Britain Has Feelings Too

We British are renowned for our politeness. We doff our caps to strangers, we wait for others to get on the tube before we get off and we drink endless cups of tea, sometimes with our little fingers raised. We may grumble through hard times but only very quietly. We complain but never loudly or crassly. We are a proud folk for in the face of a crisis we always keep calm and carry on. We have the stiffest of upper lips and save our tears for the Queen’s birthday. We don’t like public displays of emotion but we will smile at strangers, although we’ll never grin or laugh out loud in front of them. We are essentially a polite race. But something happened last Friday, Britain changed and that facade of politeness fell as our feelings were unleashed.

And it turns out that British people do have emotions after all. People have been in tears and in despair over the call for Brexit (still not a reality – it’s not legally binding and Parliament have made no decisions, time for Breentry): many are sad about the future they see being dismantled, many are sad about the past they see being ignored and many are sad about the volatile present that we’re living through. Others are in fear and pain as they experience the fists, insults and petrol bombs of racial abuse and violence. Many are angry for many different reasons: because they think the majority of people are idiots, because they think it’s time immigrants went home, because they think they’ve been lied to by the press and the establishment. Even the people of power are expressing emotions: David Cameron shed a tear which may even have been genuine (maybe he realised the enormity of the mistake he made) whilst Boris Johnson has gone quiet, which is most unlike him.

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So, yes, British people do have emotions after all – some inspiring and some scary – and over the past few days we’ve been expressing them over and over again. This has been a long time coming – keeping calm and carrying on, grumbling under our breath and being oh so polite are just ways of suppressing our feelings without ever having to address them. But you can’t hide emotions forever. Yet there are ways to vent anger and ways to direct frustration which don’t have to destroy and denigrate and there are ways to express sadness and grief that don’t have to lead to despair, yet we are a vastly emotionally unintelligent country because we’ve never been given the education for it. We have a lot to learn in a very short space of time but perhaps what is happening now is a sharp wake up call: our feelings are powerful, dangerous and transformative. We must acquaint ourselves with them and use them as a force for good.

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The Referendum Wasn’t Real

This is my 100th post and I’d planned the title to be “what’s the point of this blog?” and given the UK’s decision to leave the EU I think my comments on that might answer the question anyway. But, first things first, the Referendum wasn’t real, what’s that all about? OK. It was real, devastatingly so. It is already having vast emotional, social and economic ramifications. As Britain ‘goes it alone’ the pound has plummeted in value, the economy is wobbling and a shift to the right in mainstream politics is underway with the likes of Boris Johnson and Michael Gove vying for power. Extremist right-wing parties like Ukip and their European counterparts are claiming this as a victory for xenophobia and hate. We’ve even recently witnessed one act of right-wing terrorism claim a life, that of Jo Cox. Uncertainty is rising as hope takes a blow to the chest. Yet, for all this, how can I claim the Referendum wasn’t real?

Because from the outset it was a farce. Firstly, democracy was boiled down to a single multiple choice question with only two answers, In or Out, that few people had actually wanted to be put to the public. This doesn’t respect the multi-faceted and multi-partied nature of our democracy it just promotes further divide and hostility as friends and families suddenly found themselves forced to pick a side. And asides for a select few bureaucrats in Brussels and maybe one or two British politicians no one, absolutely no one (myself very much included) could vote with a sufficient degree of knowledge – there are documents of tens of thousands of pages outlying all the treaties and clauses amassed over the decades Britain has been part of the EU and I certainly haven’t read them all. It’s funny that people were suddenly and arbitrarily forced to get knowledgeable and passionate about something they had not seemed to care that much about before.

Meanwhile, people who’ve lived in this country and contributed to its economy for longer than I’ve been alive weren’t allowed to vote. Teenagers weren’t allowed to vote even though they have more future to lose than the rest of us voters. Both campaigns used tactics of fear, hate and misinformation (aka lies) to cajole and manipulate. We’ve already seen Nigel Farage swiftly distance himself from the Leave pledge of £350 million to the NHS (but did we really think neoliberal parties would do an about turn on their views of the welfare state?). There were campaign posters that bore too much resemblance to ones used by Nazis and the media played on xenophobia, fear and outdated nationalistic sentiments to make people think that voting in the referendum was the equivalent to taking some sort of significant stand (it wasn’t, it just makes it easier for the rich to get richer whilst deepening austerity and rolling back the welfare state). Somehow the woes of neoliberal, consumer capitalism (see the rest of this blog for criticisms on that) were landed on the heads of some of the most powerless, namely refugees and immigrants, and a bunch of pro-establishment, old-Eatonians managed to dupe large chunks of the country into thinking voting Leave would lead us into a wonderful British revolution rather than entrenching inequality and recession. That being said, lots of utopic left wingers were somehow led to believe Brexit would yield a land of milk, honey and socialism (my fingers are still crossed). And let’s not forget why this referendum even happened in the first place: because David Cameron wanted to be Prime Minister and he needed the support of his more right-wing back benchers to get it, so he promised them a referendum to appease them rather than having the courage to say ‘no’ (he put it on our heads instead). That’s not democracy, that’s cynical party politics at the public’s expense.

So, yes, the referendum is real and it has happened and this is a rallying call for anyone of whatever political persuasion and however they voted in the referendum to choose peace and oppose the rise of extremism and the violence that goes with it. But, no, the origins of this referendum were neither hopeful nor fair nor democratic. So whatever people say, this was not a victory for the British and the public have not spoken because there was only 1% in it. Like austerity, the referendum is a story wrapped around an agenda. Many desperately believe in it, many just cynically use it to get more power, many misguidedly want it to become true in ways it never will but it is not ‘the truth and nothing but the truth’ it is just one story among many. Unfortunately, it is a very powerful story and its repercussions will prove fatal for many. But Britain has survived two world wars and I think we can survive this too. Now here’s Lady Gaga because why not 😉

The European Dream

The United States of America has one, a dream, “the ideal by which equality of opportunity is available to any American, allowing the highest aspirations and goals to be achieved.” It’s basically the Cinderella fairy tale made available to all Americans. By ‘all’ Americans I mean white, straight men born into wealth but sometimes a woman slips through the net and occasionally a person of colour does as well. That the dream is founded on huge levels of debt, totally unsustainable levels of consumption and dog-eat-dog capitalist politics is by-the-by, the point is America has a dream, a big one, and apparently it’s for everyone. But what does Europe have?

Europe also has huge levels of debt, totally unsustainable levels of consumption and dog-eat-dog capitalist politics but I’m not so sure Europe can simply adopt the American dream. For starters, Europe didn’t begin as one country (or at least one colonialist attempt to make a country), it started as many, often belligerent nation states vying for power with each other. A history of Europe is often a history of war until the end of WW2 when people had had enough. Successive generations of the same families had gone to war twice in the 20th century and people knew this couldn’t last. So, as I described in a previous blog, the beginnings of the European Union were formed to ensure Europe did not go to war again.

However, European societies are going through yet more social, political and economic upheaval following the 2008 financial crisis and ongoing policies of austerity. Similarly to after the Great Depression of 1929 countries are becoming increasingly isolationist and extremist parties are on the rise. Now, more than ever, does Europe need a dream because it’s clear we cannot leave things in the hands of Brussels based bureaucrats and technocrats. Sure, they get to swan around the corridors of the European Commission and Parliament looking all self-important but how many of them have tried to run a sheep farm, worked in a hair salon or held any number of ‘real’ jobs that people across Europe may have?

For those of us who care about Europe who, despite how disappointed they may be at the EU itself, believe it’s important to get on well with one’s neighbours and to form transnational organisations to combat transnational issues such as climate change, terrorism and corporatism, and to champion transnational solutions such as human and environmental rights, coming up with the European Dream is our responsibility. It will be different for all of us (and maybe that’s part of its strength) but, boy, do we need to start articulating positive and exciting messages about what it means to be European. So, I’ll take a stab but I reckon you should too.

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The European Dream: a continent where people are happy to make fun of one another’s accents and national cuisines knowing that underneath the banter there’s grim accord that the world is a dark place but if we work together we can make it lighter. We might often do things differently (e.g. how we do or don’t worship; how we eat our steak; how we do or don’t protest) and whilst we will talk about these things (eventually) we also know there’s nothing worse than tyranny, oppression and war. Europe has to be a family – a queer, straight, Muslim, of colour, trans, white, polyamorous, Atheist, monamorous, hippy, business family – and even if the siblings don’t always get on we’ll still stick it out for the sake of our brood. Perhaps, at its simplest the European Dream is to ensure a stable and prosperous continent upon which the inhabitants can freely and peacefully eat different dishes and make fun of each other for doing so. I mean, snails, gross.

Now, what’s your European Dream? You can write it in the comments below but because not that many people read this blog why not share it on your facebook, blog or twitter – get it out to your networks and see what else people come up with. Especially useful for us cynical Brits who talk of ‘continental Europe’ as if tiny island Britain is still its own Great Kingdom (c’mon, we can British and European at the same time!)

Britain Is Not A Fart

Better In than Out I say. And there are many reasons for it. Human rights, for example, we like those don’t we? And we get a lot more of them when we’re in the EU. Easy holidays abroad. We love them too and we’ll get lots more if we stay in. Greater security from, for example, terrorist attacks as we share intel with other European countries. Greater diversity, more interesting people coming to Britain more of the time to make our lives more interesting (of course, this one might not convince you if you’re a xenophobe). More stability in the West, something that Obama (leader of the Free World) really wants whilst the likes of Putin and ISIS leaders don’t. More jobs, stronger economy, reduced risk of armed conflict…but we know all these things already (and if you don’t check out the Stronger In website), so I’ve got another reason we should stay in the EU: my grandparents would have wanted it.

All my grandparents fought in the Second World War. One grandfather stormed the beaches at Normandy, the other was based at the caves of Malta, one grandmother drove lorries and fire engines around Britain (imagine that, a woman driving a truck, that was a big deal back in the day), whilst the other helped crack the Enigma code at Bletchley Park (but no, she wasn’t mentioned in that film with Benedict Cumberbatch, hmmm). They all contributed to the war effort for the sake of peace – they believed the Nazi threat had to be challenged, and so they did what they thought was right and put their lives on the line.

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Now, I’m not using this blog to condone war, indeed nothing’s black and white (save zebras and old photographs) and much history has shed complicating lights on the geopolitics of WW2. Secret plots, subterfuge and much anti-Semitism within British politics. So I’m still a big ‘no’ to war but I do think that my grandparents believed they were doing the right thing and I have an awful lot to thank them for. After the war ended the establishment of the European Coal and Steel Community in 1952 was the first step in the federation of Europe, an effort to curb the rise of extreme nationalism on the continent that had led to fighting. Unsurprisingly, my grandparents and many others never wanted to see Europe go to war again. The EU was created to maintain peace.

Of course, there were other motives at play. The Coal and Steel Community is hardly the Culture and Peace Community, it was about business, specifically capitalist business. Opening markets and freeing trade were seen as key ways of ensuring countries stayed on amicable terms. There’s much logic in the idea but when making money takes precedence over making lasting friendships it’s easy to forget why some random village in the south of England is twinned with an equally random village in the north of Germany. Furthermore, when recessions hit and economies get rocky countries all too quickly revert to nationalistic policies (may I refer you to what happened in Europe before WW2 and what’s happening right now).

In many ways the EU has failed us – the bullying tactics that the likes of Germany and France impose on countries like Greece and Spain; the fact that it’s predicated on capitalist growth-based consumer economics (see many previous posts on why that’s a disaster); the undemocratic nature of the Council and Commission; the giant gravy train that is EU bureaucracy (I once met an EU bureaucrat…but that’s another story); the relative ease with which individuals (especially extremist ones) can get into the Parliament solely with an aim to disrupt negotiations, remember Nigel Farage’s shenanigans. The list goes on. But these are not reasons to leave. At a time of huge global problems – looming world war 3, climate change, nuclear threats, terrorism, recession – we need huge global solutions and political transnational bodies like the UN and EU are part of that. They might not be fit enough for purpose but it’s our job to make them better and in doing so make the larger system better rather than blame the likes of the EU for the failings of said system. And it’s what my grandparents risked their lives for and who am I to trash their legacy?

Now, perhaps for the only time, I will give the last word to Margaret Thatcher (full Evening Standard article here): “To come out [of Europe] now, with nowhere else to go, would jeopardise our own and our children’s future … In politics we always have to consider ‘What is the alternative?’ The European Community or what? If we came out now we should be…cold-shouldering our friends…The reasons for staying in…are concerned with the ideal and vision of what we could do together…and with the consequences that would arise for Britain if instead of solving our problems as part of a partnership we withdrew into the unknown…At a time of uncertainty in world affairs, Europe gives us a far better chance of peace and security, and if we want our children to continue to enjoy the benefits of peace our best course of action is to stay in Europe.”

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