Thursday, 13 September 2018

How Emotional Commitment to a TV Story Fails

Update Late 13th September

Had I not thought any of the below, about wrenching a narrative, simply watching series 3 episodes 11 and 12 (I'm about to finish it on 13) would have driven me nuts. Never mind the ridiculous chance meetings and such, and 'flown-in' characters, the whole thing is now away with the fairies. The author, Diana Gabaldon, having done a good historical time travel piece, must simply have been on something mind-bending and toxic to come up with such continuous tripe. What a shame.

Update very early 14th September (1:20 am some would still say 13th!)

After episode 13. Utter cock, complete bullshit. It's like narrative betrayal. I can imagine that the bones scene when she was in the twentieth century when she had intuition of the female body's death was put in afterwards, once in effect a new novel was being written half way through the third one.

Yet Another Update.

Saturday 14th I started watching Outlander from the beginning. Fantastic. I watched Series 1 Episode 1 three times, in fact, one with subtitles. So much passes by. This is also how I read: several times over one page, and also reading the subtitles gets the infoimation. It must be my training. I now have seen other reviews that agree with me about series 3, and someone commented to me on Facebook that she had the same response with the books (beyond series 3 as well) whilst still having her emotional attachment to the main characters.

 I like a good story, and I like one that has multiple themes and length. Rather by accident, this year I bumped into Outlander episodes shown every night on the television channel, More 4. The series is based on the Diana Gabaldon books  - - each with their own title.

Like all good viewers, I invested some emotional response into the story presented, and purchased DVDs to do it in some more personal depth, but I have to report a wrenching out of this, as a result of viewing series 3 after half way, and with the ability to read plot summaries later on for the books at least.

Outlander was not a repeat from Channel 4's showing. Only More 4 showed each episode twice, and thus meant the ability to see multiple times with a More 4 +1 channel. However, this does not mean four times maximum, because with adverts it ran at 1 hour and 15 minutes and sometimes longer. The final one of series 2, in September 2018, was 1 hour 50 with adverts, and showing four times meant a creative three times viewing: first through, secondly the final 50 minutes on +1, next time through to an hour, and then the whole 1: 45 (given as five minutes less) on +1. Why? Because, in one viewing I miss so much. For some reason on the final episode the subtitles were not working, and usually a second viewing was with subtitles. In general, I saw each episode usually twice or nearly three times.

The programme was shown almost with no publicity at all. My friends had not even heard of the programme. I understand that it has suffered because of domination of Game of Thrones. I have never watched Game of Thrones and, based on information from those who have, it has no appeal to me. I suspect there are people either Outlander types or Game of Thrones types, on whether you want some anchoring in history or pure fantasy. I want anchoring in history around which there can be a story: time travel gives an anchoring in history and depth.

I like a bit of time travel. I used to like Goodnight Sweetheart, the comedy, but it was very flawed. It did overstretch and was too tied later on to the Blair years as a kind of capitalist optimism and aspirational croneyism. It started breaking its own rules of logic in time travel as events were changed. In one episode, to change the future was to create a new universe, but later the past was messed about with so that present day events experienced simply disappeared. In 2016, when the first Outlander series was shown, the BBC did a revival episode of Goodnight Sweetheart, which could have started a whole new series. But, unlike with Americans, the BBC shut down any such future, even though the actors would have reformed after nearly two decades.

In Outlander the time travel was not frequent at all, and mainly meant knowledge in advance of events, especially with preparations by the time-travelling female lead character. The first pass over into just over 200 years back was stated as without expectation or knowledge. There was a second I also did not see, and the third came after the two leads were twenty years apart after the disaster of Culloden Moor. (Culloden village, incidentally, is a place of early medical comprehensive coverage, cited in the Beveridge Report that formed the NHS. Me thinks that the Claire Randall medic character might have discovered that, but she did not, probably because Diana Gabaldon did not.)

It is American made: but located principally in Scotland, it tries to stay accurate to the books and the history of the Jacobite period. I have not read the books at all.

Its main flaw is the assumption of Catholicism with Prince and the population. In fact the Catholics were a minority even among the Gaels; many were Scottish Episcopalians and a number were Presbyterian. They did not agree on religion. Lead man Jamie Fraser is presented as Roman Catholic. Also the drama forgets the argument that is critical: not just that the English army would have prevented a march to London, but that some of the Jacobites were concerned for Scotland only to restore the Stuart dynasty.

As for watching, the frequency of the advert breaks was irritating and so is the logo on the top left of the screen. I do turn over, I go elsewhere, and I put the sound off until the Outlander card returned. After the repeat run of the first series the second showed every Thursday, so I always cleared the decks from 9 pm to watch and into the night.

When the series ended, I went out the next day and purchased series 1 and 2 together as DVDs and series 3 alone (cheaper than 1 - 3). I decided to go straight on and view series 3. Series 2 ends in 1968, and then series 3 starts by going from 1947/8 through to 1968, and then she goes back again. I've said to my friends, this is two historical periods, because 1947 (and even 1968) are not now. Goodnight Sweetheart was of now (then!) going to back before (Second World War) and it ended with him trapped back in time after the end of the War once the engineers closed the time portal. In the 2016 Goodnight Sweetheart revival, the portal opened via a clash of him holding himself as a baby (with a space shift as well). But Outlander has two historical periods: indeed the American section for Claire emphasises 1950s' inequality and makes a point that, in some ways, the eighteenth century had more scope for personal breadth.

However, I'm afraid this American desire to have a franchise (yes, some British authors do this as well) and for television to go on and on has lost it with me. I've hit a point where it has lost credibility and blown my ability to suspend disbelief.

First of all, I am really pleased to have purchased these DVDs and don't regret it. The higher cost of the season 3 DVD that will only show here next year is not a problem, even if I have decided I can't go further with episodes. (I'll watch them but I won't emotionally invest in them.) I'm looking forward now to starting from series 1 and seeing those I missed. It is such a pleasure to be able to watch without adverts and without the logo interfering with vision.

The wrenching away of my suspension of disbelief is not because of the time travel, but the uprooting. Characters and plot are formed in location; changes of location have to work with previous locations and with reasons for change that are sustainable.

The basic and unravelled story is roughly this. A wartime nurse back in a location of Scotland is with husband Frank in a Rector's house where there are peculiar stories of the locality. There is his research into a genealogical connection back into Jacobite terms: Frank Randall is a descendent of an English soldier Black Jack Randall. The nurse stumbles back to the Highland clan life, being completely disorientated about what has happened. She is thought to be an English spy - Caitriona Balfe is an Irish actor who maintains a cut-glass English accent throughout: on the DVD interviews she seems to me to be acting as a clone American Hollywood model actor. She looks better, far better, as the Irish woman she is and indeed as she appears in Outlander. She encounters Jack Randall among others.

The fugitive and Laird, Jamie Fraser, takes her on after a time, marries her for her protection, and there follows the developing core love story. She goes through several adventures, with a cast of clan and English characters, including noticing a smallpox innoculation scar on a woman who saves her life - she turns out to be a rather bonkers and destructive Scottish Nationalist of an earlier and very romanticist politics. (These days Scottish Nationalists tend to be respectable social democrats interested in citizenship not nationalism.) Claire Randall, as now Claire Fraser, tells all to Jamie Fraser, the clan leader, and he knows she is of the future.

The problems of the Highlanders clashing with the British and themselves causes them problems, but the Jacobite issue arises, in which the other time traveller was deeply involved. In the knowledge that Culloden was a disaster, Jamie and Claire go to France and try to thwart developments towards Culloden, to change history and stop the disaster. Here, Claire has a stillborn child. I did like the presentation of Charles Stewart, and then in series 3 the fiction's 'joke' when Claire Fraser is visiting a museum and says regarding a display of him that he was not so tall in real life.

(The historical question has to be if there had been no Culloden battle and subsequent ethnic cleansing, whether it would have made any difference to the economic ethnic cleansing that followed on. My thought is no: the landlords would have turned land with people over to sheep regardless.)

Despite all attempts, the French-based and later Scottish located attempts to stop this (final) Jacobite rising fails. Claire does secure the family line to produce her first husband, Frank Randall, so that all is correct on the genealogy chart, and only after this is Jack Randall is killed at Culloden by Jamie Fraser himself in the TV series.

Before Culloden, and because Jamie knows Claire has missed a period or two, he gets her through the stones at Craigh Na Dun and to safety. In confusion in 1948 she reads up on Culloden in general, but after three years away in the past, and after she has told her bizarre story, Frank makes a deal with her to restore marriage and raise this coming baby on the basis that she forgets Jame Fraser and follows Frank to a new job in Boston, USA. Thus starts the long separation in which Jamie recovers from Culloden, and, via prison and avoiding transportation abroad, eventually gains a kind of freedom, via aliases too. Claire appreciates Frank as a father but lives a difficult life with him and develops herself as a surgeon doctor.

When Jamie's daughter, Brianna, born November 1948, reaches twenty, and after father has been killed in a road accident, mother and daughter go to the funeral of the Rector, intending also to spend time in England. But the adopted son of the rector, has an eye for Brianna. He is himself in a long line of descent from the mad woman who went back from 1968 to the Jacobite times (she thus had her own time gap through the stones - over 220 years). So, instead of mother and daughter driving on the wrong side of the road at night, they stay at the house and indeed keep staying at the house as mother reminicenses her past and Brianna discovers via the rector's diaries and twenty year old archives that Claire was missing for three years, and a November 1968 birth demonstrates to her that she was not Frank Randall's daughter at all. She suspects that her mother's own trips to nearby memory-based locations is a rekindling of mother's old affair with her real father. Her mother's explanation about a 202 year drop to the past for three years is as much 'back from the fairies' as the press articles of 1948. Brianna does not believe it: her closeness to her deceased father is becoming hostility to her mother.

However, academic historian (again) Roger, adopted son of the deceased, goes to the local higher education institution with Brianna, and she encounters the other time traveller (who does go backwards and forwards), and as the bizarre mother's story develops Roger says go along with it because this will confront the fantasy. Claire knows that the woman going back is going to meet her death at a witch trial (in fact she doesn't, but she doesn't yet know that), and on their chase to warn her, Brianna sees this woman pass through the central stone of the circle. Thus she now believes her mother. At this point Roger knows that Jamie survived Culloden. What they cannot achieve is knowing what happened to him after prison. He could have been transported to the colonies, for example.

So Claire gives up "chasing ghosts" and Brianna and mother return to Boston USA. However, in the television series but not the book, Roger goes unannounced to Boston at Christmas armed with the evidence of Jamie's whereabouts one year earlier than Claire's time gap of going back. A printed piece from 1765 using a future line of Robbie Burns printed by a man with Jamie's middle names is enough to 'prove' his location in Edinburgh at a print shop. Once she reveals this secret to her 'no more secrets' daughter, daughter says mother must go back. Claire makes a coat of many pockets, with a daft use of the 1960s Batman theme, steals some surgery equipment and antibiotics, and makes the air journey to Scotland and travels to near Inverness to pass through from 1968 to 202 years earlier. (Why Batman? Because it is of the time, and also featuring in their viewing are The Avengers and a precisely dated edition of Doctor Who.) Claire finds Jamie and both find that each other have lived a life; a theme is Jamie only ever being a concealed, substitute or absent father.

I have unjumbled the non-linear presentation in the book and TV series as I recall it.

The reason the TV series had Roger go to Boston to see Brianna and reveal his finding of Jamie's location is a criticism of the book (Voyager). In the book the discovery is in Scotland. I know this because the DVD commentaries told me. The TV producers knew that Brianna, who could hear the noise of the stones, would want to go back herself. She doesn't. Indeed, if I was such a daughter, and one getting close to a history academic bloke (she does history too, but prefers architecture), and he also hears the noise, then I would want to go and meet my real father. Instead, father sees photographs, a medium to shock, and further so as one has Brianna in a bikini.

Claire's return is something of a pot-boiler of events along with the discovery of his other life, as indeed he discovers about the daughter he'd assumed would be a son. Claire had said would be named after his father, Brian. There are ongoing clashes calling for reconciliation.

But soon, a happenstance leads to a complete change of direction. Indeed the film unit for all this goes to South Africa for scenes in the West Indies.

For me, personality, even love for one another, is located among other people and in location, or places that relate. France works, and the need to clear the decks and go to Boston works. But what does not work is a chance event by which Claire, utterly uncertain of her future because of all the changes, is going to sail across an ocean far and further from those stones and her daughter. It just does not carry credibility. The title music adapts, so that 'Over the Sea to Skye' is hardly relevant.

And so I lost the ability to suspend disbelief. I already know that there is a family tree for Outlander, where Roger and Brianna have children.

The books (reading the synopses) clearly arrange some matters differently: Jamie's son Willie is not revealed as early as in the TV series, but to me the book Voyager becomes a potboiler of coincidences and bumped into characters: the time travelling woman they thought was executed, is where they end up, and she has the boy taken by happenstance upon a ship, and even the prison governor is there as the local island (?) governor. It's like a selective transplant. Brianna only features here as the desired sacrifice of the other time traveller with her weird ideas. Jamie kills her. Then Claire and Jamie go from Jamaica to Georgia. It looks like it goes on and on. No doubt Diana Gabaldon draws on American history instead. In the to come Season 4, showing on TV in the UK on More 4 in 2019, Brianna may appear at the end: book 4 ends with Brianna going back in time and Roger chasing.

And there are planned seasons 5 and 6, despite the overshadowing by Game of Thrones. Are they sure they will still earn from this? Book 5 and, presumably season 5, has Brianna and Roger living in America back in time with Jamie and Claire, and daughter and son-in-law later go back to the future in book 7 (I gather). I wanted her going back in 3, and within the essence of location that forms the personalities and what adventures would come. And why not have Jamie go forward, for a better life, perhaps if he was ill, and deal with that? Keep it tight, keep it wrapping around itself.

So I will watch on, but I don't like this linear random chance narrative. To me, a story is told and worked into depth and is concluded. Stories have to end. This Claire ends up marrying the one time prison governor and island governor, only for Jamie to reappear again - in another changed location. It beggars belief.

Stories work because they end. Then tell a new one, with new people. I liked 1, 2 and half of 3 series because it had depth, purpose and consistency. It took a situation and worked it through, and was a fantasy but rooted. This to me now is just going on and on, and loses its anchor. It takes until Book 7 for much to happen in Scotland again with the main characters, but from what I can see it involves something along the lines of regurgitating, and book 8 is backwards and forwards with events.

Therefore I have stopped giving commitment emotionally half way through series 3. 1, 2 and part of 3 is long enough and does the job. I can imagine better, I think. I'll watch, and I may buy series 4, but I'm not sure until I see reviews and a summary of the television series episodes.

Sunday, 2 September 2018

New Political Season: A White Knuckle Ride

The new political season is upon us, so it is now time to be a fool and make some predictions. The one lesson we must have been taught these past five years or so is not to make predictions. So, here goes.

Jeremy Corbyn won't last two months as Labour leader. Oh how things change within a year. His failure to stop a story has now led to him being fatally weakened. If Labour holds a cheering rally this year as last, it will look hollow and confirm negativity. Labour's rescue is in their own hands: Corbyn stands down. No doubt the members will elect another left winger, but maybe one without the Corbyn associations.

If he does not go, then Labour MPs cannot simply hold another vote of no confidence. If they do that, then it is up to them to act. It means a split, but the lesson of the 1980s is that there is no place for a fourth party. Another lesson is not to split the left to let in the right. These days the first past the post system lets parties win when the other side is divided, which is why now (with fewer marginal constituencies than back in the 1980s to 1990s) hefty vote blocks can still lead to minority government.

Thus a split will only work if the Labour MPs mean to isolate the current Labour Party and sink it. That's the reality. Otherwise, they needn't bother.

Much of this may be overtaken by the demise of Theresa May. In this case, the Labour MPs as opposition do an informal split. They'll do the necessaries later (as they see it). Because we have the pincer movement of the Chequers Proposals of the EU negotiation on the one hand, and the Houses of Parliament on the other. Theresa May can get the coming legislation through if she loses the party majority in the House of Commons. What comes up regarding the EU is greater than any party leader and, indeed, any party position, especially as the Conservative Party is split to the point of name-calling. There is bitterness in those ranks. If May runs with 'Chequers' or a watered down version, she loses the Tory Party, if she doesn't run with a watered down version, she loses the Commons. However, don't rely on the Tory rebels: they have a habit of caving in at the last minute. But the days of caving in and waiting until next time are running out: there is no next time. Now is the time to at the very least stay in the Customs Union and Single Market.

However, ever since the days of Tony Blair not trusting the House of Commons, the government has controlled the Commons timetable. There are no more guillotines or filibusters. The time to strike is pre-ordained now, so everyone must be ready at the appropriate moment, with no more absences and forgetting. The point is, it is very difficult to rise up in the House against the government even when there is the majority to do it. Who will facilitate this? Corbyn won't. As well as being incompetent, he isn't of a mood to protect our place in the European Confederation.

Nevertheless, as well as the leadership plotting, there have been cross-party meetings. I still don't think there is quite enough to lead to a new Centre-Radical Party. A trigger for a formal split may be reducing the MPs from 650 to 600, demanding reselections, if the legislation is introduced and goes through. But, in the meantime, there is enough co-operation for someone like Chuka Umunna to be the man of the moment to rise up beyond his front bench and do some informal leadership.

So I am predicting that there will be a new informal leadership in the House of Commons bypassing both front benches. Chukka is the leader, and the group covers many Labour MPs, all the Liberal Democrats, the Scottish Nationalists for the purposes of the EU legislation, and the Tory pro-Europeans. Each Party will have its own sub-leaders too. This is important for co-ordination. In such a situation, Theresa May will fall, the House of Commons will organise itself, Corbyn will also be sidelined.

May be this will force a General Election. But a General Election will only work if MPs organise informally or formally and have personal manifestos on the Europe question. Only the Liberal Democrats and UKIP are set up as unified pro and anti European Union. There may well be template manifestos, so that there will be this group and that group providing choice at the General Election - again, bypassing the Party system as it stands.

Labour's new leader may prevent a split; the Tories' new leader is likely to cause a split. The trauma of politics today is likely to cause divisions and new alliances, but at the moment the job is to strike at the timetabled legislation according to need.

So, let's go with the new political season. It is going to be a white knuckle ride.

Tuesday, 14 August 2018

Tackling Intersex in My fiction

I've not blogged very often on LGBTI issues, so this is by way of change. So I am doing it by reproducing a section from my being edited attempt at a novel. In this section, within a chapter, the main character (first person) has just been ordained priest in the National Church in the cathedral at the city of Foss. Back home at Serninsea, the evening service reflects the fact she has been ordained. However, a Lay Reader is giving the sermon. The one thing the Church does not know about Linda - it knows everything else - is that she is a Complete Androgen Insensitivity Syndrome Intersex. In the story, so was her elder sister. Her elder sister Lucinda ended up on lifelong HRT, but with experience Linda did not.

The evening was a disaster. The Lay Reader is utterly binary and objectionable. Note that Linda's husband's affair is known to the authorities, but they are letting it go, because they want Linda on board, and with an agreement with him up to ordination she has had an on-off relationship with an old school friend. Here is the section, no doubt to be edited again...

The service to celebrate me becoming a priest had a sermon by this chap. What was he called. Colin Titan, same name as in the southern settlement. Despite the rush of Anglican blood to my head, I immediately doubted why I was ordained! Colin and I sat alongside each other on the choir stalls listening. The Rural Dean was opposite. By the way, Peter Marshall was in the congregation and took this opportunity to congratulate me, and he said hello to my elder sister and his husband.
     This Lay Reader did his Trinity loyalty bit before beginning this pseudo-intellectual address. He began, "Let's be clear, the Creator God in my life is as real as the people I meet and more so than anything online. Non-Christians make the mistake that just because they haven't experienced the work of the Holy Spirit, they think that God isn't real - but it is they who are missing out because they don't want him. Yet they need Him. How to receive Him? Read the Bible.
    "The truthfulness of the Bible stays because truth is objective. Unlike the subjective, postmodern humanists and atheists notion of 'truth', the Bible gives the knowledge of reality just as the Creator God sent it down and therefore gives supernatural guidelines into human nature by explaining the good and the bad. Yes it is binary.
    "This is why the anti-Christian theological lefties hate Christians so much: we have the objective reality to live by and they cannot dilute or explain it away with their fake 'truths' in the plural. The Bible is the measure to determine, yes in the binary sense: right from wrong, good from bad, moral from immoral, love from lust. This is distinct from relativity and situation ethics."
    What bee was in his bonnet? I wondered.
    "Therefore human marriage reflects the spiritual marriage between Jesus Christ (the Bridegroom) and the Church (the Bride). Changing marriage from solely between a man and a woman, to man with man or woman with woman breaks the guiding symbolism of the marriage between Jesus Christ and the Church. Of course it is a complete abomination to think that Jesus would dump the Church and marry another Christ (as if there was one), or if the Church if it could ever would dump the Jesus to marry another Church (there is no other undivided Church)."
    I could now see where this was going.
    "Biblical Christians, meaning Christians after all, can therefore make no alteration than having a one man with one woman marriage. Even transgender marriages are excluded because that's like Jesus pretending he is the Church or the Church pretending that she is Jesus. It makes a mockery of marriage.
    "God then has the authority to do what He wants with creation and this is what He wanted: He laid out the rules for living. We should therefore never be ashamed of our faith in God and our trust in God's Word, the Bible. In contrast, human reason is a disaster, evidenced by its shameful mockery, put-downs or intimidation of biblical Christians. Homosexuality is a blatant act of defiance to the Creator God along with human-reasoned evolution theory, the big bang theory, One World Order, world peace humanisms and climate change, and then all the other constructions they call religions, supposed clutter around Christian essentials when they are all essential, and the denials of true religion. God warns us about ignoring Him and his narrow path, and yet He displays great pity on those who rebel against Him: thus the charitable words: 'Father forgive them, for they know not what they do.' Given the world-wide ignorance and sheer defiance of God's Word, you'd think He would want to destroy us, but we are allowed to carry on and show our worst.
    "But a mention here, that our new priest here, still the curate of course and thus under Colin's training incumbency authority, did know what she did earlier today: she has, as a priest in the enveloping consumation of the Church, married Christ, and, for all eternity, given her life to Christ.
    "When a man says, 'I don't believe the Bible....', he, in his defiance, believes in something else. Everyone believes in something. Secularists must have faith in where their false ideology will lead. For there is no evidence it will go anywhere. There is but one authority leading to salvation, and it is represented in the Church, the very bride of Christ, collectively, for which Linda Jupitas here is forever an embedded representative, and now Christ is her lover, partner and friend, and she will obey whatever he wants from her."
    I was utterly shocked. I was appalled. I could have blown every pipe in my body. What on earth was it in this institution that someone could stand up and say such dreadful bilge? Why was I associating with that? This 'enveloping consumation' was a supposed pregnancy?
    "Bit of a robust view there," Colin Cromer said to me, as this chap descended from the pulpit.
    "I am appalled," I said.
    "Freedom of views," he said. "We don't often get it quite said like that. People are usually more circumspect."
    "Yes, believing the same thing but hide behind devious expressions."
    "I'd be careful if I was you."
    "Colin, it is not acceptable."
    "Yes," he said louder towards the Rural Dean.
    What normally follows the sermon is the creed. I was having trouble contemplating that! But before this came my specific declaration at the home church. It is not actually said by me.
    I stood facing the few faithful and my visitors, and the Rural Dean alongside me said, "She has been examined and found to be of godly life and sound learning, and she has duly taken the oath of allegiance to the Sovereign and the oath of canonical obedience to the diocesan Bishop." (Not adding the suffragans!) "She has affirmed and declared her belief in 'the faith which is revealed in the Holy Scriptures and set forth in the catholic creeds and to which the historic formularies of the National Church bears witness'."
    Yes, but not belief in the crap this bloke, whoever he was, had just spouted.
    Presiding at the Eucharist was something I only could think about for a year. This is what followed. I presided. I did ask: "Can everyone hear me?"
    I heard someone say, "No and we don’t want to." The entertaining ones always choose their moment. I was told to expect some reaction against.
    The Eucharist is a binding ritual: that's how it really works, via fairly useless in themselves tokens of discs and pretty dreadful wine - but of course they are representational. Yes, this Lay Reader received his just like anyone else.
    And then there were refreshments, at the bells end of the church, for the congregation, with me pressing the flesh, so to speak.
    Dyfed said he was looking toenjoy some visits to places on the extended route back to Wales tomorrow. "Staying at yours, is it like a tied house then?" asked Dyfed.
    "Yes, for all the time I am here."
    "We're lucky about the farm and the annexe house we have," said Dyfed.
    Then Lucinda said, "We've come here - you wanted to, Dyfed - and see how you fit in with like that utter shite in that sermon."
    I apologised: "I'm so sorry. It was appalling and I promise you it's rare and of course I never say anything like it."
    "Ah, did I hear sermon criticism?" asked a voice, that of Colin Titan. "I'm always interested in comments about my sermons," he said.
    Lucinda wasn't out to offer criticism. I know my sister. She was going to tear him to pieces. "Ah, you are ignorant," my sister told him. "All what you said is predicated on God introducing clear, binary, sex differences."
    "Indeed it is," he said. "I used the very word."
    Colin Cromer was now coming nearby.
    "Well, I was born sexually male," Lucinda said directly at him, "but the androgens which make you have active testosterone and thus make you male weren't recognised in my body. So I appear female, as I am, and I did marry as female."
    "That's simple," he said, "you are a man."
    "Have you seen the size of my tits?" she said at him. "Look at my hips. Now I admit..."
    "You are transsexual," he said.
    "I am not transsexual. I've not had to do the slightest thing to look the way I am. Furthermore, if I was Swyer syndrome, the other way to have male chromosomes and become female, I could even take the tablets and have a baby."
    "So you can't then?"
    "I can't."
    "So you are a man," he said.
    "As well as tits I've got a c..."
    "Colin Titan isn't it," I said rapidly to him, merging the cs. "You are biblically misinformed anyway, as well as offensive."
    He said, "I'm not offensive: the truth cannot be offensive. And I know my Bible."
    "And so do I," I said, "especially on this. So the Genesis binary pattern on which you depend does not hold up. And do you know why? Because rabbis circumcised infants and would find some who were in between sexes, even when they did not know about genetics producing what look like complete females on the outside when their origins are male. Isaiah says he'll gave houseroom even to eunuchs, better than sons and daughters: an everlasting name which, joke, will not be cut off."
     Lucinda said, "Some related to my outcome have indistinct appearing reproductive equipment."
    "Which specifically presented a problem to the rabbis," I repeated.
    "Still male then," he said.
    "Not what Jesus said," I stated, as drawing the usual kind of trump card out of the pack. "In Matthew he says something like, 'Not everyone can receive this saying, but only those to whom it is given. For there are eunuchs who have been so from birth, and there are eunuchs who have been made eunuchs by people, and there are eunuchs who have made themselves eunuchs for the sake of the kingdom of heaven. So only those who can receive the binary teaching receive it.'"
    "All that means," he said, "is that some are incapable of marriage because they have congenital defects; others because they have injury or restrictions imposed on them by surgeons and the like. But others don't do marriage for the higher service of God, as Paul states in his first letter to the Corinthians."
    "No it isn't," I said, getting more heated. "It is a statement by Rabbi Jesus in a time of limited knowledge that there are others around than the male and female of Genesis - that some are born this way, some become this way, and some do it in order to become religious in devoted service."
    Now Colin Cromer said, "I think this is for a discussion group."
    "No Colin," I said, "this man has made offensive remarks in ignorance in a public space and he isn't even informed by his own sources to correct his own prejudice."
    "But we don't move this into a public spectacle," said Colin.
    My sister then said at Colin, "Your failure to correct him is exactly why your institution is going down the plughole. He is ignorant to the facts. I couldn't care less whether it is in the Bible or not. He is just ignorant."
    "Far from it," the preacher said. "You have made my case. Neither you nor our new priest here believes in the Bible, the only source of truth."
    Colin Cromer said, "Err..."
    I said at him, "It's half ignorant! It is not a medical guidebook."
    Colin Titan said, "I suppose," he said, "it is not a history book or science book either."
    "No it is not," I said.
    Colin my boss said, "This conversation has to stop now."
    This other Colin said, "It is the original, the only, the complete, the reliable, source of truth."
    Colin my boss then said, "This conversation must stop here! It is becoming over-heated. You are all entitled to your opinions."
    Then Lucinda said, "But he is not entitled to be offensive to me and those like me on the basis of misinformation. I am not a man, no one would ever regard me as a man, and long before anything regarding transgenders and birth certificates, anyone born with my syndrome would be counted as female."
    "Only by appearance," said the fundamentalist. "And did anything Jesus say contradict Genesis?"
    "So what?" I asked. "Why would he?"
    Colin Cromer said - so naively, "I'm sure the offence wasn't meant."
    "He keeps calling me a man," said Lucinda. "This is offensive now, and proves it was offensive then when he said it from that wooden box."
    Colin Cromer then said, "Look we are becoming a spectacle. This is supposed to be a day of celebration for Linda here, having presided at her first Eucharist, everyone having been told by the Rural Dean that she is of godly living."
    The Rural Dean came along and said, "Linda, you should obey your senior priest here, and you are both representatives of the bishop."
    Lucinda then said, "But I do not have to obey him or some purple-head. I repeat, strongly repeat, that this man is an ignorant git. I don't just have a gender of female, I have a phenotype of female, even if I have male chromosomes."
    "God's reproductive mechanism," said the Lay Reader. "Male and female, and binary."
    I said," There were no amphibians mentioned in the Bible, never mind no dinosaurs."
    "Oh I think they were," said Colin Titan.
    Colin Cromer then said, "I insist now as Vicar of this parish that this conversation comes to the end. Mr Titan, you are a Lay Reader and you preach in this church on my say-so and that of the bishops. I shall report back on this episode to at least the Bishop of Bolingbroke. I want a copy of your sermon, in whatever form, and I also want a word with you, Linda. And, may I say, your sister..."
    "And her husband," I added."Husband according to the old rules."
    "Yes, well my point is that you are welcome in my church, in my bishop's church."
    "Well that's not good enough," said Lucinda, "because the welcome has to be demonstrated."
    Then Colin Titan said, "Presumably you cannot reproduce. You are her brother - by your own admission."
    Colin Cromer now said, "That's it. Please leave Mr Titan at the earliest opportunity. Go now, collect your things, and leave. I will have the bishop contact you in due course. I insist upon it."
    And thus he went. And so did Lucinda, saying, "I'll see you later," to me.
    Colin said, "Mrs er, what..."
    "Jones," I said.
    "You do not have to leave? Can I speak?"
    "No," she said. "Come on Dyfed. We'll wait for the creature of this church to return home."
    Colin Titan was soon on his way out. But then Colin Cromer went out to the arguing between him and Lucinda in the street, insisting that Mr Titan got on his way rapidly.
    With the disputing parties broken up, and the crowd reverting to conversations among themselves, Colin Cromer then took me to the vestry and shut the door, leaving the Rural Dean to shake hands to those leaving.
    "I can see she is your sister. The only difference seems to be her mouth. You must guard against creating a public spectacle. I know passions can arise, but one of our jobs is to smooth the waves."
    "Ugh," I said to my immediate boss. "I'm going home. My sister and her husband are staying overnight."
    "Look," he said. "Other than this, it's been a good day. I'm proud of you. You looked good at the cathedral. But something is missing tonight. Or, rather, someone."
    "Go on."
    "Your husband, Mr Jupitas."
    "Because, actually," I said with some bite, "he is walking out on me."
    "Well, he's not been here much."
    "He was reducing his attendance before. Now he is leaving me."
    "This town is not some vacuum, you know," said Colin Cromer. "The woman at the cathedral was Cheryl Mould and is in fact your husband's lover."
    "You seemed remarkably cool about it all. Presumably because Adam Magellan was there, who you have not parted from, but is your lover."
    "I have not been with him for ages. Go on."
    "Linda. We are not fools. You have been on such thin ice there is every probability that you will fall through it. As for your sister, I'm sorry to hear she was born male and appears female."
    "It's nothing to be sorry for. Go on. I assume some more is coming."
    "No. What a terrible way to end an evening. I'm only sorry in the sense that it is another cross to bear."
    "It is not a cross to bear beyond the social attitudes that surround us."
    "Linda. You and I do not need to argue. Come on, let's go and stand by the door if there are any others still to leave. We can have a staff meeting about this if you want."
    "No, you've dealt with it."
    When the last person had gone, other than those clearing up the refreshments, Colin said, "Go home, Linda, and you don't have to come in for prayers tomorrow morning. Cool off. And don't forget, I'm off on my proper holidays from tomorrow and you have to hold the fort. Don't go inviting Colin Titan to preach."
    I drove home rather angry, and then tried to change mood arriving at the front door.

Sunday, 5 August 2018

The Summer Break Before a Crisis

The BBC non-channel on TV is showing lots of young people dancing to BBC Radio 1 presentation in Ibiza/ Elivissa. Many of those dancing will be British, but they will also come from all around Europe. We are the same people sharing overlapping histories. Britain came from the Celts from Europe, and then the Anglo-Saxons, and then the Norman French who had been Vikings. And, more recently, we have people in Europe from everywhere.

What on earth are we doing building a wall against our neighbours. And don't say, this is only against a set of institutions not Europe itself. Because in all effect it is against Europe itself. The European Union is the political expression of Europe: it makes things possible.

If you were to design a European Union, it would look something like this. The nation states would make decisions and often with vetoes. There would be direct representation, but this would have to recognise the existence of nation states as core. There would have to be an executive branch at this level, but it could only propose and regulate. Trade disputes without and all disputes within would need a court.

This is exactly what we have got. And having one currency through most of this makes it easier to spend, buy and trade. How ridiculous that Britain will most likely leave an institution where participants will find English as a convenient second language.

The British Prime Minister recently visited Emmanuel Macron at his fortified holiday home. He'll have told her to negotiate and realise this European Union has its essential features. The single market was heavily influenced by Britain, the push to neo-liberalism came from Britain.

So where are we going with all this, after Cameron's failed Tory gamble with a binary referendum, and May's gamble of a General Election by which she lost her inherited slim majority.

What we know is that there is no majority for any particular deal. The Chequers' proposal is opposed by those to whom May has previously rolled over. She gave a hard time to those Tories who gave her plan qualified welcome, and rolled over to the amendments of the Tory right. The hard right Tories will not accept her Chequers' proposal, with or without change through negotiation. May herself won't accept a move to the Customs Union, never mind Single Market. She refuses the EFTA option, which has its own institutions and rules, yet plugs into the Single Market and Customs Union.

So there is an impasse, unless the House of Commons can 'get it together' on a cross-party basis. Whilst there could be an appeal to delay Article 50, that the government would not accept, all 27 member states would have to agree with any one having a veto. The other opportunity is the return of the Trade Bill from the House of Lords, when the so-called remainers really would have to get it together and pass an amendment to join the Customs Union. This is the likeliest prospect. Many moderate Tories may well vote for this come the prospect of crashing out and immense damage and uncertainty to the British and European economies.

However, each option undermines the Government and its unhappily balanced executive may well disintegrate. Also, assuming some sort of an agreement, May could try and do what John Major did, after Denmark rejected the Maastricht Treaty and press the 'nuclear option' - he also stood and was opposed by John Redwood and retained himself as Prime Minister. May does not have this option in the sense that the issue is so pressing, so monumental, and the opposition so multi-sourced, that if she tried it the likelihood is a collapse into a General Election.

The problem is this: suppose the Fixed Term Parliament Act holds up the present House of Commons. Suppose in this situation the House of Commons can work beyond the front benches and produced votes to prevent a crash out. Who will provide the executive branch of government? What will be the effect of Tony Blair's introduction of timetabling: no longer does a government introduce the guillotine, but rather the Speaker limits MPs' speeches because everything is timetabled by the executive. The House of Commons may well act to find its majority votes, but the executive will dissolve in front of our eyes.

Again, a vote to have a second (might have to be a third) referendum would have the same effect. I'd have thought we'd have learnt our lesson regarding referenda. We need a 'this deal', 'no deal' 'may as well stay in' set of options in a referendum, and this either needs a single transferable vote method ('Fiddle!' shout the hard right) or a two-stage two binary referenda. My view is that Parliament should be sufficient. The referendum was legally advisory, it cannot bind Parliament, and we've already had one General Election since with the effect to 'soften' the exit, unless things simply become chaotic.

Now a General Election will be messy. In any case, a majority of an electorate that once produced Thatcher's 43 majority, or Labour's after the Second World War, now leads to tiny majorities or a hung parliament. Some 150 changeable marginal seats are now around 80 or so. Secondly, both main parties are both-and regarding the European Union, and both are formally committed to leaving. So, with the exception of the Liberal Democrats and UKIP, parties are not arranged along a contest of this pressing issue. It will have to be a battle between individual candidates. In the 2017 election, many working class areas were more likely to vote Tory, and many middle class voters moved towards Labour, as did remainers. But Labour is now exposed as a non-remain party, and its leader sceptical.

It is far from clear that Labour will even be the largest party next time. It has not been helped in its chances by its inability to squash a rather misleading anti-semitism charge against its leadership. Corbyn's rallies may not have the magic touch second time around. As for Theresa May, many Tories said she can lead negotiations but cannot be allowed to head a General Election instead. Who would provide Tory leadership rapidly in an instant decline into a General Election?

Nevertheless, government party MPs are heading for a fall as incompetence is the biggest charge. How come so little was proposed after so long, how come they cannot operate a pub in a brewery? It may be that individual MPs of distinct opinions do better than others.

The four Labour MPs have consistently voted with the government, including that Ulster Unionist Kate Hoey dressed up as Labour, and one forced to be Independent Labour, shows what could happen after an election. A government (from somewhere) will not have a single party command. One can imagine Anna Soubrey in the same collection of MPs as Chukka Umunna, whether she finds him "so attractive" or not. In fact, one can imagine Chukka Umunna heading up some sort of emergency government cobbled from many MPs across parties.

There is an answer to this, for MPs to consider while away this summer. Stop regarding the refendum as sacred. Start saying that they are in a representative democracy, that they own the consituencies information but not slavish direct democracy. Have the guts to say that the campaigns were fought in ignorance and with misleading claims. Have the guts to say that 37% of voters cannot decide such a massive outcome. Come back with the resolve to say that they are paid to have time to consider and make choices. Let's here some MPs make summer speeches outlining how they are going to act in a crisis and to prevent a crisis. Let's have some open conferences where policy can change in recognition of the crisis.

Parliament - the House of Commons and the House of Lords - needs to rise up and make its sovereignty count. We share sovereignty with all kinds of world institutions, and this is the practical reality of the world as it is. We have for decades with the confederation of the European Union and it is woven into UK life. Every time we make a trade or any other kind of agreement we share sovereignty. Yet here is a decision that falls on the laps of Members of Parliament and their Lordships. Use the summer to consider, and then come back to act.

Monday, 16 July 2018

Reaching the EU Negotiation Dead End

It's mid-July and the final week of the House of Commons before the summer break is going to be eventful.

Consider this: even if Theresa May had achieved her majority to overcome the two wings of her party, she would still have been nobbled by the Irish question. The Irish question and subsequent partition has derailed British politics ever since. The 'no border' in Ireland or across the Irish Sea would have had the same result. The European Union, designed to bring countries together, underpinned the evolution of Irish unity and British unity too. We cannot leave. It is as simple as that.

The new effort will have to be improving the democratic machinery of the European Union: elect its President, give the European Parliament more powers, and retain important vetoes in the Council.

Why? Let's look at the final week of the full parliamentary season...

If the 16th July Daily Telegraph authored article is anything to go by, Boris Johnson's expected House of Commons speech will be platitudinous and hardly a call to a strategy. Who knows: perhaps he has a clue. Boris Johnson was never a card-carrying anti-European; he adopted this persona only in the light of David Cameron's gamble.

Had David Cameron lost the Scottish Independence referendum that followed Scottish National victory and policy in Scotland, he would never have done his own gamble with an EU in or out referendum. From then, until now, this was only ever an attempt to close down Tory Party division.

That referendum would never have decided it. Indeed what has followed has not and will not decide it. This will go on, even if we do leave, because how we leave will not then satisfy the divided land created from the Tory Party dispute source. The outers will want it cleaner as out, the inners will want to develop closer contact for a return back into the fold.

The Prime Minister's choreography at Chequers was no substitute for actual agreement. Once people are let out, normal behaviour resumes. Officials and ministers continue to resign, and two cabinet members are on resign-watch. The proposal, with its White Paper, is not good enough among remainers for business and co-operation (we leave political institutions but carry on economically) and far too compromising for the exiters. The proposal is a classic middle of the road option, that if you stand in the middle of the road among divided traffic lanes, you get run over.

Such a proposal, then, grinds into the ground rapidly. It lacks support, and the party three-line-whip system isn't strong enough to have Tory members support it sufficiently, when no one else will bale out this half-baked attempt to retain limited contact with the European Union.

By at last coming to a position, the government has found that there is no position. It turned over its cards, and lost.

So what happens now? This White Paper is a non-runner. The government might try to nip and tuck, but which way? If it tries to satisfy one side, it will lose the other. Because it cannot go either way, it may push this scheme into negotiations. But it will not survive a vote of the House of Commons or House of Lords.

We assume the exiter Tories are going to push amendments this week that will find their own 80 or so MPs maximum (let's see) vote for them, but no one else will. They will contribute to destroying the Tory Party as it presently stands, but they won't contribute to a solution.

There are remain amendments too, that have more cross-party support, but the Tory remainers welcomed the government White Paper in order to isolate the exiters. For the time being, then, they may once again prove to be unreliable for business in goods and services and vote with the government. Time after time the remain Tories have shown an absence of will, and have caved in to assurances soon withdrawn, and they may well do so again. If so this means that they won't vote for the European Economic Area option that would put the UK into the European Free Trade Area. Iceland, Liechtenstein, and Norway are in EFTA; the EEA unites these with the EU by following basic rules to enable goods, services, capital, and persons to move freely about the EEA. We could move from the EU to EFTA with minimal disruption, but Tory remainers might faff around with the government's half-baked proposal.

Meanwhile the Labour Party has a fantasy that it can have a customs union outside EFTA because we will then go to EU meetings to influence EU policy regarding the Customs Union proper. That's not how it works: there is full membership, the EU, and associated membership, the EFTA. EFTA members already have their needs considered with the jealously guarded EU Single Market and Customs Union. Many Labour MPs also think Labour's policy is a fantasy, and simply say go for staying within the EEA.

The exiters think that, because there is Article 50 and the ticking clock, and the Leaving the EU law now in place, that enough disruption will lead to the crash-out: leaving altogether at the end of March 2019: no transition, no nothing. The disruption this will cause will be like hitting a great depression: business processes will simply cease to function.

The Prime Minister has hinted that if her approach does not go forward, due to lack of support, then we may not leave the EU at all. How does that work?

Would the government do this? It means telling the EU to stop the clock, and means emergency legislation to overcome the law as it now is, that we leave the EU in March 2019. But if the government is suffering resignations now, it will have a torrent of them if the government goes ahead to stay in the EU. The EU no doubt will faciliate this, but not if it means carrying on with endless and pointless negotiations because the UK is incapable of making up its mind. If we stay, we stay.

One possibility is a referendum on the deal. But what if there is no deal? The government cannot make a deal alone without likely legislative back-up. Here I disagree with Liberal Democrat policy and the clamour for a second referendum: a second referendum is no more likely to heal divisions and provide legitimacy than the first one. A three-way referendum - deal, leave, stay - will simply cause confusion. Don't we learn any lessons?

If the government cannot function to put the brake on, the House of Commons through significant figures within it can. The Dominic Grieve's of this place will have to negotiate rapid votes cross-party to ram on the brakes, even as the government disintegrates towards a likely General Election, one unlikely to solve anything because of one split party competing against another split party, unless the Liberal Democrats were to rise like a pheonix (not likely).

If I call myself a remainer, it is a term I do not like. I never regarded the referendum as legitimate, because it didn't attempt to confirm a government changing the constitutional position. The Scots said, 'We are going independent, please confirm the action.' The people did not. Here there was no decision, only a ridiculous negotiation that achieved nothing pre-vote. So my approach has always been about staying in the European Union. MPs are representatives in the House of Commons and this is where sovereignty is demonstrated: as an MP I'd have been voting consistently to stay in the European Union.

The logic was always this. Come out, and we lose economic and cultural sharing thrugh institutions: such is how things are but also they are good - they bind peoples together and make us one. However, come out to EFTA and we are rule takers and have no formal representation, and therefore we may as well stay in. Being in the Council of Ministers, the Commission, the European Parliament and the European Court of Justice, makes sense. It makes more sense than sitting outside of these just taking the latest decisions others make.

Should we stay in the EU then many will cry foul. There will be a lesson here about facts on the ground. The Conservative Party will be shattered and lose a lot of support, and the Labour Party will hardly shine in comparative glory. One outcome may well be the division of the UK into four countries by a collapse of legitimacy. We will become our own confederate EU-like kingdom.

Cameron took his gamble and did not realise how bound we were to the EU, and how fragile is the UK union. His stupidity has likely destroyed his own party and the UK it once represented.

Monday, 9 July 2018

Europe Destroying this Government

So, Sunday night and David Davis has gone. I was saying to my friends in the pub that political choreography on the day is no replacement for actual achievement. They were more cynical and saw it in terms of individuals and careers. I said it is legitimate for Gove to represent the Cabinet even if he is only the Environment Secretary: however, that he has sold the deal in public now does compromise him because he can hardly say, "I was talking collectively." I'm surprised Davis went, even though he had become tired of his job. It means, probably, Liam Fox will go, though he was 'in favour' even before the weekend. He can say that he disliked what happened. How long before Boris Johnson goes? He called the proposal "polishing a turd" and then under threat of restored Cabinet unity said he approved. He is so compromised now, given that he did his escape during the Heathrow expansion vote. Andrea Leadsom is, at the moment, a non-entity.

I said to my friends that Michael Gove put the strongest pro-Brexit case he could to Andrew Marr to appeal to that side of the argument for something that had this Combined Customs Territory and Common Rule Book. He was disingenuous about Parliament later changing regulatory alignment rules because it all will be fixed by Treaty. 'Fake Sovereignty' was a question or suggestion that rankled Gove by his reaction.

Coupling Robert Peel (Corn Laws) and the Irish question as historical examples matters. It is the Irish question intensity of the European division that leads to a Robert Peel like split. The deal for a proposal satisfies no one, and if implemented would have each side negotiating after the event and causing the splits to go on and on. Indeed the unravelling can happen now.

David Davis is a kind of Geoffrey Howe, as a sort of loyal dogsbody who lost much of his autonomy to negotiate to Number 10; the only difference is that May didn't criticise him through her Press Spokesman, like Thatcher did of Howe. Davis might get the votes to be Tory leader, but a good number of his party simply will not follow him. They will say he was disloyal to the Cabinet deal at best, and at worst there are more important matters to fix like a more European Economic Area solution.

With the Fixed Term Parliament Act it does not follow that May's government unravelling leads to a General Election: many MPs will think that the House of Commons is just right as it is to take a lead and go for an EEA solution. A weak government of any party or parties may simply exist to finish this particular job - with only 6 weeks of negotiating time to spare after the summer recess. If a General Election does come before meaningful negotiations, there will be a need to ram on the brakes, and that way may be the way to actually staying in the European Union. This General Election will have to be about this, with every MP putting their cards on the table.

It has always been about Tory Party politics, and Theresa May has now run out of Tory Party. Regardless of the Democratic Unionist Party propping her up, the right wing Europhobes are about to ditch her, and the Europhiles will now probably have to vote for the Customs Union aspect of the trade bill coming along.

Commentators are hardly worth the money their newspapers charge. They were saying it has been a Mrs May victory. No it wasn't and it never was. By plunging for one side, she will lose both. Harold Macmillan had his 'Night of the Long Knives' but for Mrs May it is her night of bunging up the breaks in the dyke.

Saturday, 7 July 2018

The Unending Politics of the Proposal Deal

What is it, a Combined Customs Territory? And we could have a Common Rule Book for goods and agriculture.

It's not going to work, is it, because goods and agriculture increasingly come with services, and services are excluded. Is this a plot against the City of London, to cut it down to size?

Britain was the prime country to push for a single market, at a time when the EU was more dirigiste (combination of markets and planning, and plenty of oversight manipulation). It needs free trade and free movement of people and capital. The people side of this proposal deal will also have some sort of agreement for people being able to move back and forth between the EU and the UK.

So these wheels will be reinvented as circles with square bits in them, and incomplete. The wheels on the bus will go round, hit inevitable potholes on the way, and, by construction, fall off.

In the single market you can have free movement of people, but they can be registered and after three months of no job they go home. Belgium does this. Belgium is in the Shengen area.

The immediate politics of this is that the Cabinet Ministers went to Chequers, lost their mobile phones, and around 7 pm while still inside, Mrs May was outside giving the 10 Downing Street interpretation. The taxi firm they could use had gone bust, and no ministerial cars were available for resigned Cabinet Ministers. Then Mrs may wrote to them all to say Cabinet Collective responsibility, freed up at the referendum, was now back in place - as if it had been suspended all this time!

The substantive content will be in the White Paper, out next Thursday. Who will control the White Paper: presumably the Department for Exiting the European Union, but, really, again, 10 Downing Street. But between now and then, some ministers could resign, or, if they misbehave, get sacked. Collective Cabinet responsibility is a two-way street, it only happens if the malcontents in public, who fail to promote the proposal agreement, get sacked. They might not go at the weekend, but they might from Thursday.

The wider politics is this: that the whole business started and has been all about Tory Party politics. The EU referendum was called because the Tory Party could not make up its mind and Cameron had his gamble. He lost. A referendum should only be used for confirmation of a government position on a major constitutional issue (as in Scotland, where the 'no' vote stopped independence and a 'yes' would have put paid to any more referenda).

Instead of being a considered question and advisory towards a very complex issue, the referendum result on a narrow binary majority to leave caused most politicians to give an almost sacred status to the referendum result. Nevertheless, in the Tories in particular, the division was not solved by the binary question, but it has just gone on, and every move Theresa May has made i the last two years has been based on the balance of powers, first in the Tory party and, since the General Election, increasingly in the House of Commons. She started off wishing to stay in, she then slipped into power and was transformed into a hard exiter (I never believed it: read back in these blogs), and she has since enjoyed the European Council meetings and rowed back to this point. This is where, she thinks, she can just about get away with it but for forty or so Tories. Should these Tories object she can soften further to the point where Labour MPs by and large won't object, to gain a majority a different way. She thinks. (It meets the Democratic Unionist Party test of UK wide consistency.)

We know that the Budgets have a habit of being a tremendous success and then unravelling within forty-eight hours. This could well be similar. Even if it gets past next Thursday, Tories will fidget and get exasperated. For many, this has been their life goal to get out, and get out completely, and it is slipping away. They could be very badly behaved.

Remember that Boris Johnson was never one of these: before the campaign he was umming and arring over which side to support: he took his decision partly to separate himself from David Cameron, to beat him, and he has been on this side ever since. But he may want to try and recover his falling reputation, not helped by his escape from the Heathrow expansion decision recently. I do not know yet whether fisheries fall into agriculture, but to have common standards is to also have a price system and supply control that is the Common policies for agriculture and fisheries. If so, Gove's triumphalism only this week on the British instead of the EU limiting fish catches and boats in our waters (seeking access to other waters, surely) will look hollow. Will he go? Gove is often considered one who thinks we can alter things later: but not when a treaty is signed. One detects he was behind the caveat that the Houses of Parliament can disagree on common tariffs and positions: not if there is a treaty, it cannot - the end point. This does all end in a treaty between the EU and the UK. Liam Fox will not be able to do trade deals; Canada's limited deal was because there are regulatory differences. We will be bound to EU rules in a Common Rule Book, and the EU guards its Customs Union and Single Market as single entities very jealously including the role for the European Court of Justice.

The bizarre thing is that this is unlikely to satisfy the Tory remainers anyway - simply because it is so complicated and a hotch-potch. It will take ages to set up, needing a longer transition period. The EU does not want to extend such a period either, so the hotch-potch becomes impractical - in advance.

None of this is the negotiation with the EU. This is before we even get there.

Once again, this is like Irish nationalism before partition (indeed after as well - it is the Irish Question that has derailed so much of May's fantasy sloganeering of 'Brexit means Brexit'). It would have surfaced and nobbled her even if she had achieved a majority to overcome both wings of her party. Why the comparison? Because the Irish issue kept coming back to governments this way and that, finally getting a partition compromise which, in the very long run of things, needs revisiting.

If we come out of the EU inadequately, we will have everlasting division, especially in the Tory party, between those who would go back in, and those who would come out more completely. And this would be reflected in the wider body politic. The EU issue will start to affect Labour.

And a word about the Liberal Democrats. Their policy is a referendum on the deal with an option to remain in. This is a manifesto policy for opposition. Do we really seriously believe that, say if the Tories collapsed and the Lib Dems took power, that a Liberal Democrat government would negotiate us out of the EU? Of course not. It's position to Monsieur Barnier would be so say, "Sorry for wasting your time, we wish to stay in, and we carry on as we are." General Elections trump referenda. The General Election of 2017, that no one won, changed the referendum impact: it made the softer exit more likely. A General Election can also make us stay in. Not quite sure how (beyond the political earthquake) - but some Tories and exit voters are saying that, in future, given what has happened so far, they will stop voting. Well, many others have turned eighteen, and there are people who now say we must have representation in EU-wide decisions. They say EU principles for sharing and peace are worth fighting to retain. So this tide could turn, and could do so fairly quickly. It is time for the politicians who want to stay in to step up to the plate, and point out that this 'deal' for a proposal is a dog's breakfast: if we are in, we join in with representation and decision taking.

Friday, 6 July 2018

How Leaving the EU Could be Like Peel and Ireland

Friday July 6th and the whole Cabinet arrives at Chequers at 10 am and expect to stay until 11 pm (stay overnight too, surely).

Thus the media should know about midnight what has been agreed, by official means at least, although presumably after 11 pm the Cabinet Ministers will receive back their mobile telephones.

This whole business has already reached a level of farce unseen in political decision making in modern times. It may not be the end of kicking the can down the road.

Theresa May's advisors came up with another plan. Michael Gove tore up the previous version. No one liked it, and this one has notable regulation alignment restrictions for goods if not services.

Now, last time there was a possibility of a push towards the 'soft' exit of the European Union, when reassurances to 'remainers' were followed by government betrayal, after which the House of Lords returned the Exiting the EU Bill. The remainers, instead of voting through the crucial meaningful vote amendment, voted against their own amendment on another promise. Never trust a Tory, was my reaction, although even then a few voted for this amendment.

I am unmoved, and still hold the view that this process should be stopped and Parliament has the right as representatives to do it. Armed with the facts and prospects, Parliament has the right to view the referendum as flawed (well, cheating also happened, says the Electoral Commission) and anyway advisory. New realities mean new decisions. It does not need a referendum on the deal; the proper process may involve a General Election - although it is unlikely to resolve matters given the low competence of the Labour leadership. This is a government that could not organise cups of tea with tea and boiling water available, and yet Labour is behind in the polls. No wonder when Corbyn leads all six questions on buses when critical questions face the future. Buses are important, but there is a timetable and bus stops for everything. Labour's policy on leaving the EU is its own fantasy island of 'a customs union' when there is one already.

The government's policy seems to be now wanting to leave the club while staying in, whereas Labour's policy is to stay in the club while leaving.

Jacob Rees Mogg says the government controls the House of Commons agenda, so therefore if there is no agreed government position we crash out anyway due to existing legislation and take on World Trade Organisation terms. Others say, no way, that the House of Commons will find the means, via the House of Lords too, to ram on the brakes. A House of Commons made up mainly of soft-leavers won't allow a minority to get its way on a procedural matter.

We need to ram on the brakes. Here is why.

If we leave, but are tied to EU institutions, the exiters will cry foul and won't give up pushing to leave altogether. At the same time, if we end up in crisis, or end up as this 'vassal State', the stayers will want our re-entry.

One hears some so-called remainers say, let us come out, but let us be in a position where we are the equivalent of those in the half-way house where we can apply to go back in.

One also hears some leavers say, let us at least come out, after which we can complete the job in years to come. So we come out with joint regulation and then break the treaty that would bind us.

In other words, if we come to a cabinet decision tomorrow, and it is a half-way house of some kind, the European issue will go on and on and on. Some will say that the referendum decision was ignored and there could be a crisis of legitimacy (due to misrepresenting the role of a referendum). Others will say it was Cameron's catastrophe and should never have happened.

Two possibilities to look out for tomorrow and Saturday. One is there is no agreement, and the can is kicked down the road again. The leavers (for reasons above) may be happy with this. The government can then go to the House of Commons and House of Lords and face defeat; a clever government leadership would make the House of Commons steer the ship, but it may have to become this secondary executive.

The second possibility is resignations of key exiting government ministers. Apparently, Liam Fox has been bought off already, although he has colleagues that may think otherwise. My view is let them go. The Tories might challenge the PM as leader then, but at the same time a reformed government can still introduce legislation, which may then be even softer based on a supposed House of Commons majority, although Labour leaders may not facilitate.

(This is why, if the House of Commons takes control, it is both front benches that will have to be circumvented, or forced to follow the lead of the MPS.)

Whatever happens, this is a might mess, and if the brakes are not applied, if we do not actually stay in the European Union and discuss now, this will become another Ireland, a rock on to which government after government will fall apart. The Robert Peel fashion split could well happen again, simply because everything stays unresolved.

The period of prosperity and stability that we had inside the European Union will be over, and Britain will become a very confused place. Expect then to see Scotland become independent, and the North in Ireland join a more comfortable-with-itself south, inside the EU.

Thursday, 7 June 2018

David Davis Could Start the Ball Rolling

An update follows after this post...

As I write, David Davis, Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union, may or may not resign very soon. It is, they say, fifty-fifty. Along with the transition, Theresa May will employ the backstop applying to the whole of the UK to preserve the no border between Northern Ireland and Ireland, and other trading arrangements, until there is an agreement that creates frictionless trade. David Davis apparently needs a cut off date. The problem is that without such an agreement, the backstop could go on forever.

Now Boris Johnson has a different strategy. As well as being third rate, like pretty much the rest of them, including the Prime Minister, he is also both incompetent and care-free. On the latter, he says what he likes, and effectively tempts the Prime Minister to sack him, which she never does. Boris carries on, making an idiot of everyone. David Davis is not like this. He may have been ineffective in negotiating, he may laugh things off, as he does, ha ha, but he is capable of following collective cabinet responsibility and acting as if he has a brain. He is capable of timing. And here comes timing now.

If he is going to do it, now is the time to do it, because if he goes the whole government ability to kick cans down the road runs out. This is what Theresa May is trying to do: extend the period of trying to do the impossible. But the Brexit crowd see the time running out where extension beyond the dates becomes the de facto reality: single market and customs union by stealth.

Go now, would be the answer, whilst there still is time to avoid a complete crash. Going now starts a train of events which, indeed, could see the Tory Party split as it did under Peel, or something equivalent coming that makes the Tories like Asquith's Liberal Party. Davis won't want that, but he might fancy himself as leader to make the decisions that May cannot, and indeed consider himself as 'acceptable' in a way that Rees-Mogg would indeed cause many Tories to deny the Tory whip.

Not that Davis could control House of Commons votes any better. It is now time for the House of Commons to become, in effect, on this, the government. The majorities and minorities have to be arranged cross party by the members themselves owning and working through the various amendments. The problem with this, of course, is the pathetic position taken by the Labour Party. It is also in fantasy land regarding what is possible and not possible. It wants to leave the club, but stay within the benefits of the club and indeed have a say in what the club management wants. Er, no, it doesn't work like that. You are either in the club or you are not. Fortunately, for those who might join in the future, without time limit, you can get the benefits of the club for a payment, whilst having no place in the management. Anything else is not there, and it never was, and, as has been said, trade deals with 'most favoured nation status' like others, aren't worth the paper they are written on, and take an awful lot of paper and a long time to write.

What people are learning is that the European Union is the fact on the ground in just about everything. It is intricate to so much people value and need in every day life. The whole binary referendum was voted upon in ignorance, and has been the biggest demonstration if ever needed why we have representative and not direct democracy. We pay people to have the time to consider matters and make decisions, and this is why Parliament is sovereign on behalf of the electorate. MPs are not mandated; they are paid to consider and then decide. The House of Lords is part of Parliament, and its members are paid to consider and advise, in effect. It is time for MPs to act with sense towards the political economy and cultural life of the United Kingdom, and further, I would say, to break the mental yoke of this referendum.

Once again, referenda are only useful once a Parliament has made a decision, not instead of it making a decision. Certainly it should not come about simply as a strategy in Tory Party politics, at such reckless risk to the British Isles. It is time to say, it was advisory only, and if you don't like it, kick us out at a General Election.

If David Davis does resign, it could indeed spark events that, even via the Fixed Term Parliament Act. It is important then, especially for the Liberal Democrats, and all actual Remain MP candidates, to state that General Elections trump referenda. They do because no UK Parliament can be bound by its predecessor or anything else for that matter. So if we do come to a General Election, we have got to say look at the reality of the last two years, look at the actual cliff edge, but not just that, but look at the values the European Union expresses and how it makes a continental economy work, how we are one people across the geographical space. Let's be more like transformative Ireland.

The notion that there will be an agreement, and that Labour etc. will consider it and whether it reaches certain tests, and there will be this 'meaningful vote' just seems to be sliding away. The issue is, will David Davis set matters into motion by which this political impasse can be resolved - not just one way or the other, but in a way by which we can all breathe one huge sigh of relief.


What happened next day? Theresa May kicked the can down the road again. To stop the resignation/s (three or four, potentially) she put a cease date into the backstop document, except a cease date would stop it being a backstop. It would, if it was an absolute date, but it is a 'should' date or aspiration.

Meanwhile, Boris Johnson shoots his gob off again. In an earlier night time meeting, he said the Treasury is the heart of the remain camp, that Donald Trump would have negotiated better, and that the Brexit that happens could keep us in lunar orbit of the European Union.

May didn't sack him, of course, but got on a plane to Canada. It turns out she has told remain Tory MPs not to defeat her on the withdrawal bill coming up next week in June, because on a trade bill they will be able to defeat her in July.

This reminds me of the song, "No wheels on my wagon, and I keep rollin' along..."

Sunday, 20 May 2018

The UK and the EU: Crunch Time Very Soon

It is a while since I blogged on the subject of the European Union and Britain supposedly leaving it. The reason is that the ball keeps moving, and I wait for the next development.

However, the crunch time seems to be looking very close.

Conservative Nicky Morgan recently did a presentation in a factory that needs just in time across Europe. It needs the Single Market and Customs Union. She chose in the cross-party approach two ex-politicians, Nick Clegg and David Miliband. Presumably Anna Subrey is keeping Chukka Umuna to herself (ha ha).

The idea is that this wing of the Tory Party can deliver the House of Commons, as it has already delivered the House of Lords.

Now a group of Conservatives have tried to start where they more or less leave off, and aim to go across party and exclude the more swivel-eyed leavers. They will isolate the 70 or so (maximum) fantasists that we can somehow leave without causing considerable economic and political damage.

The assumption is that Labour will not deliver a European Economic Area (EEA) solution in its voting: a solution that would keep Ireland economically united, and indeed Britain economically united with Europe. Nicky Morgan is a little disingenuous on this matter: one minute she sees the EEA as possible, but next it is clear that it is what she and the others want. Of course, she is trying not to frighten the Tory horses.

The fact that the far right in terms of leaving the EU won't get the prize they want (a sort of independent, bargain basement, economic wonderland) does not seem to trouble them. And this is because they see the whole thing in terms of the Conservatives and Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) holding a majority. If Theresa May PM (I think she is the Prime Minister) goes with the new group, they will withdraw the whip from themselves and the government will lose its majority.

All this is coming close, because Theresa May is telling European leaders that the whole UK will be going for the 'backstop' in the agreement made that allowed stage 2 of negotiating to take place. The backstop keeps Northern Ireland in regulatory alignment with Ireland, but the DUP will be happy that it also keeps Northern Ireland tied to Britain. The Cabinet, we are told, has approved this, but given that her Customs Partnership plan was so publically dished by her own Cabinet members, surely some must be on the verge of resigning should this actually go into action. It means the UK in the Customs Union, or at least complete regulatory alignment - no separate trade deals.

They will, of course, given the Fixed Term parliament Act, also challenge Theresa May will a candidate of her own. No doubt she will want to avoid a loss of majority and a leadership challenge, but Tories in this initiative and to the left (closest to Europe) would say although she can be challenged and have to fight a leadership election, she would win.

Problem is, of course, that elections of all kinds get a traction of their own. She would not be sure. A leader of more close solutions to the EU, rather than her constant ambiguity, might well win.

Labour, of course, would want to take up the reins of negotiating our exit from the EU. It might try to govern otherwise too, although it is unlikely to say the least. Corbyn isn't exactly surrounded by followers, even on his own side, and his own non-EEA position hardly is going to work. Tories might sit back expecting no deal to be just as likely.

My view is that sufficient in the House of Commons facing a no deal disaster will slam on the brakes. This will mean, not transition period, not out because the EU says clear off, but in and staying in, and it may well require another Article 50 trigger.

Basically, now, the British political system is unable to deliver an exit from the European Union, not without a General Election and/ or a second referendum to shift the deadlock. (In my view referenda are unnecessary and not part of the UK constitution, except to confirm a made decision: the EU referendum was surely a lesson for that.)

We should stay in the European Union, where political representation is necessary as regards the progress of the Single Market and Customs Union. Parliament is sovereign: it makes decisions and no one parliament binds another. A General Election always trumps referenda, which can only be advisory (regarding a taken decision).

It seems to me this is a Robert Peel moment for the Tory party. This is when Peel favoured Corn Laws repeal and he split the party: in fact it gave birth to the modern Conservative Party.

The more 'moderate' Tory attempt to isolate the far right independents will inevitably gravitate to the Customs Union and even Single Market (if you are in one, you may as well be in the other). This group won't isolate those who have been doing the cross-party approach regarding the House of Commons (also seen in the House of Lords in its continuous defeats of the Government). The seventy or so who will be cut adrift will surely have their own manifesto - claiming it is the Tory manifesto, the referendum result in total victory terms. They will be tempted to field candidates: Tory against Tory. There may well be all kinds of alliances going on in constituencies up and down the land, the result being Party identity changes afterwards. It's why there does not need to be a centre party now: such a party would follow the break up or the Tories, that might split not into two but three, or at least part of it go elsewhere leftwards.

Whatever happens the crunch point is approaching, and it's just a case of when it happens. The road down which the can has been kicked is running out, and the consequences could be shattering.

Hopefully, while this unfolds, we stay in the EU: either until they can sort it out after significant political renewal or continuously.

Sunday, 1 April 2018

Thirty-Five Years Ago

Recent events with all these diplomatic expulsions remind me of when in the late 1980s I was concerned about Marxism in Higher Education. I'm not talking about the teaching - which was partly Marxist in the earliest 1980s in undergraduate days, especially Sociology - but about the students and especially those who came from abroad.

I learnt my Marxism from the best of them, so I know all about economic determinism. My essays into this particular undergraduate Marxist class were those of economic liberalism, to challenge their dominant ideology, but my writing used the idea that dispersed economic ownership caused dispersed power. In fact, oddly, the European Politics I learnt about was also of the same thought process: an economic determinism where institutional business sharing across national boundaries brings about political merging within Europe.

Someone must have passed on the fact that as an undergraduate I did write some very right wing essays: Hayek and Friedman, and the Economic Liberalism that had taken over the Tory Party. It didn't last because by the end of 1982 I was a social liberal. But the record was deposited and my services were required.

Some wondered at the time how it was I afforded doing postgraduate work. I was approached, of course, and I won't say by whom (obviously). I then was given a contact. What I did was use the postal services relating to the Methodist Chaplaincy to receive and send messages. I used to write reports, on a single sheet of paper on a glass base, and these were posted. My working name was Revd. Standfast, and my reports followed on from Research Methods Tutorials and organised and private social events. Messages for Revd. Standfast at the Chaplaincy were for me, and were about concerns by the authorities over some of these folk.

I used to sit in these tutorials and listen to this (what I considered) Marxist garbage that some of the foreign students expressed, and in some cases decided that they didn't actually believe in it but were trying to be academically 'right on'.

Those I suspected further I befriended, and I think only in one case did I pass on serious concern. There was this very intense and gifted female, who had a circle of friends she was trying to convince to be anarchistic - to turn political thought into action. What happened was I went to her student house and had these discussions, where I challenged her with Hayek's The Constitution of Liberty and she had a go at me about the Marxist Frankfurt School. We got quite friendly amid the debating. You can imagine me in bed with her with this going on, enjoying the fruits of investigating her rather closely as well as her in her circle of friends. She was called Maria, was Spanish, and had a tendency to wear revealing nighties around the student house after we got up in the morning. Some of her radicalised female friends were just as enticing. It was a happy time.

The work lasted for a year and a half, and I write about it now because it is the anniversary of it starting in 1983. Thirty-five years ago! My work meant the authorities had everything they needed. As it happened, my Spanish target left six months after the work was finished. I think she took up research in Belgium. I think she was told to go. Others were monitored: some of them left the country earlier during the Miners' Strike, so Maria knew that they were on to her. Yes, the Revd. Standfast received a letter thanking me for my services; I have it in front of me: dated October 1st 1984.

Thursday, 29 March 2018

Less than a Year to Resist Leaving the EU

So it is a year and counting down to leaving the European Union.

It is becoming clearer by the day that the supposed benefits to leaving are evaporating, whereas the benefits of sharing sovereignty deliver large blocs and both political and economic security among friends.

On the one hand we have over the Atlantic an increasingly free market dystopia with unreliable leadership; and to the east we have the gangster infused political autocracy that is Russia. The European Union is a confederation (that is, Member States retain their sovereignty and send their executives to make key decisions, retention of the veto in some matters remains crucial). Even if the European Union elects a President it still remains a confederal arrangement.

The original association was an iron and steel community. This set the foundation: that by sharing economic institutions we share interests, cannot fight, and have the same political goals. Decades later, and the institutions have developed extra demoocratic input: the European Parliament of course, and extra scrutiny in the nations.

We now face what some call BRINO (Brexit In Name Only) or a "technical Brexit". Jacob Rees Mogg is correct in one sense: that this neither satisfies those who would leave or those who would stay. Correct. It means retaining alignment with the EU but having none of the decision making.

A free trade deal is not worth the paper it is written on, and we have all learnt now that the EU is a legal entity and produces legal papers. It's not about speeches but hard text that attempts to nail down interpretations - but interpretations do go to courts, and will always go to the European Court of Justice.

It cannot be better than Canada, or the Canada agreement demands its own improvement (Most Favoured Nation clause). It cannot be much, if there is freedom to move from present complete alignment of trade regulations to something looser. The EU jealously guards its autonomy of decision taking regarding its regulations, and alignment means alignment.

If Northern Ireland stays aligned to Eire then either it is put into a kind of quarantine (a border in the Irish Sea) or the whole of the UK is aligned. This is not 'a' customs union, but THE Customs Union. The Single Market makes selling virtually administration free.

Theresa May and government know that the hard Brexiteers do not command the House of Commons. They might have been the tail to wag the Tory dog, and got us into this mess, but not in terms of passing a EU Departure vote through Parliament. The assumption is that the softest Brexit is the only one that will pass. It doesn't follow.

What is more likely is a deal that is a crunch point, and a descent rapidly into a General Election to decide the matter.

At the moment the Liberal Democrats seem to have gone into hibernation, although they tell us that they are talking to other MPs and especially Labour MPs, particularly of a centrist direction, and indeed the Labour Party seems stuck in a mire of internal disputes (e.g anti-semitism) which further generate a gulf between MPs and the leadership. There are cross-currents party-wise on EU and anti-EU lines at present. How a General Election will work is not clear, but clearly candidates are going to have to declare an EU or nationalist hand. Labour has nudged towards a more EU friendly stance (in terms of 'a' customs union) but it remains as muddled and ineffectual as it was. It is just not clear enough. Theresa May is shifting all the time, as only someone who lacks conviction on this matter can: from a pro-remain to a hostile leave to a friendly leave position.

The crunch points politically come before a year is up: the transition period is supposed to be after the final deal is done and accepted. But if it is not done, or not accepted, then there is a political chaos likely that is bound to leave the option of staying in as the demonstrable best option. The argument should be made now for this: sharing sovereignty is good, building shared economics is successful, and joining in with all matters of co-operation including security.

So it seems at present as if we are going from a stance of being a member with opt-outs to becoming a non-member with associate opt-ins. Opting in is expensive, and we don't get a say in matters through established institutions.

The daftest Brexit types seem to think the EU can be magicked away. It cannot, and is not going anywhere. Stop the mental fantasy and get real. It is a place where you pool sovereignty and join the modern world.