General Election 2017 – Riserdrummer’s What, Why, and How guide

Well, it’s been a few days since the election, so here – in all its glory – are my thoughts on where we are now, how we got here, and where we go from there.

Let’s start with what we all know.

Theresa May called a snap election because she felt she needed a more recent and personal mandate to pursue her policy of a hard Brexit (a word I still despise, but am forced to use it to avoid grammatical nightmares). As we know, her parties slim majority turned to a slim minority, and we’re now all doing the math on what this actually means. The Conservatives are talking to the DUP, whose 10 MPS would push the balance of power beyond the ‘magic’ 326 number.

In the meantime, Labour are claiming a ‘moral’ victory, UKIP were basically wiped out, and surprisingly the SNP saw their Westminster powerbase slashed with many of their constituencies choosing the Auld Enemy by voting Tory.

That’s what the media are presenting, and what most people believe is the whole truth. But I suspect the reality is quite different, and more complex. And to understand why, we need to step into the Way Back Machine and take a journey to 2010…..

The General Election in 2010, as it did this time, gave us a hung parliament, where no one party has enough votes to form a working majority. As is the custom, the incumbent party has the first chance to form a coalition with other parties, and if they are unable to do so, the largest single party can have a go. Seven years ago, the Liberal Democrats rejected a coalition with Labour in favour of moving in with the Conservatives, and we saw five years of deal-making, deal-breaking, and the rise of UKIP as the more EU-friendly Lib Dems tempered the Eurosceptic elements of the Tories.

Fast forward to 2015. Many people feel that the Lib Dems have sold out for a taste of power, based on the items that they were unable to bargain away over the previous five years. UKIP’s media presence was looking likely to take seats and votes from the Conservatives. And so David Cameron and his team launched their ‘master-plan’ – a manifesto promise on our EU membership – the one thing UKIP were firmly against. This was, on the face of it, a quite clever idea. All the polls were suggesting there would be a second hung parliament, and this EU referendum was a simple thing to trade away when negotiating the terms of the new coalition. All was going seemingly, until the polls closed, and we discovered that the unthinkable had, in fact, happened: a Conservative majority. UKIP, whilst they pulled a reasonable number of votes, didn’t actually gain anywhere near enough in any constituencies to become a power in Parliament.

Now Cameron was in a quandary. He didn’t want to hold a referendum, but his choices were to either break his promise or do what he feared. And despite many, many lies and a campaign of mistrust and vitriol on both sides, the vote was a close decision to leave. Which prompted Cameron to do the same, as he really didn’t feel he could negotiate something he fundamentally felt was the wrong decision. Cue a leadership contest, and welcome to the stage Mrs T May, our second female Prime Minister.

Which basically brings us up to date as far as the history goes. And now we’re looking at the future. So let’s pause, and consider the actual numbers:

The important ones are: Conservative 318, DUP 10, making 328, which (if the DUP votes were guaranteed) makes a working majority of 2. In practice, this would be a working majority of eleven, as up to now Sinn Fein MPs have never taken their seats in Westminster. Something that – if the DUP have any voice in power – can no longer be taken as read.

Labour have 262 seats, so would need to bring in the SNP (who originally said they wouldn’t work with them unless a large amount of power was granted to them and IndyRef 2 was legislated), the Lib Dems (who have said they won’t work with Labour, and whose presence in parliament is still nowhere near its 2010 heyday) and the combined minor parties of Green and Plaid Cymru. This would still leave them short of the Tory total by 4 seats, and by 14 against the Tory/DUP coalition should it emerge. However, the level of back-room deal-making that would be required beggars belief in that scenario.

Enough about what the actual make up of Government is / might be. What’s in fact more revealing, is why.

It’s clear from the 82.4% who voted either Labour or Conservative, that there is a partisan split in the country. But that’s not the only split. The country is clearly also split over the EU, and within that over how the EU departure should be managed.

And it’s this latter split that’s probably the key here.

Yes, some people (I suspect mostly younger naïve first-time voters) went for Labour because he promised to end tuition fees and stuff. Others would have sought an alternative due to the inclusion of a Fox Hunting vote in the Tory manifesto (one of the more outlandish things to bring into an election campaign).  But honestly? I think that the nation’s feelings over Brexit were clearly key. But not in the obvious way.

Had Labour declared itself a Europhile party, then they would have won by some margin, as would the Conservatives had they gone down that route. What we understand now is that it’s no longer a case of 52% against 48%. It’s more a case of 10% rabidly anti-Europe, 10% rabidly pro-EU, probably another 10% that want to continue the bolshy, hard negotiations we’ve seen so far, and 70% who want to make sure that if we absolutely have to leave the EU, we do it at a pace and in a manner that safeguards as much of our current trade agreements as possible. That allows us to remain in the Single Market, and that doesn’t leave us with excessive trade tariffs and import taxes. That allows EU nationals in the UK, and British citizens living abroad, to retain their rights and status. Kinda like a civil partnership. We’re not actually married to the EU, but a lot of the day-to-day stuff and legal protection still applies.

Evidence for this? Look at the seats that turned red. These were the ones not simply where the previous Tory majority was tiny, but where the Remain vote was strongest. Naturally, any anti-Tory vote would be most effective voting for the second-largest party, which is why these votes can be seen not as pro-Corbyn but anti-Brexit. In areas where the Leave vote was higher, the Tories did better, winning some seats from Labour into the bargain. On the whole, people don’t want a tough break-up with the EU. If we do have to leave, we want it to be on the best of terms, not the worst.

It’s very apparent that the EU was the pivotal factor in this election. That public opinion was misjudged by both sides. That Labour benefited from a protest against May’s strategy over the EU, but not by enough to make a significant difference due to also being anti-EU. And that what most people actually want is for the vocal, rabid minority to shut up and for the country to come together somewhere in the middle, sort out its differences and its problems and move on.

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…

 

Old movies, classic comedy and good clean smut…

There’s something quintessentially ‘British’ about going on a nostalgia kick.

In fact, there’s something quintessentially ‘British’ about using the word ‘quintessentially’, which I suspect is only ever followed by the words ‘British’ or ‘English’. You definitely never see anyone describing something as ‘quintessentially German’ – not even goose-stepping.

I’ve recently reconnected with a bunch of stuff from my youth, which leads me to write this epistle.

Here’s the ‘stuff’:

  • Vinyl records played on a proper record player with little tinny speakers
  • Black and white films, of the sort that always used to be on telly on a Sunday afternoon
  • 1960s BBC radio comedy – specifically ‘Round The Horne’
  • B-movie science fiction, generally from the 70s and early 80s

These items, in and of themselves, are fairly normal. You could easily read that list and silently – or audibly – go “meh”…

But it’s more what they evoke than what they deliver.

Take the vinyl records, for example. They, for me, demonstrate that great line from the movie ‘High Fidelity’, when, after Dick tried unsuccessfully to guess how Rob was rearranging his record collection (“Chronological? No… not alphabetical…”) Rob reveals his system will be autobiographical, so that “if I want to find the song “Landslide” by Fleetwood Mac I have to remember that I bought it for someone in the fall of 1983 pile, but didn’t give it to them for personal reasons.”

I’ve not got many vinyl albums, but when I listen to the double live album Babylon By Bus by Bob Marley and the Wailers, I’m back home with my parents, them sat watching tv in one room whilst I’m sat next door, listening to one of the world’s greatest protest singers delivering a lyric so great, you don’t realise how revolutionary it was until nearly ten years later… but you remember the message. When I’m listening to Dare by The Human League, or Upstairs at Erics by Yazoo, I’m back in that post-school, pre-serious work period where everything was cool, and I was a part of it.

The old movies? Sunday afternoons in front of the telly were great – especially if it was raining outside, and we sat in front of the fire watching films like ‘The Sheriff of Fractured Jaw‘ with Kenneth More, or – if we were lucky – a Carry On film. All a part of those days when you could watch a film and part of your eight-year-old mind still believed it might be real. And if it was a sci-fi b-movie so bad it’s good, the knowledge that it most certainly wasn’t…

Round The Horne was something I got to later in my childhood, but the repeats of the show were always something I looked out for. The cast was brilliant, with the leader of the gang, Kenneth Horne, often playing the straight man (in all senses) to Kenneth Williams, Hugh Paddick, Betty Marsden, Bill Pertwee, and another ‘quintessentially’ BBC voice, announcer Douglas Smith. Listening to the show now, it’s remarkable how far they managed to push the boundaries of the BBC back in 1965, when the show was first broadcast. They had plenty of sexually repressed characters, innuendo by the bucketload, and the incredible ‘Julian and Sandy’, two unemployed actors taking on a range of different jobs. They were the most obviously gay couple imaginable, in an age when homosexuality was still illegal. The fact that they could get away with so much still surprises me, such as when they were working as lawyers:

HORNE: Will you take my case?

JULIAN: Well, it depends on what it is. We’ve got a criminal practice that takes up most of our time.

HORNE: Yes, but apart from that, I need legal advice.

SANDY: Ooh, isn’t he bold?

Comedy nowadays struggles to fit in single entendres, let alone the doubles that Round The Horne was liberally sprinkled with. Entertainment has changed, and not really for the better.

In this age of digital downloads, 3D blockbusters and so called ‘talk-radio’, I’d rather stick with entertainment that… well, entertained.

An Ode On The Departure Of Jeremy Clarkson

Farewell from the Beeb, Jeremy Clarkson.

You were a dinosaur, a throwback
And had no truck with the Liberal Left
(Which is ironic, since you often drove a truck on the left)

We will miss your catchphrases.
“POWERRR!”
That was one of yours.
And “How hard can it be?”
That was another.

You were friends with the Hamster.
And the floppy haired one.
You probably still are.
But not on the BBC any more.

I guess that’s what happens when you punch a colleague.

Oh well. There’s always Dave.

The School Reunion – How To Survive…

After thirty-four years – yes, THIRTY-FOUR YEARS – tomorrow I will be attending my first ever school reunion. And most of the people there will last have been seen through my eyes on that fateful day in July 1981, when we all escaped through the gates of Haymill Secondary School for the very last time.

I will admit to mixed feelings about tomorrow night. Don’t get me wrong, I’m really looking forward to getting there and seeing everyone, catching up, and finding out about people’s lives. But there’s a part of me that is wondering just what it’s gonna be like.

Reason: American Movie Reunions.

Yep. Up to now, my knowledge of, and exposure to, school reunions has been entirely covered by movies such as Grosse Point Blank, Peggy Sue Got Married, Something Wild, and of course, the brilliant Romy and Michele’s High School Reunion. And all of these have a stock set of characters that repeat every single time.

There’s the Jock That Never Grew Up. He was a bit of a bully, and a bit of a tosser, back in school, and he still is. Probably worked his way up to Assistant Manager in his dad’s Car Dealership, and did so despite never doing anything useful except show up three days out of five.

There’s the Fallen Princess. Voted the Girl Most Likely To Marry A Millionaire And Live Happily Ever After, she’s somehow found herself in a trailer park with seventeen kids and a real knack for up-cycling curtains into dresses.

Then there’s Mr “Too Good To Be True”.  Whatever he says about his wonderful life, supermodel wife and perfect children… well, you know. He’ll probably claim to have invented Post-It notes…

There will be Farmer Ted, the sad geeky one from school, who after all these years is the sad geeky one from work (work being a public sector job, maybe Post Office or Council Housing) who hasn’t changed a bit.

And finally, there’s the Ugly Duckling. Someone nobody ever expected to succeed, who has turned out into the most successful, wonderful, beautiful/handsome* (delete as applicable) person in the entire world. You know the one in the movies, she’s the one that nobody notices at all until she takes off her glasses and lets her hair down.

That’s all I know. And if I let myself, I’d wonder which of them was me (hopefully NOT the Princess).

But, like the movie directors, I’m missing all the rest. Those who may be played by extras, who go through the story and their lives largely uncredited, but who have brought remarkable stories to the table. Tales of travel and adventure, tales of hard work, sacrifice and reward, tales of children and – in some cases – grandchildren. These are the real successes, people who have lived every second of those 34 years and are there to share and enjoy that with you. Especially when you talk to them and recognise not just the person they have become, but the nerdy boy / giggly girl they used to be as well.

So. As promised, here’s my Secret of Surviving your School Reunion. Have fun, avoid the drama queens and those who look like they’ve just watched life go by, laugh a lot, and hope to hell you can recognise everyone, cos there’s nothing worse than reminiscing with a bunch of strangers who don’t know who on earth you are…

UPDATE!!!!

So the reunion went very well. We had around forty people there, which after thirty-four years was a great turnout. I guess there was a certain amount of “And you used to be….?” for a while, but it was a cool evening of catching up. And yes – most of the stereotypes were there to a degree, but everyone was lovely and pretty much well-adjusted!

11043021_10205724493449600_499533325350263766_n

Just to be clear – I’m not Ableist

The past few weeks have seen me involved in some very interesting, very detailed, and very heated conversations on Facebook and on friends’ blogs regarding the subject of Ableism.

You may not know what this means – I admit I had to look it up.

Ableism means using language that discriminates against disabled people. In the past, this would have included terms (from my days at school back in the 70s) such as ‘spastic‘, ‘spaz‘ and ‘Joey‘, after Joey Deacon – a well-known television presenter and suffer from Cerebral Palsy – to indicate stupidity and lack of intelligence in the intended target . At the time, we were just being thoughtless kids. These days, however, such things simply wouldn’t, or shouldn’t get used as insults, and we all get that.

The accusations thrown at me haven’t been about this, however. They started when I described a phrase created by a US sports media company as ‘dumb‘. Which it was – in the ‘idiotic’, ‘ridiculous’ sense of the word. However, this has been the catalyst to a raft of statements being thrown at me, describing me as a ‘Great White Male‘, a throwback, and a bunch of other things. All for using a word in context and conforming to one of its accepted dictionary descriptions.

These people – the ‘anti-ableists‘, if you will – believe that ANY term, that could possibly be discriminatory to ANY person, at ANY time, should be banished from our speech. This would mean you can’t describe anything as ‘crazy‘, ‘lame‘, or any one of a thousand other terms. Including ‘dumb‘ – unless of course you’re using the word to describe someone without the power of speech.

My position has been misinterpreted by many – including someone who thought I should liberally sprinkle my language with the worst racist terminology possible as a test to see whether people take offence. So I want to set out my position clearly.

I am NOT ableist. I do NOT agree with the deliberate circumvention of language in order to offend people.

However, I am also not an ‘anti-ableist’, in that I disagree fundamentally with the supposed restrictions on speech that have been leveled at me and others who sprang to my defence.

If I can be described as having a stance, it’s more likely to be an ‘anti- anti-ableist‘.

The people picking me up for what they see as misuse of the word ‘dumb‘ are not mutes, nor have they checked this with mute people, to my strong understanding. The people responding to the conversations who might get offended by use of the word ‘lame‘ – due to disablilities they have – actually stated that they are not offended by this, as they don’t see the connection between themselves and the use of the word in context. It’s this perceived third-party offence that is all pervasive throughout the liberal end of society that actually offends me. and something that I am trying to eliminate from my language and behaviour.

So, when councils, company management, or organisations start talking about the ‘holiday season’ or – God forbid – ‘Winterval’, I will send them a Christmas Card, wishing them the merriest of Christmas. Because changing behaviours or speech because you think someone you don’t know, and haven’t spoken to, might be offended by something somebody says, is in itself offensive to me. There. Notice has been given, so please stop doing it.

Again – I’m not saying that anybody should deliberately offend others. What I AM saying is that the freedom to hold a position, to be a part of this great society we live in, and to live a life to the fullest, includes an implicit clause that means you won’t like everything you see and hear – much as others won’t necessarily like everything you say or do. And not to make judgement calls on what others may think, and not to get offended on their behalf. Disabled people, mute people, whoever – these people are more than capable of getting offended – or not – on their own. They don’t need others to do it for them, because that’s far more demeaning and patronising than anything I may cause by saying that American sportscasters say dumb things.

Social Media – socially aware or socialist’s playground?

Today has been an interesting day.

My time spent on Facebook has revealed the following:

  • a few pictures people have taken of their lunch
  • two videos of dogs doing unusual but amusing things
  • about a hundred updates on what level people have reached in online games
  • several motivational posts (usually a quote by Martin Luther King Jr or Nelson Mandela, against a sepia-tone beach scene) and
  • a very few posts about what people are actually doing.

There have been a few other posts though, which is what kinda makes me set my jaw against the way all social media seems to be used by certain groups. Let’s call them PALOMINOs (Political Activists Lying Over Morally Irritating  Notes of  Outrage). And like the horses of the American western movie, they are everywhere.

Today’s PALOMINO example popped up three times, and was a letter, ostensibly from a guy called ‘Steve Pottinger‘, writing to Cafe Nero returning his (free) loyalty card in protest against the amount of Corporation Tax the company paid last year. Apparently, had they paid tax it would have:

  • Paid for the NHS – or at least the care his father needed
  • Covered the salaries of all the nurses and doctors that came into contact with him
  • Paid for the education needs of all his nieces and nephews
  • Paid the housing benefit for everyone he knows on low income in high-rent areas

All from Cafe Nero’s Corporation Tax.

Now I’m all for stamping out tax evasion – don’t get me wrong. But it’s worth pointing out that Cafe Nero haven’t evaded any tax at all. On their revenues, profits, debt pay-downs and the corporate structure (the holding company for the franchised organisation is based offshore), they were not actually liable for any Corporation Tax, and therefore haven’t done anything wrong – either legally or morally.

What they HAVE done in the last year is pay over £21 million in VAT, and £13 million in NI contributions. So they are hardly the ogre that Steve Pottinger paints them as.

That made me wonder a little more why Steve was so outraged. So I dug a little, and it’s interesting…

Steve is a ‘poet’. His writing can be found on his website, which I have no desire or inclination to promote here. Go look it up, if you can be bothered.

However, he’s clearly in the market for making himself known by being as contentious as possible. Hence his connection with a group of PALOMINOs called Occupy London, through which he has published this letter. You remember Occupy London, don’t you? These were the group that went a-camping outside St Paul’s Cathedral a couple of years back, whilst all around them people simply ignored them and got on with their jobs until they went away. They are a staunchly anti-capitalist group, who see it as their life’s work to bring down the system, all the time leeching said system for all the benefits they can grab. They would see the entire financial industry smashed, and their targets are basically anyone who has any money that isn’t being given to them and their brethren.

All of this made me think about finance and taxation more than I really needed to today, but I have come to a few conclusions:

  1. Taxation pays for the state machine. Always has, always will.
  2. PALOMINOs such as Occupy London believe that legal tax avoidance is a scam to prevent the redistribution of wealth. It’s not – see point 1.
  3. They think that the way to change taxation laws are to boycott companies that operate legally. It’s not. One freebie latte more or less is meaningless.
  4. Anarchists really don’t get the way business works, but that doesn’t stop them spouting about it like ‘experts’. Here’s a hint: shouting at a banker doesn’t make you a financial expert, any more than smashing up a pizza restaurant makes you an Italian.
  5. Anarchists DO get social media, however. It’s the only way to explain why their messages are so widespread, and so readily picked up by the masses.

Here’s the thing: Companies should be more aware of the social implications of the way they operate. They should conduct themselves in a way that is fair to all – to everybody in their supply chain, to all of their customers, to all of their employees, and to the world at large. That doesn’t extend to giving away their entire profit to some lank-haired hippie squatting in a tent outside one of London’s major landmarks. And it doesn’t extend to paying more tax than the regulations and laws decree, because guess what, Steve? And guess what, Occupy? If they did, it would all be refunded! Because THAT’S the way the system works! It’s what we as individuals expect, and it’s the same for companies.

But then you’d know that as PALOMINOs, wouldn’t you, as you’re experts, having once staged a sit-down protest outside a branch of NatWest….