonder if these underpinning values that Theresa May seems so fond of are the same  values that Liam Fox meant when meeting President Duterte in the Philippines this week. Rodrigo Duterte who has been busy wiping out over 7000 of his own citizens is clearly not beyond the pale in the eyes and estimation our Brexit government  because our trade secretary Liam Fox was very anxious to be friends saying that he wanted to develop  “a foundation of shared values and shared interests”. It’s those values again! Duterte, who has publicly encouraged civilians to kill drug addicts and is generally considered an international pariah last month  warned the EU not to “fuck with us” after the European Parliament passed a resolution expressing “grave concern over credible reports that Philippine police were engaged in extrajudicial killings. But hey, we share values! – what’s not to like - these guys are just misunderstood business men who share our values seems to be the underlying narrative of UK policy. We are happy  turn up our noses at the values of the French, the Germans, the Spanish, the Italians and the rest of Europe but we have no qualms in developing dangerous liaisons with  dubious, the unpredictable  and the crackpot  regimes across the world – the only criteria or value on show seems to be  money, brass, moola!  In 2017 Brexit Britain cash is the driving force for action; it is also our default value and moral standpoint.

Political pundits across the spectrum have pointed out in recent weeks that May and the UK government are desperate for trade links with anyone who will speak to us as our divorce from our major trading partners in Europe looms larger. May’s embarrassing and pathetic wooing of Donald Trump, her scurrying off to snuggle up to Turkey’s President Erdogan - himself no stranger to dispute and shady dealings - her unwillingness to openly condemn many of Trumps and Erdogan’s actions suggest to me that she and her Brexit government are desperate for a deal with any human-rights-abusing dictator that will meet them. And in their discussions  all is justified, it seems, at the altar of mammon. This vicar’s daughter has a skewed view of morality and ethical action; as a child she clearly never took in the message that her father preached when he stood in the pulpit and told the Biblical tale of Esau selling his birthright to his brother Jacob for a bowl of stew. Now, May the woman and Prime Minister is, it seems, willing to sell her own and our very souls at the altar of prosperity as if there are no other possible definers of national well being. Increasingly we are losing, or maybe have already lost, whatever remained of our national moral compass.

May’s comment that “...that everything we do is in our British national interest.....It's in our British national interest to have good relations around the world so we can trade around the world - that brings jobs and prosperity to the UK......It's also in our national interest to ensure we're working with others around the world to maintain our safety and security - and yes, it's in our national interests to ensure that the values that underpin us as Britons are values that we promote around the world - and that's what we're doing”  is thoroughly unpleasant in its overt wording and covert message. We are now a nation who will do anything, cuddle up to anyone as long as it is in our interest to do so. Under successive governments, but especially so with this one, with its Brexit mandate and populist motive there is no depth to which we will not sink, no offer that we will refuse – so long that is there is something in it for us.

I’m no fan of Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn but he was exactly right when he called for the immediate suspension of UK arms exports to Saudi Arabia. He criticised the "dictatorial Saudi monarchy's shocking human rights record” and said “the Saudi-led coalition bombing in Yemen, backed by the British government, has left thousands dead, 21 million people in need of humanitarian assistance and three million refugees uprooted from their homes.... Yemen urgently needs a ceasefire, a political settlement, and food aid, not more bombing... British-made weapons are being used in a war which has caused a humanitarian catastrophe."

As I watched the TV news and witnessed May’s rictus smile as she paid grizzly homage to the Saudi royals my mind was filled with the sewer song from the musical Les Miserables , sung by the awful M & Mme Thenardiers as they roam  the 19th century Paris sewers scavenging from the bodies and the excrement lying there:

Here among the sewer rats
A breath away from Hell you get accustomed to the smell......
Here's a tasty ring, pretty little thing
Wouldn't want to waste it that would really be a crime
Thank you sir, I'm in your debt
Here's another toy, take it off the boy
His heart's no longer going and he's lived his little time
But his watch is ticking yet!....
......Well, someone's got to clean them up, my friends
Before the little harvest disappears into the mud
Someone's got to collect their odds and ends when the gutters run with blood.
It's a world where the dog eats the dog where they kill for bones in the street
And God in His Heaven He don't interfere
'Cause he's dead as the stiffs at my feet
But we're the ones who take it, we're the ones who make it in the end!
Watch the buggers dance watch 'em till they drop
Keep your wits about you and you stand on top!
Masters of the land always get our share
Clear away the barricades and we're still there!
We know where the wind is blowing money is the stuff we smell.

And when we're rich as Croesus Jesus! Won't we see you all in hell!

Brexit Britain is “open for business” and like M & Mme Thenardier we will leave no stone unturned, no sewer swamp undredged, no corpse unrobbed to earn our fast buck, to do a deal, to make a trade; ensuring our “interests” is all that now matters and we care not what the moral or ethical consequences are either for ourselves or others. As today’s Guardian argued “....We will be the financier and arms merchant to dictators. We will be the trading centre for financial products too dangerous for European standards. We will be the premier investment hub for the emerging super rich of the developing world, where everything can be bought for a good enough price. Britain is for sale, and we don’t much care who is buying”.  We increasingly not only look like a banana republic by taunting and sneering at our near neighbours but we behave like a banana republic - our government ministers talking of tax havens, off shore financial dealings being welcome in Brexit London or senior Tories like Michael Howard issuing veiled threats of war against Spain over the Gibraltar issue. Hollywood Mafia Don Vito Corleone would feel very much at home in May’s Brexit Britain making offers that people couldn’t refuse!

In this world where all revolves around a sharp deal, a fast buck, a good trade our national well being is now almost solely defined in terms of how wealthy our nation is or how secure we are. As we cut ourselves off from our friends in Europe and increasingly lose some of the very characteristics that make us part of humanity – conscience, sympathy, empathy, decency - I ask myself at what point, and where, do we ever stop and ask ourselves the question is what we are doing  right, is it fair, is it worthy, is it just, is it acceptable, is it decent, can it be morally or ethically justified? Together with the USA, we have not only stopped seeking an answer to these questions which are fundamental  to our individual and national humanity but have lost the ability to even ask the questions themselves.  We are the modern day Thenardiers of 2017 roaming the world scavenging, selling to and involving ourselves with anyone that will share our tainted values or buy our tainted goods.

Last night I finished reading Gary Younge’s compelling, powerful but excruciatingly painful  book “Another Day in the Death of America”.  Younge’s detailed telling of one typical day in America (Nov. 23rd 2013) and the ten children who were killed by guns on that day pulls no punches and left me squirming with rage at America’s obsession with firearms. In his concluding chapter Younge  bitterly and overwhelmingly sadly says: “it’s made me want to scream at anyone......to just howl at the moon. A long, doleful, piercing cry for a wealthy country that could and should do better for its youth and its children....but appears to have settled...on a pain threshold that is morally unacceptable”.  Without wishing to detract from Younge’s powerful and insightful analysis of the gun dominated culture of the USA those last comments of his ring a bell with me when I reflect upon what we British are doing around the world in the name of trade, security, prosperity and, overarching all, Brexit.  We are, like the USA, a wealthy country, but our crime is not one of guns in our own land but rather of our being prepared to shun our true friends in Europe and roam the world cavorting with any shady character or crackpot dictator who will entertain us and to whom we can sell weapons that will kill others. As Younge says of the USA we in Britain could and should do better but it appears that as in America,  Brexit Britain has settled on a pain threshold that is morally unacceptable.