Saturday 9 February 2019

There’s democracy and then there’s democracy



On the 23 June 2019 a referendum was held in the UK about whether the UK should remain in the EU. Just under 52% said we should leave and just over 48% said we should stay.  A very close result indeed. One lone MP said “We need to look after the 48% as well.”  A close result like that would not allow a trade union to act, especially as only 37% of the people eligible to vote in fact voted to leave. Its screams anyway that we all need to take a closer look at the problem. We need to find a third way.  
The search engines heated up the next day. They were all looking for definitions of what the EU is. What? You’ve voted to leave or stay in something you don’t understand? Later conversations have proved that there is a lot of misunderstanding about what the EU actually is. 

As I drove to work each day in the last few weeks before the referendum  I nearly always had to stop at a set of traffic lights that had pinned to it “£350,000,000 a week isn’t trivial”. That made me feel uneasy and I thought it couldn’t be right. I looked into it. It’s actually nearer £250,000,000 and we  get most of it or perhaps more than it back: money for our regions, particularly Wales, farmers’ subsidies and major funded projects. “So will the government give us that now?” they cry.  On your bike, sunshine.  I pay enough tax already.  Looking at it another way, for approximately £134 a year per person we get a set of laws that are fair, a court we can go to when our own judicial process fails us, access to many international projects and grants, a significant say in what goes on in the great landmass just offshore and the access to the same emergency medical treatment as nationals in 27 other countries. The latter will cost more than that if you have to have a year round policy because you travel a lot.  Ironically the port of Ramsgate is crying out for EU money and won’t be able to offer a port to the shipping company that has no ships that was to help deal with the post-Brexit chaos.    

“It was the Boomers,” they said. “They want to take out citizenship away.” Not this Boomer, actually and in fact I only know a handful who voted Leave, but I guess that’s just the circles I move in. It is highly likely that many Leavers have now died.  Many Remainers have become 18. Many Leavers have changed their mind. 

Then we find out that Leave broke electoral law. 

And possibly our Russian friends were involved. 

The two main political parties are divided but MPs have to follow the instructions of their whips.  We have to trust our MPs to represent our interests, and I actually believe mine does.  I also totally accept that from time to time he will vote in a way that I don’t want him to but for the most part he’ll represent my views.   He is also duty-bound to be clued up and act in our interests, often on matters that we don’t know enough about to form a valid opinion.  Doesn’t there also come a point when he must go by his conscience?   It is puzzling that so many MPs are clear that Brexit will bring about many uncomfortable changes yet they still go ahead with the “will of the people” which wasn’t ever that strong in the first place and looks decidedly weak now. 

And let’s look at “the people”.  What about all of those working age people who pay taxes here, propping up our aging and young population, who didn’t have their say? And the disenfranchised British nationals who have lived out of the country for more than fifteen years who also can’t vote in the state where they live.   Oh, the Boston tea party failed completely. We still have taxation without representation on this planet.  

So who should vote on national matters? The people who live and pay taxes in the country for sure and the nationals of that country wherever they live?  I can see arguments for and against both. Yet couldn’t common sense establish something? Something like the allowance to vote after you’ve been paying taxes for three years?  Having 0.5 of a vote if you’ve been out of the country for more than fifteen years?   

Is the EU crumbling? There is anti-EU feeling in Italy, unease in Spain and Germany and civil unrest in France.  A shame. The EU could have fulfilled Churchill’s idyll of peace in Europe, of people being citizens of their own country and of Europe, and the 28 together could be a really strong unit.
Yet maybe we have greater cause for concern at home.  At least Brexit has highlighted our PM’s disregard for democracy and at least we have been able to stop her.  Some sort of democracy is still working but we need to be vigilant. Three times she has tried to rush through decisions without proper parliamentary process.  More worryingly, perhaps, both she and her predecessor have tried to fiddle with the Declaration of Human Rights.   
Let’s hope there is enough democracy left to keep the world safe.              

Tuesday 22 January 2019

On being European

"Men will be proud to say I am a European. We hope to see a Europe where men of every country will think as much of being a European as belonging to their native land. We hope that wherever they go on the European continent they will truly feel here I am at home."

Winston Churchill, 7 May 1948 

I’ve quoted this before and I’m not ashamed to quote it again.

That is how I continue to feel.  Some extra bits of red tape and having to pay tax on some imports will not stop that. 

There is a lot of positive feeling coming towards us from ordinary people in the other EU states. That is gradually translating itself into concrete proposals:  Portugal wants us as a tourist so they will still allow us to use the rapid passport control channels whichever sort of Brexit we have.   The Republic of Ireland will not require us to have an international driving license.  

Of course, this glosses over a little the problem of Gibraltar and our fishing rights, perhaps the M20 becoming a lorry park and the government rather than medics deciding who can have which drug if there is no deal.  

But even with problems such as these  going on I would continue to think of myself as much European as British. Here is a key as well to what some Brexiteers are failing to understand.  It’s not a matter of being British or European. Being in the EU means begin British and European. 

A protesting Brexiteer recently said that she was fed up of governed by a foreign power.  The EU is not a foreign power. It’s a group of countries working together. We have our say and in fact have had quite a storing voice within Europe. 

In the end, you cannot take that part of me away that has become because I’ve lived and worked in France, Germany and the Netherlands and  have been so often to Spain that it feels like home.

Monday 7 January 2019


Well, there you go. 

I’m off to Rome on the 29 March. Yes, so I leave the UK as an EU citizen, and am accepted freely as such into Italy - until midnight? After that will I need a visa?  I come back on 31 March – that is if the planes can still fly.  Chances are though it should be quite easy once we’re back at Manchester airport.  Surely there’ll be a channel for just UK citizens? Unless it’s clogged with all those nationals of other EU states who have taken on UK citizenship? 

I’m going with my choir and the whole trip has been orchestrated by one of our members who is an Italian living in Greater Manchester.  I was keen to go even though this seems a dodgy date to travel because we are good friends and music is one of the great ways in which exchanges take place.  Talking of orchestras: ironically, even when travelling within the EU, there are concerns about musical instruments and sheet music.  

Still, as our secretary pointed out, people will still travel to the mainland. We travel with relative ease to and from such places as North Cyprus, the USA and Canada and other places not in the EU.  However, this has all been thought out and practised for many years.  North Cyprus, and Turkey generally, is quite easy; they accept their own currency, US dollars, euros and pound sterling. You can even pay in one currency and get change in another if you wish.  Your visa is a quick stamp on your passport with less waiting time at passport control than at a UK airport. 

Yes, I’m sure whatever happens it will eventually be fine. But perhaps not on 30 March. We won’t have worked it all out yet and with now literally just a few days to go and no clear plan yet established it is all a bit worrying. 

The M20 becoming a motorway, shortages of drugs, shortage of food, the weakness of the pound; it all sounds like Remainer scaremongering. Except that the government itself is now warning us about these possibilities.   The weakness of the pound is already a reality. How can a government deliberately lead the country it is supposed to take care of into such a situation?

Well Mr Call-Me-Dave Cameron a bit of advice: next time you feel like getting up to mischief, just join a choir. It’s good for your physical body, your mental health and it puts you in touch with real people.      

Anyway, whatever happens on 29 March, it won’t stop me being culturally a European.  My act of reinforces this.   

Saturday 1 December 2018

May’s Mayhem



Global citizens are citizens of nowhere

I was educated to be a citizen of nowhere, then. I have a  BA Hons in French and German and then I taught French, German and Spanish for 26 years. We did lots of exchange visits.  All of the learning was based on the interaction between the students and their partners in our exchange schools.  “Stop saying ‘them’. “ Then Citizenship came in to the school agenda.  Yes, we were to educate our students to be citizens of the world. Citizens of nowhere, then. 

On 29 March 2019 a huge part of my citizenship will be taken away from me.  Yes of course there’s a lot of Britishness in me. The Archers, Radio 4 generally, seaside rock, stiff upper lip etc. etc. But there’s a fair bit of Dutch, French, German and Spanish in me too and indeed of other cultures. 
Xenophobia exists. We all feel it. It takes work to overcome it.  Years of work sometimes. But as we overcome it the world becomes a better place. 

Maybe we global citizens are actually citizens of everywhere.

Politicians being political

Whatever next?  Worth reminding you, madam, that it was a political spat, a bit of Eton mess that got us into this scrape in the first place.  Might your stance be to do with your wish to retain power rather than your conviction of what is right? You campaigned for Remain, didn’t you?  

No more queue jumpers

They’re queue jumpers, are they?  The Irish plumber who reliably comes and fixes out heating when it breaks down?  The medical staff who looked after me when I broke my arm badly and was in hospital for four days were nearly all citizens of other EU states. There was one Welsh man i.e. another EU citizen and two Commonwealth doctors. Where are the unemployed doctors and nurses they’ve pipped to the post?  

These people pay their taxes and support the rest of us. 

Anyway, there have always been measures in place throughout the EU to stop freedom of movement causing chaos.  We’ve just never enforced them.  

They’re hardly queue jumpers , are they, if they’re taking up what is their right according to our laws?   And they’re queuing up for jobs to earn money on which they pay tax. The real criminals are those who indulge in benefit fraud.  I expect there are a few from other EU states. A few. Who are the rest?

Skilled workers earn over £50k

Recently changed to over £30K. Ah, I achieved my £50K+ in my final year or employment. An increment on my senior lecturer pay scale brought me up to about £52K. I became a senior lecturer in 2014 after seven years as a Grade 8 lecturer and one year as a Grade 7. I spent my last six years of teaching in a comprehensive school as a Head of Modern Languages, Grade 3 on the pay scale. But despite three degrees, a teaching certificate and years of experience of teaching I remained “unskilled” until I was 63. I must be a real slow learner then. 

Now, go tell that to the nurses and pharmacists.  

Oh, and by the way; we need fruit-pickers. Not many UK nationals can be arsed.  


The will of the British people


With all those gross lies, Leave breaking electoral law, and probably interference from the Russians, Leave obtained under 52%. Many Leavers have now died. Many others have changed their mind and even apologised for the way they “voted”.  (Quote marks because a referendum isn’t really a vote – look what happened in Denmark just before they joined the EU and now they say they’re glad they totally ignored the outcome.)  Many Remainers have become 18.  And what about the disenfranchised?  By the way, several of the Leavers who have changed their minds are other Boomers.  

You have a hard job

I’ll give you that. The gentlemen have left a real mess behind them.  You should sit them down, Dave and BJ, and give them a good talking to. Clonk their heads together.  

Who is the alternative to you? Within your party or from another?  I have a wish list but not much hope that it will be fulfilled. 

So hang on in there, girl, but for all of our sakes, do the right thing. Show them what a good-hearted, level-headed woman can achieve.   

Monday 12 November 2018

Big political fights send pals to war

On this centenary of the end of the Great War there have naturally been many commemorations. I myself was involved with my choir Honour. We performed at the ceremony at the Salford cenotaph in the morning and went through our complete concert in the afternoon.  

One of our songs is about the Salford Pals. On Saturday  I was at Accrington Library where there is a display of the Accrington Pals.  Kitchener’s idea seemed good at first; send a load of “pals” out together.   This fostered camaraderie and loyalty. They would look after each other.  Yes of course that happened.   But populations of young men were wiped from towns and villages at a stroke.  Only seven of the Accrington Pals returned.  Many of the Salford Pals also failed to come home from the Somme. 

Politicians fall out and young men and women from both sides, who are more similar to each other than they are to their commanders, have to do the dirty work. On some level these are family squabbles.  Look how the royal houses are related.    

Isn’t it better for us to that we thrash out these differences in the European parliament?  There are always squabbles and it doesn’t always run smoothly, but surely that is better than what happened in the trenches?   

Some may argue that we should go further than just Europe and I tend to agree. However, if we can’t even get it right with those people who are more like us than they are different from us ….
Will Gibraltar cause problems? Will it come to skirmishes over fishing rights? Will we stop working together on terrorism and other crimes?

Will it all be as awful as some Remain hyperbolists suggest?

Or will it be just like the millennium bug and be much feared though not a lot happens? We ought to remember though that thousands of people worked behind the scenes to make sure the millennium bug did no harm.  

Possibly little will happen on 30 March 2019 because the civil servants can’t get it all ready in time. And in fact no one knows yet exactly what is to happen. 

I have Poles living in a flat I own in Streatham. Their contract is due for renewal 23 March. Oh dear. What to do? 

Yes, it’s been a weekend of World War 1 commemorations. We’re acknowledging that we didn’t learn as much from that conflict as we should have:  another even bloodier one followed a few years later. Churchill saw a United Europe as a way of ensuring that nothing so bloody happened again on that land mass. 

Have we still not learnt?