Bollocks to Brexit

Here is Parliament Square this evening, as people mill about not quite ready to go home after the People’s Vote march.  The statue of Churchill facing into the gale is silhouetted against the white cladding covering part of St Margaret’s Church.

We are in this odd position in which Parliament cannot bring itself to ratify the treaty by which we leave the European Union with a transition period and without immediate chaos.  All arrangements ending our membership are detrimental to the wider economic and political interests of the UK,  so whatever might be the stated opinions of individual Members of Parliament, psychologically and collectively they just cannot bring themselves to commit this act.

The small number of die-hard radicals of the Conservative Party actively want to leave without a treaty, the so-called No Deal, so they and their class can profit financially from the chaos that will impoverish the majority.  The even fewer Northern Irish Democratic Unionists prop up the government and are unrepresentative of the people of that province.  They reject the treaty because it makes transparent the political reality:  after Brexit, Northern Ireland must have a status different to mainland UK if there is to be no return to a hard border with Eire and the sectarian polarisation that would bring.  My party, Labour, reject the treaty not because it is bad (because all routes out of the EU are bad) but because we have three more years of government by a wretched Conservative Party unwilling to seek a consensus vision for Britain after Brexit.  It is a certainty that the Conservatives will cast in law a post-Brexit settlement which undermines workers’ pay, conditions and rights and environmental protections.  They will be free to enter trade deals with other countries to reshape our National Health Service on the USA for-profit model and prevent government limiting the exorbitant prices of pharmaceuticals.  This is the one chance for Labour to bind the government’s hands.  However, strategically they are on the back foot as Theresa May doggedly refuses to compromise, beyond all reason.

So here I was at the the largest political protest in the UK’s history: a million people united in demanding a second referendum and a chance to reject Brexit this time round or at least a way out the impasse Parliament has created.  Still, even if Brexit were to be overturned, what will we do about the conditions of austerity and inequality which so disaffected people in the first place, and which are frankly so much more important than whether we stay in or leave the European Union?  I begin to realise Brexit is a side show.  In or out of the EU, what we need is political vision which addresses with intelligence and compassion the real issues: planetary destruction, violence and poverty.

Note the most middle class insult ever on a banner (or is this reverse snobbery?) “Theresa May puts the milk in first” with a picture of a cup of tea.

More power Igor, give me more POWER!

The Conservative Party is on course for a triple figure majority in the 8th June general election despite causing impoverishment and cutting us off from our main trading partners without planning.  They can spin a good yarn and have powerful interested media outlets to promote it.  As for the three left of centre parties, Labour lacks an engaging narrative whereas the Liberal Democrats and Green Parties both tell clear stories.  All three seem to have at best niche appeal while May is pitching for the kind of nationwide approval only Tony Blair achieved in recent times.

We cannot despair.  We remain a parliamentary democracy and the government must answer to elected MPs.  Every seat denied the Conservatives, indeed every seat they hold by only a slender margin, brings them closer to scrutiny.  Though left centre parties face defeat, it is still worth campaigning.

A progressive alliance, as called for by the Green Party, is unlikely to deliver a left centre government but it can make it harder for Theresa May to narrow state-funded healthcare provision or impose divisive education policies: she may be opposed by some in her own side as well as by a slightly stronger opposition.  What we do now may help sow the seeds of change for the future.

In at least one seat there are moves to give an anti-Tory candidate a clear run.   Lists of marginal constituencies and how to vote tactically are starting to circulate on-line.  A think tank, Compass, is crowd funding for a website to help people build non-partisan alliances.  Small groups seem to be springing up of non-aligned inexperienced people, wanting to know how to help.

I think we need a non-partisan campaigning handbook if we are to make democracy work for us.  One of the earliest tasks is to work to increase voter registration.  Even if local parties cannot make way for a joint candidate, might they at least cooperate on that?

 

 

 

 

 

Alternative versions

Alfred Stevens 1817-75 “Truth and Falsehood”: Truth tears out the double tongue of Falsehood and pushes aside the mask concealing his grotesque features.  His serpent tails are exposed beneath the drapery.  The group and its companion, “Valour and Cowardice”, are full size models for the bronze groups on the huge monument to the Duke of Wellington in St Paul’s Cathedral.  London.  Plaster.  [explanatory notes on plaque, Victoria and Albert museum].

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The current relevance of the statue is immediately obvious.  However, my mind was thrown back to 1999 when a cabinet minister declared eloquently “If it falls to me to start a fight to cut out the cancer of bent and twisted journalism in our country with the simple sword of truth and the trusty shield of British fair play, so be it. I am ready for the fight. The fight against falsehood and those who peddle it”.  The resulting action led to his being jailed for perjury.  I am sure the image shown here is of Truth defeating what were then Falsehoods which we now hold true: religious dogma defeating rationalism, self interest overcoming balanced enquiry, empire over civil society, autocracy scourging democracy.  When the powerful shout loudly about the lies of others and frustrate open scrutiny, it is to cover their deceits.

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Here are alternative versions of my sketches undertaken at the Victoria and Albert a week ago, reworked with conte crayon, paint, knife and (in the third image) digitally enhanced black tones.  Rodin’s tortured twisted Muse spoke  of a deeper truth than Stevens’ allegorical statue, of the anguish and beauty of human existence.  The theatre masks are props to tell a fictional narrative but when the narrative finishes, the masks are removed.

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