Saturday, November 18, 2017

Zibabwe Brexit



True Brit – Part One

Oxymoron - noun: oxymoron; plural noun: oxymorons

a figure of speech in which apparently contradictory terms appear in conjunction (e.g. faith unfaithful kept him falsely true ).

Yes I know, Zimbabwe, and the current political crisis there, appears to have no relationship or connection to Brexit. Wrong.

In my series, True Brit, I will examine the commonly held myths about the British and how these false myths affect almost every aspect of our lives in the early 21st century.

Whilst it is easy to hypothesise about how Brexit happened, one thing is clear. The Brexit wing of the Conservative party has long held the belief that the UK remains, for practical purposes, in the pre-colonial past and therefore punches far higher in the world influence league than it deserves.

This is not entirely without justification. Don’t forget, the UK has a permanent seat on the UN Security Council, the UK is one of the world’s acknowledged nuclear powers and, crucially, today’s UK is the inheritor of “the sun never sets on the British Empire”.

Hence, the political situation in Zimbabwe has dominated news in the UK for the last few days. Memories of the Rhodesian UDI are still fresh in the minds of the majority of Conservative MP’s. And, the taste it leaves in their mouths is not a pleasant one. Outwardly half-accepting of Robert Mugabe, they have spent most of their political lives disparaging his regime – not without justification, but also revealing a deep-seated hostility to anyone with the temerity to challenge their world view of a Britain still basking in the wartime glory of Churchillian rhetoric.

The same scenario applies to Myanmar (Burma). The UK was the colonial power. Now news that the “Darling of the Media” Aung San Suu Kyi may be at least partly complicit in the genocide of displaced Rohingya Muslim minority has shaken the UK Foreign Office (so far as they are capable of being shaken).

Manila: Myanmar leader Aung San Suu Kyi faced rising global pressure Tuesday to solve the crisis for her nation's displaced Rohingya Muslim minority, meeting the UN chief and America's top diplomat in the Philippines.

UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres told the Nobel laureate that hundreds of thousands of displaced Muslims who had fled to Bangladesh should be allowed to return to their homes in Myanmar.

"The Secretary-General highlighted that strengthened efforts to ensure humanitarian access, safe, dignified, voluntary and sustained returns, as well as true reconciliation between communities, would be essential," a UN statement said, summarising comments to Suu Kyi.

Guterres' comments came hours before Suu Kyi sat down with US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson on the sidelines of the East Asia Summit in Manila.

Washington has been cautious in its statements on the situation in Rakhine, and has avoided outright criticism of Suu Kyi.

Supporters say she must navigate a path between outrage abroad and popular feeling in a majority Buddhist country where most people believe the Rohingya are interlopers.

At a photo opportunity at the top of her meeting with Tillerson, Suu Kyi ignored a journalist who asked if the Rohingya were citizens of Myanmar.

And in Zimbabwe the demise of Robert Mugabe is seen as a justification of the British position.  His overthrow is simply another example of True Brit.

In other news this week: the EU are planning closer co-operation in the area of defence. This has shaken the Little Englanders to the core. Nothing serves to enrage them more than what seems to be an attack on the military. Or, at least on the fantasy of the military. True Brit demands that the populace sees the Army, the Royal Navy and the Royal Air Force as the nonpareil of national military might. There is, of course, little in the way of evidence to support this. (Only the British could celebrate a defeat (Dunkirk) with so much relish) The facts are: in WWI (which is the focus of Remembrance Day celebrations) it was the arrival of the American army which tipped the balance if favour of the allies, in WWII it was the Russian Army who defeated Hitler’s Third Reich and since then whilst the UK Forces have participated in numerous combat operations (Korea, The Falklands Campaign, Bosnia, Desert Storm) in each case they played a subordinate role.

If we then add the Brexit debacle into the mix, things rapidly approach the unreasonable. No other fiasco exhibits the core of True Brit like Brexit. It is the core. In fact, Brexit itself is an oxymoron. Britain is not going to leave the EU – at least not in the sense that the voters think they voted for. As the Brexit Secretary, David Davis, tries to spread the gloss on an untenable set of circumstances, he only highlights the unsolvable nature of the problems. I particularly liked the comment on the news today that for the first time in over 700 years the Irish have the UK over a barrel. Neither the Conservative and Unionist Party nor the Irish government will countenance a hard border between Eire and Northern Ireland. The EU will not countenance no border at all. The whole thing rhymes with clucking bell.

Watch this space – things can only get worse.



Friday, November 17, 2017

65 TPT


Chiefs on the run rack

I’m not really a betting man, but I did invest £50 in Sky Bet with the idea that I would back the Chiefs to win the Super Bowl in 2018.

After five weeks of wins they odds were not good. With the tribe sitting on top of the AFC West, my investment was just waiting for the odds to improve to climb on-board the Chiefs steamroller. Of course, Mr Dismay was not long in arriving. 

Starting with the loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers (who else), it became obvious that the Chiefs could not stop the run. Like all good football teams the Steelers simply kept running the ball until they were stopped. This never happened.

Half-ignoring the annoying loss to the Raiders (though once again the run game was instrumental in the debacle) against the Cowboys again the defense could not prevent simple running plays. “Smash-mouth football” had returned and it was here to stay.

So, what has happened? From my lofty position it just appears we are not good enough. Chris Jones, Bennie Logan, and Allen Bailey can not occupy their opposite numbers for long enough for the inside line-backers to make plays Sadly, Derrick Johnson and Reggie Ragland are either not good enough or so out of form they can’t tackle anyone inside. Result? Teams run with impunity against the Chiefs. They control the clock. Their O-line relishes firing out and creating holes that you or I could run through.

What’s to be done? It appears we have few options. The problem is up-front and inside. There are no available replacements waiting for their chance.

This week against the lowly Giants the short-comings may well be masked. The Chiefs will win and probably win big. If they do, all will be forgiven – or at least the short-comings will continue to be disguised.

(I am so much of a non-betting man that I foolishly took my £50 and bet it – by mistake – on the Giants to win at 7-2. I thought I was getting 7-2 on the Chiefs – fortunately I manage to bail out and preserve my stake!)

However, the return to the glory days of 65 TPT seem to have receded into the Super Bowl mists of time.

(For non-Chiefs fans 65 TPT was the play called by Hank Stram against the vaunted Minnesota Purple-People-Eaters defense which won Super Bowl IV. It was a running play and the Vikings could not stop it. No wonder Hank was so excited – like me he realised that if the Vikings could not stop a simple running play then they could not possibly win!)

Wednesday, November 08, 2017

Westminster Sex Scandals




There, but for the Grace of God

Brexit has now been over-shadowed by the revelations which started in Hollywood and the entertainment industry and have moved on to questions about MP's overstepping the mark. This is nothing new.

My admiration for Niall Ferguson's writings in the Sunday Times is well-documented, but this week it is his compatriot Sarah Baxter who stole the lime-light with her essay on the sex scandal culture we are embroiled in. (How fitting, we use the word “embroiled” as a noun to describe what was originally a verb meaning to immerse in hot water to now in the past participle meaning “in hot water” - marvellous language English!)

I particularly like her sub-title: A decaying Tory party once fell to Blair: this time the hard left are waiting.

Amen.

We have been here before. At the 1993 Tory conference John Major stressed the idea of family values. This is usually seen as fertile ground for the Conservatives with its rather nostalgic view of the shires as being (as well as Tory through and through) the bastion of good taste, good manners and No Sex, Please – We're British. Had he not been in the middle of a four year affair with Edwina Curry at the time perhaps his keynote might have been more authentic.

Sarah reminds us that even at that time the peccadilloes of politicians were well known and well documented. She recounts being propositioned by Stephen Milligan, the Tory MP who was found dead in his flat a few months later whilst wearing nothing but stockings and suspenders and with an orange in his mouth. (Some kind of party that must have been!)

The debates which followed tore the Tories apart. The Maastricht rebels made Major's government look silly and weak. The stage was set for Tony Blair's New Labour to take over Downing Street.

(I really like the next bit!) And so here we are two decades later with Brexit and Sexit dominating the news. Splits over Europe: sex scandals: an enfeebled Conservative government and an emboldened Labour opposition (even with or perhaps in spite of Jeremy Corbin still being the leader) and ministers who may well have done or said things in the past which they now wish they had not - wondering how long they can last.

Sarah does like a diatribe, and she gives both barrels to almost everything and everyone who has been a “sex pest” since. To her credit she invokes the spirit of, if not the actions of, Julia Hartley-Brewer who (apparently) told Michael Fallon she would punch him in the face if he didn't watch his wandering hands. Bravo. Most men would understand that sort of comment as a No – I'm not interested. Julia's point is that men in positions of power just don't get it.

We need to take a step back. Clearly men who force women into sex either by physical force (rape) or coercion (could still be rape) are acting outside of society's acceptable norms. Unfortunately, by pretending that this is a new phenomenon, advocates of a New Deal for women are in danger of obscuring the point. Let's get back to basics.

Take a look at:


What's this got to do with it? Simple, men in positions of power have been taking steps to mate with as many women as possible for at least the last 70 000 years (Toba eruption and subsequent population bottleneck) and probably longer.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Toba_catastrophe_theory

Biologically men are mutants. Women have 23 perfect pairs of chromosomes. Men have the odd y chromosome where there should be an x. Men have no biological function other than fathering children. Unlike our close relatives, the bonobos, the chimpanzees and the gorillas, homo sapiens has been forced to adopt quite different sexual, reproductive strategies.

Look at our closest relatives: Firstly, bonobos.

Because of the promiscuous mating behaviour of female bonobos, a male cannot be sure which offspring are his. As a result, the entirety of parental care in bonobos is assumed by the mothers. This is true of humans also and forms the basis for human sexual relations. Putting it simply, females can always be sure the baby they are carrying is hers – males cannot.

Most studies indicate that females have a higher social status in bonobo society. Aggressive encounters between males and females are rare, and males are tolerant of infants and juveniles. A male derives his status from the status of his mother. The mother–son bond often stays strong and continues throughout life. While social hierarchies do exist, and although the son of a high ranking female may outrank a lower female, rank plays a less prominent role than in other primate societies.

Sexual activity generally plays a major role in bonobo society, being used as what some scientists perceive as a greeting, a means of forming social bonds, a means of conflict resolution, and post conflict reconciliation. Bonobos are the only non-human animal to have been observed engaging in tongue kissing. Bonobos and humans are the only primates to typically engage in face-to-face genital sex, although a pair of western gorillas has been photographed in this position. (One wonders who the brave soul was who did the photography on that one?)

Secondly, chimps

When we can look at the structure of behaviour between the two species. There is a well known stereotype that Chimpanzees are more likely to use violence to settle problems while Bonobos have sex to resolve conflicts. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chimpanzee#Social_structure In fact chimps live in a very ordered society where males mate whenever they get the chance and females sometimes trick the Alpha male and mate with lower-ranking males when he is not around. In general, they are much more aggressive than bonobos.

Thirdly, gorillas

Gorillas live in groups called troops. Troops tend to be made of one adult male or Silverback, multiple adult females and their offspring. However, multiple-male troops also exist. A Silverback is typically more than 12 years of age, and is named for the distinctive patch of silver hair on his back, which comes with maturity. Silverbacks also have large canine teeth that also come with maturity. Both males and females tend to emigrate from their birth groups. Females stay with the dominant male in order to get protection and ensure that their offspring survive.

Finally, humans

People are designed for monogamous relationships. Unlike our closest relatives, human babies are born completely helpless and rely on the mother/father partnership to provide the necessary security and protection. It takes two parents to bring a baby to adulthood. This fact impacts human sexual behaviour.

So does the early hunting strategy of humans. We work together. We communicate. We devise group strategies to obtain food. We cannot use the bonobo strategy for there is no incentive to help your pals when you are not sure the tribe's offspring are genetically yours. We can't use the chips strategy either. Unless males can be sure their offspring are actually theirs then they is no incentive to stick around. Better to try your luck elsewhere and often. Perhaps in very early human groups the gorilla strategy might have worked – but not for long. Gorillas are vegetarians. Humans are omnivores and it was the intake of meat which probably drove the early hominid species differentiation. And, crucially, once we adopted bipedal locomotion human females were in deep trouble. Evolution began to favour giving birth earlier and earlier in the gestation cycle. Hips could not become wide enough fast enough. The result: human babies are born very poorly developed compared to other apes. They are functionally helpless. So, if mothers have to spend all their time caring for them, how will they get enough food to eat? Fathers.

This still applies today. Women are superficially attracted to the most handsome males. But, crucially, they do not all wait in a line for him to impregnate them. If they do, they know they will be on their own trying to raise their offspring. (Single mums today do have it much better than at most times in history, but their babies are inevitably disadvantaged) Far better to form a pair-bond with another male – one who may not be a superman but who will work his socks off to make sure you get enough to eat – and share in the child-rearing duties.

The exception, of course, is the attraction of powerful males, usually in terms of money (Donald Trump, Rupert Murdoch) to much younger more attractive females. This is the problem in UK politics in the news today.

Enough of socio-biology. The fact is rape has always been present in societies from the earliest biological time. In historical times, we have: the rape of the Sabine women, “slave-rape” during Greco-Roman times, Jus Primae Noctis (http://www.fibri.de/jus/arthbes.htm), right through to the experience of slave women in the Deep South of America, the fall of Berlin and its subsequent rapes almost on an industrial scale, the Islamic State sex-slaves and Boko Haram. The list is long. Faced with imminent death (as with Russian soldiers in Berlin) or the imminent decline and fall of your culture (Sabine women), or the perceived need to breed out your enemies (Jus Primae) or inculcate your brand of religion (Boko and Islamic State), men will try to obey Law 2 (reproduction). Law 1 – self-preservation.

When I “taught” sex-education to 15 year-olds, I used this illustration: boys, you are on one side of a wide river, you can swim fairly well, your favourite Page 3 (Sun newspaper) girl is on the other side giving you the “come hither look”. What do you do? To a man they would all jump in the water. Same scenario, except the rive is infested with crocodiles. Result: a bit of bravado and then the acceptance that jumping in is a poor option.

There is no doubt that rape is an abhorrent crime. But, then again, is that all rape, every rape, consensual sex that becomes rape? Walk down the Prince of Wales Road in Norwich on a Friday or Saturday night and see what some of the “ladies” are wearing. If they are assaulted is some of the blame laid at their door? Can members of the “oldest profession” be raped? What was black and white now becomes Fifty Shades of Grey (no pun intended).

In my misspent youth, I read a lot of “trashie books”. I remember a Matt Helm novel (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Matt_Helm) where our hero, played by Dean Martin in the movie versions, has been captured by the uber-bad guys, along with his wife. Matt is in one room and the thugs have his wife next door. The thugs threaten to rape her unless Matt does whatever they want. ( I forget the precise details ). So Matt decides to do nothing, rationalising that whilst the rape will be unpleasant it's not as bad as killing her, and he might buy some time to effect their escape. (Which, of course is what happens, as he is the hero).

Am I justifying rape? No – not ever – not in 21st century western society – not in general. Will efforts to clean up the Westminster cesspit prosper in this area? Probably not, for it goes against millennia of ingrained biological and sociological norms.

Saturday, November 04, 2017

All Out War



The Full Story of Brexit

Tim Shipman's account of the Brexit Saga was a Sunday Times Book of the Year. There is a lesson here: the Sunday Times Book of the Year Award is not worth winning, for this winner is a very poorly-written book.

Mr Shipman certainly does not lack support from the great and the good. Gracing the cover are such comments as: A Must Read – Nick Robinson; Essential – Andrew Marr; Utterly Gripping – Economist; Stonklingly Good - Fraser Nelson; The Best Political Book of the Year – New Statesman; Superlative . . . Does Full Justice To A Momentous Time – Peter Osborne; One of the Best Political Journalists of His Era – Ian Dale

This is the kind of book which will appeal to the intelligensia and the litterati. The public? Probably about as much as the actual Brexit debate, which, as Tim reminds us, was full of half-truths, sound-bites and misinformation – on both sides.

Having said that, it is of interest to all who are trying to understand how Brexit happened and what might happen next. "Those who do not learn history are doomed to repeat it."

The quote is most likely due to George Santayana, and in its original form it read, ‘Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.’

We must start with some background. The UK entered the Common Market in In the first week of 1973. The week Britain joined the Common Market, the Government put on a festival of European culture so that the British people could share what their Prime Minister, Edward Heath, called his “heart full of joy” at their country's shiny new Euro-future. In 1975 the UK held a referendum on continued membership of the European Community. 67% of the voters supported staying in the EU.

In the 60's and 70's, it was primarily the Labour Party which was very sceptical of Britain's membership of the EU, although equally there was always a Euro-septic wing of the Tory Party. People like Tony Benn and Michael Foot realised that the EU was, and is, essentially a capitalist organisation opposed to the brand of socialism they were hoping to bring to Britain. We see echoes of this train of thought in the very lukewarm Labour Remain campaign as fronted by Jeremy Corbyn. In fact, Tim Shipman identifies Labour's approach as critical to the eventual success of Vote Leave.

However the main “culprit” in this monument to man's hubris and capacity for miscalculation has to be David Cameron. Remember the great line in Guys and Dolls when Marlon Brando says “Daddy, I've got cider in my ear”. For Brando read Cameron.

”Turning the book on its head we get to David's débâcle after about 600 pages. “. . . it did not matter enough to him that he should win.” As a Labour MP said after Cameron had resigned, “He's the only prime minister in my adult life time who has treated it as just another job, rather than a vocation.” Ironically, it was his victory in the election of 2015 which led to his downfall. Having entered the campaign in coalition with the Liberal Democrats and believing he must see off the threat of UKIP, Cameron promised an in-out referendum if he won. He must have thought that in coalition with the Lib-Dems this would never have to take place – as they are the most pro-European party in Parliament. He was wrong – big time. The Lib-Dems's were wiped out and with a majority of 12 he was boxed into the corner by his own Euro-septic wing and the constant carping of UKIP and had to deliver on his referendum pledge.

He found himself at the head of a government committed to a referendum (which was non-binding, although almost no-one can be found who will even admit this – much less even anyone who will stop parroting the “will of the people must be respected line.

The majority of Tim Shipman's analysis (about 500 pages to be precise) concerns characters the general public have neither ever heard of nor give a hoot about. His contention that it was the faceless leaders of the Leave campaign (to paraphrase the Sun) wot won it is clear.

So much has been written about the Labour Party's role in delivering Brexit, Shipman does not flinch from laying most of the blame on the leader, Jeremy Corbyn. He reminds us that. “. . . no-one disputes that for much of his career he was a dedicated and consistent opponent of British membership of the European Union.” Jeremy Corbin could not and would not deliver the Labour vote for Remain. The truth is - it was the vote in the Labour heartlands which delivered the 600 000 majority to leave. And, it was Jeremy's fault. At the end of the day he is a paid up member of the Tony Benn and Michael Foot fan club.

Meanwhile David Cameron spent most of his remaining time as PM trying to get the EU to agree some kind of a deal which would allow him to sell membership to the Conservative Party and then to the rest of the country. He worked hard at it, but with no success. Much of Shipman's book explains how and why he failed. Certainly the leadership of the EU and Angela Merkel bear a lot of the responsibility. They just couldn't envision how or why the British people would vote to leave, and therefore were unable to agree on any kind concessions on the freedom of movement which might have enabled Cameron to sell the deal to those disaffected Labour voters who turned out in great numbers in the north of England, unexpectedly, and therefore ensured a Leave majority.

There was some good news for the PM at this time as we learn on page 332. . . “the emergence of Teresa May as a supporter of the Remain campaign”. She did not sell her support cheap “insisting to Cameron that any deal include cracking down on “”sham marriages””, she also wanted spouses of EU nationals treated the same as those from non-EU countries. Of course, this was all pie-in-the-sky. The EU four principals just wouldn't allow it. Teresa was off the fence but the Leavers were greatly disappointed – believing she would be happy to support them. (Teresa is now the leader of the Conservative Party and PM)

Throughout the Cameron premiership, his partnership with George Osborne, Chancellor of the Exchequer, was the rock upon which these two Old Etonians based their success. Osborne was never in favour of the referendum in the first place. But, he was determined to win it. He did tell Cameron, “The EU is never – in my view - going to give Britain the benefits of membership without the costs.”

(George should run for prophet of the century, he would win hands down.)

Winding forward a few months and years, we now know that the Chancellor was spot on. There is no sign of a deal – even on the first part of the negotiations. The EU says three things have to be sorted before talks can move on to trading arrangements.

One – the rights of EU citizens in the UK after Brexit. Rumours that this is the easiest of the three issues abound, yet no concrete deal has been reached.

Looking back at the referendum itself, it is odd in the extreme that most of the UK citizens living in Europe were not eligible to vote – a fact hastily glossed over by Brexiteers.

Two – the Irish border question. This is a bit like the weather, everybody talks about it but no-one actually does anything about it. Everyone is adamant that there can be no “hard” border between Eire and Northern Ireland. But, no-one has yet brought forward concrete, acceptable plans as to how this is to be done.

For example, if there is no border and the common travel area between the UK and Ireland (which has existed since the 1920's) is maintained – how will one of the chief goals of Brexit be realised? Control of the borders is a Brexiteers mantra. So, an EU citizen travels to Dublin, they take the ferry from Dublin to Holyhead (current price £31). There are no border checks. The porous border the Brexiteers are demanding an end to is open to our EU citizen. Of course this mythical EU migrant will not have a right to work, but will that deter the casual labourer who is paid in cash, no questions asked? Who knows?

Three – the exit bill. The EU says that the UK has monetary commitments which must be honoured after Brexit. The UK government agrees – sort of. (The PM said recently that no remaining EU country will have to pay any more until the UK leaves 2017? Or 2019 – if there is the proposed two year “transition period”.) Any way this is sliced it's going to be a large sum of money – running into billions. Strange, all we ever heard from the Brexiteers was there would be £350 million a week for the NHS after we leave. I'm wondering how many of the 600 000 voted to leave with this “promise” ringing in their ears?

Back to the book. The role of Boris Johnson and Michael Gove in the campaign is examined in detail. I love the quote on page 149, attributed to Cameron - “There is a spectrum. George (Osborne) is more pro-European than me, so is Teresa. Then there's me, then there's you (Michael Gove) then there's Boris.

(And, Teresa is now in charge, still screaming at every opportunity, Brexit Means Brexit!)

Twenty pages later we still find Teresa defending Cameron against attacks by Gove and Johnson. The importance of these two “big beasts” of the Tory party to the eventual Brexit decision may be over-estimated, but it is still substantial. Boris is the darling of the Tories and some votes must have been swayed by his brand of campaigning. To this day, he still bangs on about the £350 million as being a realistic figure for the extra money for the NHS. (Give credit where credit is due – at least he is consistent. Whereas, hardly anyone else thinks any money for the NHS is likely to be forthcoming!)

There is a nice chapter analysing how and why the leaders of the official Get Out campaign decided not to use Nigel Farage very much in selling their message. They correctly identified that he is essentially a divisive figure, appealing to the already converted, whereas they needed to attract votes from other sections of the community. In this they succeeded brilliantly. In analysis, it was the normally hard-core Labour voters in the North and North-east of England that won the referendum. Jeremy Corbin's part in this has already been stated. Many of these folks were erstwhile UKIP supporters at heart. They may have voted Labour in general elections but their sympathies were Farage to the core. Everyone agrees that these people felt left behind in the global economy and have felt this way for years and years. Vote Leave just profited from the same tactics that have been used throughout history to appeal to this type of group. It's not your fault that you are poor, poorly educated, poorly housed, and poorly treated. It's the fault of the immigrants, the foreigners the non-native speakers of English. Vote for us and we'll “Take Back Our Country”. It's the Old Lie packaged in a new framework. Honest Abe was right You can fool all the people some of the time, and some of the people all the time, but you cannot fool all the people all the time - Abraham Lincoln

People are fairly stupid. I can say this without fear, for I will never run for public office. Politicians rarely say things with such clarity, even though they may privately think them. We have some excellent examples of the above in the section called It's the Economy Stupid. Pages 255-6 will suffice. “People had absolutely what the EU is or how it works at all to a point that beggars belief.” (see my first sentence para above). The second problem was that voters did not believe a single thing the Treasury said. People thought there would be a saving from leaving. The third argument relied on Cameron and Osborne winning the credibility argument. This, they failed dismally to do. Argument four: the Tory belief that the fear strategy – successful in 2014 and 2015 would win again. The Ship of State was heading blindly towards the rocks and no-one had the courage enough or sufficient insight to refocus the campaign. Cameron and Osborne were looking at the wrong polls and could not, or would not listen to those who advised a more vigorous attack on Vote Leave. Dave's concern was to hold the Tories together – which, you may remember is how he got in the referendum business in the first place. “People always complain about negative campaigning but in the final analysis it works!” The final problem was that even if Stronger In had tried to move the focus - the media had moved on. The economic argument was just boring. Immigration is far more likely to start a punch-up.

(There is no such thing as bad publicity!)

The chapter called “Blue on Blue is particularly well researched. One of Dave Cameron's biggest problems was highlighted in the exchange between Nikki Morgan (Education Secretary) and Priti Patel ( Employment Minister). On the day when parents received notice about their children starting school and receiving their first choice of a primary school, Patel chirps up to the media with comments about how immigration is the cause of any parental disappointment. Morgan was furious to be called to the House of Commons to explain why her cabinet colleague was hell-bent on sabotaging her department. So much for Cabinet collective responsibility. Here was a classic moment when Cameron could have invoked the principle of cabinet responsibility, sacked Patel and started a fight back against the Leavers in the Cabinet who were making it difficult to govern. (I suspect if anything keeps Dave awake at night it is his recollection of how Leavers in his Cabinet undermined both his Prime-ministerial authority and his attempts to keep his party on-board.)

It was left to Teresa May to put the knife into any chance of a Cabinet committed to, arguing for and campaigning for a Brexit deal. In a speech on 25 April she argued that the European Convention on Human Rights must go. (https://rightsinfo.org/wrote-european-convention-human-rights/) Another example of Pie-in-the-sky Tory dreaming. Shipman assures the readers that the Conservative leadership was more than slightly annoyed at May.

In Chapter 26 we get a good summation of how things went so wrong for the Remainers. First, though Remain won handily in London and Scotland they actually won too well, for their supporters were so mesmerised by the polls they just did not bother to turn out in sufficient numbers. The overall turnout was up by 8%, but down in Scotland and up only by 3% in London. To cap it all, there was torrential rain in parts of the capital suppressing the turnout. In Scotland, Stronger In had hoped to get support from SNP (Scottish Nationalist Party) voters. In fact they got only 55% - not the 70% they were counting on. The crusher came with the Labour vote. In London they turned out and voted for Remain. Everywhere else Labour supporters were voting to leave in big numbers. Given the demographics, Remain had no real chance, once Jeremy Corbyn had decided not to really campaign hard – leaving it to others to make the case.

In the Chapter called Jexit we learn the real story about Jeremy Corbyn's failures as Labour leader. It took almost no time before party big-wigs decided that he must go, after selling the Remain cause very short indeed. Margaret Hodge and Ann Coffee tabled a motion of no-confidence in the Labour leader. They had support from Lisa Tremble, Angela Smith and, predictably, Peter Mandelson. Tony Blair accused Corbyn of ignoring the voters who backed Brexit (presumably that's why they voted to leave, they were fed up with Labour's wishy-washy position). Unfortunately, getting Blair on-board probably ensured that the ship would be holed beneath the water line even before it had a chance to float, so toxic is his name in Labour circles now, though moderates saw this as the chance to get rid of Corbyn. Chukka Umunna, Rachel Reeves, Liz Kendall and Emma Reynolds jumped on board. A real coup was in the making. Corbyn out-foxed them all by simply refusing to be drawn into a confrontation or any argument of substance. Shrugging his shoulders and mouthing “well that's an interesting point” he simply ignored the criticism and bluffed his way through a shadow cabinet meeting. Corbyn eventually sacked Hillary Benn and eleven shadow cabinet members resigned, but he just carried on. Party grandees told him to go. He refused. His colleagues told him to go. He refused. I suspect if his own mother had told him to go he would have sacked her! All twenty Labour MEP's (Members of the European Parliament) told him to go. Ed Milliband, former leader of the Labour Party, told him to go. On the Tuesday, just forty Labour Members of Parliament backed Corbyn. 172 Labour MP's supported his removal. Two-thirds of the front bench team had resigned. It had been a perfectly organised and executed coup and the plotters assumed he would now resign. He did not.

A leadership contest was instigated instead. At first Angela Eagle said she would challenge Corbyn. She dropped out. Then Owen Smith took up the mantle. He was thrashed by Corbyn in the election. Jeremy realised throughout the election period that his part in delivering Brexit mattered not a jot to the party activists upon whose votes he depended. Owen Smith was dispatched to obscurity and Corbyn carried on. Story – end of.

(Not actually the end for after Teresa called a snap election, which she had promised on numerous occasions not to do, Jeremy confounded critics by losing, but only very narrowly. Teresa's hopes were dashed by the electorate and she stumbles on from one cock-uo to the next as Tory leader.)

After Cameron had resigned, It was then left to Michael Gove and Boris Johnson to slug it out for the leadership of the Tories – at first, Gove supported Johnson. Then, Gove chickened out. Gove decided to stab Boris in both the back and the front at the same time. He did. While these two “big-beasts” were mauling each other Teresa May and Andrea Leadsom were on the sidelines, presumably cheering them on. When the dust had settled only those two remained and poor Andrea had to withdraw after asserting (perhaps correctly) that because she had children and Teresa did not she would be better able to understand the concerns of the voters. Last man standing (or person if you prefer) Teresa May became PM. The “Anyone but Boris” campaign had worked, I'm particularly fond of Tim's descriptive Chapter Title for this whole saga – Brexecuted – sums it up very nicely indeed!

Racking up the pages now and heading for the conclusion. Page 582 contains Tim Shipman's summation of David Cameron. It is not altogether unflattering, Tim tell us that Cameron had to hold the referendum to satisfy the Conservative party. He fought the campaign with one fist behind his back, as he could not afford to alienate the Brexiteers. He essentially destroyed himself to save the Party and he did. At the end, he was able to hand the party over to Teresa May more or less intact. He sidelined UKIP. The Tories were still in charge. His political epitaph will have to wait for another day.

Conclusion.

It's taken 583 pages to get their so it better be good!

“The referendum represented a revolt of the provincial classes – ignored , maligned and impoverished – against the cosy metropolitan consensus on Europe, the benefits of immigration and the belief that national economic prosperity trumps personal experience of hardship.” So sayeth our author Tim, and he is not entirely wrong either.

“Looking back, the truth is this was lost a long time ago with the relentless drip, drip of anti-European propaganda.” - Alexander Burt.

“If no Tory leader for twenty years had said anything good about Europe, which broadly speaking was the case, then trying to turn that around in six months was impossible. It was beyond even David Cameron's campaigning skills.” - Damian Green

“Ryan Coetzee believes the campaign was hurt by the breakdown of trust between rulers and the ruled, and a flourishing of conspiracy theories.” Britain was caught up in something that is sweeping the West, involving distrust to the point of paranoia.

(Remind you of any other Western politician? Fatty Trump, for instance? There is little doubt that the Trump campaign learned some lessons from Brexit.)

“It involves growing fear of the “”other”” (my italics), whether that person is black, foreign or whatever they might be.”

(I'm thinking the average Briton has forgotten how standing pretty much alone in the face of Nazism and the forces upon which Hitler's criminal mob stood on the apex of was precisely the Brexiteers prescription of how to win the referendum. Repeat the BIG Lie over and over. Tell the people that your problems and inadequacies are not your fault - it's the Jews and the November criminals – they are the enemy. Just substitute the liberal elite for Jews and the EU for November criminals and it's the same argument over again.)

Ingrained Euroscepticism may be the backdrop to the story, but Cameron could have won with just a bit more support. 600, 000 votes seems a lot but it is not in the context of a national referendum.

(It's a bit odd, just as you could never find anyone who voted for Maggie Thatcher in the 80's; no-one now admits to voting Remain – despite the House of Commons being packed with Remainers.)

“, , , Vote Leave stuck to their message and they had a campaign leader who was streets ahead of anyone on the Remain side – https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dominic_Cummings
Ask anyone of the Leave side why they won and it is Dominic Cummings who get all the credit.

My contention, earlier in this piece, that it was the faceless leaders of the Leave campaign that won it is confirmed by almost everyone in the know.

Changing the question from yes/no to remain/leave may have been worth four percentage points to Vote Leave.

(Sounds like sour grapes, who can tell?)

In the end, the role of UKIP did become critical. By distancing itself from Nigel Farage and his cronies, Vote Leave was able to keep Tory voters on-board. Nigel Farage certainly connected with the voters in the North of England and their support was crucial.


“. . . if you believe in taking the voters seriously, blame the voters. If you are an adult living in Sunderland, where the motor industry and EU funding are critical to your livelihood, and you voted to leave, well, I'm sorry mate. I think that's your fault.”

(Turkeys don't vote for Christmas, but this time they did. Subsequent events have shown that Brexit has not produced a chasm for Britain to fall into, but it may still. By voting for the unknown, and opting for the unworkable the voters have put the country at risk. Of course we move on and the Tory efforts to unite behind a Brexit policy continue. We have to wait for some time before we will know. Interestingly, the voters, who are correctly identified as the real culprits, have moved on and they mostly say, “Get on with it”.)

“Probably the majority of the population did not grasp what was at stake in Britain leaving after forty years of integration to the EU, and the bulk of the press were determined not to enlighten them.”

Same-o – same-o. The voters are to blame. The Dewsbury Chavs, the Yarmouth Oicks, the Scousers, the Geordies, the Cornish in-breds, the Brummie Smegheads, the Black Country numpties, and the Lowestoft knuckle-draggers won it for Vote Leave.

Toxic Tony Blair deserves some the the blame as well. He failed to see how unlimited immigration would poison the country against the EU. He failed to see how the accession of the Eastern European countries would be viewed by the indigenous population. His Iraq war destabilised the Middle East and provided the spectre of immigration on the German model.

(Hard not to feel some sympathy for poor old Tony. His latest efforts to rally some support for staying in the EU have been scuppered by his own name. How the mighty have fallen.)

We may as well let Peter Mandelson have a go as well: “We lost because of the mountain of anti-EU sentiment in the country, driven by Rupert Murdoch and Paul Dacre and the rest of the Brexit press over many years, the hopelessness of the Labour leadership, and our own campaign's lack of dexterity in reading of public opinion . . . the achievement of 48% begins to look like a small miracle,”

(Yep.)

If Mandelson get a look in we ought to have Alistair Campbell as well: If it had just been Nigel Farage and the right-wing papers and a few Tory odd-balls it would have been fine. It wouldn't have happened without Boris Johnson and Michael Gove,”

(Who you will remember soon fell out big time and continue to rubbish each other whenever possible.)

The final word goes to the author, Tim Shipman: “No-one's ends justify limitless means. But it seems to me when we look at the US, where Donald Trump makes Aaron Banks or Nigel Farage look like Mary Poppins, or the rest of the EU itself, where parties mine more extreme reaches of the political spectrum than we do in Britain, that we are still lucky to have the politics we do. If we are getting furious about about the niceties of an overcooked £350 million a week to Brussels, or a dubious £4 300 cost to families, rather than rioting in the streets or real coups, political executions, or racial apartheid, we are not doing so badly as a country.”

My final word is somewhat different. Tim has taken 600-odd pages to detail how the Referendum was won and lost, yet he has not really reached the nub of the argument. The fact is True Brit won. The Little-Englanders triumphed over the young, the educated, the wealthy, the outward-looking and the rational. Only time will tell how much damage has and will be done not only to the UK but to Europe as well.







Tuesday, October 24, 2017

Guns and Roses?



A bind spot for guns and the NHS

I quite like reading Niall Ferguson's columns in the Sunday Times. He almost always has a different take on current events. (http://www.niallferguson.com/)

Writing with the sub-title: To US eyes, putting up with low cancer survival rates is the real madness, he makes an interesting comparison between the preoccupation with gun rights in the US and the equally – in his eyes – daft UK religious-like zeal for anything with NHS printed on it.

He explains that when he arrived back in the UK just after the Las Vegas shooting he
encountered “unanimity”, right across the political spectrum. Americans are crazy he was repeatedly told. How can you live in a country where such things are possible?

He explains that Americans do have a gun problem, but not the one most people think it is.

More Americans have died from guns in their own country since 1968 than have perished in all the nation's wars (including the Civil War). Between 2011 and 2014 guns were linked to 34 000 deaths a year in the US. He says that since 1982 there have been 91 mass shootings in which 760 people have died. Most troubling is the trend for more frequent massacres and higher death tolls.

But, the problem is not as many Britons seem to imagine that America is full of gun-toting-trigger-happy maniacs. The US is number one for firearms per capita with 88.8 guns per 100 people, but ¾ of Americans don't own a gun and just 3% own half the guns. (This is where I started to waver – this seems an unlikely and spurious stat – then again as Mark Twain said: there's lies, damn lies and statistics ( sometimes colloquially used to doubt statistics used to prove an opponent's point. The term was popularised in United States by Mark Twain (among others), who attributed it to the British Prime Minister Benjamin Disraeli: "There are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies, and statistics."). In any event this seems very unlikely. He concludes: the Las Vegas shooter was one of a very small proportion of Americans who takes advantage of flaws in US laws to amass large numbers of guns. (Well, gosh that's a relief, for a minute there I thought we had a problem!)

Ferguson follows with three paragraphs trying to explain the Second Amendment rights to the UK audience. He almost succeeds. He reminds readers of the reference to “a well regulated militia”. He explains how the Supreme Court (US v Miller 1939) ruled that the second amendment did not protect weapons that did not have “ a reasonable relationship to the preservation or efficiency of a well regulated militia”. That is plainly the correct reading of the text. (Ferguson's opinion not necessarily mine.) He goes on to explain
how District of Columbia v Heller 2008 asserts that the individual's right to possess and carry firearms is protected the the Second Amendment. That is where we are today.

He reiterates his view that the Second Amendment was only intended to ensure an adequately armed citizen militia for reasons of national defence. (By what process he is able to peer into the minds of the Founding Fathers through a 230 year old lens, he does not say). He asserts that most people who accumulate assault rifles are like stamp collectors; they just like to look at them. (interesting simile – not sure I agree – I would have thought that like complete losers would be better!) On firmer ground, he reminds us that there have been federal bans on some types of weapons – assault rifles for example in 1994 that was allowed to expire in 2004.

Rhetorically, he asks if anything will change after Las Vegas. He thinks bump stocks may be banned. Otherwise it's business as usual.

According to the WHO stats for 2015, the American rate of mortality for interpersonal violence is four times higher than the British. Americans are also between two and three times more likely to die from drug abuse, poisoning or intentional injury. The American way of death, he says, is violent. This is another way of saying the US is more like Latin America than Europe.

Niall goes for balance when he throws the British idiosyncrasies about death into the mix. In 2015 Britons were five times more likely to die of lung cancer than Americans - three times more likely from oesophageal cancer, twice as likely to expire from stomach cancer and almost twice as likely from prostate or bladder cancer.

According to a 2012 study cancer patients in the US lived longer than in the EU and these survival rates were not due to more aggressive screening of US patients, but to the higher expenditure that characterises the American system. In other words, rapid diagnosis may play a part, but not that much. Or, Money Talks and Bullshit Walks!

His personal experience serves to underline the point he is making. He had a friend who was told, after a breast cancer diagnosis, to go ahead and take a summer vacation as there was a queue for treatment anyway. His American friends say he must be crazy to live in such a country!

The peroration: “We do indeed live in a small world. And yet we all – Americans and Britons alike – still struggle to see ourselves as others see us.”

Ferguson get paid to write good stuff.

But, he over-eggs the pudding.

His analysis of US Second Amendment rights makes no mention of how the guarantees contained in the Constitution are nearly as much a religion in the US as support for the NHS is in the UK. He forgets to mention that the US healthcare system costs about seven times more than that of the UK and Europe. (Not surprising the outcomes are better! Solution: spend more UK tax payers money on the NHS – no governments have so far been willing to do this – even though every poll concludes that the voters would support increasing taxes to pay for better healthcare.)


Tuesday, October 17, 2017

One Third of the Way



Chiefs' season begins with a roar and then get ambushed

With six games gone (one third of the season) the Chiefs sit proudly on top of the AFC West with two game leads over the faltering Denver Broncos and Oakland Raiders. Excellent! I have £50 deposited with the bookies and could have got 12-1 on the Chiefs to win the Super Bowl just a few weeks ago. Before the Pittsburgh loss you'd be lucky to get 8-1.

The football gods have been truly good to the UK fans with our team featuring on TV almost every week. This has been a blessing overall , though at times a trial. Staying up very late to see the team munch the Patriots in week one was mesmerising. 42-27 makes for a very pleasant evening indeed! Week Two - we played in the late game and came out on top 27-20 over the Eagles. The late game out on the coast saw the streak continue with a 24-10 defeat of the Chargers in week three. Week Four – the Redskins were sent packing 29-20. Could things get better? Yes, they could by smashing the Texans away 42-34 in week five.

It could not last. The Steelers came to Arrowhead and beat us. And, beat us badly!

Everyone agrees that in the modern NFL the chances of repeating an undefeated season are quite remote. Nevertheless, as I sat down to watch the Steelers game I was quite optimistic. Remember, the Chiefs lost a play-off game at Arrowhead to the Steelers at the end of last season. The “no-touch-down game” as I call it was bad – or perhaps even worse than bad! The Pittsburgh team just ran over the home team all night. Surely they could not do it again?

They did almost exactly the same thing. In particular: Le'Veon Bell rushed for a season-high 179 yards, and the Steelers defense put on a stellar performance, as Pittsburgh earned a 19-13 victory over the Kansas City Chiefs on Sunday. The Chiefs, who entered Week 6 at 5-0, were the NFL's lone remaining unbeaten team.

Wait a minute, the same thing happened in the play-offs! I was convinced that Andy Reid would not let that happened again! Big Ben might beat us with his arm – but no way would Bell run over us again!

Big Ben had a quiet game. He did give up an interception. But, Bell ran over, around and through the Chiefs again!

I was not shocked to lose but I was amazed that they lost again to exactly the same game plan and the same running back.

Commentators were quick to point out that every team has an off day and every team has a bad game. Yes.

But twice? In exactly the same manner? What were the coaches thinking about?

Injuries hurt the offensive line. Kareem Hunt was ineffective on the ground. (He did catch some passes in the flat for good gains). Alex Smith, the top-rated QB in the league so far had some drops and some poor throws. The Steelers actually won a freak play when the ball managed to sneak through Phillip Gaines hands and the result was a very fortuitous touch down. Still, the Chiefs did not manage a first down in the first half. And the third quarter was just about the same. Only when it was too late did they start to rally.

Where do we go from here?

The O-line may get some help with Mitch Morse set to return on Thursday against the 2-4 Raiders. Do they have anyone who can do more at safety than Daniel Sorensen? (If not they better find someone fast as the Pitt juggernaut ran principally at Eric Berry's replacement) Can they find a wide receiver to replace Chris Conley? (Jehu
Chesson made a nice special teams play on Sunday – can he step up? Will he get the chance?) Will the Chiefs run-stoppers actually stop the run?

Of course we would all like to think this was a one-off, but I'm not convinced. The Chiefs may actually be the worst 5-1 team in football ever. Their five wins were actually very luck – barring the Patriots game.

The good news is both the Broncos and the Raiders lost last week as well.

We await the outcome of the Thursday night game at the Raiders. (On TV again!)

Happy days.