Wednesday 29 June 2016

"History repeats itself, first as tragedy, second as farce".

When the quote used as a title for this post was written there was a gap of 52 years between the tragedy and the farce  but today we are witnessing farce following a tragedy in just a few short days.

The only stable element seems to be the financial markets where investors (gamblers) are busy making a profit or minimising their losses after the panic last Friday caused by the unexpected vote for Brexit. Walk the two miles west from the stock exchange to the Houses of Parliament and here indeed we encounter farce. The Leave the EU campaign leaders with no idea what to do following their success last Thursday. A Tory government who have made no provision for the unlikely event that the country would vote to leave. All this compounded by the opposition in turmoil over leadership at the very moment when the country so desperately needs a clear and distinctive voice to lead us back to sanity.

In saying that BelperStuff must also look to itself and accept judgement from critics about any statement or viewpoint. I am of course referring to yesterday's blogpost which, for the first time ever, was critical of Jeremy Corbyn. There have been three notable responses to the post which, in the spirit of fairness I have to share but will not publish who it was who sent these comments because I have not asked their permission.

Here is the first: 

I feel that there has been a massive attempt to rewrite history (not by you, but you are reporting it). That Corbyn’s campaign took him up and down the country offering an alternative vision inside a reformed Europe was indeed rarely reported. Alan Johnson was tasked with leading the campaign for Labour – and it actually succeeded with 64% Labour voter voting in – just 1% behind Sturgeon who is praised for her efforts. The rhetoric about not trying hard enough etc is therefore flawed on a basic examination of the outcome. Indeed could more have been done? Yes – you said yourself that there were piles of leaflets in region – was it Jeremy’s fault that they were not all delivered?

The Coup is about neo liberals who voted for Iraq and Syria getting revenge , and some of the PLP getting wrapped up in a cruciblesque (new word) hysteria. That is all. For my place, I think that when they lose the next leadership election then they need to ‘jog on’ and we can get around to selecting some new talent who are Democratic Socialists.

As for what Jeremy stands for – its all here  and for me is an invigorating vision of what we could achieve and indeed what we may achieve given a fair wind. As for the vision of neo- liberal austerity light offered by the Coup-ers – it is certainly not for me.

................... and then this:

I do not accept the argument that Corbyn tried to undermine the pro case

A quick check of how Corbyn spoke about the EU reveals coherent and well informed remain arguments at events like this one on Sky :

I think we need to be very careful of the scapegoating and charges being thrown around about this.

.......... the final critical comment via a text (from the bloke who was my best man over 40 years ago):

That's the spirit, a Labour government at all costs. Never mind the policies.

It would appear that I am in a minority of one. BelperStuff may go quiet for a while as there is lot of stuff to wade through, especially the Jeremy Corbyn priorities link but first I will be revisiting the Sky News Jeremy Corbyn In or Out debate as suggested by the second commentator:

Before I go into purdah I will share with you a deep concern that arises from the idea that neo-liberals are out for revenge. What I see is the age old problem for labour where our hearts are to the left but our heads are to the right. This translates into those who seek election being pragmatic and being all things to all people whilst the membership believe that sticking to core socialist principles will ultimately prove to be electorally successful. At the moment the membership seems to be in the ascendent. My problem is that I bear the scars of similar internal struggles going back over many decades. The fear is that Jeremy will not, ultimately be able to regain the votes of the demographic that has deserted Labour. 

Tuesday 28 June 2016

I feel betrayed

Feeling betrayed is one of the most uncomfortable of emotions because buried deep within it is the kernel of self doubt, "I am partly to blame for being so naive". To put your trust in someone or something that secretly had a different agenda to the one you thought it had leaves you totally exposed to deep feelings of resentment once that duplicity comes to light ........... and yes I do feel very resentful.

I am not writing here about the Tories or UKIP because I know that they have been peddling falsehood for years. They are proven liars and if we lived in a country that valued honesty above hype in public life they would have been thrown out years ago. Their biggest lie is to sell policies that legitimise inequality; compounded by their unholy alliance with swathes of the media that dupe those who get the least out of society to vote for more of the same. Last week they took one fateful step too far and it is truly shocking that the so-called victor, Boris Johnson should now say that the government should have had a plan in place to deal with the EU negotiations .......... and not the Leave campaign. Rowing back on the promises made in the campaign is the least of our worries but the fact that we now face a vacuum of indecision (is that possible) just when we need to be focussing on how we manage the catastrophe of Brexit carries with it the potential of great harm to this country.

Who do I think has betrayed me?

I have agonised about writing what follows .......... the source of my feeling of betrayal. As I write I am still unsure if I will upload it to the blog but the fact that my subject is honesty dictates that I too must be honest. So here goes.

I first voted in the 1970 general election and can still remember the pain of that Labour loss. I come from a Labour family where prominent Labour stalwarts were spoken of as if they were family friends. When I was much younger I half expected them to drop in for Sunday high tea. I was brought up in an atmosphere of trust in Labour but take everything a Tory says with a pinch of salt. This basic and simple set of values has stayed with me throughout my life. Though tested following the Iraq war and faced with policies that in the past couple of decades were barely clinging on to the far right fringes of socialism I still maintained that trust in the Labour Party. To a large degree I still do ....................... I'm still avoiding coming out with it ........................ I trust my local branch though I am not quite so enthusiastic about some of the structure that links us troops in the trenches with our generals. Even that has a certain comfort factor because the Labour Party that I feel a part of could hardly be described as a well oiled machine. Despite all its faults you stick with it because ........ well because you are Labour and if you voice your disagreement with this or that policy you are still tolerated if you find yourself in a minority of one at a branch meeting. That is the Labour Party that I love.

Spit it out, who betrayed me?

It is the Labour campaign to remain in the EU that has made me feel betrayed. Our official position was that we were for the EU and I expected a rigorous campaign that rallied the party faithful and spelt out to labour voters why it was so important that we stay in. Our performance though was pitiful. From a lacklustre husting in Belper to national platforms where our arguments were lukewarm at best. I looked for a barnstorming tour of the country by our front bench and prominent backbenchers and though there were some stalwarts doing their best there was a notable reluctance to ram the message home from our leader. 

There I've written it at last. I could have accepted all of this .......... just .......... if it was not for the revelations that there was deliberate policy to undermine the Labour Remain campaign that was sanctioned, if not organised from the top (see this BBC news item).  This was endorsed in an article written by Alan Johnson for the Spectator magazine where he stated that at times it felt as if:

"(Corbyn and his team were) working against the rest of the Party and had conflicting objectives".

I know that many will say that this is just the normal right of the party attempt to smear Jeremy (I too share misgivings about the BBC political editor and her piece) and in part I accept that. Jeremy has been badly served by the press and deserved better from his front bench team. I applaud those who stand by him just as I respect those who demonstrated yesterday outside parliament in his support. This is Labour solidarity.

But ................ I feel betrayed because I put my shoulder to a Labour campaign that, from the evidence of my own eyes was deliberating underplayed and lukewarm. I give my support to Labour and expect to be treated with respect in return. There are those that do much more than me but I take on a share of knocking on doors, delivering leaflets, putting up posters and attending meetings. I also try in my own way to further the cause of the Labour Party with this blog. At the very least the blog does not put off anyone from voting Labour (hopefully) as I believe passionately that an informed voter is a wiser voter.

I do not like being taken for a fool. I enthusiastically worked for the success of the Remain campaign and find it totally unacceptable that my efforts were undermined by actions or inactions of the Labour leader. I watched amazed at interviews he gave where he was lukewarm in his responses. Why should I spend my time fighting a campaign that the leader does not believe in. If, as he says, he did his best, that he did what he could then his best is not good enough. Believe me when I say that I read this article in the Guardian with great sadness.

This post is about honesty. Despite times when the truth has been less obvious I have always held to the belief that the Labour Party was to be trusted, a beacon of hope amidst the darkness of distortion meted out by the Tories and Ukip ............ latterly also the Lib-Dems as they entered into the ConDem coalition. I now find that I also distrust the Labour leadership. The one thing that doubters say about Jeremy is that he is at least honest and that for many was his main appeal, that he said it like it is. Many Labour voters I speak to have told me that they like the things he says because it is truthful but that he could never be elected. I countered,  you can never know how a person will perform until you test them .......... cometh the hour cometh the man. I  talk to those same Labour voters now and they say that they don't know what Corbyn stands for. Sadly I have to admit that I don't know either. 

Sunday 26 June 2016

The apple cart needed to be upset but not in this way

Sunday morning, the third day since the 52% voted to leave the EU. Chaos was predicted and chaos is what we've got. A major player in all this is the Scottish National Party (SNP), their leader Nicola Sturgeon proceeding with caution but clearly stating the options open to the Scottish people which would ultimately lead to the breakup of the UK. A far distant bell started to ring in my head and a trawl through my alcohol ravaged library of memories came up with a long ago visit to the theatre and a performance of George Bernard Shaw's play, The Apple Cart, written in 1928 where a character states, "God help England if she had no Scots to think for her!"

The state of play so far (Sunday 26th June)

  1. Cameron goes back on his word to immediately set in motion the mechanism to leave the EU. He resigns and sets in motion a Tory leadership contest when that party is at its most divided. It is left to his successor to press the formal leave button and start the two year clock ticking. (For once I am in a agreement with Cameron but still blame him for allowing the referendum in the first place).
  2. The Chancellor of the Exchequer, George Osborne becomes invisible at a time when the economy is nose diving and the pound is seriously weakened. 
  3. Within hours of the referendum the Bank of England has to pour £250 billion pounds into the London financial market to stop the slide into ........... well what? This is half the amount "invested" by the bank in 2008 to shore up the banking system as the effects of the credit crunch were being felt. The BofE warned in March this year that Brexit carried with it the very real danger of yet another credit crunch but the Leave campaigners said this was scaremongering.
  4. The Labour Party turns on itself as many criticise the performance of the party during the referendum campaign. The focus is on ousting Corbyn as many blame him for the disaffection of up to 30% of those who voted labour in the last parliamentary election in 2015. As I write this an ever growing number of shadow ministers are resigning but a spirited defence of Corbyn by John McDonnell and Emily Thornbury makes some pause for thought. We need an effective opposition that inspires hope.
  5. The Lib-Dems promise to fight the next general election in May 2020 on the platform of taking the UK back into the EU. With rumours of a possible snap election, perhaps within the next 6 months this could be a credible position to take.
  6. The country is now split between the 48% who voted to remain in the EU and the 52% who voted to leave. Many of the 52% are reported as being surprised that we are leaving the EU as their vote was a protest against a whole basket of ills, not necessarily connected with the EU.
  7. The division in British society is further compounded by the majority of folk over the age of 50 voting to leave whilst younger voters overwhelmingly wanted to stay in the EU. The young feel betrayed by the old.
  8. Many voted to leave because Boris, Gove, Grayling and Farage promised to halt immigration and spend an extra £350 million a week on the NHS. Within hours of the referendum result being declared all of those "gentlemen" have rowed back on those promises saying that the £350 million for the health service was not guaranteed and that it may be impossible to lower the numbers entering this country. For the moment these gentlemen are suspiciously quiet and one suspects that they are meeting with their cohorts to decide how to handle this pandora's box of a win. No doubt Boris, as a classicist is sensing that he now has the modern day equivalent of a Pyrrhic victory.
  9. Nigel Farage claimed a victory for "decent" people. I do not take offence at being therefore dismissed as being an indecent person because I voted to remain in the EU. Being insulted by a man such as him is a form of backhanded compliment. Many remember his comment to a Daily Mirror journalist in May about a narrow Remain win, “In a 52-48 referendum this would be unfinished business by a long way", but of course he will not countenance a second referendum because it is his campaign which has won the 52%.
  10. As I write this the petition to the government to change the referendum rules (which by the way was opened for signatures in May, before the referendum) has reached over 3 million. A government spokesman has stated that it has no chance of success but we can expect some form of debate in the House of Commons. 
  11. The Scottish government is considering a second referendum on Scottish independence so that they can remain in the UK. The breakup of the United Kingdom is now a very real possibility. Before they go there they may invoke an obscure element of the agreement signed with Westminster that the Scottish Parliament has the right to block (effectively a veto) any action which fundamentally changes the nature of the Scottish government. This may delay the process of triggering EU Article 50, the trigger to leave the EU. Of course Westminster can then legislate to amend that veto but it all takes time and would possibly be left to the incoming Tory leader to deal with.
  12. Angela Merkel although echoing the tough EU line that the UK should press ahead with leaving as soon as possible then surprises us all by saying that time is not so important and that the UK should not be punished (sorry for the obvious paraphrasing but that's the gist of her words). So an olive branch from Germany and a sense that Angie is amenable to the UK finding a way to pull back from the decision that has been made. I also believe that many German citizens are sympathetic to the 48% who voted to remain in the EU.

Amongst all of that is there any hope?

Well of course there is. If this were a card game I would say that Nicola Sturgeon and Angele Merkal between them can muster a winning strategy. Sturgeon can ensure that we have the time to consider the next step with care and Merkal can, if she chooses and has the support of the German parliament to offer a "third way". It is in the interest of the EU that the seeds of rebellion (which is effectively what the Leave vote is) do not spread to France, Holland and, say Poland where right wing forces want to emulate the British. This is the only positive that can be gleaned from the British decision, that the rest of Europe notes the chaos a Leave vote causes and, so warned, steps back from the brink themselves. In that way the British will have done a great service to European unity, effectively strengthening the EU. I have no doubt that there will be a lot of soul searching by the respective EU constituents because the UK vote highlights how disenfranchised many EU citizens feel. It would be wise to assume that their are similar numbers in say France who would vote anti-EU therefore a major review of policy and structure would be advisable. It is time for a major rethink and, perhaps re-launch of the collective European idea.

So is there hope ................ yet again of course there is but only if positive things are done by positive people. At this time of trial it does look as if the Scottish government finds itself in a position of considerable influence. I started this post by referencing George Bernard Shaw and that was a bit tongue in cheek. The apple cart has been upset but those who created the problem seem incapable of righting the situation. I personally hope that the combined wisdom of the Labour Party finds its voice and recognises the possibilities that lay within our country's grasp. The need is so great that all avenues should be explored. The answer may be a coalition of the left to counter the mess that has been created by the right. We have to do something ....... and fast ....... if a snap election is on the horizon. With polls suggesting mass disaffections from mainstream parties we have to show that there is a viable socialist alternative to the nonsense and false claims of the right. People vote for hope and that is what we must give them.

Who will ultimately pay the price if this folly is not reversed?

Unfortunately that is all to easy to answer. it will not be the rich, nor will it be politicians. No, as always it will be those at the bottom of the scale, those on low wages or seeking work; pensioners who will squeezed when deteriorating tax takes from a shrinking economy mean that governments have to question the ring fenced expenditures .................. I could go on but you know which groups have suffered from austerity and they will be the ones hardest hit ........ yet again. It is a sad fact that many of those who voted Leave will be the ones to pay the price.

How apt is this:

To great authority
Singing hallelujah hallelujah
Love does reign
In the kingdom of the broken heart
The blackbird sings
And the moon it laughs
As war begins, dance
Now burn the apple carts
Burn them until a great fire begins
To glow in the sky
There beneath the stones, recharge
From great austerity
Raining down from above
Distant is love
Our distain

Read more: Damon Albarn - Apple Carts Lyrics | MetroLyrics 

Saturday 25 June 2016

From despondency to anger ........ I will not give up my country without a fight

Yesterday's  BelperStuff blog was written at a particularly low point (The truth will always be - BelperStuff Friday 24th June). The pain of over 17 million British people voting to leave the EU was acute and I could see no way out of this situation. The UK had decided to become isolationist; accepting the fantasy that we are not an integral part of this continent just at the moment when it is so important that Europe is united.

Now, Saturday morning after a fitful night's sleep I realise that despondency has turned to anger. I am furious at what has happened in the UK. Put simply the old has sold the young short.

What this does for our society is incalculable but what we do know is that there is an ever growing number of young British people who feel totally disaffected. See this article on the BBC website. As I write this a poll petitioning parliament to debate and question the referendum procedure and how to trigger another referendum has reached nigh on a million signatures: Link to the poll.

How have we come to this?

It's not just the EU referendum but a cascading series of events that have brought us to this position. There are parallels in history for what is happening in this country but it seems that our so-called leaders pay scant heed to the lessons that can be drawn from past events. The underlying problem is disinformation and a willingness to distort facts for political ends. We used to call this propaganda but now it is dubbed "political expediency". Those reading this blog in Germany will understand exactly what this means because they know their history very well.

OK so with that last paragraph there are some of you that might be inclined to the opinion that BelperStuff has finally tipped over into the rash world of extremism. Hopefully not before reading through to the end of this post.

Perhaps it is naive to expect politicians to be scrupulously truthful as their stock in trade is to be the interpreters of events and the architects of what is best for the economy, the environment, education, health care ............ yes everything that exists on planet earth that can be influenced by humanity. To discover that they are not as clever as they think they are is not a surprise and critics like me (in fact anyone with an ounce of savvy) spend our time pointing out their inconsistencies and false assumptions. We are sometimes generous by accepting that politicians are a reflection of ourselves with the same capacity for self delusion. It is when this lack of wisdom is papered over by deliberate distortion of facts that we have every right to be angry. The EU referendum campaign has been the ultimate exercise in feeding the public disingenuous rubbish that has pandered to the base fears of a misinformed electorate. The fear of the foreigner, of the unaccountable power that rules your lives; the blame for all our ills being this offshore entity in Brussels and that once we free ourselves from that control all society's ills will be cured. This nonsense did not spring up overnight but follows years of feeding the British electorate on a diet that lacked wholesomeness and substance.

When did this start? That's a tough question because there are those who believe that we are never told the truth and that all politicians are liars. I don't belong in that camp because there are many instances of genuine concern for the truth from politicians of all parties and all persuasions (though I find it difficult to identify UKIP or the BNP in that number). For many of my generation there was a distinct change in 1979 as Thatcher came to power promising jobs and prosperity for all (who can forget the promise to create harmony) and the exact opposite occurred with communities being being torn apart and many thrown on the scrap heap for the rest of their lives.

It didn't stop there as many blamed Blair for his reasoning that took us into the war in Iraq. We still await the report that we hope will throw more light on this but we fear yet more evidence of a lack of veracity.

Then there is the Tory smear that the last Labour government was wholly responsible for the rise in the national debt and borrowing requirement when the truth was that this was a necessary response to protect our economy and institutions from the effects of the credit crunch. The fact that they, the Tories supported Labour at that time was conveniently forgotten as they managed to convince the electorate that all was the fault of Labour. Once the objective of gaining power was achieved the Tories then covered up their own mismanagement by blaming (penalising) the poor, those in need of work shamed, then the disabled, the lack of housing the fault of immigration and finally all these and any other ills on the bureaucrats in Brussels. It is always somebody else's fault. We have to get out of this damaging cycle of invincibility until events prove otherwise. Cameron was a fool to allow the referendum because after all those years of stoking up xenophobia and pointing the finger at the EU the risk that Britain might vote to leave was just too great ......... as we have found out to our cost.

So what is the truth?

Surprisingly that's not a difficult question. Put simply:

  1. We have a housing crisis because not enough houses are being built. The privatisation of housing has resulted in construction companies chasing profits and not measuring their success on how many they have housed.
  2. The NHS is struggling because of measures to turn it into a health market similar to the private sector which ultimately leads to full privatisation.
  3. Immigration has bolstered our economy and papered over the cracks of a failing economic model. We need to understand the dynamics of free movement of labour and celebrate the positives whilst addressing (rather than simply lamenting) any negative consequences.
  4. The UK suffers from increasing inequality which is the root cause of most of our problems.
  5. The rich take an increasing share of what this country produces, be it money, property or goods.
  6. The rich take the most out of society but put the least in. They pay an ever decreasing amount in tax, the poorest in society paying 44% of their income in taxes with the richest paying 37%, some paying even less.
  7. Refugees are a natural consequence of conflict. They should be cared for until the causes of those conflicts are resolved. (A united EU was the best hope for these people and it is they who suffer because the UK decided to pull up the drawbridge).
I could go on and on with this, going on to education, transport, the environment, sustainable energy ....... etc, but I think you get my drift. Nowhere is there any underlying evidence that leaving the EU will have an effect on any of this.

We need to wake up and smell the bullshit that surrounds us.

We now live in a broken and divided country. We have managed to tear up that which binds us as a nation with distinct and fundamental divides between young and old, haves and have nots and the pro and anti EU. We stand in greater risk than ever of losing  our union .......... yes the breakup of the UK seems likely. All this a consequence of disinformation and propaganda. What will happen next? History gives us ample evidence that in this hour of need the risk of a right wing takeover of government is all too possible so we must fight with all our might to resist what for some now seems inevitable. I of course look to the Labour Party to get its act together and get us out of this mess but we also share some of the blame for what has happened. We should have done more to ensure that our own people had the information enabling them to tell fact from fiction.

The fight must go on

Friday 24 June 2016

The truth will always be

Goodness me this is a tough morning. The pain of losing a general election is nothing compared with this. That the vote was so close, 52% for Leave is no comfort because the argument is lost. At some point in the future the UK will leave the EU, perhaps in couple of years but really we have already left. We now have no say, no voice except to plead for special terms as we rip up the special terms that we have just rejected. As the chants ring out, "we have taken back control" the Tories lurch to the right with it's small government agenda and much thumbed prospectuses for NHS sell-off. For the vast majority of those who voted leave there will be no increase in "control", in fact quite the reverse.

Time of course will tell all, the financial market chaos we are experiencing this fine Brexit morning may be a harbinger of the bleakness to come or, hopefully a short term blip of uncertainty. At least we have the comfort that Boris Johnson has promised to apologise if we do go into recession. Well that's all right then. One thing we do know, the decision has been made and whatever the outcome, whatever the subsequent spin, The truth will always be

Yes I am in a sombre mood this morning so I write this listening to Pat Metheny but it is scant comfort. Thinking back to that last referendum on the EU, or the Common Market as it was then called, there was an entirely different dynamic. I was in my mid twenties and unsure of what to do with my life. We had just experienced a disastrous 4 years of a Tory government that was hell bent on fighting the unions. The casualty in that war was the economy as Ted heath declared the 3 day working week and jobs which had been plentiful started to disappear. Then came Labour and membership of the Common Market was seen as a way for the UK to prosper and for a time we did. The Thatcher years brought yet more hardship as manufacturing jobs fled our shores and the much vaunted UK service economy was born. I can still remember the comment of a colleague in 1979 who declared he was voting Tory because, "vote for Maggie and she will give us the jobs". How hollow that proved to be. We look back on those times and, with hindsight, know the truth of it because whichever way our politicians like to interpret events, "The truth will always be". Somewhere, behind the hyperbole, not far beneath a distorting headline or just audible as an offstage whisper as ODS tells yet another whopper, that's where the truth will always be.

I fear that we are in for yet another dose of reality. yet again a Tory government has delivered chaos. You cannot get away with demonising immigrants or state that membership of the club of nations that is the EU restricts us from controlling the flow across our borders and then expect people to vote to remain in that club. I am struggling for a metaphor to describe the stupidity of Cameron but all I come up with is "finger in the dyke" or "chickens coming home to roost" .......... I think you get where I'm going with this. Eventually, politicians that say one thing but do another are found out but unfortunately they are usually found out after the damage has been done. We used to call them birds of passage and in my years on this planet I have seen many of them come and go. They arrive with a big idea but as that idea falters they hurriedly depart leaving those that follow to clear up the mess ............. but they in turn have their own "big ideas .......... and so it goes on.

Thinking back once again to the early seventies I remember how I teetered on the brink of dropping out. Self sufficiency was in vogue and taking yourself off to some far flung valley to grow veg, to home-school your children in make-shift communes and perfect a miniscule talent you had for playing a guitar. I never quite made that leap. Meeting my wife and taking on family responsibilities made me realise that I could not turn my back on society so I became a fully paid up member, happily paying my taxes, attending parents evenings and saving up for a washing machine and a car. The EU was part of the society that I bought into, satisfying the internationalist that I instinctively had become. I loathed nationalism and being a part of Europe was an effective antidote to the jingoism that was espoused by those on the far right. It can be a difficulty explaining to one of the emergent English patriots what the philosophy of internationalism exactly is as they assume that this entails a lack of regard for your country of birth. Nothing can be further from the truth. Nationalism inherently carries the seeds of exclusion and breeds intolerance for alternatives of thought or lifestyle. I am not here saying that all those who voted to leave the EU are nationalists in the sense that I have described it but the referendum has supplied the fertiliser for that seed of intolerance to grow. I still have hope that the UK will continue to be a land of tolerance and fair play, in fact still be the country that I have spent my life being proud of. Oh yes I still have that hope but it does not burn as bright as it did yesterday.

I started this post in a decidedly melancholy mood, the act of writing proving to be less than cathartic because I now feel even more depressed. The fact that the vote in Amber Valley was 60% for Leave with only 40% for Remain is yet more bad news.(Later edit: a comment from a reader of the blog that the vote in Belper was split 50:50). I now feel decidedly out of place in my own neighbourhood. I take comfort in the fact that 29,319 of us did vote for the EU in the borough but we are in the minority. It appears that we may now face a renewed call for an independence vote for Scotland ......... to leave the UK. That we have chosen to leave the EU is bad enough but to lose our ties with Scotland as well I just unthinkable (as I write this a news flash on my screen says that Nicola Sturgeon is beginning the legal proceedings for a second Scottish referendum).

Shoreline on the Isle of Mull Photo: BelperStuff

The idea of dropping out has started to resurface, over 40 years after I rejected the thought. Moving to Scotland is attractive; getting a small patch of land and a crofters cottage; dusting off the Self Sufficiency book (it must be on the bookshelves somewhere); sitting by my turf fuelled stove; in the evening reading by the light of an oil lamp and glancing occasionally out of the window at the atlantic waves breaking upon a moonlit shore.

Or do I stay where I am and fight the county council elections in May 2017? 

Monday 20 June 2016

Leave Campaign "small minded, xenophobic and inward-looking" ------- Lady Warsi

BelperStuff has been very interested in the response to the UKIP "Breaking Point" poster, one consequence being that this was a breaking point for Sayeeda Warsi who today left the Leave campaign and now supports Remain. It's not often that this blog experiences a degree of fellow feeling with a prominent Tory but the EU Referendum campaign has created some strange alliances so why should this blog be any different.
Link to Guardian article and subsequent discussion
Sayeedi Warsi - former Tory party chairperson
Leave campaign "small minded, xenophobic and inward-looking"
Lady Warsi said she hoped that the “pause” in the campaign after the killing of the MP Jo Cox would have shifted the debate to a “more measured tone .......... but when I turned on the television on Sunday morning and saw Nigel Farage defending the indefensible and Michael Gove continue to peddle lies about Turkey’s accession to the EU, that for me was a step too far,” she said, arguing that the leave campaign had become “small-minded, xenophobic and inward-looking”.
“If that is the message you run on then that is the Britain you create afterwards,” she said. Warsi cited a posted unveiled by Farage ahead of Cox’s death with the words “breaking point” over an image of hundreds of fleeing refugees, but said she was also alarmed by the rhetoric of Tory colleagues. 
In the course of this being discussed by Guardian readers this caught the eye:

We often see discussions that focus on fact checking, and those around Farage’s poster were no exception.

Farage a proud man with his poster and one brave Stronger IN demonstrator

User avatar for AjdaXX
she (Warsi) said: How is that poster even defensible? … It is perpetuating lies about who those people are.
I am from Slovenia and unlike Farage, I worked for several months with the refugees shown on the evil poster.
As far as I could find out, the photo on the UKIP poster comes from Rigonce (in Slovenia) and was shot on 25 October 2015.
Some people pointed out that there are only men on the poster, implying that a vast majority of the refugees are single men. Well, single men walk faster than women and children, hence they were always in front of the line. People with children also tend to prefer to be in less exposed places for safety reasons.
This is the PHOTO used by UKIP.

Here are some more photos shot in Rigonce at the same time as Farage's poster:
THIS PHOTO shows how families with children walk at the back of the line. Note the front of the line in the distance, led by police on horses.
THIS PHOTO shows quite many children also in the middle of the line.
THIS PHOTO is a close-up of some walking refugees. Not quite as scary as Farage's poster, is it.
Evil dangerous divisive extremist demagoguery coming from Farage.
After Hungary closed its borders to the refugees, Slovenia was the first country on the Balkan route which systematically registered all refugees crossing its borders.
There were more than 400,000 refugees, of which
45% Syrians
30% Afghans
17% Iraqis
49% men
51% women and children (under 18)
I should also add that being in front of the line made no difference. Slovenia adopted a policy to first allow families with children and vulnerable people across the border so that we could first take care of them, while single men were left to wait.

Ken Loach ......... Voting to leave the EU will result in governments moving to the right

Ken Loach, the veteran left wing film director has done it again by winning the  Palme d'or, Cannes Film Festival 2016 with I, Daniel Blake. Ken had retired but felt the need to make yet another, a searing indictment of the dismantling of the welfare state. BelperStuff will resist the urge to comment but instead offer you links to the art and opinions of Ken himself. Below is a trailer for the film, suitably subtitled for its showing in Cannes. (link for those who cannot see the embedded video)

Ken is no stranger to critical acclaim as his output over six decades charts the lives of the disadvantaged and downtrodden, from homelessness and poverty in the 1960's to today, where an uncaring, quota led system declares those suffering from ill health to be fit for work. There is a wonderful archive of his work on YouTube:

When interviewed about I, Daniel Blake , Ken spoke about why he thinks the decision to leave the EU is a difficult one: (link for those who cannot see the embedded video)

"The problem is that if we leave (the EU) then what replaces it is a government much further to the right" Ken's view on the EU referendum 6 minutes into the interview.

Then at the press conference:
“On the one hand, the European Union is a neo-liberal project; it’s a drive towards privatisation and a drive towards de-regulation. The safeguards that are there for workers and for the environment are constantly under attack so it’s not doing us any favours at the moment. On the other hand, if we leave, we know the individual governments will be moving as far to the right as possible.”
Loach believes the solution is ultimately voting to stay and thinks we need to “make alliances with other European left movements”. Guardian article about Ken Loach at Cannes 2016

I could not resist this gem from the BBC, Desert Island Discs - Ken Loach - 1999 Ken talks about his life and art and the overwhelming impression is of a man driven to expose exploitation, constantly having to remind us of the consequences of political doctrine, the effect on people's lives. Now here in 2016 it does seem as if it is one step forward and two steps back. The gains of the post war consensus and the decision of the Tories to unravel those gains post 1979, followed by a degree of retrenchment by Gordon Brown following the Labour win in 1997 ............... all this has led to the post 2010 demonisation of the poor and disadvantaged. Ken has documented all the twists and turns, the hardships and despair ........... but also the joy of "The Spirit of '45" and the comedy of "Kes". 

Wednesday 15 June 2016

EU Referendum debate in Belper Friday evening at St Peter's Church - Part 2

Publication of Part 2 has been delayed because it seemed appropriate to spend some time thinking about the evening before posting inappropriate comments. from that you can deduce that BelperStuff was not happy with the panelist's responses. Ok so no surprises that I found the Tory to be objectionable, his patronising tone when addressing the audience and especially the rudeness he showed towards at least two questioners. His lack of openness was most apparent when he replied to a question:

What three things have you changed your mind about since the start of the EU Referendum debate?

Chris Heaton-Harris waffled on with more of the same stuff about the EU being inflexible and wasteful of money and that it was better if the UK divorced itself and took control of it's own affairs. This, however was in stark contrast to what he wrote in December 2014 on the Conservative Home website: You don’t have to change the treaties to change the EU. It is difficult to reconcile any of his 2014 view with his statements last Friday. Surely, voting to leave the EU thereby tearing up the treaty is the biggest change that could be envisaged. He mentioned none of this when answering the above question.

A slight aside: Of course this particular Tory has to work harder than most to be believed because there is ample evidence of him saying one thing but believing something entirely different: Tory MP running Corby campaign 'backed rival in anti-windfarm plot'. I imagine that there are many Tories who consider this chap to be on the"z" list so it is surprising that Pauline Latham asked him to be a panelist in Belper. Don't we deserve someone better?

Toby Perkins basically restated his case but did refer to the opportunities available to the UK if we remained in. Our imminent stint at the EU presidency offered possibilities for EU reform.

A further reason for hesitancy in posting Part 2

Some of you may have noticed that there is a slight bias towards the Labour Party on BelperStuff. OK, perhaps not so subtle. Unfortunately with this post I find something that Toby Perkins said to be distasteful. I mentioned it in Part 1, his apology for the "mistake" made by Labour in the mid noughties in not enforcing transitional quotas on Polish immigrants. This rankled because there is ample evidence that, because we have an affinity with the Polish people it was only right and proper that they were granted immediate right of entry. 

Alan Johnson - leading the Labour In campaign
Alan Johnson was on TV the other evening talking about this very point. He spoke of the then Labour cabinet being advised by civil servants that the likely immigration would be no more than 10,000 odd and as there were a significant number of vacancies in the UK at that time it seemed to be in the best interest of the country to allow unrestricted access. They were surprised at the numbers that did enter the country but, in hindsight, he still thinks that they made the correct decision. BelperStuff agrees.

We lived in different time in 2006, with certain industries desperately trying to recruit ......... an example being road haulage seemingly unable to fill 5,000 vacancies for drivers as well as many support staff posts remaining unfilled. The need for workers went right across the board but changing demographics with an aging worker profile meant that there were not enough young workers coming through to fill all these posts. Another problem area was railways, in some areas of the country the average age of train drivers being over 50. There was a serious problem which had not been helped by rail privatisation as there was much poaching of staff between franchisees and not enough training.

This chart drawn from ONS data that may illustrate this better:

By 2014 the increased percentage of people aged over 64 was becoming apparent but the projected decrease in the numbers of working age is of greater concern. This demographic spread is unsustainable in the long term. Vote Leave campaigners never tackle this problem even though they must be aware of it.

Causes of population change 2004 - 2014
Immigration helped to alleviate this crisis though we still have many age related problems to overcome. Toby Perkins disappointed in not fully understanding this. That there are dissatisfied unemployed workers in his constituency is not the fault of immigration. It is the effects of austerity on the economy, the lack of meaningful apprenticeships, the readiness of the current government to accept low wages as the norm. We face many challenges in our society but, as Alan Johnson said on TV, "those in the Labour and trade union movement should never blame those who are being exploited for that exploitation" (BelperStuff admits an element of paraphrasing).

The accompanying table, Causes of population change 2004-2014 helps to explain the situation further though more evidence would be required before those wishing to leave the EU were able to comprehend the complete picture. Unfortunately they are being fed incomplete and selective data, skewed to bolster anti-EU sentiment.

The ONS also supplies projections for life expectancy (the chart featured below) and this indicates that females will on average enjoy an extra 4 years of life by 2037 whilst males can look forward to an additional 5 years. The ratio of working age/retired will drastically change unless we make radical alterations to our society and the way we organise our economy. This should be the debate. We cannot go on judging our performance by growth in the UK GDP; we should instead rely more on such indicators as quality of life, sustainability and most importantly the eradication of inequality. We stand more chance on those measures if we remain in the EU rather than accepting the Leave campaigners model which they have just published: EU referendum: Vote Leave sets out post-Brexit plans. Hardly what you could call "fully costed" proposals but you get the idea in which direction they would be going ........ towards the right.

Life expectancy projection. Source ONS

Saturday 11 June 2016

EU Referendum debate in Belper Friday evening at St Peter's Church - Part 1

St Peter's Church Belper - Friday 10th June 2016 - Part 1

Sadly this was a sparsely attended meeting; the 30 or so hawk eyed people who had spotted the notice of this event trying to make themselves feel like a crowd by being spread out amongst the pews.

The meeting was hosted by Pauline Latham who arrived just on time but apologising for being delayed on the M1 motorway .......... a five and a half hour drive from Westminster (why not use the train?). With her were the former East Midlands MEP, Chris Heaton-Harris, who is now the Conservative Member of Parliament for Daventry and Toby Perkins, Labour Member of Parliament for Chesterfield (Shadow minister for the armed forces). This was a straight Tory for Leave and Labour for Remain debate.

Chris Heaton-Harris
Toby Perkins

 The meeting progressed in the usual way with the panelists stating their position and it has to be said that both men put the case for Leave or Remain in a creditable fashion, A brief summary:

Toby Perkins

The EU is not always positive in regards to responding to variations of the constituent countries but it does help to protect us in a world dominated by globalisation. Toby spoke of being an internationalist who is proud to be British and that our natural place as the second largest economy in the EU is to "lead in Europe". 

He mentioned the 25 EU sponsored projects in Chesterfield and that the NHS would collapse without immigrant workers. Many jobs and indeed the relative success of the economy were dependent on continued membership of the EU.

The EU is democratic.

Chris Heaton-Harris

Chris reminded us of his time as an East Midlands MEP then challenged the audience to name their current MEP. He then talked of his time on the EU Internal Market Committee, responsible for co-ordination at Community level of national legislation in the sphere of the internal market and of the customs union. Then he asked if any of the audience knew who Lord Hill was (a strange coincidence because just three hours later Lord Hill was being questioned by Evan Davies on newsnight about the Internal Market Committee: this link to Newsnight might be short lived)

Heaton-Harris then posited, maybe poor turnout at elections is linked to undemocratic legislation dominated by the EU; 59% of UK laws coming from the EU.

We moved swiftly on to questions from the audience

Amongst what I have to admit were an intelligent and thought provoking bunch of questions the following stood out:

Why not train more nurses so that we do not have to recruit so many from abroad?

This from a nurse of long standing who had come to the UK 43 years ago, trained here as a nurse then dedicated her life to working in the NHS (she also lamented the fact that she had no vote in the referendum). 

Toby Perkins mentioned the pressures on health authorities who were forced to look for the cheapest option and ready trained nurses from, say, the far east were significantly cost effective when compared to the expense of training in the UK. It was regrettable that there were only 50,000 dedicated places in university with over 150,000 applicants who wished to follow a career in nursing. There was also a serious shortage of home grown doctors, a situation that was getting worse. Without recruitment from both within and outside the EU the NHS would collapse. More needs to be spent on training.

Chris Heaton-Harris spoke of the record amounts of money being spent on the NHS by the Conservative government and that if we left the EU, despite tighter border controls a points system would ensure that essential workers such as doctors and nurses would still be able to enter this country.

Why is it that before the referendum Tory MP's were saying that the NHS was safe in Tory hands but as soon as they became part of the Leave campaign they claimed that the NHS was now headed for disaster and the only way to save it was to vote Leave?

The question was asked by an NHS campaigner who had been handing out a leaflet at St Peter's churchyard gate, detailing that very question. This one:
Apologies for this bad scan. If I can source a better copy I will edit this post.
Chris Heaton-Harris attempted  a very dismissive answer and when challenged by the questioner that he had not in fact answered the question he said, "You are talking rubbish". Heaton-Harris continued to avoid the question, talking about the strain on the NHS caused by immigrants and that by leaving the EU the UK government would be free to spend more on the NHS.

Next a gentleman referred back to the previous question, " the chap was not talking rubbish and you did not answer the question"

Many in the audience applauded this. 

Chris Heaton-Harris again waffled and repeated his "rubbish" comment. The question remained unanswered.

A response was asked of the panel to the Home Office statement in 2006 that the immigration of Polish workers had added 1% to GDP. This had generated additional tax to the exchequer and over the years had done much to ease the budget deficit and limit the rise in national debt.

Toby Perkins commented that overall the free flow of workers in the EU had been of benefit but that he was concerned about the effect on lower paid jobs and the effect on wages in his constituency. A sensitive answer but, on balance not exactly satisfactory because the answer to low wages is to legislate for an increase in the minimum wage and aggressively pursuing employers who pay below the legal minimum. He did mention the advisability of better training and education for key skills so that balanced it out somewhat.

What was annoying was the assertion that the UK made a mistake by not applying transitional restrictions to Polish workers as opposed to the French who did impose a limit (the questioner had mentioned that the French only allowed 9,000 Eastern Europeans access to work in the same period). We seem to forget the special relationship that we have had with Poland that has lasted for many years, from the 1930's right through to the 21st Century. We maintained trade agreements with Poland that still functioned through the iron curtain, a situation acknowledged by Gordon Brown when he was chancellor.

Chris Heaton-Harris did accept that the figures were accurate (well at leastthe numbers of immigrants) but played down the importance of economic immigration to the UK economy. He once again mentioned the strain on housing, schools and the NHS but as usual for the Leave campaign failed to back this up with any hard data. It has been proven that economic immigrants are typically younger, receive minimal benefits and make use of the NHS far less than comparable UK citizens but you would gain no such knowledge from this Tory.

As to the effect on the economy; for a chap who was full of how much he knew about the reality of finances across Europe Chris Heaton-Harris seemed to be notably uninformed about the effect of economic migration on our economy. See: World Bank comparison of GDP France, Poland & UK

Wednesday 8 June 2016

Eu Referendum -------- register to vote update ----- deadline extended

Just on the off chance that somebody stumbles across this blog who has not heard that the deadline for registering to vote has been extended because the website crashed yesterday evening ------- well ----------- the deadline has been extended.

See this item on BBC news:

Register to vote deadline is now tomorrow
Midnight on Thursday 9th of June