Sunday, 9 December 2018

The Movement Towards the Logic of Remaining

Saturday 8th December and Amber Rudd speaks out in a way that suggests she might emerge in the manner of my last blog entry to take the reins of government for the purpose of sorting out the exiting the European Union mess.

I need to adjust my crystal ball gazing, however, and in a manner away from what Amber Rudd was suggesting. The thought the Norway plus solution has potential in the House of Commons and Parliament as a whole. I rather agree with Anna Soubrey, however, that it seems to be receding.

The reason is twofold. First, it is not a shoe-in. It needs the agreement of thirty countries, those in the European Economic Area (all of the EU plus others) and in the European Free Trade Area. Secondly it needs the UK also to join the Customs Union in order to avoid the hard border in the island of Ireland. Thus we would be subject to all the EU decisions but have none of the say. This is half the problem with the Theresa May deal. In Norway plus the ECJ could fine the UK for breaches of its rules and yet the UK would contribute no one to the Council, the Commission, the Parliament or the Court. It was always so, it's just that Theresa May's deal also doesn't let us get out.

It undermines a sovereign state's ability to remove from a treaty. The Geoffrey Cox spin, before the government caved in to censure, was that the backstop could be subject to legal attack that would likely succeed. I watched him live on TV, and calling him as like Rumpole of the Bailey crystalised the bizarre nature of that attempt to circumvent the instruction of a Humble Address. His legal advice was rather different in tone, and no wonder the 'summary' was many times the length of the original. (Gosh, if academics did summaries like him, they'd make a whole book rather than a page for just one article summarised.)

Furthermore, it does look now that the matter of being in a treaty means, according to the European Court of Justice, that Article 50 can be withdrawn unilaterally, so long as this is a serious matter. In other words, it can't become an in-out dance. It means, in effect, one chance to remove it (and then perhaps restart it). The judgment comes very soon.

Also we now have the Dominic Grieve amendment. This means that the Standing Orders are put aside on this matter so that the House of Commons is able to give a roadmap to government on the way forward after a defeat on the Theresa May deal. Until now - as I stated - the executive was really the only force to give shape to a plan B. This is why I thought a rump Cabinet would arise to take a grip under a leader who had consulted MPs across the parties.

However, it still needs an executive to hear the Mind of the House. The media has begun to refer to a caretaker Prime Minister.

I remain opposed to a second referendum. This is suggested because it gives it back to the people. But no matter how this goes, people will feel cheated.

The House of Commons will circumvent the hard Tory right, and the Cabinet rump will shun them. This is why a select group of Labour, Liberal Democrat and even SNP people could replace the Tory right walking out of the Cabinet. So what would the choice be, disallowing the damage that a no deal exit would cause?

A) Theresa May's deal.
B) Remain as we are.

There will be many many spoilt ballot papers on that one, because the 'hard exit' would be excluded, the May deal seen as too close, too binding. Indeed, what would be the logic of this if May's deal is heavily defeated in Parliament?

A) Norway plus.
B) Remain as we are.

So one is like the other, except in A is closer and B is the same but with representation. Once again, expect many spoilt ballot papers.

A) Hard exit - no deal but basic arrangements as absolutely necessary.
B) Theresa May deal.
C) Remain as we are.

Well, there will be immediate cries of foul, as we see the exit vote divided between two options; plus, a three-way referendum means deciding something on a minority position.

Parliament will never countenance a second gamble of staying in or coming out without a deal, and three options with Norway plus does make Norway plus a bit superfluous as well as dividing up the main two (it could be seen as a half-remain option).

Plus, a referendum takes on a mind of its own. No matter how well constructed, how well the campaign is formed, it comes to stand for something else. In 2016 it represented the resentment against austerity and the Cameron-Osborne contempt for how too many ordinary people were being forced to live their lives.

So it is up to Parliament - people paid to take responsibility - to take these decisions. The most sensible seems increasingly obvious. Stop Article 50 and stop the process altogether.

There is still political damage, but this is unavoidable. The explanation needs to be that the referendum was offered under false political motives to do with the Conservative Party. Secondly, when it happened, it was hijacked into a misleading campaign and inept campaigning on both sides. In stress testing our membership of the EU over two and a half years, we realise that we cannot do such surgery without killing the patient.

Now, many will not like this, including Tory MPs of a certain kind. They will have to do politics, won't they? They can split off. Farage and company could form a new political party. It's not good, this, but it is better than a bad decision regarding representation on the European continent. The rump Cabinet may well have this job to do, before the inevitable General Election. The final explanation for the political failure of the last two and a half years is that we really have more pressing problems and needs, and these must be addressed, and frankly we have to do it from inside the EU. If you don't like it, then do the politics to come to power and so do otherwise.

Blame David Cameron and his gamble. He 'won' the Scottish Independence Referendum and thought he could do the double. Blame the Liberal Democrats for propping up the Tories: done in a previous crisis, but went on for too long and at too high a cost. Let's hope that the Conservative Party as it is reaps the destruction to them and benefit to us for their appalling mismanagement of this country and threatening its very well-being.

Sunday, 25 November 2018

Come the Hour, Come the Woman?

We have now come to a crucial and critical political point in the United Kingdom. The European Union top end has approved the draft withdrawal agreement that, subject to European Parliament approval, can (from that end) become a treaty. It also needs sovereign parliaments in the twenty seven to agree, and, most crucially, the Parliament for the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland.

Normally the Democratic Unionist Party for Northern Ireland give the government ten positive votes: on this agreement they become ten negative votes. There are about ninety to a hundred negative or no votes in the Conservative Party for the whips to whittle down. I would not be surprised if upwards of twenty Labour MPs vote for the government, but the rest won't, including the Labour leavers who usually vote with the government. Only loyalist Tories, the government benches (probably depleted further) and those convinced the deal is the best under the circumstances will vote for. All others will vote against. The House of Lords is a certainty for its stance.

On this basis the vote is doomed; but, being a "meaningful vote", the government could bring it back. It would only lose again.

So what is the procedure after such a vote is lost? The first thing is that the government has to come to the House of Commons and make a statement. Nevertheless, there is real politics ahead, rather than just formal procedures, and no one has yet set out the scenario as I see it.

A problem is that with a 'Brexit failure' the Tories will not vote for a General Election and it won't get the two thirds majority as required by the Fixed Term Parliament Act, which also removed calling an election by the Prime Minister, a one time monarchical power held by the Prime Minister. There is not a majority for a second referendum, and no one would know the questions to ask or have the rapid mechanism available to decide these. A Tory Party leadership election takes time and would be riven by division.

Oh dear oh dear? What will happen. There is a road forward, and no one has set this out. it is based on the fact that there is no requirement for a party leader to be the Prime Minister, and who is Prime Minister remains a monarchical power, this is to say the Prime Minister can be anyone who will present to the House of Commons and carry the vote in the house.

So we have the formal statement. The government may pledge to find a way to present the agreement back. Suddenly those 48 letters appear, to have a vote against Theresa May, but she would still win because Tories cannot agree on anyone else.

However, what matters is that the Cabinet itself implodes. In effect, the Amber Rudd and Philip Hammond faction of the cabinet, along with Jeremy Hunt and more, realise there is a crisis of an unprecedented kind, and effectively the five exiters (plus) resign - to begin with. The exiters cannot themselves force a cabinet coup. They can be replaced.

Theresa May also goes; and in the chaos it takes someone with a plan and flexibility to come to the fore. I am suggesting Amber Rudd as the most likely, because she is new (again) into the Cabinet and has a recent history of talking cross-party and thinking out of the box. She can go out and bring people into the Cabinet across the board, picking people from the Labour right or 'remainers' (e.g. Liz Kendall, David Lammy) and from the SNP even and even Liberal Democrats to come in on what would be a non-Tory Cabinet simply to manage this one issue.

The plan would be to select across the House of Commons, bypassing the party system for the time being, among MPs to get what there probably is a majority for - an 'off the peg' EEA/ EFTA solution. Pulling in a 'Cabinet of National Unity' in this deep constitutional crisis could lead to a 'for now' acceptance that we need government and we need government to produce legislation (because motions and amendments are not enough to change the crash-out legislation in place at present.)

The EU will only extend Article 50 not for negotiation but for reconsideration. This includes the off the peg option, but it may also and further involve, after all, a referendum with a remain option.

The majority to allow this Cabinet to function, and a Prime Minister such as Amber Rudd to function, would be slim, transitory, and to the task in hand. Labour might support it in general if it has the referendum option in it.

The question will then be EEA/ EFTA or remain. There would not be a crash-out option: the rump government would be the means to prevent the crash-out by legislation.

After this comes about the rump government itself would collapse into a General Election, after all it would not simply be Tory failure.  If the two thirds still does not appear, the government itself could legislate to remove the Fixed Term Parliament Act and replace it by a simple majority: Henry VIII powers once removed don't go back. No one would accept a Prime Minister having monarchical powers to call a General Election again. After all, a lot of the fight over leaving the EU has been about not restoring monarchical powers to the Prime Minister and Cabinet (the executive branch).

In deep crisis, then, a Cabinet can draw on monarchical powers to produce a caretaker Prime Minister. There is government to produce and pass legislation necessary. All the dedicated Tory and few Labour exiters are sidelined. The result is we either stay in or go to the EEA/ EFTA solution.

Afterwards the country will be deeply divided and politically traumatised. Referenda do not bring people back together: they divide.

Years ago I blogged that the effect of the narrow 'leave' vote was Labour split first but the Tories would later. Had it been marginally to 'remain', the Tories would have split as its exiters went self-defined, even United Kingdom Independence Party. Now we see the Tories split, and it is equivalent to 1846 (repeal of the Corn Laws where the liberal end of the Tories proper formed the modern Conservative Party). The Tories are heading for electoral destruction for utter incompetence and causing all this in the first place. It does not mean Labour marching to the socialist tune either: the obvious opposition in the defiance to all this fetishising the referendum would be the Liberal Democrats, as one time Tory partners in government and thus a refuge for Tory votes (and where they are mostly second). A Labour government is most likely, but those centrist Labour MPs aren't going away, nor does it follow that being in a government of national unity will cost those who participated.

We are now heading for earthquake politics. This must be so when a government so obsessed by 'Brexit' and with an international agreement ready finds itself defeated. The need to avoid perceived disaster, the need for government to produce legislation after its collapse forces radical and unseen before measures, based on the available constitutional forms. This is why, out of the remains of the Cabinet, has to come leadership from the Cabinet, reaching into the wider House of Commons, to act to avert disaster back into the European Union.

A lesson will be learnt here about fantasy politics and realities: and Prime Ministers like David Cameron who cannot gamble a country on the basis of solving one Party's tribal politics. For this his party deserves to be destroyed.

By the way, given her majority in Hastings, Amber Rudd is unlikely to survive the next General Election. Nevertheless, Theresa May will have set the benchmark for 'doing public service' and on that model Amber Rudd (can be someone similar - but she has the contacts) can do public service until she then moves on in another career.

This political disaster was always coming. I predicted it as the means not to leave the European Union, and either I am right on this or we will have the next best thing. But the crisis is coming and it needs people with strong political stomachs.

Wednesday, 14 November 2018

Surely This Could Not Be a Treaty

The Cabinet has agreed the draft deal of the United Kingdom withdrawal from the European Union. Wednesday evening Theresa May well after 7 pm came out and gave a very luke warm presentation, a small puff of white smoke, that agreement had been reached. The Cabinet meeting went on more than two hours over the expected time period.

Given what was known and assumed at the time before agreement, Nicky Morgan MP was prepared to consider it, even approve it, in a desire to 'move on' and consider all these problems in society receiving such little attention these days. This worried me, because it sounded like yet again the so-called 'Remainers' capitulating to something sub-standard. And of course a bird in the hand, a document that would be so difficult to tweak, to change, is better than a calamity of no deal. Theresa May also raised this 'binary' option into a 'tertiary' on, of no Brexit at all, as an alternative. The latter used to be her position.

I have tried to imagine what this agreement would look like as a treaty. It won't get there, of course, but what if it did? It means we have no political representation in the EU, an extendable transition period, a backstop that means a sort of customs union and Northern Ireland in the Single Market and Customs Union in effect.

What would future governments do with this? The trade agreement to be UK-wide must match Northern Ireland. Would they keep extending the transition period? Would the backstop be the model for the trade agreement?

This is like some or most of the advantages of being in the EU, without the political representation? What is the point of this?

There are reasons in political life why we let sleeping dogs lie, or get them to sleep again when they wake, and why the anti-EU sentiment had to be suppressed. We see it in Northern Ireland, now to be treated differently from the UK if this becomes a Treaty. These are deep ethnic and constitutional issues. Deep too were the resentments of austerity that were dumped on the political class via the 2016 referendum. The gamble of the EU referendum was made to solve a Tory Party problem, which was then able to exploit a damaged public and bring in moneyed interests to cause damage against a social market economy model of political co-operation. The referendum has been made 'sacred' by interests that want a raw economy, that will do down the very people they conned to vote for the future not in any ordinary person's interest.

But imagine future governments of different political persuasion inheriting this agreement as a binding treaty? What would they do? They would extend the transition period. They would have the backstop as a model for the trade agreement: it must be to preserve Northern Ireland as part of the UK, and even then this agreement makes Northern Ireland different. And how come Northern Ireland has the benefits of the EU Single Market when the other countries of the UK do not? Imagine UK firms leaving England, Wales and Scotland to set up in Northern Ireland!

Perhaps the Cabinet ministers opposing this decided to back it on the basis that it would fail anyway. They will, presumably, resign anyway in order to vote against it themselves. Chequers seems to be the model for this: agree one minute and resign the next.

The elements of this agreement do not add up. It's like saying, here is this half-baked, half-offering what you have, inadequate product, without political representation. It's about the best on offer, we are told. But as a treaty it would be ridiculous and no future government would want to work with this. Surely this is now obvious? Surely now politicians can do what politicians should and stop this altogether. We work within the EU because it is there, and because it gropes towards democracy compatible with sovereignty not in itself but among Member States, sharing and pooling sovereignty via EU institutions, such as its Parliament and, critically, building a body of law which gives certainty of governance.

We've had two and a half years of this experiment into what is possible and impossible, what is a calamity and what is a pipe dream, mental imaginings that do not equate to realities on the ground. It is time to realise that this experiment was a delusion, that nothing was ever on offer, and bring it to a close. Parliament can do this, and start to heal what Angela Merkel, a woman of deep democratic and liberal principle, brought up through the oppression of East Germany, recently described as a deep wound.

Brexit Crunch Pincer Movement

It was always going to come to this. I have blogged for about two years of a trajectory that meant a point of crisis arriving in Parliament. Here it is. As I write, Cabinet ministers have seen the Prime Minister one by one. They have a Cabinet meeting Wednesday afternoon. It is very difficult to believe that there will not be resignations. Cabinet ministers can be replaced, but it would add to the voting cost if they were.

There was a remarkable interview on C4 News with both Alistair Campbell and Jacob Rees-Mogg, the latter making it clear that the government have not got the numbers in Parliament. There are 51 of his lined up against, and then the remain faction against, set against about 20 Labour MPs or more who would vote for the government. Kenneth Clarke says he will vote with the government if (big if) borders are open across the UK for as long as it takes to get a trade deal (of the correct kind). Some so-called remainers would not agree, from the argument that we for so long would take EU rules but be out of decision making structures. We would become a satellite of the EU instead of an equal member -  vassal state. Kenneth Clarke seems to accept that this is the cost of a referendum to which he never agreed, and he did not vote for Article 50. Why he does not follow-through and uphold our membership of the EU I do not know.

We (likely) have a UK wide customs arrangement, but even though this is supposed to protect the open border within Ireland (and the rest of the EU), it will contain some extra provisions on alignment should the UK become too flexible regarding EU rules. Now the Democratic Unionist Party opposes this, but let's be clear: they have Northern Ireland as different when it suits them, not just on excise differences, and the like, but on maintaining opposition to equal marriage and abortion freedoms. The DUP have no consistent principles at all regarding the Union. The government should never have made an agreement with them regarding voting support - that is now unravelling.

The argument has always been simple. Being completely out of the EU is to be removed from a just in time industrial and continental business structure, of a sharing in economics that leads to a sharing in politics: shared culture, shared interests, getting over the historical scourge of nationalism. In the end, this is a project of citizenship, of slowly bringing together sovereign states in shared decision taking with citizens' rights and freedom to move around, principally in seeking employment. Europeans are a people who share a history, much of it unhappy.

To have the Customs Union and Single Market but removed from the politics is least painful but is the worst of all worlds: and here we are with a worse version than that.

The EEA/ EFTA option involves its own institutions, but it is also tied to EU decisions and is usually a condition for a country considering joining, not leaving.

The alternative is being in the EU and reforming it. Remember, the single market was a British Conservative Party pursuit and changed the EU in a more neo-liberal direction. It used to be a social market economy: Thatcher feared it was socialism by the international backdoor. We can go on reforming and democratising.

For a while now Downing Street has had a bunker mentality, believing it can fix this and fix that. One should never underestimate the ability of government to get its way. The government controls the parliamentary agenda, and has since the Blair government. It now timetables procedures, and long gone are attempts the extend and ruin the timetable. Secondly, an agreement is' boots on the ground', rather as people have learnt that the EU is 'boots on the ground'. This is why some twenty or more Labour MPs are likely to vote with the government. Labour leavers - 'Brexiteers' may well not! I have never quite trusted the Tory 'remainers' to deliver under pressure, but in recent months they have hardened their positions and Jo Johnson is an example of clarity of opposition.

 In that the Government holds the cards, the Government will try to make it a binary deal or no deal scenario, and thus the 20 plus Labour MPs may well grow in number. The number of remainer opposers on the Tory benches may well shrink. Nevertheless, the betting has to be that the draft agreement cannot get through Parliament.

What then? May would have to go, although she is likely to try and hang on. A Brexit Tory Prime Minister simply will not carry the Tory Party: it will be 1846 all over again.

We also have the uncertainty brought about by Jeremy Corbyn, who in Der Spiegel recently stated that Brexit cannot be stopped: the people voted to leave. Keir Starmer, the Shadow Exiting the European Union Secretary, says it can be stopped. This is itself a battle at the top of the Labour Party. It could well be that Jeremy Corbyn and his dream of one-nation socialism undermines everybody. At this point, many Labour MPs would indeed rebel, but maybe not enough. For someone who could not campaign to remain with David Cameron, it would indeed be odd if the Labour leadership called to support the deal. It seems so unlikely, this, but prepared to be disappointed by maverick politics, of which Corbyn has been a practitioner all his political life.

Somehow, Parliament has to become itself the executive because this is where the hole is going to appear. There would have to be a huge political realignment at a time of national crisis, perhaps to organise a second referendum, or, better still (or both), ram on the brakes. We may have a General Election, but one where the main unreconstructed parties offer no alternative to this slavish attachment to a Tory Party based advisory referendum. We need political leadership from the likes of Chuka Umunna and David Lammy, and across the political parties. It is done through amendments to legislation, but in many cases this is just inadequate. Primary legislation needs countering by other primary legislation, and it may well be a referendum on the deal/ no deal to stay in comes about. But the bunker mentality government says absolutely not.

This is why Parliament needs to take up executive responsibilities and find a way to sort this out. Let's see what happens in the coming days in this regard.

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  - https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Outlander_(novel) - 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."
    "Yeah."
    "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.