Summer Holidaze

Stanely stands upright at the edge of the curb with his wife Doris besides him. A driverless bus hurtles down the hill, inches from where he and his beloved stand. Passengers arguing and fighting, fellow onlookers from the village look on angst.

Sitting immediately behind the vacant driver’s seat fingers in ears sits Theresa oblivious to the chaos around her. Jeremy sits immediately opposite hands over eyes, peeping through a narrow gap of his fingers to the vacant driver’s chair muttering a mantra of solidarity and hope to himself. Behind them, stands Nigel pointing his long, twisted accusing finger at the last passengers to get on the bus, “sabotage” he shouts.

A small group of irate passengers spit obscenities at the rest of the passengers and occasionally at each other. As the bus jumps headlong over traffic calming bumps Ariaf loses grip of this Mcdonald’s vanilla shake, which doses Tommy who burst into tears and places his pet snail Bernard back in its dark cardboard box. “How am I going to explain this to mum?” He sobs as he looks down on his new and ruined school uniform, but he already knows who to blame.

Vince jumps up and down seeking attention, after being sent to the back of the bus for helping David, the driver, escape through the emergency exit. Meanwhile, a small group of ideological puritans from left and right of the “spectrum” exchange admiration for the 1939 Molotov–Ribbentrop Pact.

Caroline sits patiently by herself, knitting a jumper, waiting. On seeing the large brick wall coming at them with growing speed Chuka, Anna and Heidi form a circle with a handful of other devotees to sing hymns from the old book.

Meanwhile, Nicola demands a show of hands for those interested in joining her on the roof. Ariene screams “no surrender” at the wall.

The vast majority of the nation sits at home listening to BBC Radio 1 playing Cliff Richards singing summer holiday on an endless loop. Young people look at each other in despair.

Stanley turns to Doris with loving eyes, “ah Doris, Brexit, means Brexit.” Doris takes a lick of her ice cream, turns to the button on the pelican crossing, the rapid beeping, cars come to a halt and hands in hand they stroll aimlessly across the road to the bus station.

We need to talk about Peter

I want to share an experience I had quite recently and in doing so shine a small light on the discourse, which is happening in communities and neighbourhoods across the UK, in the US, and further afield. It’s about perception, personal accountability and the duplicity that some people choose to live. It’s about how we communicate and engage with one another as we flip between our real day to day lives and the virtual world we increasingly inhabit via social media platforms. Moreover, it’s about how a person you think you know in one world is not the person you know in another world.

However, mostly it’s about preying on ignorance to deliberately fuel hate and toxicity between people something that has seeped into our cultures, reflected and used by politicians. In his classic novel 1984, George Orwell introduced us to the concept of “doublespeak.” When Big Brother says, “Love”, he means to hate. When Big Brother says, “Peace”, he means war.

When my family and I left Salisbury after seven happy years and returned to Bristol, we left behind a network of friends whom we value to this day. People who have enriched our lives and sincerely hope will continue to do so. I must stress at this point that our neighbours and vast majority of  Salisbury people whom we came to know did nothing but show us kindness and make us feel welcome.

During our time living in Salisbury Peter would become a regular and welcome visitor to our home, he undertook paid house repairs and socialised with our families. Even Poppy, our pet dog, would dance a merry dance on hearing his voice. He was ‘just there’ when we needed a helping hand. In our interactions with him, we believed there was not a bad bone in his body, which was vital given we were new to the city with a diverse family (immediate and extended).

When we finally settled in Bristol and started to hook up with our friends back in Salisbury via Facebook a startling and unpleasant realism dawned on us. As if from nowhere hateful articles and images began to appear on our Facebook updates from extreme rightwing groups. Often this was beyond the shock-jock humour and rubbish we have sadly become accustomed too and occasionally, this would include images from groups with known violence towards people.

The source of these posts was Peter.

After a run of rather ugly posts, including Peter’s obsession with wanting to reinstate the Golliwog as a reflection of his Britishness, my wife parted ways with him by writing a considered and heartfelt message to him concerning his behaviour. Peter simply liked the message with a thumbs up, no replay and carried on regardless.

After discussing this, I decided to stay the course and challenge his behaviour. I was under no illusion I could ever change his bitter and offensive stupidity I could at least plant a seed of doubt into his followers and family who must have been watching the on-going war of attrition taking place between the both of us.

It’s was not surprising to discover that when directly and calmly challenged hateful people quickly run away, tails between their legs, but then reemerge when they believe the coast is clear to carry on with their vile, ugly and horrid behaviour. This was our experience of Peter’s behaviour.

A few weeks ago he must have started to realise the dwindling number of likes he was receiving for his posts, so he went on the offensive by starting to post his views on my page. It has been said before, and I’ll repeat here again. Not all people who voted for Brexit are racists, but an am very confident that all racists voted for Brexit. Peter is, of course, a passionate advocate of Brexit, UKIP and Trump style politics and watching him stumble, clunk and pathetically wallow around when challenged by my friends on Facebook has become one of my moments of the year.

Things took a further turn recently. Upset by the recent poor news coverage concerning Brexit we went on a somewhat bitter sad and bitter ranting episode during the Remembrance Sunday ceremony trying to score cheap and nasty political points. I merely asked him to show some respect and not use the memory and the commemoration of brave people who have paid the ultimate price to further his hatred of people.

Then shortly afterwards he returned to his old obsession with his beloved Golliwog. I rechallenged him on the Golliwog and why it’s us both offensive and ugly. In true 1970s sitcom style Peter replied that he had none white friends with children, so this proved he was not racist. To which I merely replied, “So you would have no problem in buying them a Golliwogg’s for Christmas then?” An implosion occurred. The results of which I am unable to report given Peter blocked me.

Peter is what George Orwell describes as practising doublespeak. What he says and what he does are two completely different things. The articles and images he decides to publish via Facebook are products of rightwing groups who feed them to him, and he shares them. He chooses to associate with these groups, and so they become part of him, a reflection of him and he a representation of them.

So why am I posting this? Firstly, I’m genuinely relieved that Peter is no longer a part of our lives. Secondly and far more critical. We live in dangerous times when decency and moderation seem out of fashion as some seek answers in the shadow of reactionary, nationalist and racist politics.

They are not the mainstream and never will be, but those who know better need to stick together, calmly resist these people and push them back under the rocks they have scrambled from underneath. Have the confidence to challenge those who ultimately mean you harm regardless of who they are and remember the words of Bill Hicks would say, “Love all the people all the time.”

Gina Miller: Bristol Festival Ideas

Gina Miller @ The Bristol Festival of Ideas

04.10.18: Tuesday night and off to an evening with Gina Miller, who is known mainly for legally challenging the UK Government’s right to invoke Article 50 (Brexit) without reference to Parliament. In the absence of political moderation, for many, Miller has willingly, or unwillingly become the figurehead for those desperately seeking somebody to rally around. As a consequence, Miller has faced an appalling barrage of abuse, including threats of gang rape, beheading, racial harassment, murder and, acid attacks. Her personal office has received packages containing dangerous substances. Her legal team has been subjected to protests outside their offices, and at least eight people have been served with cease and desist notice by the police. In a self-declared act of ‘satire.’  Rhodri Colwyn Philipps, 4th Viscount St Davids, a British peer, described Miller as a “boat jumper” and added: “If this is what we should expect from immigrants, send them back to their stinking jungles.” The 4th Viscount St Davids also offered “£5,000 for the first person to ‘accidentally’ run over this bloody troublesome first generation immigrant.” 

How have we got here? A question I often find myself asking, whatever our views on the challenges we face in our communities. What has stirred up so much animosity, hostility and, hatred? It is a darkness that strikes at the heart. A hatred I have known to have existed in the few but not the many. The grumpy uncle, or neighbour who lazily points the finger at everybody else for their troubles while fearfully avoiding the hallway mirror. Last Sunday evening I spent over 2 hours in a public meeting trying to discuss the merits and genuine concerns of a proposed winter shelter for the homeless in my neighbourhood. These issues are always sensitive, often the catalyst for bringing the worst out of people with locals exasperated by the weak administration of the consultation process managed by the City Council. Yet, none of this provided any justification for the uncontrolled rage, and venom aimed at those most vulnerable in our community who face the threat of freezing to death over the winter periods.

The demands for the council to compensate people for a perceived loss of house value, if the project were to be granted, is one thing and a concern for personal safety is another, these are entirely natural concerns. The council must calmly explain how it will help mitigate these factors, justified or not.  How these adult discussions are able to take place in an environment of open hostility, lack of humanity and outright appalling behaviour is frankly beyond me. At one point I turned to witnesses a group of people poised continuously to interrupt when breath was taken by anybody else contributing to the meeting, tightly clenched hands, a reddening and angry facial expression, like volcanos awaiting explosion. This is not a legitimate expression of concern, but an embolden confident disregard for anybody else. In part a small reflection of where we are as a people at the moment, polarised and unable to reach out, share and lacking any empathy. A smaller reflection of what Gina Miller is relaying tonight.

There is much, which I agree with Gina Miller, Brexit, the general state of politics in the UK, government abuse of power, erosion of accountability and a need to find new ways of opening up dialogue across our fractured political divide. There are also issues where her analysis, on the surface seems naive with the reiteration of the muddle that a ‘kinder, more socially aware capitalism’ will help solve the deep-rooted economic injustice between North and South and in the micro-economies of the UK regions. Not everybody who works in the world of capital finance has, and will never have the values of Gina Miller, and waiting for this type of transformation to take place is a wait too long. Especially for those who have had to live with the consequences of failed 3rd-way market-based (kinder capitalism) solutions since the 1980s. A decade, which brought the promise of an end to ‘boom and bust’ economics by its advocates who often now like to start their narrative from the financial crash of 2007, and the onset of austerity.

Tonight and I can genuinely sense a feeling of the utmost loss, grieving, ongoing bewilderment amongst the audience. It is a feeling captured towards the end of the evening during the Q&A session when Miller to her credit talked about the need to reach out to those who voted for Brexit. The voice is one of that is reminiscent of many who cannot comprehend a loss of power, an elderly man who asks “how do we get into their heads to help change their minds.” A question I am quite sure sounds much more sinister than what the questioner meant but nevertheless gets to the core of the problem. As a proud North East migrant, who voted for remain, but wanted reform. It’s not a case about getting into people heads, but listening, demonstrating empathy and a willingness to support the implementation of policies that will address economic injustice.

Gina Miller is a remarkable woman, and I can list a lot of platitudes. I utterly reject and condemn the vile misogynistic and racists abuse she faces and will no doubt continue to suffer. She is an inspiration to anybody who values common decency, and more people like her are required in public life. Her decision to transfer political allegiances away from the Labour Party to the Liberal Democrats is regrettable but understandable as the Lib Dems seem to offer a better home for her ‘kinder capitalism’ ethos. It is a move that also contains an element of irony given some academics had drawn the conclusion that the seed of Brexit was sown when the Conservative-Lib Dem coalition Government embarked on their policy of austerity. I can only reflect that our appreciation of Miller’s work will be valued more in the post-Brexit landscape, after the storm, than it is today.

I finish writing this blog entry, I open my web browsers and read the headlines. The Institute for Public Policy Research have published a new report (link here) calling for “A radical overhaul of Britain’s economy as far-reaching as Labour’s post-war reforms and the Thatcherite revolution in the 1980s is needed to address the UK’s chronic failure to raise the standard of living of millions of workers since the 2008 financial crash.” As well-meaning and insightful this report maybe I am left thinking, while Rome burns.

Toadmeister

I don’t recall his name, but it was New Years Eve 1998, the comedian walked on stage and was warmly welcomed. His opening gag, “Scotland is celebrating tonight….Lena Zavaroni has had a shit.” His comic timing was impeccable. The room filled with equal bouts of laughter, gasps and groans. It’s a gag that has stuck with me.  Not because of any comic value, but its cruelty, given it was common knowledge that Zavaroni, a child star of the 1970s, had been suffering from anorexia since her teenage years and within a year of this gag the 35-year old Zavaroni was dead. The only thing I took heart from that night was the thinning audience seeking refuge in an adjourning bar where it was concluded the comic was boring, a one-shot pony, no depth and no charisma to manage an audience beyond aiming to shock. Years later 3 things often cross my mind from that evening.

  • The feelings of those in the process of losing a loved one, if they were to discover their loss, suffering, pain and devastation was joke material.
  • The ability to offend and be offended is an integral part of a functioning democracy and should be defended. An argument often overlooked by those on the left and misused by those of the right.
  • Thirdly, by walking out of the comic’s routine, which he will have noticed, we the audience, were in effect holding him to account.

20 years later and the willingness to say something shocking, offend, slag off or degrade is epidemic, even those seeking, accepting or obtaining public office are in on the act, but like that comic, they are often dull and as sure as night follows day accountability ultimately catches them up. Alexander Boris de Pfeffel Johnson MP the illustrious Secretary of State for Foreign affairs in the UK (one of the prominent 3 positions in UK Cabinet government). Johnson has sought to position himself as a Trump type character for the common man. Endlessly projecting himself as an affable, jovial person, he is now widely viewed as an incoherent train crash on Thomas the Tank proportions.

Johnson is of that ilk, a background of wealth and privilege giving a pretentious and mistaken belief they are not constrained by the standards decent people self-regulate to demonstrate their dignity. A sense of respect towards others including those less fortunate.  Johnson sense of privilege allows him to casually describe war-torn Sirte, Libya as potentially the next Dubai once the dead bodies were cleared away. In this context, it became of little surprise that Johnston ran to the defence of his fellow traveller Toby Young, (journalist and self-styled educationalist) who has recently been appointed to a government-funded educational quango (The Office of Students). Young believes people attacking his appointment is because of his ‘outspoken Tory’ views, but while this may provide logic to some people, as a parent, with a daughter entering the university sector shortly, his politics are not of my concern on this occasion.

There are principled conservatives, as there is across the political spectrum, who have a sense of service, standards and ethics. They understand the tone they adopt provides a sense of responsibility, leadership and integrity, which underpins our trust and confidence in those wishing to serve the greater public good. Toby Young is not one of them. Toby Young is my 1990s forgotten comic making observations about “huge knockers, having a dick up a woman’s arse, gloating over baps, wanking over the efforts of Comic Relief to raise money for those in need and referencing working people as stains and deformed.” The critical difference between my 1990s forgotten comic and Toby Young is simple. My forgotten comic has never, to my knowledge, sought or accepted public office.

Young’s appointment is rightly receiving the criticism it deserves, and given the noise, he has released a statement regretting “the sophomoric, politically incorrect remarks on twitter and I hope people will judge me on my actions.” Schizophrenically Young is seeking to present himself twice. The virtual Toby detached with less accountability and the Toby in the real world. The real world Toby is demanding to be taken serious convinced in his self-belief, righteous education and privilege that he was born to offer us all the benefits of his gracious service.  There will be those who find Young’s observations as the pinnacle of modern ironic comedy as part of the fight back against a politically correct world constructed by the liberal elites, which he and his ilk have built in their heads.  A world, which they believe suffocates their freedom to call a spade a spade. It is a world where the ‘alt-right’ see themselves as freedom fighters against disabled ramps. A world where the context of equality is determined by wealth, status, the social network you belong too and what remains is a matter of charity.

2014, in an open letter to sitting Prime Minister David Cameron, Lord Paul Bew, who chaired The Ethical Standards in Public Service wrote about the public desire of wanting those involved in public life to adhere by common ethical standards. Lord Bew hit the nail on the head when he wrote, “for the public how things are done are as important as what is done.” The ethical standards Lord Bew was talking about are Integrity, objectivity, accountability, openness, honesty and that holder of public office should exhibit these principles in their own behaviour

By appointing Toby Young, Theresa May is setting the bar for her standards, so what next how about Roy ‘Chubby’ Brown to head up a public body into women’s health. Katie Hopkins to front up a refugee relief quango, how about an Honourary Lordship for Trump in recognition of his work in building religious tolerance? To use your own words Mr Young “I hope people will judge me on my actions.” Well for my small part here I am judging you by your actions and the standards in public life.

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Blue not burgundy is the new black

There is a crucial moment in the first Matrix film when the character Neon is presented with a life-changing choice by Morpheus between taking a red or blue pill“You take the blue pill, You wake up in your bed and believe whatever you want to believe. You take the red pill, you stay in Wonderland.” For those not familiar with the Matrix films the term red pill refers to a human who is aware of the true nature of the Matrix. There is a myth, which persists in the minds of some people in U.K. that the European Union forced the U.K. to change the colour of its passports from blue to burgundy and by regaining the original blue passport is a mark of national identity, sovereignty and taking back control. In the comedy of errors that has become the U.K these things matter to somebody, somewhere, for some reason for which I am not entirely sure. These are the people who have swallowed the blue pill.  Those who have taken the red pill know the British government voluntarily switched the colour of our passports in the 1980s and the EU has never had the power to force member states to change the colour of their passport.

The “news story’ about the colour of our passport is what many would call a politically manufactured distraction or spin after another terrible week for the sitting zombie government in the U.K, which slips and slides from one crisis to another. Meanwhile, properly one of the most progressive-left opposition sit waiting in the wings to deliver a killer blow. To early and Labour will be left picking up the mid-negotiation mess, much better to wait until the next round of negotiations is well underway. This will give an incoming Labour Government, which will not used to the rigours of a free-market economy as enshrined in EU treaties and law to intervene more radically in the economy. It’s not the type of ‘taking back control’ the Brexiters had in mind, but how ironic it would be. PS: The original colour of the British passport was black. Carry on swallowing the pills. 

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On days like these

5 am, and God only knows why I’m laid here flicking through social media updates, snapshots of opinions, life, and wisdom projected through an assortment of embarrassing photographs of politicians, historical figures, celebrities, cats, dogs or cartoon characters. You think you know somebody until that awkward post pops up, a regurgitation from a reactionary nutter who has managed to hijack sweet moderation by sensationalising, simplifying complex tragedies and to invade the common sense I associated with the person in question. It’s nothing more than fast food convenience politics, shipped in and shipped out messages tailored to primal emotions. Before digestion of one message concerning welfare scroungers…..bing….another appears about jolly foreigners, the terrorist next door; stop our culture from being diluted. How did that person, I thought I knew, end up re-posting this nonsense?

In truth, I guess there is no simple answer, disempowerment, laziness to think, willingness to participate, misguided. I’m not sure; maybe these rent-a-slogans are desperate measures to scramble together a meaning, a notion of pride, loyalty or even identity in a world where borders are falling in a virtual world to access cheap food and goods, but increasingly pursued in a physical sense. Seeking protection like a boxer caught against the ropes, awaiting the knockout punch. The best, I feel, you can do on Election Day is remember your roots, the struggles of your parents to give you a better life. That one day you will be that older person reliant on care and support and if your family fail to step up, who will? It’s also about your integrity, values, and intelligence. A whole host of pound shop economists will tell you there is no alternative because, well you’ve guessed it, ultimately the prospect of change may disturb their status, wealth or power. Protection of the status quo is their priority, albeit they will tolerate a few crumbs to offset and polish over the harder edges. No matter how we may seek it, there is never any easy way to deal with complex problems. Compassion may not seem in fashion, but without it, we turn inwards, into a spiral of darkness, blaming those less fortunate.

Whatever the outcome of the Election in the UK I take heart that more young people seem to be increasingly engaged, given I trust their judgment far more than my generation and it genuinely feels that a generational change is starting to take place. In the meantime, my only hope is that my generation does not cause irrevocable damage to our eco-system and social welfare infrastructure. My history, values, and integrity lead to the Labour Party, but I cannot help but reflect that on days like these we are all seeking strong and stable leadership, which is for the many, not the few and to change Britains future for the good.

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