...a blog by Richard Flowers

Friday, September 08, 2017

Day 6095: British Democracy is a Shambles


People think voting systems and constitutions are “boring”.

But it’s our unfair and antique voting system that has got us where we’ve got.

It goes back a long long loooog way.

Maybe to the 2015 election that took Liberal voices out of our politics.

Or to the Coalition years where Hard Labour and Conservatory combined to scupper reform of voting and Lords.

Or to the Coalition agreement when people lost their faith in the Liberal Democrats.

Or to Lord Blairimort.

Or even to the SDP who tried to break the mould but got broken by the voting system instead.

But we’ve got to start somewhere, so let’s start with that Referendum…

A Shambles, yesterday

[Previously published, yes, I have tried my fluffy foot at an Twitter thread:]

The Prime Monster, Mr Balloon, calls referendum on a whim, putting his personal interests and Tory Party internal differences ahead of the country.

Parliament fails to set proper rules on the assurance that it’s “only advisory”.

Shocking bias from media controlled by half-a-dozen billionaire’s who don’t even live in Britain.

Apart from the nepotist-ocracy of the Grauniad of course (how DID Polly “I have no qualifications apart from my relatives and defender of Tory slime” Toynbee get her job?).

Vote Leave campaign outright lies – and they admit it – and get away with it.

Mr Balloon resigns in a huff. New Prime Monster, Mrs Mayhem, anointed without an election as all other candidates shoot one another (or themselves!) in the back.

Unelected clique of hard-right Brexiteers seize control.

Wafer thin majority for leave is translated into “people voted for…” insert “hardest possible Brexit”, or “stopping immigration” or “an end to rule of law” as appropriate.

Any question raised over Brexit shouted down as “against the will of the people”.

Government tries to snatch control of Article 50 process – has to be told by Supreme Court that Parliament must have a say.

Opposition MPs (no, not including ours) give PM exactly what she wants anyway.

Prime Monster Mayhem repeatedly promises not to call a general election. Calls a general election anyway on a whim.

Opposition MPs (yes, including ours this time) give PM exactly what she wants anyway.

Shocking bias from media controlled by half-a-dozen billionaire’s who don’t even live in Britain.

Apart from the nepotist-ocracy of the Grauniad of course (how DID Owen “former intern for John McDonald and what’s my lifelong opinion this week?” Jones get his job?).

In spite of this, Prime Monster loses election – but carries on squatting in Downing Street.

Apparently intending to lead the Conservatories to their next election defeat too

Government avoids scrutiny by not appointing standing committees.

As most important negotiation in our post-War history begin… Parliament goes on holiday for two months, leaving David Davis with no scrutiny at all.

Shocking bias from media leads to unaccountable misprint of “homophobic misogynist expelled from Tory Party” rendered as “touted as Tory leader”.

Government returns to introduce Bill to repeal European Communities Act 1974. Uses it to make grab for unprecedented unaccountable power.

Parliament’s own constitution committee says of the Withdrawal Bill that it “raises a series of profound, wide-ranging and inter-locking constitutional concerns”.

Worst of all, clause one of the Bill gives power to make “exit day” ““such day as a Minister of the Crown may by regulations appoint.”

Effectively cutting Parliament out of scrutiny if David “Brexit Bulldog” Davies fails and walks away from negotiations.

Or if Liam “disgraced former Defence Secretary” Fox gets bored of waiting for having a real job.

Or if Bojo “Punishment Beatings” Johnson is short of a publicity stunt one afternoon.

Government tries to continue avoiding scrutiny by still not appointing standing committees – has to be told to “stop faffing about” by the Speaker of the House.

Government announces that – by a simple motion – “the government will have a majority on standing committees”.

Open Democracy reports that Tory MPs have diverted tens of thousands of pounds of taxpayer-funded “expenses” to the Hard Brexit “Party-within-a-Party” European Research Group.

People think voting systems and constitutions are “boring”.

Our “boring” systems and constitution allow Tories (and Labour) to get away with stealing your democracy.

Democracy in the UK is a shambles.

Post script:
Shambles: historically – butchery. Same as the French word MASSACRE.

A Massacre, yesterday

Wednesday, August 02, 2017

Day 6058: Brexit - Optimism Bias for the Win


As a fluffy elephant, I’ve noticed you monkeys are in the habit of being bang-up sure things are going to turn out well. Even when they’re not.

It’s called OPTIMISM BIAS.

It CAN be useful. Having evolved the ability to imagine the FUTURE, you’d all be plunged into clinical depression without it.

(And I’m not making this up: people with low optimism bias tend to suffer with depression.)

But it also leads to assuming that WARNING SIGNS don’t apply to you:

Government Health Warning – I won’t get cancer.
Speed limits – I’m a safe driver!
Brexit cliff-edge ahead – Project Fear!!!!

So, a year into this Brexit shambles, and with the government making an art form of “masterly inactivity”, leaving things till WAY after the last minute, some Quitlings* are taking “nothing is happening” as a SIGN that really – really! – things are working out OK after all.

(*© @HickeyWriter)

This, as they say, is FINE.

originally from K.C. Green’s Gunshow comic #648

The leading lights (in the moth to flame sense) of the Vote Leave campaign are of necessity becoming adept at PIVOTING their arguments.

“a 52-48 referendum this would be unfinished business by a long way” (farrage) was swiftly transformed into “the will of the people”.

“No one is talking about leaving the Single Market” (hannan) has become “Everyone knew we would leave the Single Market”.

And now “We will be better off” is being rebranded as “We all knew there would be a period of adjustment” with a view to ending up at “Everyone accepted there was a price worth paying” (especially since we expect our kids to be paying it long after we’re gone).

This is particularly evident with this YouGov polling in the Indepretendent

“71 per cent of over-65s would accept a big economic hit – and half are willing for family members to lose their jobs”

That is – notice – RETIRED Quitlings saying they “accept” one of their family who is still working to PAY FOR THEIR BADWORD can lose their job to satisfy their ideological fix.


But in spite of being thrown under the bus by Generation Baby Boom(and Bust)er, we still see responses of DENIAL from people who are just too OPTIMISTIC to see the warning signs.

Millie says: “So far there has not been any damage, quite the opposite.”

Ross adds: “Who says the economy will be ruined?? I'm not seeing a problem.”

It’s the sort of thing that might provoke an EPIC RANT… oh look, here’s Daddy Richard:

No damage? Not noticed anything?

Do you notice your electricity price?

British Gas are putting up prices by 12%. You can link that directly to the fall in the £, because energy is priced in $ so our costs have shot up.

Do you notice your food?

Those “great” trade deals on the table – well, it appears accepting American food hygiene standards means washing chicken in bleach because they don’t have the animal welfare standards that Europe does, and just try to kill all the bugs at the end of the process.

Do you notice your holidays?

People going on holiday seeing four hour delays to enter Europe. That’s just a taster for what happens when we close our borders. That “taking back control” goes both ways.

Do you notice the big picture?

Growth is down to a puny 0.3% - we’ve gone from the strongest economy in Europe to the weakest. So much for Europe “holding Britain back”.

Thousands maybe tens of thousands of jobs going from the city to Paris and Frankfurt. Oh they’re only bankers. But highly paid bankers who contribute a lot in taxes to paying for our services.

The Chancellor has a £25 billion hole in his budget. (says independent IFS report) That’s bigger than £350 million a week… no sign of that for the NHS yet either by the way.

Do you notice the NHS is in crisis?

40,000 shortfall in numbers of nurses because – surprise – the nurses from Europe took those people saying “go home” seriously.

Do you notice that no one knows how to solve the problem of the border with Ireland?

Because it’s impossible. You simply cannot have a hard border with the EU and soft border with the Republic at the same time because the Iris border IS the EU border.

Expecting the Irish to implement expensive and dubious electronic tracking to make it easy for us to leave, or worse telling the Irish that we will put British customs points in their ports (as though there hasn’t been 300+ years of conflict over exactly that sort of behaviour) is not approaching a solution. It’s making things worse.

Speaking as someone who was in Manchester when the Arndale was blown up AND in Canary Wharf the day THAT was blown up, I’d really like us not to mess up the peace process.

Did you notice that our power and influence in the world has evaporated?
We lost that vote because the EU members who we have just rebuffed all abstained.

Did you notice Cornwall got shafted?

Don’t count on those promises that subsidies would be replaced like-for-like. Leave-voting Cornwall was getting £60 million in EU regional development fund money. They asked the government to guarantee it would be replaced. The government just flat refused to say that they’d be making sure regions didn’t lose out when we leave Europe.

George Osbourne was promising money to Cornwall in his last budget saying “when the South West votes blue, their voice is heard”. Maybe not so much these days.

And if they’ll do that to Cornwall…

Did you notice that the government just FORGOT Gibraltar?

And last, do you notice anyone, anyone at all taking charge?

We’ve wasted a year, had a pointless general election that left the country even more confused and divided. And the Prime Minister’s gone on a walking holiday – or taken a hike – while the Cabinet are all fighting each other.

This is a total disaster. An utter dog’s breakfast of a Brexit.

REALLY what is your excuse for not noticing?

The answer to Daddy’s question is these people are EMOTIONALLY invested in their vote.

FACTS that say this was a BAD CHOICE are personally HURTFUL.

Nearly HALF of Leave voters say that DO NOT WANT to pay a price for leaving.

Offer them something for nothing; give them nothing for something

The only way to square that circle is to avoid the evidence altogether.

So they protect themselves from getting hurt by NOT NOTICING.

It’s an EXPLANATION. But not an EXCUSE.

Democracy – REAL Democracy – requires active and, more importantly, INFORMED participation.

But people don't WANT to be informed. As we've seen, people don't LIKE facts when the facts are painful. So they get NEW facts that agree with their decisions. That's why most people are so widlly MISinformed about Europe and the EU.

You would think journalism as a profession would seek to correct this, wouldn't you

That's why the referendum we were given was a SHAM, bodged together as a fix-all for the Conservatory Party by Mr Balloon, and now taken as an excuse to escalate her personal grudge against the European Court of Justice by Mrs Mayhem.

If we are going to fix this – and MY optimism bias says we CAN fix this – we are going to need to turn our arguments around, show people that the BETTER Way is now clearly to make up with Europe, retake our place IN the community with our FRIENDS.

We need to win the OPTIMISM and then we will WIN.

Friday, April 28, 2017

Day 5961: The Tories: Wrong. Unstable. No Leadership.


Theresa Mayhem says that she needs to win a General Election to be a “strong leader”.

Well, if she’s not strong enough to cope with a Parliament that will only back her 522 to 13, then she’s really pretty WEAK indeed.

She wants you to believe that she thinks the polls are wrong and that Hard Labour have a chance of winning. Which is about as credible as a promise written on the side of a bus.

This election ISN’T about picking who’s the Prime Monster. It’s about picking a PARLIAMENT that is able to HOLD HER TO ACCOUNT.

After five years when the Coalition was starting to put Britain back on the right path, when inequality actually fell, and jobs and wages were coming back, we have had a Tory Government that has been all U-Turns, broken promises and backstabbing.

How is THAT “stability”?

And there was a lot of fuss over a poll saying that now people thought that the referendum got the answer wrong by 44% to 42% - missing the BIG picture that the country remains MASSIVELY SPLIT, right down the middle. And that Mrs Mayhem and the extreme Brexiteers are MAKING IT WORSE.

How is THAT “leadership”?

Do you want to give a BLANK CHEQUE to the Tories?

I mean it’s a good job Mrs Mayhem doesn’t have a record of saying one thing and then doing the other.

Except for her U-Turn on not holding a General Election before 2020
Except for her U-Turn on remaining in Europe
Except for her U-Turn on not raising the National Insurance Tax
Except for her U-Turn on raising the National Insurance Tax
Except for the Tory U-Turn on PIP payments for the disabled
Except for the Tory U-Turn on working tax credits
Except now she wants to break the triple lock on pensions

A STRONG leader needs a STRONG Parliament to make sure that the KEEP THEIR STRONG PROMISES.

Mrs Mayhem has caved in, again and again, to the wishes of her Extreme Right-wing backbenches, and to the whims of a handful of billionaire tax-exiles who control – unaccountably – the right-wing newspapers.

And what about that DEAL with the European Union?

How is Mrs Mayhem going to cope when negotiating with the European leaders, who are a bit less likely to roll over than Uncle “strong message here” Jezza and the supine Labour Party?

So far, in fact, it’s Mrs Mayhem who has caved in on every issue she’s tried to force: settling the rights of British Citizens in Europe before trigging article 50 (non); parallel trade negotiations (nein); Gibraltar (viva España). This does not bode well for her “deal making”.

Meanwhile, Bojo “Punishment Beatings” Johnson has been made the Old English labradoodle of President Trump: told to “sit and stay” when he was supposed to be off to Moscow; admitting that it would be “very hard not to join in” if the US wanted to fire off another volley of high-explosives into the Syrian war zone. And for all the hand-holding and the fawning Gove, Britain still got bumped to the back of the queue – sorry “line” – for the Americans to make a trade deal with the EU first.

“Take Back Control” turns out to mean “Do what Donald says (and like it)”.

If Parliament’s “meaningful vote” on the final deal is going to be, well, meaningful, it needs a Parliament that is strong and unafraid to ask questions, to speak up for ALL the different views, Remain and Leave, and the different ideas and then try and bring us back together.

That’s why you need to vote for the LIBERAL DEMOCRATS.

Liberal Democrats believe in a Parliament that represents ALL opinions – even ones we don’t agree with. Liberal Democrats believe in a democracy that means ALL voices can be heard – not silencing people we don’t agree with, not “Crushing” the Opposition. And one that trusts the people, not taking them for granted.

Weak leaders are afraid of questions.
Weak leaders are afraid of TV debates.
Weak leaders are afraid of Parliament.

Don’t give in to weakness. Don’t give Mrs Mayhem a blank cheque. Vote for a Parliament that is STRONG and hold the Tories to account for their promises.


Monday, April 03, 2017

Day 5932: The Firebird and the Dragon


So it has happened. Theresa May has sent the “dear John” to Donald Tusk (good elephant name, just sayin’) to let him know we are all shooting ourselves in all of our flappy feet by triggering Article 50.

Remember, if we all get BEHIND the Prime Monster, then when SHE goes over the cliff… we DON’T have to follow!

The Brex Maniacs tell us to be optimistic. So I’ll tell you what I am optimistic about: we CAN turn this around. We can FIX this. WE CAN WIN.

Let me put it in a story:

Never upon a time… the Island of Briton was without magic or stories. And the people were sad and angry.

So the King and the Queen put up a proclamation and asked: who among the free citizens will go to faraway lands to return with a magical animal to bring stories to the people.

From the people who stepped forward, the King chose a rich country squire, who spoke with clever words how he knew better than anyone what the people needed. But the Queen picked a stable lass who came from the city with a lot of pluck and a cheeky wink.

So each went out on a boat.

The rich man, who was very old and very wise, sailed off to the lands of iron and gold and returned with a Dragon. And the maid who was younger but some would say wiser, set her boat towards the sun and returned with a golden Firebird.

And the King said to the Queen, the Dragon is very large, and very cunning and very very strong: it can protect us from all of our enemies and they will fear and respect us. What good is your songbird, then?

And the Queen said to the King: what use is a land ravaged by your Dragon. My Firebird will sing and give people hope.

And the Dragon was just as large and just as cunning and even stronger than the King had said, but it was also envious, and avaricious, and gluttonous, and full of angry fire. And it ravaged the land from end to end, eating many of the people and stealing all of their money, before crawling into a deep cave and coiling up to sleep on its huge hoard of stolen gold in the dark heart of its dungeon lair.

And the people heard phoenix song and had hope.

The Dragon woke up angry and afraid. It didn’t like this at all. And it flew out of its cave in a fury to find the Firebird and burn it to ashes.

But from the ashes, the Firebird was reborn to sing its song again.

This made the Dragon even more afraid and even more angry and it came and burned the Phoenix to ashes again. And stomped on the ashes for good measure.

But you cannot kill a song like that. And the Firebird was reborn to sing once again.

Time after time the Dragon burned the Firebird. And time after time, the Firebird came back. Hope born again and again, in spite of every defeat.

And seeing all this, the people started to sing the Phoenix song. Just a few at first. But more and more. And this made the Dragon so frightened that it went away and hid.

And the people were able to live in hope and happiness, at least for a while, until enough of them might give in to greed, or fear, or envy and the Dragon might come back.

Because Dragons live forever. But hope never dies.

We are the Firebird, the Bird of Freedom; however much they burn us, we keep coming back. And we can beat the Dragon of fear and anger. With hope.

As a fluffy elephant, inheritor of the WOOLLY MAMMOTHS, I might just have a better claim to be a NATIVE Briton that any of you monkey-people who wandered here over the Doggerland in the last Ice Age or the many peoples, Romans, Anglo-Saxons, Danes, Normans, and all the rest who migrated here since.

I am English, and like most English I am a bit of a MONGREL. I’ve been a Londoner, an East-Ender; my Daddies are from Stockport; one is half-Scottish half-American; the other is of Yorkshire stock; we are from ALL OVER.

But Europe is my home and my family, a family that has spent my entire life – and my DADDIES’ entire lives (which is AGES!) – working for peace and prosperity, through art and science, through learning and living together as much as through trade. We make each other so much better off in so many more ways than just money. We show the World that there is another way, a better way, than wars and dictators.

The Leave campaign – never fact based – placed its great emotional appeal on two weapons: the grass is always greener and nostalgia for a better past.


I want people to remember the great days, the glory days when stopped being the SICK MAN of Europe and started to get better off, when we could AFFORD an NHS that treated people on time, when we could HALVE child poverty, when we could SAVE Bosnia AND protect the Falklands, when we could confidently INTRODUCE Human Rights and Freedom of Information, when we could feel we were good.

I want to them to remember ECONOMIC MIRACLES and COOL BRITANIA and remember that they happened WHEN WE WERE IN THE EU.

But this doesn’t need to be just nostalgia.

Europe will evolve without us, they have to, and hopefully they will become both a stronger economy and a fairer democracy. We have forfeited our right to be part of leading that change. But that does not mean we cannot continue to engage, to listen to what Europe wants, learn from them, help if we are able, if we are asked. Europe will be the green and pleasant land 21 miles away across the Channel.

The Tories have such a NARROW and PETTY vision of Britain, not a Great Britain but a GREY Britain, a cold offshore tax haven, under the choke of the Dragon.

But we can be BETTER THAN THAT. We WILL be better than that.

Tell the story of a Britain that listens to HOPE, not to FEARS, and takes our place again among the family of nations. The story of a people who are look bravely outward to new challenges, not inward to past failures. The story of how we can become again that Great Nation that leads in Europe, no need to cower away.

Tell them we ARE the Firebird. And we can SING.

Wednesday, March 08, 2017

Day 5909: Mr John Humphrys in Muddy Waters


Today’s lesson: when @BBCR4Feedback call an hour early and say they can call back in an hour… they aren’t going to call back.

How did we get to there? Well, the usual start to the week – listening to Daddy Richard shout at the radio – was interrupted by a moment of shocked silence when, as he tweeted, THIS happened:

“Jaw dropping moment as John Humphreys asks: doesn't it muddy the waters if we call far right terrorist murder of Jo Cox "terrorism" #r4today”

Life in the Today Programme goldfish bowl...

That generated… a fair number of retweets and replies, one of which said we should make it a proper complaint to the BBC. So that’s what we did, and posted it up on the Facebook too:

“After a jawdropping moment on this morning's Today programme, I have submitted this complaint to the BBC, via

During an interview with Assistant Commissioner Mark Rowley, in charge of Counter Terrorism, Mr Rowley warned the public should not forget the terrorist threat from right-wing extremists, and cited the murder of MP Jo Cox.
John Humphreys responded by asking "didn't that muddy the waters" and suggesting that the murderer Thomas Mair was mentally ill.
The judge, sentencing Thomas Mair, said: "There is no doubt this murder was done for the purpose of advancing a political, racial and ideological cause namely that of violent white supremacism and exclusive nationalism most associated with Nazism and its modern forms."
Dismissing genuine terrorism as actions of "lone mentally ill person" is factually wrong and dangerous to public safety. And the implication that terrorism is something done only be foreigners / non-white people / Muslims is dangerously close to accepting the premise of the racists that Thomas Mair represents.
If the police are describing the Jo Cox murder as terrorism, the BBC should not be questioning that, but asking itself serious questions about the climate of right-wing hate that has been allowed foment in the UK, for which the BBC by airing or repeating (as here) the views of these people bears some responsibility.

And THAT generated another lot of traffic and clearly a LOT of other people were quite cross too, because that was when the Radio FEEDBACK programme got in touch and asked if they could talk about that Tweet and the reaction to what Mr Humphrys said.

So they said that they would call between 10am and 1pm, Wednesday. Actually they called at 9.15, just as we were getting on the Jubilee line.

So, IF this ever happens to you, do not let them say: “it’s fine we will call you back in an hour”. No! You say “I WILL TALK TO YOU NOW”!

Anyway, here is what we WOULD have said:

Why was I so taken about by John Humphrys suggestion that calling the murder of MP Jo Cox terrorism was “muddying the waters”?

The Facts – the police, the crown prosecution service, the sentencing judge all agreed that this was a politically motivated terrorist murder. These are not liberal snowflakes, they are serious people. Jo Cox’s killer, Thomas Mair, was psychiatrically examined and found to be in his own mind and fit to stand trial for his actions.

This is the BBC’s own report of the sentencing judge’s remarks: - note the emphasis on the high degree of planning and premeditation, as well as the political motivation. This was not the random act of a “madman”.

The right wing press – who have an agenda – might question this. But I expect very senior BBC journalists to know the facts and not repeat propaganda.

The Context – the interview was with Assistant Commissioner Mark Rowley asking the public to contact the police with information if they are worried or suspicious about their neighbours. And as a Liberal, I’m not 100% happy with his “be afraid and inform on your neighbours” agenda here. So actually, I was giving him some credit when he was reminding people that there is far right political terrorism to watch out for as well. When Mr Humphrys interrupted. But if anything is going to “muddy the waters” it is the suggestion from the interviewer that some terrorism isn’t as worth while contacting the police about because it is a fascist rather than ISIS who is threatening people’s lives.

And I think you could tell that the Assistant Commissioner was somewhat taken aback by this sudden derailing of the interview, too.

The Narrative – because it’s all very familiar to hear white terrorists described as “a lone wolf” or “mentally ill”. These excuses get repeated whenever a white person commits an atrocity like this. Anders Breivek who killed all those children in Sweden; Timothy McVeigh the Oklahoma bomber; Dylann Roof, the man who shot nine black churchgoers at a service in Charleston Carolina; the list goes on, back to the Unabomber and earlier.

The message is “white people don’t commit terrorism; only brown people do terrorism”.

And it’s wrong.

We don’t hear people challenging the idea that the murder of Lee Rigby was terrorism. We don’t hear people suggesting that the shoe bomber Richard Reid was mentally ill. And it’s not like we have no experience of white sectarian terrorism in this country.

The BBC has a responsibility not to perpetuate this myth, which leads to…

The hate crimes – we’ve seen a surge in attacks against women and minorities, particularly people who are immigrants or even just perceived as immigrants, fuelled by the xenophobic language of the Leave campaign and UKIP and now even the more right-wing elements of the government. The murder of Jo Cox happened at the height of the most horribly divisive and racially charged referendum campaign and on very the day Nigel Farage was unveiling his Nazi-imagery-evoking “Breaking Point” poster.

And people want to deny there is a connection.

The right wing, the nationalists, want people to think that only foreigners can be terrorists. They want people to be afraid. But they don’t want it to come back on them. And they won’t take responsibility. They want to deny that there are extremist views on their side, and that among those extremists are some people who use violence and murder for their political ends.

I do not expect senior BBC journalists to be giving support to these people.

The excuse – the excuse given in reply to my complaint was that John was just putting a challenging question. Well, firstly, it wasn’t a question. It might have had the form of a question, but it was just an assertion. It was not posed as a question, more a muttered aside. And it presupposes that Jo Cox murder could not be terrorism if the “question” put is whether that statement muddies the waters.

But also, if you’re going to ask challenging questions, why start at that point? Why not challenge the Assistant Commissioner over why the terror alert is still at the second highest level after years and years, and doesn’t that make it a bit pointless? Or challenge him on the threats that the police say that they’ve defeated – what sort of threats are we talking about: knife attacks, anthrax letters or something on the scale of 7/7? That would give the public a genuine insight into the threat level, in a way that questioning whether Jo Cox murder was terrorism would not.

The Farage agenda gets far too much of a free ride from the BBC already, with UKIP – or their proxies in the Tory Party – on the air far more often than their support however you count it would justify. But this was a particularly poor interview – unquestioning of the authoritarian agenda at the start and then then tossing in this unjustified assertion that would not have been out of place in the Daily Mail.

John Humphrys has a reputation to live up to. We should expect more of him.

Tuesday, February 07, 2017

Day 5882: The Prophecy


This is a version of my entry to the “Britain in 2030” essay competition run by “Your Liberal Britain”. But because of their 500-word limit you lucky readers get about 50% more stuff!

Congratulations to winner, Lee Howgate, and all the runners up.

Now… I feel a vision coming on…

It is 2030 and Tim Farron’s Liberal Democrat-led government is seeking re-election after a remarkable if turbulent five years.

Sal Brinton, elected as presiding officer of the new Senate of the Commonwealth of British States and Nations, reflects on the three outstanding achievements of the Lib Dem Prime Minister.

First is the rescue of the economy from the disastrous protectionist experiment – the so-called “Trump Slump”. Freedom to trade and travel across 35 countries of the European Union has seen a flourishing of new ideas and new jobs. The young people who had felt their future torn away by “Brexit” rediscovered a new global sprit of Britain. The older generation have remembered that they actually liked going to Europe. True, the end of the pound was a high price to pay for readmission, and the process nearly foundered because of it, but the huge boost given to the economy by joining the Euro at such an advantageous rate has left many wondering at the “Project Fear” scare stories of the discredited Brexiteers.

Second was the healing brought about through the “Big British Conversation”, inspired by the way that new members of the Liberal Democrats in 2015 came up with new ways for the Party to review its goals and policies, which was the starting point for the constitutional reforms. For the first time people across Britain had felt that their ideas were being listened to, that they were in control of the outcome. Not everyone got what they wanted, but almost everyone felt the outcome was fair enough. The conversation has even been such a success that Ambassador Clegg is now being asked to help the Union roll out a similar process to rebuild the institutions of Europe.

Agreeing the framework for government devolution, instead of the haphazard approach that had resulted in a wildly differing powers from Scotland’s Parliament to London’s Mayor, gave people back the feeling they were all of equal importance to the country. Regional identities such as Cornwall, Wessex, Mercia, Yorkshire and Northumbria re-emerged when, after years of nationalist demands for an English identity, it turned out that there wasn’t one.

No one had expected Prince William to decline the throne, but no one was surprised when Kate Middleton-Windsor beat Tony Blair by a landslide to become our first elected Queen. Sean Bean had modestly laughed off moves to make him hereditary King of the North.

The axis of politics had shifted, from the old, backward-looking workers v capital left-right of the Twentieth Century, to the Twenty-First Century “Outward or Inward” of Liberal Internationalists versus Protectionists. The old two-party system had finally admitted it couldn’t cope, leading at long last to fair votes. While the right-wing Tories struggled on in alliance with former-Faragists in the newly-merged United Kingdom Conservative Party, some places saw up to four candidates competing for the label True Labour. Jeremy Corbyn remains leader of one of them. No one is sure which.

(As for Mr Farage, he was unable to take up the peerage offered him in the resignation honours of the last Tory Prime Minister as the House of Lords was abolished while he was still away on a six-month junket in America.)

Third, and in many ways most important, are the foundations laid for a future of opportunity.

Today, the Secretary of State for Sustainable Development Sarah Olney is at the ceremony to break ground on the first of four new fusion reactors, while Environment Secretary Liz Leffman cuts the ribbon on the latest tidal lagoon power plant and is able to announce that the Zero Carbon Britain target has been achieved. Health Secretary Norman Lamb will welcome the completion of the National Health and Care Service, and Home Secretary Caroline Lucas is widely praised for the latest figures that show implementing Liberal Democrat reforms to the drugs law has both cut crime and the number of people sent to prison.

On the World stage, Foreign Secretary Alistair Carmichael is at the United Nations getting them to agree to establishing no-fly zones and safe havens that will protect civilians threatened with war. He was right to resist calls to join further American military adventures, and instead we have pioneered the use of drone aircraft for delivering humanitarian aid not bombs. Meanwhile our forces in the Joint European Defence Initiative, led by Lord Ashdown, have now participated in four UN Peacekeeping Actions and rescued more than a million refugees from the Mediterranean.

Britain is getting back to work. British-made Jaguar-Tesla self-driving electric autocars are driving themselves to France, Germany, Italy and Poland. West Country Hemp is already established as a world leading brand. ARM holdings has bought out the remains of Apple, and are planning to launch a “retro” ZX iPhone. British and international cast and crew are filming Star Wars Episode XII at Elstree. People are working fewer hours but producing more, and Chancellor Ed Balls (International Labour) will announce the increase of the Citizens’ Income, sharing the growth in GDP.

We will build our success on openness to bold new ideas, to sharing our wealth, and on being part of the ever-wider family. This is now a Liberal Britain.

Alas, it’s only just over a month later, and this already seems shockingly naïve. The notion that we might somehow swerve and avoid the worst of Brexit and Trump Presidency has been shown to be hollow in the light of Theresa May’s Lancaster House speech setting out her 12-point plan for a hard-as-nails cliff-edge Brexit and a first fortnight from the new Administration in Washington that has seen a blizzard of executive orders and Constitution-baiting and plumbed new depths of deceit, from illusory crowd sizes to invisible walls to imaginary massacres.

Theresa May makes her plans if not clearer at least fractionally less opaque – and they are plans for a cold and cheerless tax haven Britain, lowest common denominator Britain without social care and a rundown NHS, where the Fat Cats can protect their assets and the just about managing just about can’t.

Now firmly in the claws of the Brextreemists, they drag her further and further to the exploitation right, seeming almost gleefully to desire the failure of our exit negotiations so they can go buccaneeringly alone, quite wilfully ignorant to the fact that we can’t just “adopt WTO tariffs” without the agreement of the WTO’s 169 members, one of whom is the EU.

And our non-opposition Opposition of Jeremy Corbyn is three-line-whipping his Labour rabble to support the Tories as Theresa takes her suicide-leap into the arms of the odious Trump.

And as Boris “punishment beatings” Johnson tells us that it trivialises the holocaust to compare Theresa’s fawning love-in with the man who has placed an actual White Supremacist in charge of America’s security with the rise to power of the 30’s iteration of Fascism, satire lies weeping and bleeding.

So what use is a fluffy little homespun future, when all about us the darkness gathers and the very worst of human spirit is in ascendance? All the use in the world, if it gives you hope.

Find hope where you can.

History sometime rhymes in odd ways. After the Scottish Independence Referendum, the Nationalists were galvanised and swept to stunning victories in Holyrood and Westminster elections. I think a lot of people assumed the EU Referendum would be the same. Except the SNP lost that Referendum, whereas the Farragist Nationalists won on Brexit. And as in Scotland, oddly rhyming, it is the losing side that is now winning.

Support is coming back to the Liberal Democrats. Sometimes in very surprising places. We understand the big swings to the Gold Party in Remain areas like Witney and sensationally Richmond Park, but there are some even bigger swings in those Labour/Leave heartlands of Sunderland and Rotherham. This cannot just be a surge of Remainiac votes; there’s got to be some change of mind behind this.

Perhaps what united and energised the people in Scotland wasn’t crude “nationalism”; it was a sense of a bright future ripped away.

Perhaps what’s behind this change of mind, is a sense that this is not the change people voted for.

Find hope where you can.

Stay strong, my fluffy lovelies, stay safe. Resist the urge to fight hate with hate. Though the darkness closes around us, there is still a hope of light. We will build that Liberal Britain. One day.

Saturday, December 24, 2016

Day 6202: DOCTOR WHO: Steven Moffat’s The Abominable Bride


Last Christmas… was the Doctor Who Christmas Special from two years ago, but last Christmas we got “The Husbands of River Snog”, and this year – to save you from tears – I’m going to review the Special from last Christmas. Which isn’t “Last Christmas”. Are you with me so far?

Time can be rewritten. And so can Doctor Who Christmas Specials. The human colony of Mendorax Dellora, as charming and Christmassy a redressing of the sets from “Face the Raven” as you could ask for, feels a lot like a return to earlier Moffat Christmases, whether Sardiktown in “A Christmas Carol” or the town of Christmas in (shudders) “The Time of the Doctor”; the crashing spaceship is reminiscent of the also-meteor-struck Titanic in “Voyage of the Damned” or more apropos the crash of the Byzantium in “The Time of Angels” or Amy and Rory’s honeymoon liner in (again!) “A Christmas Carol”. Crashing spaceships are the new “I Wish It Could Be Christmas Every Day”. You start to get the feeling Mr Moffat’s doing this deliberately.

Steven Moffat, the Grand Moff, has always treated the story of Doctor Who as a palimpsest, even his own works, going back again and again to re-write and over-write what has been before. And always, it seems, to reject closure. He’s never happy to just live with things that end. Even his most famous killer monsters, the Weeping Angels don’t kill – they send you back in time for more life. He’s going to be inconsolable when he has to finally hand over to Chibnall. He’s forever reaching for that get-out clause, to – as the Eighth Doctor might put it – hold back death. Whether it’s rewriting the end of the Time War to save Gallifrey, or going literally to the end of all the Worlds to snatch an endlessly extended extra moment from Clara’s death.

This time he even has his own creation, River Song, accuse him of doing it:

“There’s always a loophole. You wait until the last minute and then you spring it on me. […]
But you will. You'll wait until I've given up hope. All will be lost, and you'll do that smug little smile and then you'll save the day. You always do.”

The life of River Song was always bounded by the fact that it ended where it began back at the Library. Even then, he wouldn’t let her go, giving her a cyber-heaven to inhabit. OR even come back from, in “The Name of the Doctor”.

And he does the same thing again here, giving River and the Doctor one last night together, at the Singing Towers on Darillium… and then teasing it out to twenty-four years. Eventually we’ll have to stop renewing and just return!

In a way, though, it is very Doctor-ish, to keep cheating death, tricking his way out of death.

But you only get a commendation for reprogramming the Kobayahi Maru the first time.

Having said all that, the opportunity to do a screwball comedy across time and space with two of the finest actors working today, written by an author with genuine talent for farce, does kind of make the exercise worthwhile.

All the time they are on the screen together is delightful. Their timing, their chemistry, their obvious enjoyment of the fun they are having.

The supporting cast – makes shrugging gesture – mm, less so.

I’ve never been that taken with Greg Davies, nor the brand of shouty acting that he’s been asked to deliver for the role of King Hydroflax here. Like someone who’s seen Brian Blessed but not understood the subtlety of menace that he can bring to, say, Caesar Augustus, a role that Hydroflax ought to resemble. But, he’s actually there as a slapstick prop, a head-in-a-bag to be tossed about like the quips that Capaldi and Kingston exchange, so I was still laughing out loud at pretty much every scene he was in.

More distressingly, Matt Lucas’s as Nardole was quickly quite irritating: whiny and snivelling and just not given very funny things to do or say. Which is a shame as he’s the one returning this year, though thankfully he appears to have – somehow – got his body back.

I did, however, enjoy the outrageously oleaginous Maître D’, Flemming, played by Rowan Polonski. It’s through his delicious banality of evil that we understand that the passengers of the starship Harmony and Redemption – arrived at in a sudden plot swerve halfway through – don’t believe in harmony and don’t deserve redemption.

And Mr Scratch, River Song’s buyer – not quite Doctor Who versus Scratchman, but whose flip-top head seems very lifted from the New Adventure “All-Consuming Fire” – was very nicely sinister, in a Colony Sarf sort of a way.

But Kingston and Capaldi make a glorious double act. For him, it’s a joy to see the Doctor laughing and grinning his way through the adventure, getting to be the companion, enjoy doing the “bigger on the inside” right, and be the one who knows more than River, just this once. For her, there’s such a range of new and different facets of the character to portray: the lies within lies, or perhaps it’s not lies, it’s acting. When we first meet her, she’s playing Darth Vader, sweeping down the boarding ramp in flowing cloak; then she’s role-playing devoted wife – and so over the top we’re sure she’s not very good at it; then it’s the cold assassin, plotting a decapitation with whom she assumes is a pliantly complicit barber-surgeon; then she’s heroically angry with Hydroflax the butcher for his theft from the Halassi of the diamond that’s stuck in his cranium… and that’s all in the five minutes on board the joyfully retro flying saucer (nice that King Hydroflax can accessorise his spaceship and his robot body, by the way – though I suppose he does have plenty of cash…)

What River’s acting does – and the Doctor notes this when he asks “Is this what you’re like when I’m not about?” – is to flag up the way this story is about different perspectives.

Hydroflax, for example, on the one hand he’s worshipped by millions; on the other he’s loathed as a monster; or the Doctor just thinks he’s a moron; and in the end his own robot body decides he’s just rotting meat.

The passengers on the Harmony and Redemption: are they innocent travellers, as we at first assume? Or are they killers and planet burners, as River tells us? Or are they a cult of Hydroflax followers as they reveal themselves to be?

Even the diamond, the Halassi Androvar, the McGuffin that drives the plot, to the Doctor it’s just downpayment on a dinner date.

And so River herself. Which perspective of her do we take away? Hero or villain? Archaeologist or thief? Righteous or rogue? Warrior or wife? As many faces as, well, as she has husbands.

And what about Moffat? Does he keep coming back and rewriting or is he still trying to capture different perspectives on the same ideas? When – like Big Finish – he inserts more and more stories into tinier and tinier gaps, when he gives Clara immortality in her last heartbeat, is he fishing from an infinitely tiny well or like a fractal unfolding discovering infinite regress within the snowflakes?

Does it even matter so long as it’s fun?

“Happy ever after” doesn’t mean forever, River tells us, just for some time. Perhaps it would be better put as “they lived ever happy after”. But some things even Moffat cannot rewrite.

Merry Christmas.