Tuesday, 5 July 2016

The referendum.

On the day of voting, we went away for a 2-week holiday in Ireland. This has had two effects - firstly, stopping me having a chance to properly comment, and secondly, giving me a distinct perspective on the result.

I should point out, to anyone who missed it, that I am a passionate supporter of the remain campaign. Of course, some people will assume that my anger and frustration is because I am on the losing side. It isn't. I am a member of the green party, so I am used to having the good arguments but not winning. I also voted on the losing side on the last referendum about changing the voting system. I am quite used to being on the losing side.

The reason I am angry is simpler than that. It is because leaving the EU would be the single stupidest and economically and politically suicidal action that any country has ever done, a position that would not be changed even if the US were to elect Trump as president.

I will explain why this is later, when I explore some of the implications of leaving. firstly, I want to comment on the campaign, which has been a shambles. More importantly, two academics who looked relatively dispassionately at the claims made for both sides said that the leave campaign produced lies on an "industrial scale". The other, who was doing fact checking on the claims found that, while the remain campaigns claims were broadly supported by their sources, the leave campaigns were totally unsupported - they lied about their claims in every single case.

That seems to me to be deceit of the British public on an unprecedented scale.

I did try to be as balanced as I could and consider the opposing arguments. I wanted to understand them, even if I fundamentally disagreed. There was, eventually, one that I could support. Just one.

The biggest claim, regularly repeated, was that we paid £350M into the EU a week. This was, as many people said, utterly false - after the rebates, we paid something more like £250M.

I should be clear here, I am no expert on EU economics, I am trying to find some real figures that show the actual values, not the headline values.

The rebates are applied before anything is paid, so this is not money we will save - it is money we have already not been paying in. It's more like if you have to pay a speeding ticket. The headline cost of the speeding ticket is £100. If you pay without contesting it, you are eligible for a 50% discount (rebate). So the actual cost of the speeding fine is £50. To argue that it is £100, so by paying early you have £50 spare is obtuse at the least.

On top of that (as I understand it), the EU provides subsidies to a number of businesses in the UK - in particular, farm subsidies under the CAP. The leave campaign promised to continue to pay these, so they have to be removed from the equation, leaving around £170M a week that we pay in. Vastly different from the £350M. And to the farmers who supported the leave campaign - why do you believe that these subsidies will be continued indefinitely? They won't under a right-wing government, because the state should not be providing financial support to any business.

 What do we get for this? We get membership of the EU, and all of the indirect financial benefits that this brings. It serves to attract multinational businesses to our soil, because they can then sell within the EU. It serves to provide a far larger amalgamation of countries to negotiate international trade treaties with, which provide us with far better deals than we could ever negotiate on our own. The current crop of political leaders do not seem to be particularly good negotiators, and I very much doubt that any of them could get good deals from our trading partners across the world.

I have seen some complaints that "we never receive as much from the EU as we put in." This is true, and, as one of the largest economies in the world, is absolutely reasonable. The final figure that we pay is probably around £6B - which sounds like a large figure, but is not in terms of a national budget. For comparison, it is a very conservative figure of the amount lost through tax evasion in the UK in a year. Total tax avoidance - the legal but morally compromised non-payment - is vastly higher than this (I am not quoting exact figures, because they vary from source to source, and depend on how you calculate them).

It is rather like paying to be a member of a golf club. Nobody expects to get back the money they pay to be in the club, because they see it has other benefits. Some of these are the ability to play golf, but others are the chance to discuss business with potential partners. For many, the indirect benefits they receive are far more than the cost of membership. So it is with the EU. I have seen quoted that a 0.5% drop in the economic growth of the UK would wipe out the entire payments we make (although I don't know what figure for payments this uses). So membership has to provide a boost of 0.5% - not much - to balance the payments.

This brings me onto the second issue raised - that we could control our borders. Even aside from the blatant racism that is inherent in this, and the implication that immigration is purely negative (it isn't - on the whole, immigration has proven very positive for our country), this is blatantly untrue. Our biggest trading partner is the EU, and if we were to negotiate an agreement with them, it would be on the basis of having open borders. In fact, it would be on a very similar basis to what we currently have. Leaving the EU would impact our trading relationship mainly in that we would no longer be on the inside to negotiate ourselves - we would have to accept whatever the EU insisted on. That seems a very poor deal in real terms. And it would do nothing to impact immigration from the EU. If we want to impact it from other places, we can do that anyway.

The one argument that held some weigh was that the EU is an irredeemable bureaucratic mess. I can see this point, in that the EU is rather red-tape heavy. I don't believe it is irredeemable though. I do believe that if we in Britain had been wholly in and supporting the EU for the last 10-15 years, and working with others to make it better, more streamlined, more efficient - rather than simply trying to get what we could for ourselves - it might be in far better shape.

So what is - and will be - the impact of the vote and of leaving (assuming nobody decides to actually do something useful and stop this ridiculous process)? I think we saw on the day after the vote the impact it will have on our economy - the stock market and the pound crashed. They have recovered since, but I suspect, if it became clear we were going to go through with this, they would crash and stay crashed. The banks think this is a stupid thing to do.

But that is short term. More importantly, multinational business will stop investing in the UK, because they may as well invest in a country inside the EU, where they can gain all of the benefits. Even those companies who have claimed that they will not leave will, I suspect, withdraw further investment, because their payback is so much greater by investing elsewhere. That in itself will cause us long-term damage. We took many years to attract companies like Toyota to the UK, but we can lose them very quickly, and then will have to spend many years encouraging them back.

Maybe more importantly than that, it is clear that Scotland and Northern Ireland want to stay in the EU. I fully expect that they will try to block an exit, at least until they can separate from England and Wales, and remain as members independently. Being in Ireland, it is interesting that there are even questions about reuniting the country - apparently, people may be prepared to put aside centuries of religious conflict and fundamental disagreement to not be a part of the insanity.

Scotland, of course, were far closer in their vote whether to stay or leave. Being in the North of Ireland, and having been just 12 miles from Scotland, I do wonder whether a "Western Nations" grouping could form - Scotland and a united Ireland. It would leave England as a very minor player in the area.

But it is not only businesses that will leave, though. The fact that all of the academics whose specialism is the EU said that leaving would be disastrous, and they were ignored. The anti-intellectualism we have seen is liable to lead more and more academics to consider whether this is a place they want to work. Additionally, the ease of communication and travel across the EU means that collaboration is comparatively easy, and for many, the ease of this will outweigh any provisions at a particular institution. More and more top level research is done internationally, and this will be impacted. Additionally, of course, the EU does put money into academic research, and if the projects aren't available in the UK, the researchers will move elsewhere.

Of course, this is only the tip of the iceberg. This is just identifiable sections of the community who may consider a change in circumstances. There are many others, like myself, who would seriously consider it, but I don't have the resources or ability to make a move. But most of all, and saddest of all, I think this entire process, and the decade of chaos that is to come from it, will disillusion many people about the whole of politics. The politicians are in a shambles, and they have utterly lost the confidence of the public at large. That is a dangerous and problematic situation.

Finally, from an Irish perspective, you would have thought the people of the UK would have learned that identifying oneself in opposition to others, vilifying them and spreading hatred does not tend to lead to a happy situation. That is the lesson of history that nobody seems to want to learn.

Friday, 1 July 2016

"Person first" language

I noticed an interesting article recently, and it prompted me to think again about a posting I had been considering on this topic.

It was several years ago that I first encountered this, in relationship to my son who is diabetic. Or as I was told at the time, who has diabetes. It had me thinking about my own depression and how I consider this.

So I was told that I shouldn't say my son is a diabetic, because that defines him by his illness. Then I consider that he has to test and inject several times a day, a routine that impacts his life hourly. It affects his health, and, when he is not good at controlling his levels and ends up in hospital, that takes him out for a day or so.

So his illness affects every part of his life, every day, and will for the rest of his life. It seems to me that describing him as "a diabetic", in the sense that this aspect does define a lot of his life, it is an important and significant aspect of who he is. Now it is not all he is, but it is one aspect that defines him. He is a diabetic, he is a boy, he is a geek, he is my son. None of these define him totally, all of them seem like valid aspects that are defining - and will be for the rest of his life.

In the same way, I am happy to define myself as a depressive. I cannot remember when I first started to suffer from this illness, but my age was in single figures. I have battled with this for some 45 years, through my "formative" teenage years, through my working life, through my marriage and children. It would be disingenuous at the least to try to identify myself apart from an illness that has been present for most of my life.

That doesn't mean I welcome the illness, but that I accept that it is formative and critical to who I am. To pretend that I now have an existence that is not impacted by my illness is to live in a fantasy. My illness does not totally define me, but it impacts everything about me. I am more than my depression, but everything about me is impacted by it. I might not like it, but that is the truth.

So I can see the appeal of "person first" language, but I think it is a dangerous approach to chronic illness, because it is pretending that life is different from what it is. So for me, I will continue to describe myself as a depressive. That is who I am, and I am quite happy to acknowledge it.

Wednesday, 15 June 2016


The Panama papers that came out some time ago now revealed that all sorts of politicians and senior figures have money stashed in a Panama tax haven. Not that this is really a surprise to anyone, but it is interesting to have proof.

Of course, this was one legal firm in one tax haven, so it is fairly random who is caught in this particular revelation. And, I should point out, it is perfectly legal. Whether it is moral or not is a whole different question, and a far more difficult one to address.

There is another issue that has come out from this, which is, I think, a far more significant issue, which is that many of the worlds tax havens are British dependencies. Places like the Channel Islands, and the Isle of Man are included, but the British Virgin Islands and the Cayman Islands are also dependencies. This means that we, the British, support and promote world Tax Havens - at a time when we are told that there is no money for the NHS, for Schools, for the disabled, we control places where trillions of pounds are stashed away to avoid paying tax.

Does that sound wrong to you? That one of the biggest industries that we as a country support across the world not only provides no money to the UK, but actively promotes a reduction in tax income to countries across the world (including the UK).

One day, we will look back at this and be shocked and ashamed. It is an international trade of shame that we will look on like slavery - that sounds rather dramatic, but the money invested in these places is deliberately being taken outside the laws of other countries, deliberately being put into places where it can be hidden.

This means that we, in the UK, support a business internationally that generates no income for us in the UK, and mainly serves to help people avoid supporting their own economies. We should stop it - the argument that if we didn't do it, others would is moot because we support the majority of the places that are doing it - we could challenge the entire international tax avoidance business. We could provide millions more into the treasuries across the world.

The problem, of course, is that most of those involved in legislative procedure have large amounts of money invested (hidden) in these places. And they have connection to others who have money invested there. So there is no real incentive to change things is there.

With the claims about how much we are spending on the EU (which are wrong), this money dwindles into insignificance compared to how much we, in the UK, are helping to hide from legitimate governments across the world. Our support for tax havens is a national disgrace.

Tuesday, 24 May 2016

The church is too slow

It took 20 years for the Church of England to agree to ordain women, from the point where it was first raised. That is quite extraordinary, in modern society. At the start of this time, the ordination would have been a radical and groundbreaking step, identifying the church as a leader in equality politics.

By the time it actually happened, it was playing a game of catch-up, trying not to be one of the last bastions of male privilege. While it was great for those who could then be ordained, it indicated far bigger problems in the church.

It then took another 20 years to propose making women bishops, which is ridiculous. If anything, it highlighted the gender inequality even more, because it quite simply denied certain top positions to them, irrespective of their qualification for the role. The fact that the first vote rejected the idea was quite unbelievable. 40 years after it had been established that there was no theological reason to deny women positions within the clergy, some within the church had still not got the message.

The whole farce has, without question, lost the church many people who are tired at the slow pace of change.

I should make it clear that, while the Church of England is very much the focus of this, most other churches show the same type of slowness in dealing with other issues, or even this one. There are churches who will not let women into leadership still (not just the Roman Catholics, who have a far bigger mountain to climb).

And today, the church is still struggling with homosexuality. Having congratulated itself on allowing women to be bishops, as if this is a radical move, it then turns on alternative sexualities and rejects them, flying totally in the face of the rest of society.

I don't mean that the church should be mirroring society. I don't think this is the biggest danger at the moment. Rather, the church should be leading society in terms of acceptance. They should not be accepting gays because society is - they should have been accepting of gays way before society did, and seeking to encourage them into stable, long-term relationships, rather than promiscuity, which was, at one time, rather more common (before AIDS made this far too risky). The church should be ahead of the curve, rather than objecting to conforming after the fact.

And this worries me because the church is liable to spend many years tearing itself apart over homosexuality (and then many more years over bisexuality, asexuality and all sort of other alternative sexualities) before finally being forced to catch up, having lost many more people. To be clear, the church still seems to consider sexuality in a binary sense (Homosexuality vs Heterosexuality), and hasn't really started to understand the breadth of sexuality that people express.

In this time, it should be accepting people irrespective of their sexuality, and looking at issues of gender fluidity. This will become accepted within our society in the next few years, way before the church has even acknowledged that it is a question that needs consideration. People should - of course - be accepted irrespective of their gender definition, but more than this, the church should be helping people acknowledge and understand their gender in far more fluid terms than a simple binary.

I am sure that there will be those who say "We never had gender fluidity when I was young. It's just a fad." I disagree. In fact, it has always been around and an issue, but you may not have met it for two reasons:

1. So many who could not resolve their gender in a way that society would accept either hid it or took their own lives. Both of these involve a life lived in pain and denial.

2. People who have gender questions would probably not come to you or to the church, knowing that they would be condemned.

The church is too slow. By the time it comes to ask important questions, most people have moved on. By the time it comes to answer them, they are seen as a dinosaur. While this is bad for the church, I am more concerned at the many people who are condemned, hurt, rejected and damaged while this process goes on. It is not acceptable.

Thursday, 19 May 2016

Is this government a cult?

 A discussion on the Ship made me consider that this government might, in fact be a religious cult. Let me explain why I think this.

1. A charismatic leader. Well, some people think he is. A smooth talker at least. That is a good start, someone who seems to be able to convince people that black is white.

2. An unerring belief in their own ideas. Irrespective of how demonstrably wrong or mistaken they are, they still believe that the Tory Ideal for Britain. The problems are always something to do with either the precise implementation, or the refusal of other people to accept them properly.

3. Total dismissal of anyone who disagrees with their principles. We have most recently seen this in the gagging of government funded science, where scientists are not allowed to criticise the government if they are funded by them. But it is wider - they refuse to accept insight from anywhere that does not sign up to the Tory Way.

4. "It is the right thing to do" - I have heard this so often, it is becoming a Cameron mantra. But it is the justification for all sorts of things, and there is nothing to really say against it. "No it isn't" sounds like childish arguing, but often this is the appropriate response. It is a brilliant piece of strategy and a dangerous approach to governing.

5. "If you vote for anyone else, you will go to hell". We hear this - in various forms - so often. Labour will ruin the economy (like the Tories haven't already), anyone else is a waste, voting for the Tories is a vote for a Greater Britain. It is so like the language used in churches and cults - "Stay with us, however much we abuse you, because if you leave your worst nightmares will happen". It works in so many abusive relationships.

Thursday, 28 April 2016

Earthquake, wind and fire

Recently, I have attended my first Quaker meeting, and it got me to thinking about how I experience God, and how that has changed. This is about those reflections, and where I have gone through to get where I am today. The idea of how things have changed partly reflects the words to Elijah - although not entirely. For me, God has spoken through the Earthquake, Wind and Fire, and is now, maybe, speaking through the Still Small Voice.

I used to meet God in the earthquake - the noise, the unsettled reality. That time and experience helped me see God wherever I was, at work, in the car, in the city. I was not having to go somewhere else to find God, to experience him, because I could experience Him in the business of life. I still can - I have not lost that, just moved on. God is there in the noise, the music, the chaos.

I also used to meet God in the wind - in nature. Seeing a sense of God in the natural is important, and reflects (as the previous idea does) something of a Celtic perspective. This is not about worshipping nature, but about seeing God as a creator God who can be experienced through the natural world.

Anyone who knows some of what I have been through in the last decade or so knows that it has felt like the fire. It has been a difficult few years, and I still hurt from them, but I have found a new experience of God in it all. In truth, I am struggling to say I have found an experience of God through it, but I can hope that I can say this in time. I have been through the fire, and I have not lost my faith, which might be all I can say.

And now, maybe, I can find him in the still small voice, that is the Quaker style. I can't say that I will definitely stay with them, but the approach of being quiet, listening for God, experiencing him in the quiet. I think he has always been there, but it has never been where I have met him. I think the silence is nothing like as oppressive as what I call "Anglican Silence". The silence can be broken, and there is an acceptance that for some people it will mean nothing. What is more, it is only an hour. That used to seem like a long time for me, but I have learnt to manage that. It might be old age (I am sure it is not maturity).

Additionally, the "Anglican Silence" (not just Anglican, but it is prevalent in some areas of Anglicanism as seen in silent retreats in particular) is very much about "providing some input and insight, and then being silent to consider this and pray about this. I have always found that insanely aggravating, because I want to talk about what we have heard, to think it through with others.

The Quaker silence turns this upside down. The silence - with any words brought during that - are the place where the insights come. There is time to consider them, to work with them in silence, but then there is time to talk and discuss (if needed).

I should clarify that this list is not a hierarchy. It is not that I used to experience God in one way, and now I have matured and experience Him in a new way. It is that I change, and develop, and add new ways of experiencing God. It is descriptive of my journey, not prescriptive in any sense.

Why Quakerism? I think I have had enough of services, of the songs, the sermons, the prayers, the words. I have heard them all, sung them all, spoken them all, and they are no longer ways that enable me to engage with God. Worship that has none of it is different.

Friday, 15 April 2016

Cancellation - a short story

Mum was furious, of course.

“That’s unprofessional, cancelling at such short notice. What are we expected to do now?” Of course, what she did was work furiously to find someone else. But it was never going to be the same.
I had been looking forward to this for so long, because this was going to be a very special event. I know it was only opening the town fate, but he was going to be here, and I – as mums only daughter – would be in charge of him, look after him for the hours he was around.

Of course, at school, this made me the centre of all attention. Everyone wanted to be my friend – except Jennifer Oswald, if I remember correctly, who though he was a creepy old man. But then, she was never one to go along with the crowd. I looked her up recently, and found that she had taken her own life many years ago. That shook me. I wondered when I read that.

And yes, I loved being the special one for a change. I loved all of the attention being about me – well, about him, but about me being the conduit to him.

When mum told me he had cancelled, my world fell apart. It might have been the last chance I had to meet him – he was doing less these days, and he was rarely on the TV. This was my one chance gone.
Needless to say, the day itself was an embarrassing failure, despite mum finding some soap star who could fill in.

It was a few years later that he died, and it all started. I couldn’t believe it when the rumours started, all those people telling lies about him. Why would they do that? Why would they say that stuff about him, my hero. Why would they tell all them lies about him? He would never do that – he loved kids. I couldn’t understand why so many people wanted to make him out to be a monster. Stupid cows – telling their stories for their minutes of fame.

Of course, now I realise the truth. Now I know what he was, I can see. It’s amazing what hindsight does. Now I realise that I had a lucky escape. I used to think that the weekend was my nightmare when I had missed my chance to meet Jimmy Savile. I now realise that it was my lucky escape from rape, abuse, a nightmare like Jennifer.