The 2017 Election Cometh…

Well, despite bringing in fixed five-year terms for governments as recently as 2011, we’re now looking at a General Election in 2017, a mere two years since the last time.

I ought to be suggesting that this is wrong, but there have been a huge number of major incidents in the political world in the past 24 months, so I doubt anybody is really surprised.

We’ve seen bigotry and lies win a US Presidential Election (with no little help from the Russians) and the same approach (sadly filled with half-truths on both sides) resulted in a narrow victory for the Leave campaign in the EU referendum last year. What we saw following both of these results has been an upsurge in hate crimes – not because there are more people who think that way, but those that do clearly feel their views have somehow been validated by the results. And maybe they have.

I’ve been in a difficult position as a result. A life-long, and until 2016 a card-carrying conservative, I’ve been unable to commit to any of the major parties. and here’s why:

I believe that there’s absolutely nothing wrong with being rich (not that I am anywhere near that state) because if you work hard to achieve your goals, it’s perfectly fine that you should get the rewards that come with that success. So economically, I lean slightly to the right. But with that privilege comes responsibility, which many appear to ignore.

I also believe that if you are at the other end of the ‘health and wealth’ spectrum, and if you need support and assistance, you should get it. In a developed nation, nobody should be in the position of needing to choose between food and heating. Or not getting a prescription filled because they don’t have the money for their medicine. Which means that socially, I’m a little to the left. I also feel absolutely that cheating the system to get money you’re actually not entitled to and don’t need, takes money from those that do need it, and should be stomped on hard.

I’m certainly not in favour of ‘big’ government. Certain things (such as who we love, marry, read, talk to, pray to or what we wear) are not the business of government and should not be legislated – either to promote or to suppress.

None of the main parties agree with that. There’s really no ‘centre’ party these days that tries to strike the right balance, allowing aspiration and success in a caring, responsible, inclusive society. Rather, they try to push people to one or other of the extremes.

With the Conservatives moving to push UKIP even further right, and Labour abandoning any pretense of the centre ground in favour of a more hard-line left wing socialist agenda, there’s a huge gap right where we ought to be building Government. The Liberal Democrats have singularly failed to fill that gap, being as they are a party that advocates tax rises (thereby alienating the centre-right) and failing to address the needs of the most vulnerable (thereby shutting the door on the centre-left) by focusing on issues such as Trident and Nuclear Disarmament over things such as housing and education. Honestly – what do the Lib Dems think about either of these things? I don’t have a clue, so bad are they at appealing to voters.

In Scotland, the rise of the SNP shows a nationalistic streak that points to both a rejection of Westminster and a jingoistic attitude towards anyone not born north of the wall – far more divisive than inclusive.

And nobody except the Lib Dems seem to share my concerns about our pending departure from the EU at breakneck speed. Given that this is about the only thing they have communicated, I doubt anybody can claim to vote for them with any level of intelligence.

So where do I go? I will always vote, for several reasons. many people don’t have that right, and many people have sacrificed themselves to safeguard it for us all. Plus – if you vote, you can moan. You can complain. You can voice dissent. If you don’t bother to vote, you effectively lose that right. So I’ll be voting.

In my constituency, ‘protest’ votes won’t make any real difference, seeing as my local MP is also the Prime Minister and is never going to lose. However, there’s the opportunity to send a clear message. One that says that the people who elect her expect representation, and expect their voices to be heard.

As such, I’m fortunate to have an Independent standing locally whose agenda closely matches my own thoughts. Success is good. Care for those who need it. Look after the vulnerable. Live lives in freedom rather than in fear.

For an insight that is probably worded better than this missive, check out Grant’s website at https://grantsmithformp.org/

Whoever you vote for – make sure it’s because you agree with their politics and their opinions. Don’t waste this opportunity to have your say. And make it a positive time.

Give me your tired, your poor, your… no, wait a minute…

Make no bones about it – I’m not a well man. Comes with increased age, I guess.

But at least I’m an ill man in the UK.

I just looked up my current medications (pretty much those I will need to take every day going forwards, not counting some that may be coming up soon), and discovered what they would cost if I was living in the US. A three month supply would cost me close on a thousand dollars. Here in the UK: zero.

I will admit, free prescriptions are the only benefit of having life-long conditions, and I’d far rather not need the drugs. However, I really can’t get inside the heads of those who appear determined to oppress and subjugate those people in the US who need medication to survive, and who can barely afford the cost of that medicine.

Former President Obama took his election pledge, and the words on the Statue of Liberty, seriously.

“Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”

Obama  provided assistance through the Affordable Care Act (better known as Obamacare) that provided health insurance and coverage for millions of Americans who simply could not afford the price they were being charged for necessary, life-sustaining medication.

The ‘new and improved’ AHCA will, if passed into law, wipe away this ability to survive for millions of poor, elderly and infirm Americans, whilst providing massive hikes in profitability through tax breaks to the pharmaceutical companies, many of whom will have contributed directly and financially towards getting Trump into the White House.

The price of medication in the US is, to use the most appropriate and fashionable term, obscene. It is kept artificially inflated through the misuse of patents and copyright agreements held by the pharmaceutical companies and their associates, so that even for such simple conditions as insomnia, the very same drug can cost $70 US, compared to $11 US just across the northern border in Canada. A cancer drug, Campath, costs $570 US for a patient here in the UK, but an American suffering from the same terrible disease would need to pay $2,400 US for exactly the same drugs.

Every single industrialised country has some form of price controls on patented medications, except the United States. There, it appears, all that matters is how much they can make you pay – not for things you’d like to have (we all know Apple products are far cheaper) but for things you need or you could die.

America. You talk about making your country great again. To me, it looks as if there’s a long, long way to go, and increased military spending shows you’re walking in the wrong direction.

Republicans. You declare yourselves a Christian party, a movement founded on moral and ethical standards driven by scripture.

“And he will answer, ‘I tell you the truth,
when you refused to help the least of these
my brothers and sisters, you were refusing to help me.’

Matthew 25:45

Are you really about doing the right thing? Are you really looking to welcome the poor, the wretched, those yearning to be free? Are you really looking to help the least in your communities, in the world? Or is it all about money and power?

Your actions will tell us, and we’re all watching…

I’m feeling lost…

Ever since I was first able, and ever since I knew what it meant, I’ve been a political animal.

I’ve looked at the issues, I’ve listened to what each shade of political opinion had to say,  I’ve formed what I always believe to be informed opinions, and I’ve been able to align myself with people, and with a party, that shared, if not all, then certainly most of my views. That has tended to move me to regard myself as a conservative, to vote that way in local and national elections, and to feel that a country led along those values was more or less the country I wanted to be a part of.

Only now – for the first time – I don’t feel that way.

I look at what’s going on locally, domestically and internationally, and I’m really struggling to find any of my values reflected in any single political stream.

I strongly believe that leaving the EU is the wrong thing for us to commit to, unless we really know what the conditions for life outside the EU will be. If life is better (or at the least not significantly worse) then fine, that’s what we will end up with. I can’t be the only one whose concerns centre around that fact that nobody has a clue, we’re simply heading full-pelt towards an edge without knowing if there’s a good landing place or not.

My local MP (and now Prime Minister) Theresa May campaigned to remain in the EU, and is now seemingly one of the most hard line anti-EU protagonists. This is showing a lack of consistency and personal character that are surely a requirement for anyone in her position. If there was an election tomorrow, I don’t think I could vote for her. Trouble is, I can’t see myself voting Labour or Lib Dem either, whilst UKIP turn my stomach with their views.

As we’re on the topic of leaders with no moral compass, let’s talk Trump.

I utterly abhor what’s going on in the US at the moment. There’s an upsurge in bigotry, racism, hatred and sexism that is given legitimacy by the words and actions of the President. There’s such a clear attempt to stifle any and all dissenting voices, there’s blatant lying from all and sundry, there’s people like Betsy DeVos, surely one of the most unqualified people even in an administration led by someone such as Trump. She’s bought her job, without a doubt. And she’s just one of the many people whose background and documented views should surely disbar them from the very important roles they now fill.

Would I have voted for Clinton? I’m not sure she’d be that much better (although she would certainly be better) so I don’t know.

I certainly wouldn’t have voted for Donald Trump. His actions leading up to the election (mocking disabled people, branding Mexicans as thieves and rapists, repeatedly lying about his achievements and refusing to release his tax returns) and his actions since taking office (the ban on muslims from countries he has no business dealings with, his faux-divestment of his companies making it very believable that he’s skimming vast amounts of tax dollars into his personal accounts, and his refusal to act in any manner befitting a US President) gives a hint on what’s on the way.

So what do I do, and where do I go? If I didn’t care, it wouldn’t bother me so much. It’s because I do care, that I have to ask the serious question: When you know you need to engage, but all the options make you shy away, how do you make a difference?

 

UPDATE: The 2017 Election Cometh…

 

US Election 2016

Or – as Social Media clearly calls it “Holy Crap How The Hell Did He Get Elected What On Earth Were We Thinking – 2016”

It’s … interesting to see so many of my American friends on social media reacting to the US election result. Whether your candidate won or lost can have a huge impact on your outlook and mood for a long time. Democrats are saddened, worried, and frightened at the thought of someone with Trump’s track record being in the White House, and they see a fault in the electoral system that allows someone to lose the popular vote and still get the win. Some are more militant, looking to protest the result to make their views heard. Republicans (those who supported Trump) are naturally happier, but instead of flagging all the good things that are coming, they are condemning many democrats as either undemocratic, whiny, or crazy, and are telling them to grow up and/or shut up.

But here’s the thing…

This election wasn’t fought, lost or won on policy.

It wasn’t fought, lost or won on issues.

It was fought, lost, and won on rhetoric, emotional manipulation, half-truths, outright lies, and appeals to the basest elements in ourselves.

There was more talk about racism than there was about foreign policy. More talk about misappropriation than there was about poverty. More talk about criminal activity than there was about security and safety. More talk about building walls (literally and figuratively) than about breaking down barriers in society. Neither candidate had a good word to say about the other, and both had plenty of bad stuff that they kept repeating.

Given that atmosphere, it’s not surprising that many people now feel uncertain about how their world, their nation, their future, will pan out over the next four years. However, there’s a way through this, even though it doesn’t seem so to many at the moment. So here’s my five-point plan:

1. Compassion.

A post that a friend shared spoke of how the tears of students was pathetic and showed just how little the PC liberal elite understood democracy and real life. These kids (yes – kids) have just had their first taste of the democratic process, and it pretty much blew up in their faces. It’s no wonder they are unsure about the whole political thing at the moment, but all that they see is people attacking them for caring about the outcome.

How about getting alongside them? How about helping them through this by talking with them, understanding how they feel, not judging them for their disappointment but helping them to see what they can do to make a difference over the next four years. Who knows how influential they may become by the time 2020 arrives? And how much your input might contribute to that?

2. The First Amendment.

Freedom of speech, freedom to protest, is engrained in the US Constitution. There’s a whole mess of irony about when one group tries to shut down another group in the name of democracy. Think about that one…

3. Get alongside your neighbour.

No matter what political side they are on, your friends are still your friends. The world has not split in two, it’s just that a couple of guys have changed jobs. Whether your friends are Republicans or Democrats, black or white, gay or straight, American, Mexican, Irish, whatever – this is the time to pull together, not a time to force divisions even wider apart. Trump’s slogan was ‘Make America Great Again’. It was already pretty great, and can be greater still if communities and people come together.

4. Hold your President accountable.

He’s made some pretty wild statements over the past fifteen months. He’s been desperately trying to make many reconciliatory statements over the past 24 hours.

Keep him honest, keep him on his toes, and make sure he delivers an America for everyone. That’s your job. Make sure he does his job.

5. Smile.

Have a beer, go see a movie, go to dinner, take a walk with your dog, visit your family, spend time with your kids, hug your partner. Laugh, love, and live.

Remind yourself that life is good and life goes on.

Because it does.

The Riserdrummer Christmas Message 2015

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Yep, another 12 months has flown by. The world is full of new people, and is missing others that are no longer with us. There’s happiness and joy, sadness and sorrow, trouble and fear, hope and excitement.

My message this year is going to take a serious note…

This year there’s been a huge amount of discussion in the media relating to the part that religions of all styles play in the challenges facing the world today. The issue of how to address the threat from ISIS/IS/Daesh has caused deep rifts in certain countries between the Muslims and non-Muslims. The Middle East has been torn apart, not just by IS, but by the civil war in Syria, the resurgence of the Taliban, and the never-ending problems in Israel and Gaza. Throughout Africa, atrocities are being committed in the name of one God or other. In France, in Tunisia, in Egypt, and in the US, we’ve seen the terrible consequences that result.

Our newsfeeds are literally awash with stories of a massive migration away from the most trouble-torn areas of the world, raising questions and debate as to how we manage such an influx of people, whilst still upholding Government’s elected mandate in all European countries to protect the electorate.

I wish there were some simple answers – or even some complex ones – to these issues. Sadly, I suspect there may not be one for some time.

However, I do have one thing above all that I want to stress. As a Christian, the thought that anyone could use God as a justification for killing is abhorrent. And anyone that does – well, it’s clearly a religion thing rather than a faith thing. There’s a big difference between the two, which may not be that obvious to many.

Faith is the relationship between a person and God. It’s the belief, the bond, the knowledge of eternal truth that goes beyond the ability of man to rationalise, prove or explain. And true faith can’t support the actions of many we see around the world, whatever they call themselves. True faith is based on love, joy, peace, mercy, grace, and understanding.

Religion, on the other hand, is the framework that we build to try and formalise all of that and put it into a box we can carry around and show people. Every single aspect of a religion is man-made, and therefore subject to mans failings, desires and faults, except faith. And anyone claiming a ‘righteous war’, be they IS, be they Westboro Baptist fundamentalists, be they whoever, operates from a base of hatred, judgement, anger, bitterness and separation – none of which has any connection to faith in the God I know.

My prayer, for now and the new year to come, is that religion takes a back seat and faith abounds in our hearts and minds. Only when that breaks out in this world will we see the seeds of change.

May the peace of the season, the love of God, the joy of family and friends, and the understanding of this special time, be with all of you.

Merry Christmas!

Young Fellow My Lad…

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“Where are you going, Young Fellow My Lad,
On this glittering morn of May?”
“I’m going to join the Colours, Dad;
They’re looking for men, they say.”
“But you’re only a boy, Young Fellow My Lad;
You aren’t obliged to go.”
“I’m seventeen and a quarter, Dad,
And ever so strong, you know.”

. . . . .

“So you’re off to France, Young Fellow My Lad,
And you’re looking so fit and bright.”
“I’m terribly sorry to leave you, Dad,
But I feel that I’m doing right.”
“God bless you and keep you, Young Fellow My Lad,
You’re all of my life, you know.”
“Don’t worry. I’ll soon be back, dear Dad,
And I’m awfully proud to go.”

. . . . .

“Why don’t you write, Young Fellow My Lad?
I watch for the post each day;
And I miss you so, and I’m awfully sad,
And it’s months since you went away.
And I’ve had the fire in the parlour lit,
And I’m keeping it burning bright
Till my boy comes home; and here I sit
Into the quiet night.”

. . . . .

“What is the matter, Young Fellow My Lad?
No letter again to-day.
Why did the postman look so sad,
And sigh as he turned away?
I hear them tell that we’ve gained new ground,
But a terrible price we’ve paid:
God grant, my boy, that you’re safe and sound;
But oh I’m afraid, afraid.”

. . . . .

“They’ve told me the truth, Young Fellow My Lad:
You’ll never come back again:
(OH GOD! THE DREAMS AND THE DREAMS I’VE HAD,
AND THE HOPES I’VE NURSED IN VAIN!)
For you passed in the night, Young Fellow My Lad,
And you proved in the cruel test
Of the screaming shell and the battle hell
That my boy was one of the best.

“So you’ll live, you’ll live, Young Fellow My Lad,
In the gleam of the evening star,
In the wood-note wild and the laugh of the child,
In all sweet things that are.
And you’ll never die, my wonderful boy,
While life is noble and true;
For all our beauty and hope and joy
We will owe to our lads like You”

Robert William Service

Conversations with my Grandfather

My grandfather, James Cannon, passed away nearly 20 years ago.

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I often think of him, his experiences in life, and regret not having taken the time to ask him more about his life. You always think there will be time to have those chats when you’re younger, don’t you?

I wonder what he would think, and what he would say, were he here to talk to today.

Born in 1920, he was a man of that time in all senses – masculine, determined, definately not one to bemoan his lot, nor someone who would broadcast when things were not going well. He was a working man, and a very private, proud man.

When he passed away, I was away from home with work, and therefore had a lot of time alone to think about him, something I have continued to do through the years since his death.

What would we talk about, given the chance? Given a few more hours, what would I ask?

I would talk of my life, my journey from small child to husband and father. What would he think of the choices I made, of the path my life has taken? I would expect honest, loving, blunt truth from him. I would know when I had screwed up, and when I did the right thing. I know he loved Rebecca and would have adored the girls, and that there would be no small amount of pride in how his grandson turned out.

I would have asked him about his parents and grandparents, wondering what they were like, and how much of their character and values formed his. I know names, and I have seen a photograph of his father as an elderly man, but I would really want to know what they were like: what they did, where they lived, how they went about their lives, and whether his childhood was a happy one.

Most of all, I would want to ask him about his time in the RAF during World War 2. As a child growing up with comics such as Battle and Commando, war was sold as a glorified adventure story to an entire generation of boys. We read of gung-ho, jolly types who set out to give Jerry a bloody nose, before returning to have a quick game of cricket in the evening. We made colourful models of tanks, ships and aircraft, with barely a thought that we were
constructing minature tributes to instruments of death and destruction. I never knew, and Grandad certainly never told, that he had served throughout the war in Bomber Command as a rear gunner, probably the most isolated and fear-filled position on the aircraft. Sat in the perspex bubble looking away from the plane, it must have seemed that the only thing around you were the bursts of anti-aircraft fire, the searchlights picking your crate out of the night sky, and the enemy fighters seeking to send you to an early, flame-filled death on the ground fifteen thousand feet below. He served his time, and his country, in this very position, knowing all the time that the fate I just described had taken his brother, Cornelius, in 1943.

He would most likely have changed the subject, as it was clearly one he was not happy to discuss. But maybe, he would not have. maybe, he would have sat me down and told me of the terror, the stress, the physical and emotional fatigue, the feeling of despair that things would ever change, and also of the hope, the heroism, the camaraderie, the belief that, when the end of the war finally did arrive, they would be able to stand together knowing that, when they were called, they answered and did their duty.

I understand all of this now, far more that when I was younger. I still make models, but it’s a time to consider the whole truth, and not just the Boys Own stuff we were fed as children.

These are the things I would love to say, the things I would love to ask my Granddad, were I to have one more afternoon with him, a cup of tea, and a couple of armchairs by the fire.