I’m a Londoner by birth but a Northerner by inclination and I like to think that the last seventeen years or so spent in Yorkshire has put a bit of millstone grit into my softish southern ways.
I’ve been around for over 70 years and I’ve seen a lot of change. Much of it has been brilliant, but there seems to be a growing darkness around the edge of my town and it’s not all down to failing eyesight.
So, this blog is all about my take on what is happening around me, what I see, and what I make of it. Hopefully, it will have a bit of an edge and some humour in it, but you will have to be the judges of that. It may even have the odd insight. By all means be amused, be offended, but be assured there is not much malice in it.
I shall be posting, mainly short reads, twice a week – maybe more frequently if something really gets my goat, along with occasional longer, more thoughtful, pieces.
I’ll try to be both amusing and provocative, but that’s a hard line to follow, so let me know how I do.
I’ll try to give a graphic language warning on articles where the language might offend, so look out for one to four asterisks (* – ****) in the heading and look away.
Picture the scene: London is ablaze; rioters rule the
streets; The Speaker is sitting on a woolsack, in a woolshop, presiding over a
few mangy-looking MPs, desperately hoping to qualify for expenses and a new
cardigan. Meanwhile plotters gather in
dark corners planning how to exploit this state of affairs to maximise their
In a dimly lit cellar those behind the Pedants Revolt are boldly planning to split their next infinitive. True to form they are devising “clever” slogans for the next stage of their campaign.
Greengrocers beware! – We shall seek out false apostrophisers
Capitalists beware! – Abandon false profits!
The Right is never right! – Right?
All that is Left – Remains!
“I before E except after C” flies in the face of science
Stop the Coup – insert it in your colon
I’ve tried to see things from your point of view, but I can’t get my head up my arse!
That last one is a bit controversial because of its rather coarse use of language, but in the end, the humour in it carries the day.
As each of these aphorisms are suggested, they all chuckle
and congratulate each other on how very
erudite they all are, what great wits they all are, and how these will
make great slogans for Tee-shirts or placards.
The talk turns to compromise and joint action to take control, but that would involve talking to the Semantics. Now, whilst none of them want to be known as anti-semantic, they all know that this bunch cannot be trusted. Failing that, they will have to deal with their rivals The Adjectivals, and that will only be possible in very extreme circumstances. They would probably say “Once in a blue moon”, or would that be The Metaphoricists?
Still they all knew that they would do anything it takes
to stop the rot, wouldn’t they?
While they discuss the obvious caveats that form an
intrinsic part of any such commitment, mayhem continues unabated, and the
forces of darkness grow in strength.
One old man among them stands up and tells then all in no uncertain terms that they have to get a grip. His name is Mencken, he has been dead for years but still has more common sense than all of them put together. He warns against prevaricating as Johnson is taking control. “Let no one mistake it for comedy, farcical though it may be in all its details. It serves notice on the country that Neanderthal man is organizing in these forlorn backwaters of the land, led by a fanatic, rid of sense and devoid of conscience.”
They hear him but continue their squabbles, led by Tony, famous for The Blair Rich Project.
The Forces of Darkness, rid of sense and devoid of
Unbeknown to all except The Inner Quorum, the Queen, now
affectionately known as MiLady Gaga or The Cardboard Queen, has not left a room
in the attic of her palace since Christmas and is being fed a diet of cornflakes
from Tupperware containers by her mad husband, Phil the Void.
Her public place has, appropriately enough, been filled by a
series of life-sized cardboard cut-outs.
Now, you probably haven’t heard of The Inner Quorum because that’s the way they like to operate. They are a clandestine part of the Privy Council who advise The Cardboard Queen and move her mouth up and down on sticks while a voice impersonator makes excruciatingly painful upper-class vowel sounds. No, I really mean Vowel sounds, don’t be coarse! They, in turn, are supported or some say controlled, by The ArchmanipulaTory, Dominic Cummings, recently named by Machiavelli as a man to watch for the future.
The Inner Quorum are pulling the strings to make the Boris Doll dance whilst producing orders for MiLady to sign, authorising the imposition of Martial Law, the permanent suspension of Parliament, the suspension of Human Rights laws, and, most important of all, the right to sequestrate assets of Trades Unions, political parties, and anyone found to be objecting to control orders or carrying out acts of disruption. Yes, that’s right, just about anyone at all.
The only issues they are having trouble with is deciding the
order to get these things signed off by The Cardboard Queen and how to manage
Meanwhile, down the road at the poor old soldiers centre for
the confused, there is also a clear-cut objective. They have raised a Union
Flag, have donned their fancy dress, and are blancoing their webbing, ready for
the fray (Bentos most likely, judging by their complexions).
They want to form a thin red line to defend the Cardboard
Queen against all comers.
The Chelsea Boys are ready for the call.
The Robber Barons are also gearing up for the scrum. They have already shorted the currency,
deployed their resources to safe havens, invested in sure-fire futures and
organised victory parties in foreign parts like the Toe of Italy, the Foot of
the Andes, the Mouth of the Nile, and the
Horn of Africa. Those whose interests
are more firmly rooted in Britain are diversifying into activities like End of
Life Management provision, so much more
of a future than care provision, don’t you know; Cheap pub chains, already a
crowded monopoly market but the growth should be phenomenal when excise duty is
scrapped to keep the masses subdued, or at least fighting amongst themselves; Chlorine
treatment plants for the new chicken market; Prisoner Management schemes, in-house
and outdoor, there’ll be a lot more of those needed in the years to come and we’ll
be needing labour gangs to clean the streets every morning; Surveillance Technology,
to keep an eye on the idle drunken bastards; Security Technology & services
to keep them in their place and out of ours, and so on. They know that the investment opportunities
are just wonderful as long as they don’t have to live here, or at least live with
the common people.
The Robber Barons are ready and just waiting for the
Over in The House of Ermine, the silver-spooners have seen the light. They may be besieged by ditherers, but they know that they just have to hold on and the Inner Quorum will ride to save their privileged seats, in more ways than one.
Of course, they know that The Inner Quorum are just a bunch of upstarts, but they can be dealt with later. The Aristos didn’t get where they are today by worrying about details, they have people to do that! The things they hold dear are generally intangible: contacts, influence, social position, breeding, and class. Oh, they also own vast amounts of land and need that to be protected. They also form a grand traditional ruling class that runs the cardboard judiciary for the Cardboard Queen and is looked up to by the truly stupid.
The Silver-Spooners know their bread is buttered on both
sides and are confident that they can deal with the butterers later. They have had centuries of practice to get it
The True Aristos are ready and willing to come to the aid of The Cardboard Queen; they are family after all.
Moving across London to the mainly written word world, we find the Fifth Columnists hard at work churning out any old crap that the Inner Quorum wants to be The Truth. Writers from The Daily Johnson, The Tory Male, The Blunderer, The Daily Excess, The Setting Sun, all working in conclave to bring together strong story lines to dominate television, radio and media of the social kind.
Rubbing their hands with glee, they know that they have a
stranglehold on what the unthinking think, what the ranters react to, what the most
The Fifth Columnists are all too ready and willing to
come to the aid of the party, providing it is ultra-Tory right that is.
The ranters rant, the prevaricators prevaricate, The Inner
Quorum polish up their forces of mass subjugation, and exploitation while we
all drift towards hell in a hand cart, led by a high-stepping Neanderthal.
Oh well, I’m off to eat cake, I wonder what the next few days will bring, but I suspect brioche is off the menu!
There’s plenty of talk about the NHS at the moment, and it made
me think about my own experiences, starting pretty much from its day zero.
Now, the catalogue of NHS interventions in my 72 years is
just too heavy to contemplate in one mouthful, so I thought I’d break it down.
This is, as the title suggests, my personal take on
1948-1988 or so.
I was born shortly before the NHS was, in 1947, in one of its predecessor outfits, St James’s Hospital, Balham – or Battersea as it says on my Birth Certificate. This was one of the LCC’s hospitals that was to become part of the bedrock of the NHS a year or so later.
Strike one – Checking out St
James’s now, I can see that it is part of a housing estate.
NHS Safe in this government’s hands? I don’t think so.
I am about a year older than the NHS and I’m not sure that it will outlive me. I profoundly hope it will, and would be terribly sad if it died before I do or, more likely becomes some kind of bastard, private sector, foster child.
Still back to the beginning; 1948, what a time to start a National Health Service! Nye on impossible, Bevan’s opponents must have thought. The huge post-war boom in the birth rate, with babies popping out all over the place, terrible shortages of just about everything after the war years, yet here was the Labour Party pushing ahead with this truly amazing, radical, forward looking, optimistic, can do initiative.
JC please note.
Clearly, I don’t remember much about my momentous day in 1947, but I do know, anecdotally, that I set a length record for the hospital at 22 inches. Head to toe that is, just in case you were wondering.
I should have stopped then, while I was ahead, I guess. It certainly would have saved the state some money, and that seems to be what it is all about these days, isn’t it?
As a first child, I imagine that I had sporadic contact with health professionals over my first year, and again, anecdotally, I understand that I was not all that keen on breast feeding, so ended up being the grateful recipient of National Dried milk. I don’t know why, but I do remember the big white tins of this stuff with blue writing. Maybe my mum used it for my brother four years later.
Blimey, this is turning into a right trip down memory lane.
It has reminded me of the NHS Orange Juice that we used to get from the baby
clinic. Oh, I loved that stuff!
Anyway, back to the NHS. My next real memory of hospitals and the like was being in the South London Hospital for Women and Children in Clapham, having my tonsils out. This hospital was very unusual as it was staffed only by women, although at three years old or so, I didn’t actually realise this at the time. In spite of this almost unique feature, the experience was not nice at all, and the smell of the rubber facemask that they put on to administer the anaesthetic still lingers in my memory. I also remember ward orderlies “walking” three-legged frame things across the floor towards me, being sick in a kidney bowl after my operation, and later being fed jelly and ice cream. Funny the things that stick in your mind.
Strike 2 – Checking this out, the South London Hospital for Women and Children is now a Tesco store with apartments above.
Thinking about it, I must have been circumcised at some
stage before that, but thankfully I have no memory of it and have no idea why
it was done. I suspect it was just
medically fashionable at the time.
Genital mutilation for goodness knows what reason. I don’t know where this procedure was carried
out, but, on balance, I rather wish it hadn’t been.
Then to primary school and a few minor medical interventions – cracked ribs, a huge splinter that ran down through my thumbnail and into my thumb. It snapped inside when I tried to bend the instantly swollen digit, and then took weeks to come out. Lots of trips to St James’s casualty department for regular kaolin poultices to draw it out. Seemed odd and scary to me at the time but it worked eventually.
I got to be quite a regular at various outpatient clinics
over the years having test for this and that, so I guess I justified any
investment my parents made in the Health Service on my behalf. I recall visiting St Georges in Tooting in a
vain attempt to identify some kind of stomach disorder, and a very posh trip up
to Guy’s in London for something or other, but my hospital of choice as a child
was always St James’s.
Our family Doctor; you didn’t have GPs in those days, just a
family doctor, dropped in to treat me and my brother for all sorts of childhood
illnesses, measles, mumps, German measles, chicken pox, and so on and I
particularly remember being strangely proud because I had mumps on more than
one occasion. That was pretty spectacular
because I looked like a child version of an adult Edward Heath, not that any of
us knew what he looked like at that time.
But you get the picture: my head went straight down from my ears to my collarbones
without a hint of neckiness.
The point is that whenever I needed help, the Health Service
was there for me.
There were inoculations, immunisations, tetanus jabs,
antibiotics, X-Rays, and all sorts of amazing things that I took for granted
because I’d never lived in a Britain without them, but my parents remembered
that it wasn’t always so. It was a
constant wonder to them that we could all afford to be ill and get treated.
My mum had to attend a maternity Clinic at the Weir Road
Hospital, Balham before my brother was born, after his very existence was discovered when
my mother was having unrelated surgery for a stomach ulcer at, you guessed it,
St James’s. A pretty scary episode all
Strike 3 – Weir Road Hospital is now a housing development.
As we got a little older our mum became sickly and developed
what the doctors called a weak chest.
The upshot of this was that she had a spell in hospital most years
suffering from pneumonia, bronchitis, pleurisy, and various other chest
infections. This usually involved two or three weeks in hospital followed by a
period of convalescence in Surrey at the cutely named Pease PottageConvalescent
Home, or on the Kent coast, in Deal.
All this courtesy of the NHS.
We got quite used to missing our mum for a few weeks every
year or so.
Strike 4 – Pease
PottageConvalescent Home is
now a “VIP” housing development.
I can’t find any reliable trace of the Deal Convalescent site so who knows?
As I got older I spent a couple of weeks in St James’s with
a serious ear infection that they hadn’t been able to clear up in the outpatients
clinic and my brother had various health interventions before the real biggie
when our dad was diagnosed as having a brain tumour. I remember his early symptoms: losing
balance, slurring speech, memory loss, loss of physical dexterity, and I carried
a fear of developing these myself for years. It was a protracted illness
involving a number of surgical interventions, at a number of different
hospitals with varying degrees of speciality, including the Atkinson Morley Hospital
in Wimbledon. He finished up back at
St James’s where he ended his days aged 53, leaving the three of us to get on
Strike 5 – Atkinson Morley Hospital is now a housing development
I got married and moved across to South East London and my
brother and mum followed a bit later. This meant a change of NHS base for all
My first wife and I had our first child in St Alfedge’s Hospital
in Greenwich. This is the closest I
have been to being demolished with a hospital as it was being knocked down while
my wife was there. The end of the maternity ward was covered in plastic
tarpaulins and we could see daylight beyond them.
Strike 6 – St
Alfedge’s Hospital is now a mixed development.
My other children were born in various hospitals in Bromley, Lewisham, and at Guys at London Bridge.
Miss 1 – Attempts to close parts of Lewisham
Hospital were foiled recently by major street protests
I later became infected with meningitis and ended up in Hither Green isolation hospital – followed by months of home rest.
Strike 7 – Hither Green Hospital is now a housing development.
My mum fell off a stool and broke her hip and that was the beginning of the end for her. She underwent repeated surgery in Greenwich Hospital, which had taken over from St Alfedge’s, and has now also been demolished. She later died there from Bowel Cancer after a protracted stay.
Strike 8 – Greenwich Hospital has now been demolished
Sounds like quite a litany doesn’t it but by this stage I was still only about forty!
I have divorced, remarried, extended my family, and made extensive additional use of the brilliant NHS service since this time, but the point I am trying to make is that my family and I would never have got as far as they did, or we have, without The National Health Service.
Eight hospitals that have been essential in maintaining or extending
our lives or at least allowing us to die with some dignity, have been swept away
by accountants and politicians. Sure, The
NHS didn’t get everything right, but it was always there for us when we needed
Our lives would undoubtedly have been poorer, shorter, and
meaner without it and I fear for my children and their children.
These places were local. They were part of their communities.
Sure they were not always very well run, but they were not run for profit.
The people in them wanted them to work because of a calling,
and I’m sure that is just about all that keeps our system ticking over
Every time the private sector creams off some little cherry
of an activity, it makes the rest of it harder to deliver.
I would ask you to take a look at your own life and think about the contribution that our National Health Service has made to you, your family and friends. Then, let’s all make sure that we keep on fighting for it, for all of it, for all of us, and for those to come.
I recently read a blog from Tim Harford, The Undercover Economist, entitled The strange power of the idea of averagehttps://wp.me/p3jVf9-1iz and it started me thinking. It is well worth a read by the way.
I have some background in statistics, having completed one year at UCL misguidedly studying the subject before jettisoning it for a career in what was then called computing. So, Means, Averages, Medians and so forth have always interested me. Maybe less typically for an IT professional, I also love words.
article majors on an “average” sized person, working from a
statistical/mathematical basis and it is interesting to mix up what we think
when we use technical terms in general language.
Theoretically, as his piece points out, adding up one hundred readings of say height and dividing by one hundred gives a mean height – this is commonly called the average. We also sometimes refer to a median which is the midway number between the highest and the lowest figure in a set of numbers.
So, the Median of these numbers: 1,2,2,6,7,8,9, is 6 – the middle number in the series. Their Mean is 5 – all the numbers added together (35) divided by the number of numbers (7) and we commonly call this the Average.
Ok? Get the difference?
We hardly ever use the word Median for anything except in a mathematical or statistical sense, but, having dug around a little, I became interested in the term Mediocrity, which is the quality of being intermediate between two extremes. These seemed to me to be similar concepts and I’d never thought of that before.
The word Average gets to do a lot of heavy lifting. In fact, just to confuse things even further, we often use the word average when we mean median. When Yogi Bear talked about being “Smarter than the average Bear” he really meant that there were more bears than not, that were dumber than he was. A debateable point as I’m sure his sidekick Boo-boo would agree.
another thing to realise is that sometimes averages don’t mean much because some
things have to be whole numbers to mean anything. You can’t have half a hole for example – you just
have a smaller hole.
We have this scientific idea of average which is, give or take, pretty well defined, and, then being human, what do we do? We apply it to all sorts of other things that maybe seem a bit like it. We start to talk about the “Average person” or the “Average home”, or the “Average intelligence”. Then it takes on a life of its own. When we talk about these things, we are clearly not adding up some particular property that they all have, and dividing it by the number of them, are we?
No, we often use average as a sort of quality baseline, a standard where The Devil lurks looking to consume all who stray beneath it. Anyone above the line likes to forget, that, broadly speaking, about half of the population will have to dwell below this mark in order to allow us to be above it. I saw recently, that 55% of Americans believe that they have above average intelligence, but let’s not get into that.
I thought that I’d run one of my soirees and invite a few notables around to get their take on what average means to them, and, I suppose not surprisingly, they relied heavily on examples from the very start.
Generally, the concept of being average was looked down upon by all and sundry. It was certainly not something to aspire to and most equated it to a degree of mediocrity.
Not least, my first guest and long-term hero, Tom Robbins of “Cowgirl” fame who expressed it well enough in the creative sense by asking “why diminish your soul being run-of-the-mill at something?”and he went on to bash mediocrity:“now there is ugliness for you. Mediocrity’s a hairball coughed up on the Persian carpet of Creation.”
Oh bugger. I thought, here we go, an evening of transcendental
But no, Awdhesh Singhan, our visiting Indian spiritual thinker, chipped in, agreeing with him. He reckoned that there was “no place for mediocrity in modern society. A General whose courage is just ‘average’ is sure to be counted as a coward in the battlefield”.He went on to say that a “person who is honest half the time and dishonest in the other half is sure to suffer the pain of both”
I particularly liked the honesty bit there as I suspect that most of us spend a fair bit of our time not being quite as honest as we would like. Mark Twain, who insisted on being called Sam Clemens when he was with friends, took this further by bashing consistency, and Tom nearly fell out of his chair agreeing with him. It could have been the brilliance of the idea, or just possibly whatever Tom had been sipping from his hip flask. We’ll never know.
Sam was sure that the world had been conned into believing that consistency was a good thing: “to such a degree that the average man has turned the rights and wrongs of things entirely around and is proud to be “consistent,” unchanging, immovable, fossilized, where it should be his humiliation.”
Strong words, but you see what I mean about average? In two short steps the assembled company had lambasted mediocracy and consistency, and all in the dreadful name of being average.
there was a knock on the door and a couple of latecomers rolled in.
My old mate Mencken and a friend of his from a bar down the street, “the Dean of counterculture comedians” George Carlin, were both gently swaying at the door, a little the worse for wear, having made some significant acquaintance with a bottle of bourbon. Carlin was delighted to see Sam.
Twain” he called, “Great to see you. I won your prize for humour you know?”
Sam knew nothing about it because the award had been dreamt up by his family, years
after his death. But who was counting?
I interrupted their boisterous exchange in an attempt to bring some kind of order and asked Mencken for a quick thought on the way we use the word average. Come on HL I thought, don’t let me down. He pondered for a few moments and then said that he’d been thinking about Darwin and his strange idea that man had descended from apes, and that he thought that it would be“even harder for the average ape to believe that he has descended from man“
were all a little perplexed by that, but, as I said, he was a bit pissed, so we
let it pass, but then Carlin got into his stride:
Ho! He said,“Think
of how stupid the average person is, and realize half of them are stupider than
Eleanor Roosevelt, who steadfastly ignored his really poor grammar, and all his manly unpleasantness, decided to try to bring a little decorum to the piece, but even she had little time for the average, claiming that“Great minds discuss ideas; average minds discuss events; small minds discuss people.”
sure where that leaves us but never mind.
jumped in here and asked after her husband.
Franklin by the way? How did he measure
up to the man you first met?”
“ I’ve often said that if you strike an average between what a woman thinks of her husband a month before she marries him and what she thinks of him a year afterward, then you will have the truth about him.”
She looked at him as though he was something she had tried to scrape from the sole of her shoe, but didn’t respond, apart from giving him one of her famous tight little smiles.
I said that I guessed that we have to accept the fact that about half of the people we know will be below average in anything we choose to measure. It is the way of the world. It is a sobering thought to consider where each of us would score below average. Not humility I guessed.
suggested this, George Carlin said that he had recently read that“the IQ
and the life expectancy of the average American had recently passed each other
in opposite directions”.
Now, the last study that I had seen put the average IQ in the states at 98 and the average life expectancy for all Americans at 79.8 so I was a bit sceptical. But what the hell? “Never let the facts get in the way of a good story” I said, and dear old Trump agreed in that funny little pinched-mouth way of his. “Beautiful, beautiful letter, Boris is a great guy and I never even heard of Jeffrey Epstein” he said apropos nothing in particular.
Martha Beck, no not the serial killer, the serial life coach and author, agreed with Carlin claiming that we’ve added 28 years to our average life span in one century and that this was so rapid a change“that our brains couldn’t possibly have evolved to accommodate it” . Daft sod, I thought, that assumes that our brains were at capacity a century ago and there’s absolutely no evidence that we have ever used even half the brains we were born with.
But, instead of arguing, I decided to move the
subject on a bit and asked the assembled company about the use of Average as a
To my pleasant surprise Sam Ewing came out swinging as he hadn’t done since his old pinch hitting days for the White Sox and the Blue Jays. He said that he had a bit of a downer on tourists because “the average tourist always wanted to go to places where there are no tourists”. That got the ball rolling, so to speak, and others soon came to the plate.
How about“The average dog is a nicer person than the average person”? asked Andy Rooney, US radio and TV newswriter. That’s a generalisation I’ve found to be pretty reliable. Hah! Said Biostatistician John Haldane, I can top that. How about“A fairly bright boy is far more intelligent and far better company than the average adult? That may be a generalisation, but the average adult is remarkably dull”.
This caused Sigmund to lift his eyes from his inkblots proclaiming that there was indeed a distressing contrast“between the radiant intelligence of the child and the feeble mentality of the average adult”.
guess he blamed the parents.
Talking about parents, we were all very amused to hear old Tomas Bailey Aldrich pipe up saying that in his experience, and he had been a child himself, was that“there must be such a thing as a child with average ability, but you can’t find a parent who will admit that it is his child.”
I guess we all assumed that he wasn’t suggesting that any of us thought that our children didn’t have above average ability. We all had another drink, apart from Eleanor who was sworn off the booze at that time, and, Alan Whitney Brown, no relation to the more famous Newcastle Brown, made quite a telling intervention. “I was on the bill at George’s last Saturday Night Live show”, he said, “God that was fun, you really stuck it to them George”. He went on to say that things had moved on since then and technology had made huge advances. “I mean”, he said, “Our bombs are smarter than the average high school student. At least they can find Kuwait”.
Evan Esar had obviously warmed-up by this stage. You know him, he’s the guy who famously said that“a signature always reveals a man’s character and sometimes even his name.” Anyway, his contribution to our rambling discourse was that “America believes in education: the average professor earns more money in a year than a professional athlete earns in a whole week”.Old Whitney upset him a bit by pointing out that he too was living in the past. It only took a professional athlete an hour or so to earn that much these days.
At this stage we were all delighted, and somewhat awed to hear the sound of Stephen Hawking’s wheelchair motoring across the hall and into our room. His strangely familiar sing-song mechanised voice sang out that“ We are just an advanced breed of monkeys on a minor planet of a very average star. But we can understand the Universe. That makes us something very special.”
So, our sun is average but even if we are only an advanced form of monkey, we are special – that’s something that we all enjoyed hearing. Even old Mencken who was so scathing about Darwin’s apes.
been doing a bit of research beforehand and had asked for input from many who
were unable to attend and can sum up this stuff and the average man as follows:
average man is not hard to mystify; he has to hear a point seven times
before it registers; he would form one twelfth of a jury of men of average ignorance;
and although he does not know what to do with this life, he wants another one
which will last forever.
If Mr Average
was a Muslim, he would probably be no more religious than the average Swede; if
he was an Englishman, crushed against his brother on the tube he would pretend desperately
that he was on his own; and if he was an American drug prisoner, he would spend more time in
prison than rapists who often get out on early release because of overcrowding
caused by the Drug war.
was European, he would not seem to feel free until he had succeeded in
enslaving and oppressing others, and he would have achieved very little since
the end of the Second World War, apart from allowing petty, bourgeois regimes
in which everything is average, mediocre.
that’s what Bjorn Ulvaeus, Michael Badnarik, Paul Weyrich, Tahar Ben Jeloun, Germaine
Greer, Herbert Spencer, Anatole France, and Howard Thurston thought.
have to work to find out who said what if you are that interested.
leave you with one attributed quote though. Buffalo Bill is reputed to have
said“The first trip of the Pony Express was made in ten
an average of two hundred miles a day.
But we soon began stretching our riders and making better time.”
See, we can use averages as an indication of real progress. Pony Express now have very tall riders and they can now cover at least two hundred and one miles a day!
So, going back to Tim Harford’s blog, he says that Elizur
Wright, “The father of Life Insurance”, was quite correct to declare that “a
single life is uncertain; but we should never leap to the conclusion that an
average life is ideal”.
Now that No Deal is becoming ever more likely along with all of its concomitant damage to us, our lives and our way of life, it is reassuring to know that our government is up to speed with preparations for handling any problems that might crop up. “Prepping” for all possibilities, they call it.
They are laying in supplies, opening bunkers, setting up armed
forces and arms dumps, organising private communication channels, water
supplies, medical supplies, making emergency transport arrangements, and so on.
When “end of the world” merchants do this sort of thing many
of us regard them as loonies – Now our
government is doing the same thing. The
only difference is that the government are also the ones planning to make the
disaster happen. A self-fulfilling
prophesy. One has to ask, “Are they
completely mad?” Do they make the average Doomsday Prepper look sensible or do
they have some other agenda?
It appears they are completely ready to declare Martial Law,
indeed have been “gaming” scenarios to deal with anyone who stands in their
Rest assured, they will have been having a good hard look at
what they can get away with.
Just how quickly can they impose martial law?
Just how flimsy a pretext can they get away
How much “chaos” do they need to justify what
they want to do?
How quickly can they clamp down on civil disobedience?
Can they use “an overriding fear that it will lead to death
in the event of food or medical shortages”
to impose curfews, travel bans, to confiscate property and deploy armed
Unfortunately, thanks to our saviour Tony Blair’s phoney
socialist government, it seems likely that they can. It is called The Civil Contingencies Act 2004
and it was brought in to sort out Fuel protests, Foot and Mouth disease and
floods that happened around 2000/2001. It looks as though it may have left the barn
door a little too wide-open.
So, if you feel so strongly about Johnson’s Jackboot crew bringing
the country into a state of chaos, they can capitalise on that, declare that things
are so bad, that civil disobedience has broken out, and declare Martial Law under the Civil
Contingencies Act 2004, to halt such unrest.
That should quieten things down, eh?
Yes, curfews, bans on travel, confiscation of property, and,
most drastically, the deployment of the armed forces to quell rioting are among
the measures available to ministers under the legislation. More than that, they can also amend any act
of parliament, except the Human Rights Act, for a maximum of 21 days.
The possibility of using the legislation, introduced to deal
with national emergencies such as acts of war and terrorism, has certainly been
considered as part of contingency planning.
Indeed, towards the end of mother Theresa’s spell as PM, her deputy director
of the Civil Contingencies Secretariat, Robert MacFarlane, was reported as
having been involved in discussions
about the practicalities of implementing the 2004 act as part of the charmingly
named Operation Yellowhammer, the battle plan for a no-deal Brexit. So, this is
no idle threat.
They also have sub-operations Redfold, involving the
military, and Brock, involving lorries and where to park them.
Civil Servants clearly have to understand how the legislation could be used in the event of a no-deal Brexit. One would hope that the general public would be similarly informed before the event. Somehow, I doubt that this will feature highly on their agenda.
How can it be that our government can deliberately,
knowingly, bring about a state of chaos, and then apply the law to quell any
resistance or protest about the outcome?
Surely if any body is culpable under
the law for wilfully causing chaos, it is HMG.
The truly draconian powers available to ministers (and it is
unclear to me where The Queen sits in all this mess), include any provision
which the person making the Powers is satisfied is appropriate to protect human
life, health and safety, and to protect or restore property and supplies of
money, food, water, energy or fuel. So
pretty much anything they like really.
The government seem to be planning to pin their policy on an overriding theme that civil disobedience could lead to death and food and medical shortages. In that case they believe that they will be able to supress freedom of expression and dissent and ride roughshod over those that disagree with them. Even if that group is in the majority, because the government will hold all the levers of power.
Their line is that we
have to respect the referendum decision and that means whatever they choose it
They know their policy objective will cause disruption; in fact,
they are planning for it.
No Deal is a Bum Deal
To rub salt into the wound, they are pretending to be acting
responsibly by wasting our money taking steps to control us if we are unhappy
about what they have cocked-up in our name.
When I think about democracy, I am
reminded of that old joke about the surgeon who , when asked about an
operation he had just finished, said that it had been a complete success, but
unfortunately, the patient had died.
Our democracy feels a bit like that
to me at present, so I thought I’d have an idiosyncratic look at it, and I’d
invite a few friends, living and dead, around to talk about it over a few
Democracy is a straightforward idea isn’t it?
Now, democracy sounds like such a
simple concept that you’d think it couldn’t provide the basis for any kind of
argument, but I reckon you’d be completely wrong!
I thought that I’d prepare the ground
by producing a short briefing note for my guests to get the ball rolling…
For a start I argued that there must
be some basis of fairness underpinning any kind of democratic process. I
quoted Jimmy Bovard, US political commentator, who famously said that “Democracy
must be something more than two wolves and a sheep voting on what to have for
dinner”. That sounded fair, and a bit provocative to me, so
I kicked off with that. I reckoned that no amount of canvassing, or door
knocking was likely to change the outcome of that particular ballot.
As a further example I cited the case
of the infernal BREXIT referendum. There were many young people who,
arguably will be the most affected by the outcome and would have loved to have
voted, but, were excluded. They would certainly have reason to expect to
have reached majority by the time the outcome came into effect. This young
cohort have been included in many other “democratic” exercises, so their
exclusion was quite arbitrary. Is this fair?
In addition, I suggested that we had to consider what kind of system we think would give a fair result, rather than support a particular vested interest. Would different kinds of democratic process give similar results? Are Proportional Representation , Binary Referenda, First Past the Post, Representative Democracies, etc, all of equal value, or are some more appropriate in some circumstances than others?
A binary choice may be inappropriate when the facts
are disputed or unclear
As an example, these days we are repeatedly told about how many people voted for BREXIT. I argued that we should also take the time to consider how many did not vote for BREXIT. Not just those who voted against it, but those who didn’t vote for it. Only 37 % of the electorate voted to leave, 35% voted to remain but what of the 28% non-voters? Were they lazy, undecided, unable to understand how it might pan out, genuinely unable to unpick lies and half-truths from fables and smears, or what?
Thinking more about the significant rump of non-voters, how much work has been done to establish their motivation, or lack of it? Do they not count because they didn’t vote? Maybe they simply couldn’t decide on the evidence available. Maybe they simply couldn’t be arsed to get up off the sofa. We just don’t know. However, it strikes me that there is a reasonable argument that complacency could have been a significant factor. The argument here, is that those clamouring for change are much more inclined to vote than those who expect things to continue as they are at present. Stupid, I know, but we are talking about an electorate after all, and my friends set out their views on ill-informed electorates later.
Now, history is written by the
winners, so we always concentrate on who got the biggest vote. This can however
be thoroughly misleading.
Take the votes cast in the 2017 parliamentary election:
Just over 13.6m voted Tory which equates to 42.3% of those that voted (but only 29% of those entitled to vote). Even if we add in their “Supply partners” the DUP, this only creeps up to 13.9m votes which is only 43.3% of voters and just under 30% of the registered electorate
Yes, the Tories were the single biggest party and they “negotiated” the support of the DUP, at a significant financial cost to the rest of us, but how much of a “Democratic” mandate is this?
Over 70% of registered voters did not
vote for The Tories or their supply partners.
In fact, even if we restrict our consideration just to those who bothered to vote, over 56% did not vote for The Tories or their supply partners.
If we look at this in binary terms … 44% for a Tory government, 56% against.
I know that this is not how it works
and that we’d never have a government at all if we approached things in this
manner, but I am using it to demonstrate that binary choices can be used to
hide a multitude of detail and complexity.
I have just had a look at the
manifesto that the Tories stood on at that election, and surprise, surprise, it
doesn’t look much like the approach being taken by Johnson’s exit or bust,
right wing cadre. There is no mention of No Deal exits, but, among other
things, it does talk about a “deep and
special partnership” including a “comprehensive free trade and customs
Somehow, BREXIT, Do or Die by 31st October and No Deal is Better than a Bad Deal, just doesn’t cut it in democratic terms.
We, the great unwashed, haven’t had
an opportunity to vote on this malarkey since 2017 and yet here we are,
enduring rather than enjoying the fruits of our “Democracy”.
Interesting eh? If this was a financial transaction some recompense would be in order. We would have dozens of cold calling companies ringing us up offering to get us compensation for mis-selling. I can hear it now “ Have you been the victim of Project Smear? Have you been mis-sold electoral EU products? Just give us a call and we will get on your case for compensation. Don’t delay, this is a time-limited offer”.
Well, having got that off my chest, I
thought I’d ask my friends and the odd luminary to share their thoughts on
democracy with us. I must say I was a bit shocked by some of their
observations, but they can be enlightening and amusing.
OK, so lets get this party started – who is going
to kick off?
GBS, Shaw by name and sure by nature, was champing at the bit so we let him sound off first. He was certain that democracy merely replaced “appointment by the corrupt few” with “election by the incompetent”. I think he had been preparing this for some time, but he tried to make it sound like an ad lib bon mot. We talked about this for a while and pretty much everyone agreed. However, Florence King, AKA The US Queen of Mean, who once described seventies men in the feminist era as being “caught between a rock and a hard-on”, was insistent that democracy is “the fig leaf of elitism”. I’m not sure that we all fully understood what Flo was getting at, but it sounded good, so we went with it.
There were a few who took a pretty jaundiced view
It was then that H.L. Mencken,
“The Sage of Baltimore”, an iconoclastic cynic, got into his stride and,
believe me, he is not a man to mess with. He regarded democracy as a form
of religion and described it as the“worship of jackals by jackasses.”
I must say that most of us found that difficult to argue with, and,
when he went on to build upon this by declaring that “Democracy is a
pathetic belief in the collective wisdom of individual ignorance”, we
were blown away.
Oscar Wilde had been uncharacteristically quiet up until then, but he inserted himself into the conversation at this stage by grandly declaring that “Democracy means simply the bludgeoning of the people, by the people, for the people” and then pausing, expectantly, as though waiting for a round of applause. Churchill upset him by telling him that he always was a clever bugger, so to speak! No tact that man.
We then had an interminable discussion on whether to have tea, coffee, or something stronger by way of refreshments, and in the end, I made the decision that this was getting too complicated and ordered all three. Dreading another discussion about which variety of biscuit to choose, I decided to assert my authority as host and, having mentally discarded Bourbons, Florentines, Jammy Dodgers, and Garibaldis for a number of different reasons, settled for Hob Nobs in the spirit of irony. These were not met with rapture but nobody cared much. Maybe it was this choice of biscuit that prompted James Fenimore Cooper’s thought that “The tendency of democracies is, in all things, to mediocrity”. We’ll never know.
Cooper did, however, surprise me by getting upset when I suggested that this was just an extension of the familiar argument that more means worse, that had been trotted out over the years whenever anything was opened-up to a wider public. Maybe it was the whiskey talking.
It probably was, because our PM Johnson’s hero, Winnie Churchill, couldn’t contain himself any longer in his disdain for the electorate. He said, “The best argument against democracy is a five-minute conversation with the average voter” and Johnson then also got upset when I said that it was nice to see that some Traditional Tory attitudes “Remain” even if we aren’t allowed to!
This comment fired up my old mate Mencken again, who thought that people got what they deserved. He said, “Democracy is the theory that the common people know what they want, and deserve to get it good and hard.”
Isaac Azimov, who had been quiet all
evening, took his head out of his book and chimed in at this stage. He said
learnedly, that there was an unfortunate anti-intellectual thread in our
society that was exploited by those that manipulated the democratic process by
claiming that democracy means “my ignorance is just as good as your
knowledge”. This rang bells for many, although Jackass Johnson
looked a bit bemused. It did prompt good old Bertrand Russell to
wake up and chip in, suggesting that we make the mistake of thinking that “a
stupid man is more likely to be honest than a clever man”.
Bertrand went on to say that our politicians, “take advantage of this
prejudice by pretending to be even more stupid than nature made them.”
Poor old Johnson definitely bridled at this barb but seemed to have left
his script at home on the dressing table along with his minder and his famous
ad lib wit.
Anyway, things were getting a little heated, so we had more strong drink and moved on to consider who actually runs democracy.
Leaders, Bosses and those in control
Unsurprisingly, Woodrow Wilson had no
doubts and was convinced that “government, has got into the hands
of the bosses and their employers, the special interests. An invisible empire
has been set up above the forms of democracy”. Some of the
others decried him as some kind of early day conspiracist, but it seemed
pretty accurate and contemporary to me.
It was then that Mencken claimed his
pre-eminence by showing us something he had written years before Donald Trump
was even born. We were all amazed by his prescience. See what
you make of this…
“As democracy is perfected, the
office of president represents, more and more closely, the inner soul of the
people. On some great and glorious day, the plain folks of the land will reach
their heart’s desire at last and the White House will be adorned by a downright
I suggested that this worked equally
well over here, especially given Trump’s casually glowing endorsement of
Johnson, but had to admit that I’m not sure who the morons were, the
politicians or the electorate!
This really put the cat among the pigeons but I pressed on anyway saying that I was absolutely sure about something else that my man Mencken had said to me earlier, namely, that a Demagogue is one who preaches doctrines he knows to be untrue to men he knows to be idiots . I said it looking straight at Johnson but he wouldn’t make eye contact!
The party ended with dirty looks all round, threats of revolution, cries of taking back control, and all sorts of nonsense; so I reminded them that, before any of us get too carried away by all this talk about Democracy we should heed the wise words of US satirist Jon Stewart: “You have to remember one thing about the will of the people: it wasn’t that long ago that we were swept away by the Macarena.” I’m pleased to say that I wasn’t, but I get his point!
Of course, as a footnote, most of the assembled company had absolutely no idea what The Macarena was, or what he was talking about!
Anyway, I hope I’ve said enough to convince you that Democracy is in the eye of the beholder, that what ever we do will be imperfect and that results of one-off events do not stand in isolation or in perpetuity. At best it is an aspiration, an attempt at fairness and it is open to all sorts of ambiguity, interference, manipulation, and a heavy dose of stupidity. It is surely a process rather than an event and maybe there should be a mechanism for pulling back people who stand on one basis and then set off to implement something else before the ink has dried on their promises.
But for those looking for some small
comfort when confronting power, hang onto the words of US Socialist thinker,
Howard Zinn, who said:
“Protest beyond the law is not a
departure from democracy; it is absolutely essential to it.”
The question for me is – How to do it effectively?
I’ve been thinking about the pace of life recently – morbid old sod that I am, and, as the world races past me, how little value there seems to be in occupying the middle of the road.
When I was much younger, when the world was a green and pleasant land, there were things we called Arterial Roads. This was presumably some bright spark’s idea to do with keeping the life blood of the country running smoothly. But, as we always seem to do in our cheapskate British way, we made huge stretches of these roads three lanes wide. Not three lanes in each direction, but three lanes in total. One lane going north, one going south, and the middle lane for those intent on going west, as they used to say about pilots crashing over Germany in old WW2 films! Bright idea eh? Can’t see any problems with that concept.
The idea of blood spilt in high-speed crashes on these three lane monstrosities provided a contrasting interpretation of the Arterial road label. Some of these roads still exist but are now heavily guarded by double white lines, so that’s OK then, no-one ever crosses these when they shouldn’t, do they?
Even on many of today’s UK motorways, where we have three lanes in each direction, the middle lane seems to be a magnet for the uncertain or the incompetent. Those who lack overtaking skills set themselves in it and stay there come hell or highway conditions. They don’t want to travel behind dirty lorries, swallowing up the detritus of commerce, and they don’t want to risk going too fast and having to make decisions, so it’s the middle for diddle for them!
They mimic the behaviour that my father used to complain about from “weekend drivers”. These folk brought their lovingly polished cars out once a week for a trip down to the coast and proceeded at a sedate 25mph along narrow country roads. Looking steadfastly ahead they marvelled at how empty the roads were. Had they ever looked in their rear-view mirror they could have seen the pent-up rage of fifty or sixty obstructed cars behind them, all edging towards some dance of death, should half a chance of passing occur – maybe on a three lane stretch of arterial road?
But to return to the motorway, as I suppose we must, the car
pootling along in the middle provokes quite unreasonable behaviour in other
drivers. We get aggression, tension,
downright stupidity, horrific risk taking, all around the dumb bastard who saunters
onwards in serene ignorance – in the middle lane.
I think it is just a metaphor for the wrong way to live life. It is trying to take the low risk option, and there are two things wrong with that idea. Firstly, it isn’t really low risk and secondly it isn’t really an option, it’s a cop out!
Travelling in the slow lane can provide the time to look and listen, to consider and contemplate, to take the heat out and let the light in. It could conceivably provide the chance for considered conclusions; the opportunity to apply past experience to present circumstances, to avoid doing the same things in the same way; the way that didn’t work the last two hundred times you tried them.
When I’m out for a walk, I often take my time: I take in my surroundings, using all of my senses, and my limited mental capabilities, to maximise the experience, and that is the key word I guess, the experience. In fact, just about the only time I change up a gear is when I have to do so to avoid a bunch of aimless, middle of the road, chatterboxes who seem intent on flooding my experience with their own. I have the time to keep a weather eye out for those in a hurry and can make plenty of room for them without causing any stress to anyone.
I can just about understand the point of putting on headphones, hi-tech armbands, strap-on water feeds, etc and thrashing along, solely concentrating on reaching the end of the experience as quickly as possible and to hell with the consequences. I say ‘just about understand’, but I don’t really. It strikes me as a complete misuse of time, and effort, but there you go. As long as I don’t have to do it, and as long as it is done with a degree of sensitivity towards those who want to take a more considered view, where’s the problem?
Taking my tone from the Pathé news of the late 50s…
So, widening the argument about road-middling, we leave the relative safety of the roadside and head into the much choppier clichés of political thinking…….
Here, rather than faster and slower lanes; we look towards left and right; towards the radical and the conservative.
“What about compromise? What about The Third Way?” I hear you say.
“What about fudge?” I reply.
At this stage I should add that I don’t like fudge much. It is inordinately sweet and cloying, and it sticks to my teeth. This is about the best I can say about Centre politics. It seems to me that being middle-of-the-road is rather like being completely under the control of a Satnav without even knowing if its maps are up to date. You have no idea where you are, but you hope that it does, and it will get you home. If it says “Turn right then take the second left”, who are you to argue?
No,I’m afraid that pragmatism is nothing but a service station on the road to perdition.
Some things are appropriate subjects for compromise, like how hot you want your shared curry, or what time to go to bed, what to watch on TV, and so on. They are a matter of taste and accommodation rather than a matter for humanity and morality. Clearly other things are not.
There are howls of anguish about how polarised our society has become but this is not new. Our society has always been polarised, it’s just that we have been so wrapped-up in our own individual interests that we haven’t noticed. Coming up with some namby-pamby, syrupy, fudge to paste over the cracks isn’t going to fix it. It is just going to help to hide it. Middle of the road politics just seems to take the worst of all worlds and meld them together into an unholy mess. Look at what Blair’s Labour Party did to the ideas of socialism. Look at the fate of “One Nation” Tories and wonder which nation they have had to migrate to these days. They are like stateless persons, asylum seekers, and I must admit that there is a strange irony in this outcome. I wonder how they like it.
No, the middle lane provides too much cover for charlatans.
If you disagree with what you are hearing or seeing, say so!
As long as there are extremes around, there will be a need for groups to oppose them. It doesn’t matter if you support the Right or the Left, don’t be seduced by the middle way.
As attendees at the séance suicide centre know, sometimes there is no happy medium.
We didn’t get to where we are today by speaking out! We ended up here by biting our tongues, by shutting up when we should have been calling out. If you don’t like the way you are being treated, say so, and the louder the better. Don’t mumble and mutter and seek some kind of mucky compromise with those who know exactly what they want and how to get it. They will use your indecisiveness, your reticence, your good manners, to move ever closer towards their goal.
Do not be treated like sheep that have wandered onto the highway. The people you are likely to be dealing with are accustomed to herding sheep. They use devices like the Overton Window.
Not heard of it? Well, maybe I’m not that surprised. We don’t get much of this on the crown of the road. It’s a device. Supposedly, a device for describing acceptable political ideas, but I suspect that its power lies in its corruption. It can be used as part of a toolkit for moving the bounds of public acceptability. A device for moving sheep. If mainstream thinking is this, then propose something more extreme and keep on proposing it. Not just off the middle of the road, but off the carriageway altogether. Something that prompts your Satnav to cry ‘turn around when possible’. This could be on the right or the left-hand side, but in our country, it is normally on the right. Over time, this has the effect of making another, fairly outrageous proposal, seem far more acceptable.
A very British Coup – Right wing of course
Today, we are faced with the appalling spectacle of Johnson’s new ultra-right government, elected by no-one. It has stolen power and is planning to consolidate it to deliver something that almost no-one has ever voted for. He has moved in all of his ERG bully boys to the key positions of power and they are marching onwards towards one over-riding goal, at any cost. Now, I don’t want to sound too hysterical, but does this remind you of anything else in Europe’s recent history?
At the time of Cameron’s great “democratic” experiment the Tory party decried all that UKIP stood for, it denounced their ridiculous ideas of leaving the EU with no deal, their attitudes to immigrants, their concepts of leaving the single market, of a hard Brexit. Now, following a series of hard-line shouts from absolute nutcases steeped in privilege and vested interest, the mainstream Tory view has become indistinguishable from those of the BREXIT party. They are even talking about some kind of “accommodation”! UKIP may be dead, but the Tory party have adopted their policies, lock, stock, and Boris. Anyone now espousing the original Tory view has been thrown out of the bloody Overton Window and is some kind of anti-democratic traitor.
These people still hold the same views, but the window has shifted radically towards the Right. By persistently banging on about a No Deal Exit the frame has moved – it would now seem like a huge relief, and a reasonable result to many, to exit on any old terms, when what they really wanted was to remain!
The lunatics are now firmly in control of the asylum and neither talking therapies nor tranquilisers will sort this mess out!
Do not despair, remember that people who lie down in the middle of a runway risk getting run over!
I guess we shouldn’t lose heart: Jackass Johnson has previously promised to lie down in front of bulldozers, and has recently promised that we will leave the EU on 31st October “Do or Die”. Maybe we can use the first promise to deliver the second?
Me, I’m off to take a JCB course. Care to join me?
or, what to do to make the buggers take more notice next time!
One of my daughters, my brother, and I, went on a terrific march in London on 20th July. Contrary to the understanding you may have picked up from the national “news” media, there were lots of other people there too! In fact there were thousands of other people there. It was the March For Change: essentially a march against BREXIT and against Boris Johnson’s ludicrous ascension to Prime Ministership.
By the way this gives rise to a new breed of conservative, The Breximorons: These are Tories who appear to have convinced themselves that Johnson will unite the Tory party; unite the Nation (notice which comes first); leave the EU by the end of October; bring back trust in the establishment; and all this whilst making the rich even richer without anyone noticing. Johnson will no doubt be doing all this boring stuff at the same time as screwing around, producing even more children, creating widespread mayhem, and abusing minorities of all shades. Oh yes, he also has a small matter of avoiding a war to sort out. If only he wasn’t such a twat!
BREXIT, BOLLOCKS, BORIS, Bedfellows, and Bastards
In the light of this, the purpose of the march, best summarised by its theme chant: Bollocks to BREXIT, Bollocks to BORIS, to the rhythm of Bring out the Branston, seems quite appropriate for the 62.5% of the electorate who didn’t vote for any kind of BREXIT, let alone a hard one, but ended up in this kind of pickle anyway. Come to think of it, 71% of the electorate didn’t vote for a Tory government either. Where is democracy when you need it?
Now, since BREXIT, BORIS, and Bollocks are such good bedfellows, along with Johnson’s tendency to fuck (up) almost anything, I’m looking forward to some fresh deniable offspring.
Anyway, back to the march: a march of two parts
It started from two places – I’m not sure why, but that was a mistake. Our group walked up to Park Lane and joined the huge throng there. We were then held up in the baking sun for the best part of an hour, milling around until, grumbling in a very British middle class way, we eventually set off and wended our already weary way, down past Green Park, through Piccadilly, past the fringes of Trafalgar Square, to Whitehall. Having briefly joined in the “Shame on You” chanting at the gated entrance to Downing Street, we ended up in a huge jamboree in Parliament Square. We seemed to miss the Boris Blimp, along with the other half of the march which had started from Green Park, presumably on time, and covered the same route, but the police took great pains to keep the parts separate.
One could put a charitable face on it and say this forced separation was for administrative reasons, but I’m sure that conspiracists would see things differently. In any event, it had the (desired or accidental) outcome of minimising the impact of the march.
Now, as I have explained, we were becalmed in one half of the mass of people and we certainly couldn’t see the front or the back of our section at any time. The width of the throng varied from say 6 to 12 people so that was….bear with me……one heck of a lot of people who cared enough to get off their backsides and onto the streets. I have no idea how big the other part of the march was, but it was a pretty remarkable event that deserved better coverage from the “News” media.
I expect nothing from the likes of the Sunday Torygraph, The Sunday Excess, The Mail on Spinday, The Old Etonian Times, etc, but coverage from the more sympathetic press also seemed strangely muted to those that attended.
TV coverage was also poor – from the BBC in particular. One of my Facebook contacts reported that early incarnations of the BBC website mentioned that “hundreds” of protesters were marching in London, although by the time I saw the site, that had been upgraded to “thousands”. In direct response to this lamentable state of affairs I shall henceforth be encouraging all I meet to refer to the BBC online presence as The BBC News Webshite because that better reflects their approach to news coverage.
This all got me thinking about the characteristics of a good demo.
So, what makes a good demo?
This march was trailed pretty well. It was fairly well organised. It was well attended from all over the country and beyond. It had some good speakers; it had the support of all sorts of good and worthy pressure groups. Banners and other materials were in abundant supply, and it was a really good event to have attended.
The people around me were articulate, friendly, well-mannered, good-humoured, willing to listen, open to others’ ideas, interested in where others had come from, and what their views were. At one stage they happily stopped to let a party of tourists cross the road – no problem, no need to be rude after all. They were knowledgeable: they knew who their MP’s were, they knew about article 50, about proroguing parliament, about the implications of leaving the EU, with, and without a deal, about the implications of BREXIT on the make-up and future of The UK, and a possible United Ireland, and so on.
They took encouragement from each other but seemed strangely shy about being there. Many of them were obviously embarrassed about chanting rude words.
The one thing they most certainly were not, was Militant!
There was a far greater risk of starting a street party than a riot.
True there were a few more strident types there, but the overall tone was one of “It will be terrible if this happens”, rather than “over my dead body”.
So, how should we go about raising the profile?
I guess the first thing is to get noticed
In many ways this is the easiest thing to do. The groups working on the next march in October have already started to set out material for the mother of all marches and it will take a concentrated effort to bring together all the strands of this into a cohesive whole.
Thinking about it though, it seems to me that we need more than a march. We also need a demo. The more I think about it, the more I realise that there is some significant space between a March and a Demonstration. Marches are generally well organised, friendly affairs, with good family input and a carnivalish atmosphere. Rather like last weekend’s March for Change. They are law abiding, well mannered, safe, and can maximise the sheer number of people that we can get out onto the streets. On a slack news weekend, these might be well covered. However, we should be aware that our opponents are masters of the art of diversion. Just watch how some anti-Labour party scandal happens to erupt on the same day. We need to be launching so many attacks that they are kept on the back foot.
However, we can do much more to poke the wasp’s nest. We must be more defiant, more radical, cause disruption, and upset the normal order of things.
It seems as though something more threatening, more disruptive, with a sinister edge, is needed to gain the attention of the authorities and the news media. If we are going to harness maximum attention, we need both strands. The Respectable and the Disreputable with some clear space between them. This has the added benefit of providing lots of news angles for the press to pick up on, lots of internal squabbles for them to invent, lots of personality clashes for them to dwell on. We do need to keep a good gap between disreputable demos and a respectable, well-regulated march, with clear deniability on the part of the march organisers. However, there is no reason why they should not happen at the same time, in support of similar aims. The demos can be peaceful but unlawful, using a civil disobedience approach, seeking to overstretch systems already under pressure in the mould of extinction rebellion, but the key thing is that we will not go quietly into the dark night that is BREXIT.
Then convince them that we can and will do it again, only more so
The people we are up against think they hold all the cards. We need to disabuse them of this idea.
Our opponents need to be made to understand that we can mobilise enough people who care enough about a common set of issues, to make life difficult for them. They generally like to see things in terms of spreadsheets and balance sheets, so we need to give them reasons to think again. It is no use trying to invoke their higher feelings – they have a different understanding of higher and they like being there! They also have a well developed herd instinct that enables them to take off in a well-heeled run for cover, leaving their weaker members to the wolves. They can always return later like jackals to pick over the bones of former colleagues looking for any scraps of residual value.
I’m not suggesting that we should smash things up, but we should do all we can to disrupt their business, to make life difficult for them, to make a lot of very public noise about just how bad they are until they change their ways. This means a flexible approach to disruption. Big Pharma is unlikely to be hugely affected by weekend demos in city centres; Big Global Brands are not likely to be hard hit by disruption in Trafalgar Square, Big Finance is unaffected by anything much happening on the streets in London on a Saturday. The Petro-Chemical Giant polluters don’t give a monkey’s what happens outside their head offices at weekends, and so on.
Targeted weekday disruption, weekend boycotts ?
One of my family members was suggesting that we need to develop alternative and more effective ways of influencing the ways of the world. Essentially, we agreed that this means disrupting business, disrupting those who make money off the backs of the rest of us. If we can make a dent in their business model they may change their behaviour or apply some pressure on others to do so.
To quote Naomi Klein, ” No is not enough”, we should work out how we want things to be, before we set out what we need to change to get there.
However, sometimes we just need to stir things up a bit because it is all running away from us.