New cans; old worms

Global or local, big or small picture, humans are politically riven with both justifiable and manufactured agendas. Whether as bolsters to old conflicts or newly perceived correlations, contemporary symptoms become the causes of tomorrow, especially when they are misunderstood and mishandled. There and here brews a god almighty convergence of violent complaint. New cans; old worms. History’s harvest.

Some people are still actively relishing the disturbing fragility of our times; they have waited so long, worked so hard for the potential of such days as these. They are the nihilists and the dispossessed, seeking retribution for the state of their lives, real, imagined and relative.

So they pour scorn and claim betrayal as a means to myriad, dissonant ends and invest in the cathartic revenge pictures and nebulous promises of restitution painted by charlatans and incompetents who take the righteous, justifiable indignation of the Commons and genetically modify it with conspiracies, ideological wishes and expedient scapegoats. Free-market patriotism.

Their default strategy is blanket blame by demographic whack-a-mole. They lump together all the characters, functions and effects of establishment, class and information in much the same paranoid, misinformed way as people who think that all drugs are all the same – just BAD, man. Their solution, the Brexit/Trump effect, is no better reasoned than cutting off your right arm because it might make the left one stronger. They turn creative destruction into throwing out, not just the proverbial baby, along with the scummy recycled bath water but also the actual bath.

They became those for whom no proof was either possible or necessary, even in the face of indisputable facts. Until, suddenly, it is. All that certainty was merely prologue to their next sense of betrayal, delivered, wholly predictably, by the capriciousness and ineptitude of their own brokers. And Hell on Earth hath no fury like a co-saboteur scorned.

The sane world watches, nervously, holding its breath.

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But what is the UK to be, now?

The identity of the UK is in a crisis of much longer-standing than the disgusting populism that currently discerns it by such criteria as your socio-economic influence, what colour your skin is, whether you lean Left or Right, what religion you might practise or where your parents were born. Politically, that is as much about how certain people so badly need to mark or choose our personal identities for us as it is about how we might or might not identify ourselves – because finger-pointing and division serve their social comfort and agenda.

Also apparent, particularly since the first Scottish independence referendum, is the severity of the identity crisis of the UK, itself, which, post the Brexit result, is now a direct, overt and rather urgent matter. We should all care, whether petty tribalist or sincere patriot; scapegoated or scapegoater.

Unionists, Nationalists, Independents and Federalists; centralisation, devolution, globalism and localism; Brexit-Remain; Left-centrist-Right: somewheres and anywheres: we’re all being stitched up, in whichever part of the UK we live, howsoever we identify or have been categorised.

Conflict within and between our individual and collective identities are not recent phenomena. Anyone who reads history and/or literature, has lived long enough or just pays general attention to human nature knows there has always been friction and tension between the micro and macro. At this point in our timeline, though, when malice, mischievous tinkering and authoritarianism are determining the future at a confluence of circumstances, it behoves us to think more deeply, sensibly and bravely.

What and who and how is the UK to be, now?

One big country with one central government (beneficial democratic reforms notwithstanding)? Four separate countries joined in equal union? I said equal. Four co-dependent states under a mishmash of overlapping powers and inconsistent arbitration, secretly content in their mutual aggravation?

Or are we four ideologically disparate nations, who merely happen to share a lot of history, mostly by quirk of geographical proximity but who should just call time and separate? Or is it too easy and too terrible to think that? I hope so.

Whichever we are, we need to decide. And fast. If we can’t even negotiate and co-operate with each other – with ourselves – with mutual respect and for mutual benefit, then what of our prognosis, with the rest of the world?

Do do re-run

“Let’s not re-run the referendum campaign” – Those that say this might have a vaguely reasonable point if a rational and more honest campaign had been run. The reason that arguments still need to be had is because they were not actually had at the appropriate time; because politicians and journalists did not know or understand the substance requiring consideration nor their various consequences, any better than voters. And because some simply did not care. But the electorate needed to know all manner of what questions to ask and precious few people ever asked them.

If you think about it, every plebiscite re-runs arguments. It’s part of the messy, ongoing nature of Democracy. Politicians do it all the time – and social media, too, now. Hell, people are re-running arguments from decades, even centuries ago. Whether or not they are helpful or even relevant, still. This one is.

I don’t particularly want to want another referendum, either. Certainly not several (Scotland and Ireland.. Wales..?) You know I always thought the first EU ref was reckless and unnecessary and that the result was swung by a misdirected hissy fit. But, seriously, Brexit: what the heck did you expect? That Remain would cave and go quietly into catastrophic but preventable repercussions?

And it is foolish and weak to cry voter fatigue when, short of Parliament coming to its senses and riskily circumventing the People’s much-fêted Will, another public vote is the best available solution to settling something properly. Anyway, it serves ‘us’ right for not doing it properly, in the first place. We could have had a double majority. Cameron said no. We could have had a minimum differential. Cameron said no. We could have let 16/17ers vote on their futures. Cameron said no.

That cross in the box: it was just the start. Now comes the hard bit. A healthy democracy requires ongoing engagement and active participation. What a sorry lot we are if voters can’t take some responsibility for the “will of the people” and the downside of political choices and show keenness for a better understanding and a sharper attention to detail. After years of voters protesting that politicians don’t listen, it is surreal to imagine people preferring to make sure they don’t.

If all things now have a Brexity lens and if Brexit suddenly looks and sounds more complicated than sold, well, too bad. It always was going to be and if clarifying “the will of the people” sounds like too much effort, too threatening, too divisive or patience-testing, especially after having actively supplied the need, then, tough shit. Can’t willingly open cans of worms and then complain about the tangled fallout because “people are tired of elections”. Another tedious plebiscite is surely more sensible than simply rushing into a permanent mistake.

And it has to be a referendum rather than a general election, not just because the choice needs to be clear of party promises but because the latter option gives us no viable, electorally palatable alternative. No matter the demonstrable tunnel-vision and incompetence of the Tories, Labour offers a demonstrably incompetent ideologue. Both have bought into Brexit. Faced with yet another least-worst-option choice, the Conservatives would likely get another mandate. And then they will be Brexit on Viagra.

[PS: If any anti-Brexit moderates of the Conservative and Labour parties should conclude that their party is a democratic dud and decide to stand up for the best interests of a United Kingdom by giving their numbers to the Lib Dem benches – and voters a real choice, thereby – I reckon I could live with that.]

Little Kingdom of England

Little Kingdom of England
Too big for its boots‬
Shoots from the hip
As it limps in pursuit
Of the means to equip
For its own ill-repute

More slightly goes Blighty
Reduced to pipsqueak
By the hubris it conjures
With dumb overreach
Into each unforced blunder
And liturgy preached.

The rump of the islands
Small-minded in blue
Getting fancy-dressed up
In its great-aunt’s red shoes
But they’re too big to dance in
And stained with mildew.

Little England in stature
Gone large with its yapper
Gone charging in public parks
Mad like the clappers
Tail-chasing in neighbours’ yards
With larger snappers.

promises and piecemeal

Direct Democracy and Devolution sound so grown up, don’t they? Like no-brainers, especially in the 21st Century, where we think we’re all so miraculously connected and enlightened. We complain incessantly that we want more control; that we need it; deserve it. I’m sure we do, in a parallel universe. But, while it is clear that political and civic power are too concentrated in some places and persons, I suspect that most of us wouldn’t have a clue what best to do with more power if we got it. After all, we don’t use what we already have, that smartly.

The People do not always know best. We just don’t. In fact, sometimes we are downright stupid, no matter the consensus that it isn’t good or wise to say so, out loud. For instance: I live in a Cornish constituency where, in the last general election, my shortsighted, albeit understandable hissy fit at the Lib Dems of Coalition merely allowed the Tories to swan back in. It must be really difficult, sometimes, for politicians to feign their respect for the voters.

The human world is a frightened and frustrated place. We can all feel it, or at least see it. The world shook after 9/11 and shifted irrevocably on its axe when the financial crises came to light. Since then, the pace of consequence has accelerated and intensified under our cowardly, short-termist leadership. They – we – build on mistake after mistake. Nearly the whole world is doing the same, on some level. We’ve facilitated ideological hubris and complacency, compounding misery and instability. No wonder there are grassroots collectives pushing for individuals to gain more democratic control. No wonder those who can are keen, or keen to pretend to offer it.

But the People are too busy living, or trying to, to spend 24/7 digesting every connection and implication involved in even the simplest idea. A lot of people don’t even have time to properly absorb a primetime news broadcast, let alone have the inclination to connect the dots around a plethora of single (-seeming) issues and assume direct agency. To participate responsibly, you have to be actively engaged and prepared to contemplate more deeply than on catchy soundbites and echo chambers. In the last general election some people thought they wanted the Conservative Party’s welfare reforms until they realised they had voted for cuts in their own income. Parents opening and running schools sounded like a great idea to a chunk of the populace until they actually tried it and realised how much expertise and time most of them did not have.

We need managers. No matter our sovereignty as individuals, we need leaders and overseers and at least some hierarchical structure of accountable authority to make a Society run. As much as we might feel that ‘’for god’s sake, I’ll do it, myself/could do it better, myself’ impatience, in the face of such overt fecklessness, we are also half hoping that something, someone, will take it off our hands.

Negotiating even our own lives can be more than enough occupation. We want someone else to take care of the other stuff. We don’t all want to have to run schools, sit on every committee, attend every blasted meeting that might affect our lives, keep up with every minute amendment to vote on every policy, engage with every whim and crackpot suggestion, tick-box endless, simplistic questionnaires. Well, I don’t, anyway. It may sound good in the abstract but, in practice, well: observe the EU referendum. Or imagine every category of Labour member having policy input on behalf of the rest of the electorate.

To imagine that the incoherent mishmash of support for Brexit is a thing worthy of unquestionable respect or that, even if Trump’s supporters should not be called out as ‘deplorable’, so much of their motivation clearly is, or that the utopian fanaticism for Corbyn, as the only 21st-Century light around which all the Left must orbit: these are symptomatic of our neurotic times. It took us years to create this anti-intellectual mess. There is no simple fix that can be also universally palatable.

But people tend to cling to hope where they think they have found it. We like to imagine that there must be a magic fix, if only someone would discover it or if we could just make a certain person, the whole country, the whole of humanity see it our way. If only x would happen then everything would be solved. It’s little wonder that idealists and charismatics are popular. They tell us what we should be worried about and who and what to fear and they offer simple yet dramatic fixes with casual and confident ease. This is attractive, particularly to those who think they have nothing left to lose and to those seeking the short-lived catharsis of vitriol.

Still, our leaders are the People, too, despite the quite concerted efforts of some to convey or perceive otherwise. Whether we see those currently charged with shaping our present and future as heroes or villains and all in between, they are merely a reflection of the human spectrum that they claim to serve: weak, sincere, ignorant, greedy, perceptive, compassionate, arrogant, clever, paranoid…

I don’t want ‘Brexit’ but, if we must have it, I obviously want the best achievable version, not an appeasement model for its bulldog fantasists. I want mature democratic reforms but not to serve some partisan agenda and not as a superficial sop to pacify a confused and frustrated populace. The fallout discussions around the Scottish Indyref and Brexit show how the promises and piecemeal of panic and short-term politicking, are downright disrespectful of both the electorate and our constitution.

The awful consequences of decades of causes are threatening, again, to become the new causes for decades of even more dreadful consequences. Unfortunately, a significant number of the electorate does not care and tragically, some have not even noticed.

Live long enough, though and you can feel like you’ve lived it all before. Be careful what you wish for.

Campaign Leapfrog

A two world wars and one World Cup brigade
And an old boys who cry wolf network
Play crazy campaign leapfrog
And troops of twerking groupies meme
And the confused are busy getting lost
And trapped between, the horrified are keening
At the vaults that share a cheapness with its cost