Gordian Knot

Logically as you get older first time things happen less often, but every so often they still happen.

Last week, and for the first time in my adult life, I was told by a young and bored looking girl at Paris’s Charles de Gaul airport that I had to use the non-EU passport queue. i.e. the longer one filled with people who had that look.That ‘if you dress and look like that you are going to be heavily scrutinised and annoy everyone behind you’ look.

The cover of my passport has worn off with time and use so I assumed it was an honest mistake on her behalf. I politely explained to her that it was a British passport, and opened it to prove it. She nodded, chewed gum and told me that I was now no longer allowed to use the EU line. She was speaking to me without looking at me, the contents of her phone immeasurably more interesting than me and my battered ex-European passport.

It was then that it twigged.

‘Not yet’ I said to no one in particular and proceeded to join my fellow Europeans moving quickly towards the wooden booth guarding the border.

So a first shot in the battle for Brexit or just an honest mistake from a disinterested millennial?

I think the latter because I don’t believe Brexit will happen.

Not in a fingers in your ears, lalalalalala, not listening to you, just make it go away sort of way. No, in an it would be unimaginable, unthinkable, unfair and, I would argue, impossible for it happen sort of way.

Let me explain.

We find ourselves in the rather odd situation where both parties to this divorce fundamentally don’t want it to happen.

With the exception of a few grinning imbeciles most people in government and the important UK political parties think leaving the EU is a bad idea. A few hundred miles south of London almost everyone is shaking their heads in disbelief wondering what the hell is going on.

The only people who want Brexit are the people who voted for it.

So who are these people?

After the referendum as the dust settled the average yes voter was quickly profiled. On a whole they were categorised as English, white and old. Basically it was the baby boomers and generation X (my generation) who voted for Brexit. We are the people who have enjoyed membership of the EU for most of our lives. We gave the world Rock n Roll, free love, Led Zeppelin, global warming and a spend and live like there is no tomorrow mentality. The mañana generation and it seems, once again, they have proved there is no limit to their selfishness.

The referendum was delivered in a binary, yes/no, form though.

Yes prevailed but what does yes actually mean? Yes we want to leave everything and go it alone? Yes we want bits but don’t want the other bits. Yes to the free market, no to free movement of people?

Brexit means Brexit as the twitching sparrow is oft to repeat but I bet even she doesn’t know what this actually means. That’s because a yes/no referendum on thousands of different rules, regulations, laws and treaties is wide open to interpretation.

So if neither party to the divorce wants the divorce but they are being forced to why not just live together, or why not go all the way and join together in a civil partnership?

You still get to cohabit, sleep with each other, share bank accounts, pensions, toothpaste and Netflix accounts you just cant say you are married. Its not an ideal solution but definitely more agreeable than the alternative of a political vanity driven cluster-fuck of proportions only Stephen Hawking could conceive.

Yes, yes I know. It would piss off Mr middle income Anon Smith, white, aged 45 to 65 years old living out his make Britain great again fantasy in a green and pleasant Grimsby. We might get the odd protest but if we use the time wisely this slight of hand might not even be noticed.

If the leave campaign can generate enough spin behind a bus load of lies to win a majority surely the combined powers of parliament can do something similar with the old-fashioned concept of facts and the truth.

How about explaining that immigration will not be tangibly affected whether we are in the EU or otherwise. Allowing the French, the Germans, the Spanish into the country has never been the problem, it’s the ‘undesirables’ from outside the EU and the odd country inside which seem to be the problem.

How about explaining that Britain has never signed up to the Schengen agreement and therefore every person coming into the country by normal means has always had to go through a control.

How about pointing out that the UK has the best natural border on the continent, a whopping great big natural moat – the English channel.

How about explaining that Brexit will not be able to improve on the status quo, other than to stop allowing other Europeans to come over and live, work and study, and of course the British reciprocally?

If we can agree on the question of immigration, how about we go a step further and agree to pay an amount, lets just say for arguments sake we set it at exactly the same as our current contributions, to retain access to the free market?

If we can remove these two questions from the table then as I see it the rest is just heavy breathing and fishing rights.

So if we are to fast forward 10 years and the UK is not part of the EU but still operating in the same way we always did what will this exercise in pure democracy have delivered us?

Tangibly, three years of uncertainty, billions in value wiped off the currency and stock markets, an incalculable loss of business and human capital. A nation divided and our European neighbours looking at us like we have just cheated on them by sodomising their mothers.

But on the plus side it has delivered a huge bonanza payday for accountants, lawyers and bankers working on the fine print. So that’s good. I guess.

And if we don’t take a lesson from Alexander and take simple, elegant, easy route, what then?

Well smartphone Sophie at CDG airport will one day be correct.

And this, just cannot be allowed to happen.

A cup of post truth tea

anicecupofteaandabiscuit2Last week. 10km up. Somewhere over Europe.

The seatbelt sign has disappeared and I’m pretending to work on my laptop as two metal trollies slowly work a stop-start pincer manoeuvre from the front and back towards my middle-of-the-plane seat.

The captain informed us earlier that it will only take forty-five minutes to fly from Dusseldorf to Zurich.

Eventually the trollies collide next to me and I am asked to choose my beverage. There’s only twenty-five minutes left before we land so I opt for tea.

She asks what type. I say normal. Blank look.

I elaborate, in my pigeon German; English breakfast, proper, normal, brown tea….bitte.

The young lady flicks through a rolodex of tea bags announcing them as she does. Earl Grey, Darjeeling, Green, White, Orange or Strawberry infusion, Camomile and so on.

I shake my head, repeat my order and receive the look of someone who’s just been asked for a skinny, vanilla latte with a side of salted edamame beans.

I take a glass of water and continue with my pretend working.

I would submit to you that not all progress is good progress.

Something’s were better left the way they were. I liked the world when the only choice of tea, outside of India and China, was brown tea. Aka, the kind I drink.

Now in saying this I fully accept that this lack of choice puts the minority groups who actually enjoy drinking a cup of hot water with a few lemon and bark flavoured twigs at a disadvantage. But such is life.

We don’t really need such choices, they serve no purpose other than to confuse, and slow things down.

We live in a world where we have come to expect that we get what we want, when we want it. Be it a ten kilometre high fruity infusion, instant Netflix, free pornography, retail therapy or amazon reordering our toilet roll.

So when things don’t happen the way we think they should we are becoming unequipped to deal with them.

The two seismic democratic results this year and specifically ‘our’ reactions to them are wonderful real world examples of something not happening in the way we believed they should have.

And what did we do?

We cried foul, we protested, we sought therapy, we stomped our feet, we rattled the bars of our respective cribs, we blamed Facebook and turned (and continue to turn) every legal stone to try to reverse what was a fair and unfettered democratic result.

Democracy, it would seem and to quote Churchill, is only the best worst form of government when it delivers a result along our accepted norms.

And both Brexit and Trump were anything but our accepted norms.

Don’t get me wrong I too was as bemused as the next person when I woke to discover the world had gone mad. I even started questioning the principle of universal suffrage. Can there not be a intelligence test or some other hurdle before they give out the right to vote?

I was shocked and surprised. Who on earth thought that Brexit was a good idea or that voting a misogynistic bully with stupid hair into the white house was wise?

Well, as it turns out, quite a lot of people.

I started realising that what I thought were the accepted norms of the world aren’t actually the accepted norms, they are my norms, not shared by what a democratic textbook would define as the majority.

Oddly the majority of the world care more about the prospect of a job and their ability to put food on their family’s table than the plight of immigrants or the right of some members of the LBGTQ community to pee in whichever toilet they choose.

This majority are apparently willing to look beyond the offensive or borderline illegal statements or whether the person is actually telling the truth if he or she can deliver something different to what has not been delivered for them in the last thirty years or so. They ignored the crap and focused on what will make a difference for them, not all Trump supporters support his views or are sexist xenophobes – they just believed he could deliver more than the next man, or woman as the case was.

My shock and surprise at both results lasted probably about a day or so and once I had worked out the how it happened to my own satisfaction I put all my toys back in my pram, and immediately cancelled my therapy sessions.

The majority of the world doesn’t exist in the same world as me nor most of the people I know. I haven’t met the majority. I don’t know them and I clearly don’t think like them. Politicians the world over don’t seem to understand them either and this is the most troubling aspect of this year, aside from David Bowie, Prince and Terry Wogan of course.

The leadership of the United Kingdom and the United States, regardless of political affiliation, got it very badly wrong. The rest of the world’s leaders are now sitting up and taking notice like a bunch of startled Meerkats.

They were so far out of touch with the bulk of the electorate that they allowed such catastrophes to occur. Yes I blame them, and now with the luxury of hindsight it doesn’t seem that surprising. I don’t agree with these results, but I can understand why they have occurred.

It seems for every big issue, be it terrorism, immigration or the economy, the majority would move right and the political class would move left, the chasm this created delivered us Brexit and now Trump. Merkel will probably be next and lets see what happens in France in the coming months.

So what to do now?

Well there’s not much to do really.

Protesting is something I do believe in. If enough people protest and raise an issue it will get done, politicians will only do what we tell them to, they value their jobs far more than what they have said they believe in, just listen to Paul Ryan now as a case in point. It’s been quite some time since a politician stuck to his or her beliefs regardless of the implications.

Protesting against a vote result is a wasted protest though, you might as well be protesting against the bad weather. Save your protests up for when you really need them, for the policy statements or the bad legislation or another war.

Rioting will help even less.

If you will allow here’s my advice. I suggest you accept that not everyone in the world has the same beliefs as you. Try to understand like I am that you are not always right and I know this is difficult. Try to understand that whatever that cause or issue you feel so strongly about might not hold the same weight with others. Lots of others.

You can call them what you want but there is more of them than you or me.

When Lenin stepped off that train in Petrograd 1917 after years of living in exile he promised ‘Peace, Bread and Land’ to the masses and it worked. A simple promise. Easy to understand and to rally behind.

This simple promise was never fulfilled but that’s a just being pedantic. The majority believed him, like the majority believe Trump or believed Farage, Gove and Johnson.

Promising something and delivering something is altogether different and if we could fast forward four years I bet you the post Brexit or Trump administration world is a very different one to the one they have painted for us. Where Brexit is concerned I hope not, with Trump, well that’s a different blog altogether.

It will be different though and when it is I certainly hope proper debate and discourse returns and is the only mechanism used to determine how we all move forward from that point.

Because regardless of the result, this ‘post truth’ world we appear to have landed in isn’t one I like. Nor do I approve of it or want it to continue.

It’s a bit like that cup of milky Earl Grey offered as a substitute to proper tea when you have no other choice.

Its weak, totally devoid of substance, it has a nice name but ultimately when all is said and done, it will deliver you nothing.

The Gruffalo

UntitledWhat matters more, feelings or facts?

A week or so ago I turned a corner and forty years old disappeared from my rear view mirror, looming ahead of me front and center is fifty. I don’t feel forty-six. I don’t even know what forty-six should feel like which probably makes me wholly unqualified to deal with the big five-zero when it arrives.

I just don’t feel it, I still feel twenty-five, but I also don’t dispute the fact that I am.

2016 is hardly a momentous year for me. It’s not a milestone in my life. If I was to look back on my life I doubt 2016 wouldn’t stand out much. It’s been a pretty good year though and I keep my fingers firmly crossed for the final five months.

It wouldn’t stand out if I was the only person on the planet but I’m not and given everything else which has happened this year, and continues to happen, I do think this year will stand out, but for all the wrong reasons.

I’ve said it before and will say it again that its difficult, if not impossible, to see events properly whilst they are occurring. You need to be able step back and gain some historical perspective to see how things affect or interact with each other and their knock on effects. The other thing about historical perspective is that time tends to get condensed. Take the twenty-one years during the two world wars. Aside from Germany it would seem nothing of note happened anywhere else. Of course it did, its just the historical lens only allows us to see the events which have an impact on the subsequent events and then it basically ignores the rest. The interwar years tend to be reduced to a few paragraphs and only to act as the bridge or to show cause and effect between WWI and WWII.

So are we living through an inflection point in history or just some dull nothing of note period?

To answer this properly we would need a flux capacitor, 1.21 Giga-watts and a DeLorean. We would then need to go speak with our grandchildren and ask them what they think. I cant speak for them but I think we can be fairly sure they wont be that happy with us for this year, regardless of its overall place in history.

We, and I use ‘we’ very generously to include my generation (x) and the baby boomers (my parents generation), are the generations who make up the majority of the worlds population today.

We are the generations who have had the opportunities which were handed to us by our grandparents. They were the generation who fought and died to give us the life we have today. They weren’t fighting for themselves, they were fighting for us. We did nothing to deserve it, we were just fortunate enough to be born after 1945, that’s it, and every year quite rightly we thank them for it.

So lets now jump back to the future to today and if we use our retrospective historical perspective lens what have we done with such a gift?

We have grown comparatively wealthy, we have educated ourselves, we have pushed innovation to such a rate its hard to keep up. We have advanced the world through science and medicine, we are rapidly rejecting faith and have lifted everyone’s welfare up a few notches. We have significantly more ‘stuff’.

What else? Can we say, like our grandparents could, that we are handing over the world in a better state than it was when we inherited it?

How have we handled ourselves this year for example? Have our decisions this year done anything to improve the baton in preparation for us passing it on in the coming years?

There has been one decision already taken this year, the EU referendum, and another one coming up, the US presidential election. Given we are still the majority both these major decision have been, and will be, taken by us.

The next generation will have their say but they are still the minority, for now.

And this brings me back to feelings vs. facts.

It seems right now feelings are trumping facts every time – if you forgive the obvious pun. The whole Brexit leave campaign ignored every fact placed in front of them. To me the epitome of the whole campaign was summed up when Michael Gove was asked about some expert opinion and he said ‘Its clear the population are sick of hearing from so called experts’. He knew very well that any learned or scientific analysis of the post Brexit situation would not support his position so with one condescending sentence ignored them and by using the phrase so called undermined their hard won, peer reviewed, credibility as experts without any justification whatsoever to do so. He did it with no shame or embarrassment before immediately directing the discussion back to the rather vague feelings of the electorate, according to him. Another fact bomb diffused.

And it worked. We believed the non-factual statements, we believed the lies and half truths. We believed the sound bite fear mongering about a faceless enemy called Brussels or immigration and never thought to question any of it. We believed it so much that we are now going to pull Britain out of the EU – a decision, which as minor aside, was polar to the wishes of the next generation.

My parent’s generation and my generation have had the benefit of the EU for most of their working and studying lives. We have all enjoyed the freedom of travel and the peace driven by integration. We have all enjoyed free education, social benefits, access to the free market and international study programs.

Now, given our age, these things are things we don’t need anymore. We have used them up so why should these be important to anyone? We are the most important generation right?

The two main items which were top of the importance list for leave voters were immigration and taking control back. Afterwards everyone agrees both items will not be addressed properly by leaving the EU, so personally I am at a loss as to why have we actually done it in the first place? Just to prove we can?

I don’t think I need to go on. What we have done by voting to leave the EU is to ignore the big picture, we have decided to ignore the needs of future generations. We have ignored the facts, we have ignored the truth and focused on our own feelings, basically it was a fuck anyone else vote and yes, that does include our own children. How does this stack up against the generation who were celebrating VE day back in 1945?

I would suggest not very well and can almost guarantee history will judge it as much.

So that’s one decision down, what about the other one coming up in November? Well as far as I can see its pretty much the same situation. Facts being ignored, focus on the fear and rally everyone against the enemy who is always ‘out there’.

And the talking heads keep saying how you should feel, regardless of the reality.

Create an enemy and keep the population focused on them. It’s Muslims or the Mexicans this time around but it could anyone really. Just make sure that they don’t look or think like the majority and you will be ok. If you ever have had the inclination to work your way through the toxic drivel which is Mein Kampf you might be surprised to see this is exactly the approach a certain Mr Hitler employed during the 1930s in Germany. Establish beyond doubt who the enemy is using falsehoods and pseudo-science and then blame all of society’s ills on that enemy. It worked back then, why not now?

The similarities are so apparent to the extent I have found myself having to resort to Godwin’s Law during some discussions on the subject. Facts and normal debate is dead, normal healthy political discourse and challenge seems to be something we can just ignore now.

If you lie, just keep repeating the lie even when faced with absolute proof of the lie and eventually people will just give up trying to talk to you and you can carry on with your baseless rhetoric, unchallenged.

The slogan Make America Great Again got me thinking, when exactly was America ever great? I came to the conclusion, once again, it was 1945. That was the time when they justifiably could claim to be great, a huge industrial powerhouse who had just brought peace to the world and harboured little or no interventionist ideas. It stopped being great some time ago and a lying misogynistic lump of a man with no concept of even the basics of politics or common decency stands zero chance of returning it anywhere close to where it once was.

But what do I know? Perhaps I’m old fashioned but I still believe in a strong opposition and independant press. I still like to have heated fact based debates and up until this year I firmly believed that freedom of speech meant the best argument would always win the day.

Oddly I also believe we should hand over the world to the future generation in a better state than when we inherited it.

Perhaps these concepts don’t apply anymore and maybe this is my problem. Why should I care about silly things like facts, the future or for that matter the truth when it comes to gaining political capital?

Its clearly not that important anymore, but as story goes the more the mouse talked about the Gruffalo the more real he became.

And this, I think, is what scares me the most…

Island Nation

untitledA country with a moat is very secure.

It would take real determination to conquer a nation so fortuitously endowed with such a natural defense.

Ever since Doggerland disappeared 8,000 years ago Great Britain has enjoyed a natural moat, one which has famously not been breached for coming on to close to a millennia. Britain ruled the waves for one reason; it had to, and it did so very effectively. For a very long time.

But in 1973 the country opted to loosen slightly some of its controls and join the European Common Market; a free trading club which had been going on since the end of the Second World War. Back then, as Europe struggled to deal with the utter destruction arising from two cataclysmic world wars, a common trading pact between the belligerent nations seemed a very good idea. To foster good relations and avoid another repeat of the previous thirty years. The integration of Europe was seen as the way forward, the thinking being that anything would be preferable to what had just happened.

Over the forty plus years since Britain joined the common market this exclusive club has morphed from a trade based union to something much more. It has grown up into the European Union and expanded geographically well beyond where anyone thought it would during its inception at the treaty of Rome. Its legislative reach has also expanded exponentially, to the point where politicians are complaining about having their hands tied and even a perceived challenge to the fundamental principle of self-determination has found its way into the everyday lexicon of our modern sound bite media.

So now, for the second time in two years, Britain will be holding a referendum on the question of integration or separation. In 2014 Scotland voted to remain part of the United Kingdom and in June this year the whole nation will be going to the polls again, this time to determine if the nation should remain a part of the European club, or not. The potential for Brexit, as its being called, is starting to gain momentum and in a few months from now the nation will have decided.

If Britain does decide to exit the EU the ramifications cannot be underestimated and I personally find myself in an uneasy situation.

Anyone who knows me knows I have an opinion on pretty much anything. I am very happy to spend time debating the pros and cons of most things. Sometimes I get the odd person who just disagrees with me and being devoid of any good argument simply resorts to Godwin’s law to end the discussion quickly but for the most part its normally good natured debate. I like that, it’s healthy and I am not, yet, so stuck in my ways to not change my opinion should a better argument win the day.

Two years ago I was very much opposed to Scotland voting to separate from the rest of the United Kingdom, I argued strongly and enjoyed the debate. It so happened that 55% of the population held a similar opinion and thus Scotland remained an integral part of the UK.

But now I am having second thoughts, I don’t like to admit it but I am grown up and ugly enough to do so. If I am wrong I will stand up and say so.

Let’s be clear, I still believe Scotland should be part of the UK and I firmly believe the UK is ‘Better together’. My second thoughts are nothing to do with the UK as an entity per se but very much to do with the desires of the majority of the Scottish population, which I believe are very much in favour of Scotland remaining an integral part of the European Union.

So let’s fast forward to June and let’s imagine the UK votes to exit. The current polls show that Scotland clearly, by a large margin, wants to remain with Europe so if this did happen it would be wholly undemocratic for the Scottish people. It would be England dragging Scotland out regardless of the wishes of the Scottish people.

I have, in the past, argued for the principle that we are all in it together when it comes to the whole of the UK being managed from Westminster regarding taxation, defence and most of the normal day to day activities of government.

Leaving the European Union is too big a decision and it flies in the face of this inclusive principle. If the Scottish nation were to be dragged out, not through their own choice, then I would find myself seriously questioning my own opinions from two years ago.

But what would happen next?

Well, I think the answer is pretty obvious and if you think about the consequences of Brexit it will quickly lead you down a Machiavellian rabbit hole.

The SNP also know what would happen if Scotland exits the EU because the majority in England voted for it, but the SNP are campaigning to stay in. Or are they?

This EU referendum is a gold-plated, perfume scented gift which has landed on their laps. They win if the UK stays, they win if the UK goes.

So again, really, how hard are they campaigning?

All the SNP would need is to show the majority of Scottish voters wanted to remain and in the blink of an eye we would see a second independence referendum on the table and this time around I would imagine, like me, a lot of the 55% who voted to remain would be having serious second thoughts.

In short, if Britain does decide to become an isolated Island nation once again I would immediately become a strong and vocal supporter for Scottish independence.

Building walls never helps. There are numerous historical and contemporary examples of this and I don’t need to explain why. Berlin, Gaza to name just two.

The EU is far from perfect, it costs its member states a lot of money to maintain and not every member plays by the rules. We all have immigration issues and we all face the same challenges. Britain has managed to negotiate a number of key opt out clauses through John Major and more recently with David Cameron. But even with these special privileges the situation is still far from perfect. I am fully cognisant of its flaws but the solution cannot be to pick up your ball and walk home, the solution has to be to fix it from within.

Whether in or out, Europe is, and will continue to be, vital to the prosperity of the UK and I would argue if you are trying to influence Europe then hiding behind a wall or a moat is probably not the best place to do it from.

So Britain still has its natural barrier but retreating behind it isn’t the answer and I can almost guarantee the Pandora’s box it will open will be almost impossible to close.

And I for one certainly don’t want to be going down that route.