Brexit

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So Brexit has happened: the folk
Of Britain are free of the yoke
Of the Brussels Beast.
Meanwhile to the east
Mr Putin’s enjoying the joke.

Travel and Terrorism

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First, I offer a big apology to my fans, for not having posted for such a long time. In inadequate recompense I give you this link to a brilliant article by Waleed Aly in the Sydney Morning Herald. Waleed is a writer and broadcaster, and one of the most thoughtful and articulate blokes in Australia today.

The article is about Brexit, which makes me stroppier than almost anything outside the Middle East. But I’ve written so much and so often about Brexit, and none of it seems to have touched the hearts and minds of the decision-makers who matter, so now I’m going to push other people’s views and analysis with which I agree. Certainly Waleed expresses what I think better than I can.

But all that has nothing to do with either travel or terrorism. I’m in the UK at the moment, having travelled from Adelaide via Dubai – not my favourite transit hub, I have to say. On the way I was moved to compose the following limerick, which I throw to you, my readers, much as a rock star might throw an item of clothing into the audience…

While waiting in airport queues,
Then taking off watch, belt and shoes,
I imagine Osama
Bin Laden (the charmer)
Laughing – he didn’t lose!

Oh, for a Fat Controller!

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Rev Wilbert Awdry

Have you have read any of the Reverend Wilbert Awdry’s books about Thomas the Tank Engine and his rail-bound colleagues you will understand the allusion to the Fat Controller. It has nothing to do with weight loss and everything to do with our need for an overlord (or indeed an overlady).

In these stories the units of anthropomorphic rolling stock, with their personalities, their strengths and their weaknesses, often make a mess of things. But the Fat Controller (aka Sir Topham Hatt) always appears on the final page to praise the good, admonish the naughty and put things right. It’s the perfect way to end the day before snuggling beneath the bedclothes.

“Oh no!” I hear you say. “Not another post about Brexit!”

Sorry, but yes. The UK Government, Opposition and Parliament are in turmoil. The long-suffering people are dismayed. Many long to be dis-Mayed. They want a Fat Controller to step into the story and mend their fractured universe.

HM The Queen

The only candidates with sufficient moral authority are Joanna Lumley and the Queen. My preference would be the Queen. With an unwritten constitution, her power is limited only by what her people believe it to be and want it to be. I would love it if she turned up at Parliament one day, unannounced, and said something along the lines of “For God’s sake, you people, grow up! Isn’t it blindingly obvious that this whole Brexit thing isn’t working? What’s more it’s tearing my kingdom apart and it just won’t do. Stop it. Now. Tell those people in Brussels that you’re going to have another think about it and we’ll email them when we’re good and ready. OK? Good. Carry on.”

 

Brexit and Other Civil Wars

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It’s a truism that civil wars are the most brutal. I think that’s because the losers have nowhere else to go, so the war has to continue until one side surrenders or is destroyed.

This is what we see now in the UK: the fight between Remainers and Brexiteers is in effect a civil war. This is why Theresa May’s attempts to find a compromise are doomed to fail. One side has to win, the other lose. Compromise, which the British are supposed to be so good at, is a non-starter.

Personally, I hope the Remainers win. This can happen only with another vote: a People’s Vote, since it cannot be called a referendum. There are two good reasons for a People’s Vote:

  • The great majority of people who voted in 2016, on both sides, had no notion of what disentangling the UK from the EU would involve and cost.
  • No-one voted for the dissolution of the United Kingdom, which would almost certainly follow a hard Brexit. Scotland would have ample grounds for another independence referendum, and the only way to avoid a ‘hard border’ with the Republic of Ireland would be to relinquish Northern Ireland.

I’m glad the Queen has seen fit to comment. Addressing the Women’s Institute she called on all sides to search for common ground – without actually mentioning Brexit of course. The nearest thing to common ground might be “We’re not ready for this, it’s tearing our country apart, let’s call the whole thing off for now and have another vote in ten years’ time.”

Theresa May, having nailed her ‘Brexit Means Brexit’ colours to the mast, would have to be sacrificed on the altar of expediency. The British are famously fond of glorious failures: Boadicea’s rebellion, the retreat from Dunkirk and the Charge of the Light Brigade to name but a few. So history will be kind to her. She charged the guns heroically, sabre glinting in the setting sun, and for that she will be admired.

The Royal Wedding

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I’ve just watched the Royal Wedding – and if you’re asking “What royal wedding?” you needn’t read on. I wasn’t going to watch, but I had BBC World News on mute and when I saw Meghan’s majestic black-and-burgundy Roller rolling I couldn’t resist. The following thoughts occurred to me:

  • Nobody does this sort of thing better than the Brits. It’s theatre dripping with symbolism and political messages. As an actress, the Duchess of Sussex is exactly right for the job.
  • Including a black American preacher and a gospel choir was a masterstroke, a counterpoint to all that was ancient, traditional and solemn.  It symbolised invigoration of the Old World by the New. I had a fleeting mental image of a decrepit billionaire sipping virgins’ blood in hope of rejuvenation.
  • Now that it’s over, the team that organised it should be reassigned immediately to organising Brexit.

Some commentators – even the Guardian’s Simon Jenkins  – have described Meghan as the stronger member of the partnership. Harry has 10 years military service behind him, much in the front-line; is the prime mover of the Invictus Games; and has withstood a lifetime of public scrutiny to become a widely loved and respected royal. Speculation that he may be pushed around or overshadowed by his wife is certainly unfair, and unlikely to be helpful.

Sexual Harassment

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A week ago I was in Kyiv watching CNN, and the big news story was Harvey Weinstein’s alleged sexual misbehaviour. Now I’m in the UK, and the big news story is male parliamentarians’ sexual misbehaviour. Brexit gets a mention too, but as a news story it’s not as sexy as… well, sexual misbehaviour.

There are some kinds of misbehaviour that have always been unacceptable, but there is merit in the claim that the boundary between unacceptable and acceptable has shifted a long way in a short time. For example, when I was a lad:

  • Men were expected to be the active initiators of any romantic/sexual activity. Failure to live up to that expectation signalled either lack of interest or homosexual inclination.
  • A woman’s first “No” was generally taken to mean “Try harder.”
  • Stolen kisses were thought to be romantic.
  • A slapped face was the standard punishment for a man who went too far.

FaceSlap

  • On the silver screen (chief source of moral guidance in those days) a woman’s initial resistance always gave way to eager melting into the aggressor’s arms.
  • Almost every American TV sitcom included the occasional episode where a wife was turned over her husband’s knee for a spanking – well-deserved and for her own good.
  • While not condoned, wife-beating (as domestic violence was called) was considered a fact of life that some women just had to live with. I’m not sure if it was technically a crime, but in the popular mind it wasn’t.

Against that backdrop it’s not surprising that many people – women as well as men – cannot take seriously the recent redefinition of ‘sexual harassment’ to include the accidental overhearing of off-colour jokes.

According to pollsters YouGov (as reported in The Week) there are big generational differences in how women perceive ‘sexual harassment’. When they polled women in the age groups 18-24 (A) and 55+ (B) they found:

  • 64% in group A and 15% in group B think wolf-whistling is sexual harassment.
  • 28% in group A and 11% in group B think commenting on a woman’s attractiveness is sexual harassment.

“But,” you may say, “what about a rich, powerful old man taking advantage of a powerless young woman who aspires to a career (such as politics or show business) to which she thinks the man can help her get access? Surely that’s sexual harassment pure and simple!”

I may be hopelessly old-fashioned, but when a woman allows a man to have his way with her in the hope of pecuniary advantage it looks more like prostitution than victimhood. But I’m willing to hear contrary opinions.

Brexit

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Today is the 193rd day since the Brexit Referendum. This being a prime number, and therefore indivisible, it seems an ironically appropriate day for a post about an event that exposed such deep and lamentable divisions among the people of the United Kingdom.

I didn’t have a vote, having emigrated from the Green and Pleasant Land 38 years ago, but if I had I would have voted Remain. I don’t know whether staying would be better in the long run for the British economy, but I’m pretty sure it would be better for Europe as a whole – economically, politically and in every other way in the short, medium and long run.

brexin brexout

But Joan Williams, a friend from way back whom I respect, voted for Brexit and I asked her why. Her answer had nothing to do with immigration or the NHS. I reproduce it here in full, with Joan’s permission:

“ If you really want to know why I voted leave, it’s basically because I’m afraid I do not think the EU is a good thing. I don’t think the world has outgrown the nation state yet, and that when it does it will not be through the likes of the EU. I love the individual European countries that I know (i.e. Germany, Italy and Spain), and value both our similarities and differences, and don’t see what is gained by trying artificially to weld us all together.

“ I don’t think any supranational institution is better than none, or that being semi-attached to an institution that is heading in the wrong direction is ‘the best of both worlds’. Most importantly, I revere the British constitution, and I don’t take our democratic freedom for granted; the more we compromise and dilute and sacrifice it, the more we are losing it.

“ We achieved our freedom and developed our democracy before anyone else, and it is still the best, and still an example to the world; whereas the EU, in its top-heavy unaccountable over-bureaucratic clumsiness, more resembles the old tired easily-corruptible19th century empires. One doesn’t need to invoke Napoleon: Nicholas II and Franz-Josef are bad enough! It is like choosing to be a dinosaur instead of a mammal. ”

Does anyone else out there feel the same way?