Reflections on recent events, plus the occasional fact
free rant unfiltered by rational argument.
Britain’s moral authority to comment on Hong Kong affairs is wobbly at best. Recently evidence emerged that the UK pressured Portugal not to grant citizenship to Macau residents. The Brits feared it would create a similar demand in Hong Kong. Why is this significant?
Well, British politicians make much of standing by Hong Kong with their sweet words. Yet, when it comes to providing tangible actions, all that ‘hot air’ evaporates. Anyway, the time long passed when Britain was in a position to influence matters. In any case, with Brexit looming, Britain needs to keep China on-side. Otherwise, those lucrative trade deals may falter.
British stinginess over citizenship rights in the UK is well documented. In a series of law changes in the 1980s, the Brits laid the ground for denying Hong Kong folks access to the UK. The British National Overseas (BNO) passport is proof. Yet, the Macau episode reveals deep-seated deceit. The people of Macau played as silent pieces in a game that serves Britain’s self-interest. Undertones of racism run through this approach.
UK politicians asinine utterances against China and its rule over Hong Kong don't help matters. Grandees like Chris Patten venture here to make statements, usually when they've got some product to sell. But let's face it, Britain had its chance to do the right thing. Instead, it played a tricky game.
Let's not forget the history. In broad terms, European merchant warriors, aided by armies, forced their way into China’s functioning trading system. They demanded access to markets (sounds familiar) and when they didn’t get their way, in went the gunboats. Force was brought to bear. The British led the way to take Hong Kong, and then Kowloon. Some of that trade involved opium. Nice.
In its first form, the colony of Hong Kong was run with one purpose. It’s a port and base for the British to trade, with expanding influence throughout the region. The Chinese population is incidental to this process. They provide manpower and support services to the colonial regime. In the early days of the 1800s, the Chinese and Expat communities existed apart. Even the nascent police force didn’t cover the Chinese areas, focusing on Expat parts of the colony. In any case, a curfew was in place to keep the Chinese off the streets at night.
Such was the approach to running colonies. The British co-opt nationals from elsewhere to police the locals. Then it grants a few indigenous people roles as representatives. This template was applied across the colonial empire.
So why the rush of blood to the head in recent years? Why are so many British politicians expressing concerns about Hong Kong people? Britain ran a system of status quo in Hong Kong for the vast majority of the time. British politicians remained mute. None pushed hard for democracy, accepting that China wouldn't countenance such a move.
Only at the last minute did Chris Patten reverse that approach in a ham-fisted effort. He ended up doing more damage than good. It's hard to conclude that UK politicians making noises about Hong Kong are motivated by an interest in the well-being of the people here. There was no sign of that for decades.
It’s more likely the motivation comes from other factors. Maybe one is guilt. Indeed, Chris Patten has tacitly acknowledged Britain could have done more to secure Hong Kong people’s future. Lord Paddy Ashdown is in the same boat. He’s on record expressing embarrassment at Britain’s actions.
After guilt, comes China-bashing; using Hong Kong as an issue with which to berate China. It’s an easy one to adopt. Merely state that China is clamping down in Hong Kong, restricting freedoms. With your overseas audience ignorant of the facts, it’s lapped up. The truth, as usual, is more complicated and nuanced. You could argue the freedoms enjoyed by ordinary citizens have increased since the departure of the Brits. But, that doesn’t make headlines.
Anyway, neither guilt nor China-bashing is honourable in the context of the history. Hong Kong’s status was a hard-won compromise by sensible men on both sides. Hong Kong was always ‘Borrowed Place, Borrowed Time’ as eloquently put by journalist Richard Hughes. In effect, China consented to allow a British presence on a temporary basis. The stance was always ‘Hong Kong will be taken back when the time is right.’
China would have been within its rights to take back the place at any time. After all, Hong Kong is indefensible, as the Japanese proved. In any case, just cut off the water and sit back. Likewise, Hong Kong is dependent on the mainland for food and electricity.
That China allowed Hong Kong to keep its freedoms under the elegant ‘one country, two systems’ solution speaks of a pragmatic attitude. Meanwhile, a common law judicial system operates intact. Yes, there have been bumps along the road; yet, none of these has derailed the fundamentals.
British politicians need to reflect on history before wading into criticism of Hong Kong or indeed China. Britain’s own failures including to former colonial subjects is a national embarrassment. Although this is something unrecognised by the majority of Brits. After all, there is no affinity to Hong Kong people such as the Gurkhas or Falkland Islanders enjoy.
Any British moral authority has evaporated. The stoic Hong Kong people recognise the situation for what it is. 'Britain says no' is the Hong Kongers name for the BNO passport. Thus the majority seek to work within ‘one country, two systems.’
Granted 'freedom of speech' means British politicians may say whatever they like. Moreover, the existence of the Joint Declaration as a UN-registered legally binding treaty confers on the UK government a monitoring role. But, the reality is the UK has no power to intervene. That's a nuance lost of British politicians. Therefore they must exercise care with their words. Otherwise, their remarks echo the patronising sentiments of yesteryear with Hong Kong people played as pawns in a bigger game.
Boris Johnson is either a reckless or a savvy political operator. Maybe he's a bit of both. In a recent article, he compared Burka wearers to post boxes and robbers. His comments have drawn outrage. He’s accused on racism, Islamophobia and inviting attacks on Muslims.
Most of this synthetic anger is coming from within the Tory party. Muslim groups have also expressed concern. Demands for an apology, including from Prime Minister May, have met with silence.
If it’s a poor-taste joke, then Boris is repeating what many are thinking. Although, they daren’t say it. The PC culture shuts down such comments, except behind closed doors. Yet, it may well be that something else is happening here. Could it be that Boris is using this trigger-issue to garner public support? Indeed, he’s seen a bounce in his popularity. He's adopted Trump's tactics.
For clarity, it's necessary to be clear that the Burka is full coverage including the face. The Niqab is a veil that covers the face, showing the eyes only. The diagram below illustrates the variations. When people talk about the Burka, that usually includes the Niqab.
In a free society Boris, and indeed anyone is entitled to have a view on the Burka. Moreover, they can express that view as long as it doesn’t incite violence. Let's face it, you can’t have a proper public debate if every time someone decides to take offence, you shut it down. In mature open societies, people have the right to say things that may offend others. Police chief Cressida Dick has stated that Mr Johnson did not commit a hate crime. “What Mr Johnson said would not reach the bar for a criminal offence,” she said. Well yeah, obviously. Anyway, Mr Bean found it funny.
Also, I suspect Boris is playing an expansive game of challenging Prime Minister Teresa May. She now faces calls to expel him from the party. That may be the worst of outcomes for her. Once out the party, freed of any constraints, Boris is the natural rally point for a campaign to unseat May.
Nonetheless, the Burka issue raises a host of questions that are not easy to address in liberal nations. Denmark, France, Belgium and Austria have acted to ban the Burka in public places. Partial bans apply in Spain, Italy, Turkey, Switzerland and Holland. Other nations are mulling bans or partial bans.
Whether this is desirable or wise is debatable. To me dictating what women should wear or shouldn’t wear is a slippery slope. The counter-point is that these women don’t have a say. Some would argue that male-dominated Islam is forcing the ladies to wear the Burka. Moreover, coercion through violence and threats of violence is on record. In this argument, the Burka is a demonstration of female subjugation. Thus, banning grants them freedom. That is a rational argument, except that devote ladies, adopt the Burka willingly. As such, a ban infringes their liberties. And so it goes.
Other arguments put forward for a ban include public safety and the protection of women. Countries, where the Burka is commonly worn, have higher rates of domestic violence. In Pakistan, it's suggested that 90 per cent of women have experienced domestic violence. In 2003 a French survey found that 77 per cent of girls who wore the hijab did so because of threats.
Is there a middle ground? If there is I’m struggling to find it.
In Hong Kong, we can see that ladies from Indonesia wear their religious clothes at the weekends only. Rarely do you see them with the full face veil instead they opt for the hijab. On a trip to Dubai, I saw ladies enjoying themselves in a disco. As the evening came to an end, the Burka re-appeared as they departed. From this, you can conclude what you may including wearing the Burka full-time is not a rule. A degree of latitude exists.
None of this changes the fact that people in western countries see the Burka as a symbol of a failure to assimilate. To them, it’s a visible manifestation that people are not prepared to adopt the open culture of the country. The clustering of Muslims in certain cities drives that narrative. Then you have the separation. As recently reported in the UK, some Muslim kids are not allowed play-overs with non-Muslim children. Muslim parents are imposing a system of segregation outside the confines of schools. This is a worrying trend.
That being so, Johnson is tapping into public sentiment. His timing is interesting. Last week came confirmation that Salman Abedi, who killed 22 and himself with a bomb at the Manchester Arena last year, was rescued from the sea by the Royal Navy. Picked up off the Libyan coast by HMS Enterprise, he was conveyed to Malta, before flying to the UK.
Abedi, a radicalised Muslim, detonated a bomb in the foyer of the Manchester Arena on 22 May 2017. His targets were children mainly girls. Abedi used student loans to fund his attack, including paying for trips overseas to learn bomb-making. Let me spell it out … a man who’d fought with militants in Libya gets conveyed home by the British military. He’s then given a place at university, although he diverts the money provided to make a bomb. That bomb he uses to kill children.
People see a pattern emerging as part of a broader phenomenon. A failure of the government to address integration to curtail the radical religious killers. Behind closed doors, on the sofa across the country, Middle England has no issue with Boris's comments.
For my part, banning the Burka achieves nothing. In the past, England banned Catholic symbols as part of a drive against the influence of the Holy Roman Empire. It didn’t work, nor will banning the Burka. Such an approach will further alienate a minority and prove counter-productive.
In the end, there is no easy answer. Boris has brought the subject into the open for debate, and that's healthy. The best I can offer is recognising that “core culture” takes precedence over “multiculturism.” For example, we don’t allow honour killings or mutilation of young girls genitals. Likewise, liberal countries must understand that closing down the discussion under the veil of a PC culture is a recipe for disaster.
O dear. The “Hi Guys” greeting is now verboten according to a self-appointed language adjudicator. She's also a feminist, who objects to and gets offended by the term “Guys”. I also object. She can’t dictate how I should talk. Moreover, I’m baffled that she believes such silly actions will help her cause.
The lady in question is the BBC Radio 4 presenter Jane Garvey. This week she tweeted “New rule- “Hi guys!!” NEVER say this. Unless you are the daringly informal guest speaker at the annual meeting of The Society Of People Named Guy.”
Garvey helpfully points out that she is a woman, in case you missed that. Fair enough. Except that “guy” is a gender-neutral term according to the Oxford English Dictionary. Yes, it can refer to a man. But in common use has no gender meaning. For Garvey, in the vernacular of the feminist movement, “guy” reinforces the patriarchy by imposing a male term on females. Is your head spinning? Mine is.
In fairness, Garvey attracted a fair bit of support for her stance. Other ladies also took exception. Yet, this is the kind of batshit nonsense that gives feminism a bad name. Only a professional offence merchant could get annoyed by the term “guy”.
Is this part of a broader trend of man-loathing feminists seeking to weaponise language in support of their agenda? I’m reluctant to go there because such a belief would lend legitimacy to this nonsense. Anyway, congratulations to Garvey. She has confirmed her position as a signed-up member of the acquired victimhood club.
It’s worth remembering that language evolves. In the past, the term "man" was gender neutral as “mankind” referred to all humanity. In the USA, its common for women to address groups of females as “guys”. They might not appreciate having their language policed by a minority of Puritans. I don’t know … what do you guys think? Sorry, I’ve done it again.
Meanwhile, the craziness continues on campuses. The policing of speech, art and even facts march on behind the SJW flag. Rudyard Kipling, the British writer and poet, is the latest target. His poem “If” has sage advice in the tone of the stoicism that typified the British “stiff upper lip” of the Victorian era. “If you can keep your head when all about you, are losing theirs and blaming it on you...”
The delicate darlings at Manchester University took exception to the poem on the wall of the Steve Biko Union Building. They obliterated “If” with white paint. To them, Kipling was a racist, who supported the British Empire by suppressing the coloured folks. In place of “If” is a civil rights poem. The university failed to deal with this act by explaining Kipling in the context of his time. Instead, the adults rolled over to capitulate to a bunch of ideological kids.
Fatima Abid, the general secretary of Manchester’s Students Union, wrote on Twitter: “Today, we removed an imperialist’s work from the walls of our union and replaced them with words of Maya Angelou. God knows black and brown voices have been written out of history enough, and it’s time we try to reverse that, at the very least in our union.”
What next Ms Abid? Burning books, maybe purging all whites from the campus? Ms Abid and her crew have many bedfellows, who adopt the same tactics. Hitler, Stalin and, in more recent times, ISIS engaged in destroying art.
To Ms Abid The merits of the poem count for nothing. Nor does the fact that Kipling was a product of his time. Are we to tear down everything that grew from our history as an Empire building state? Let's take this approach to a logical conclusion, curry must go from the British diet and tea. These products came to our shore through the avarice of conquering Empire builders. These men, it was mostly men, strode across the world being nasty to other races and earning riches. After all, earlier this year Manchester University banned a Sabra Hummus from the campus because of its connection to Israel.
I suspect the students won't be rushing to such actions. After all, its all about finding a cause to gain some attention and buff up your PC credentials. In the process, the students shouldn't suffer genuine hardship, because the underlying arguments are peripheral.
The power of these antics works both ways. Alt-right activists are trawling the Internet for offensive statements made by liberal types. Much of this stuff got uploaded years ago in a more innocent time by juvenile posters. These people have now risen to positions of influence. Even teenage nonsense gets resurrected.
One victim is Hollywood director James Gunn. He directed Guardians of the Galaxy plus other films in the Marvel genre. Gunn invited the wrath of Alt-right loons because of his anti-Trump stance. In revenge, they surfaced tweets he’d written years ago joking about rape. A couple of transphobic words added weight. Disney fired Gunn within hours of the tweets re-surfacing.
I am guessing most of us have said and done things we regret. Much of it was not captured by the Internet to be re-broadcast out of context in a different era. Meanwhile, it’s entertaining to see the snake eating its own tail. Liberal types in Hollywood have used such methods against people they perceive to be right-wing. Thus, to get one of their own caught in the whirlwind of manufactured outrage is a cruel irony.
Perhaps the message will finally sink in. The things people said and did in the past need viewing with context. Applying today’s standards as a yardstick is plain absurd. Otherwise, Diana Abbott must go from the Labour Party for her racist comments made in the 1980s. Likewise, Jeremy Corbyn for giving support to terrorists and antisemitic activities. I'm sure with a bit of effort you dig up stuff on most public figures. Suddenly, the sauce for the gander is not so tasty.
According to Donald Trump, the Queen thinks Brexit's complicated. Who’d have figured that? We know that Donald is not high on detail nor facts, some of which he appears to construct from his imagination. In that regard, he’s the same as those folks playing identity politics.
Politics is sound-bites, short-messages in an internet-age of limited attention span. These days we rarely see issues in their hues and tones, digesting all the facts.
With Britain's looming departure from the European Union, the country needs politicians who think. They need ‘expert’ precision. Unfortunately, there don’t appear to be any in the arena. These days experts are trashed, especially when their facts challenge sacred positions. As Michael Gove famously pointed out, people are "sick of experts”.
And yet, we need experts to navigate Brexit with success. We need rational thought, instead of descending into a mess of rhetoric-ladened emotions. It’s not only Brexit, in many aspects of governance and politics rational thought is missing.
Hong Kong’s property market is a good illustration. The public is demanding government action to reign in surging prices. Fearful of public sentiment, our Chief Executive has sought to tinker at the edges. What is evident is that her government doesn’t understand the dynamics of the process. Ignored are the impact of broader issues and the intersectional nature of the problem. Intervention here may create unforeseen consequences there, with outcomes worst than the present. In short, it’s complicated.
For example, the Occupy movement was primarily a middle-class entity. The kids came from affluent backgrounds to demand change. Their property-owning parents offered lukewarm support at best. If those parents see the value of their property fall because of ham-fisted government policy, then what? They’d be less sanguine and more militant. Thus, the government creates another obstacle.
Adding to the morass is a divide between those who care about evidence and reasoning, against those who abandon them altogether. Perception polls feed this. These are the ones that find “All men are misogynists” and “All women repressed”. (The latter is easy to refute, spend five minutes with my Mum). It’s the sort of nonsense that comes from “Wimmin Studies". The Marxist origins that underpin these courses need exposing for their falsehoods.
These studies, with transparent untruths, produce reports that trade around as facts. Trump is an adopter of these tactics. But so-called progressive colleges have been at it for years. Here is an official publication from Brown University ... “quantitative data, statistical information and documentation are tools of systematic oppression”. The university urged students to set more store in their personal experiences.
That’s a stunning statement from a seat of learning. Had our ancestors decided to ignore data, we’d still be struggling to get out of Africa. “I know there’s no food here, we’ve had no rain for four seasons, but I’ve a gut-feeling the rains will return. Let’s hang around”. End of the game.
Those who reject scientific truths still need their iPhones and the internet to function. They take medical care formulated around scientific processes. All rooted in quantitative data and rationality. Thus, they rely on the products of the system they seek to denigrate.
Now I’m stepping into hot water. Rape and sexual assault on college campuses raise a host of issues. As a father of two daughters, I wanted to understand the risks my kids faced. To comprehend the issue you must cut through the rhetoric and noise. When you get to the scientific data, something emerges. It’s troubling, and again it’s complicated. Moreover, it's not the straightforward narrative put forth by feminists.
A 2015 Harvard study that meets proper scientific standards revealed a thorny dynamic. First, there is no evidence that women are being stalked and attacked on campuses. The instances that take place arise from social interactions. Female students entering male dorms are the most vulnerable. The attacker is most likely to be a friend or acquaintance.
Also, what Harvard found is a drinking problem; incapacitated victims and drunk offenders. In cases where the victims claimed physical force, they also reported that 69% of the offenders were drinking. Thus, you have drunk young men behaving terribly with drunk young women. This dynamic contrasts with that portrayed by feminists groups. Gangs of marauding males seeking to rape females aren't there.
Of course, if you point this out, you are immediately victim-blaming. Emotions supersede facts in the post-modernist world. Yet, we know the dismissal of empirical reality can have awful consequences. It’s the sort of thing that has kids not receiving vaccinations because of spurious claims of harm. These kids then suffer measles, rubella and other avoidable diseases.
It's evident that across the political spectrum there is a lack of understanding of detail. Brexit, climate change and nuclear disarmament are examples. Politicians take the easy route, they drop the evidence, as perception trumps (no pun intended) facts.
Nothing will change until we stop thinking around ideology or group identity. We need leaders who analyse with clarity. Remember, nature and market forces don’t care which group you identify with. Climate change has no heed of your feminists, socialist or conservative credentials. If we mess up to throw systems out of kilter, all groups suffer. That’s an objective truth.
Yesterday, two significant political entities collided with the inevitable sparks, fury and fire. Trump landed in Brexit Britain. Of course, Trump had to have his say. He criticised Prime Minister Mrs May, offered support for Boris Johnson and in the process broke every diplomatic rule in the book. Welcome to Trump world.
On Brexit, like much of what Trump says, there is a central truth. Arriving from the NATO conference, he’d admonished the Europeans asserting the US pays 90% of the costs. It’s 67%, but the truth of the assertion is there. 67% is a staggering figure when the primary beneficiary is Europe. The Europeans needed to be told that. Last month I stood in the American cemetery above Omaha Beach in Normandy. You can't fail to be struck at the human costs of attaining freedom. No one should only add up the money when the US has paid in blood and bones.
Trump let rip that Prime Minister May failed to follow his advice on Brexit. Be tough is his mantra. Her soft Brexit he warned wouldn’t endear the US to making trade deals. He could have pointed out that May’s Brexit is so soft all the shenanigans appear worthless. Again, he’s too keen on the rant. Having said that, the truth of a weak Mrs May is unavoidable.
I’m no Brexiteer. Nonetheless, the vote stands. Plus people voted for many things under Brexit. At the top of that list is border control. It’s not clear how this is going to work, with the devil in the details. That’s the issue with Brexit at every level. The details are crucial, and ordinary folks aren't bothered enough to understand the machinations.
You could claim Mrs May won a victory this week by seeing off big beast Boris from her cabinet. Along with him went other hard Brexiteers. As such, she strengthened her control, steadied the ship and set a course with her ‘white paper’. Yet, she's not won the war, only a battle. And the next salvo is likely to fall soon. Her enemies are awaiting the departure of Trump. After all, this is England, so certain rules of etiquette apply. Anyway, he’s consuming all the media oxygen. Distracted by him, the Brexiteers are unlikely to garner the coverage needed to build momentum.
On a side note - Trump isn't getting the full British smoochy treatment. Instead, he’s shuffled around the back-door. A parade at Blenheim Palace, which is not even a proper palace; meet the Queen at Windsor and then off to golf in Scotland. No parade up the Mall in an open carriage to Buckingham Palace for him. No adoring public, and no address to Parliament. Every effort is being made to keep protestors away.
In Hong Kong, we are watching this with interest. British politicians delight in alleging that demonstrators here face heavy-handed policing. Strange, they are silent when British police act to block freedom of expression on London's streets.
Anyway, once Air Force One’s wheels are up, the game restarts. The Brexiteers will take to the field of battle to assert May has sold Britain out. Still, they face a dilemma. They can’t on principle agree to May’s soft Brexit. But, an all-out assault on her may trigger a leadership challenge, then a general election. That could see Corbyn elected as Prime Minister.
Between a rock and a hard place, the Brexiteers need to step with care. They can continue to snipe from the sidelines to win a few concessions. Beyond that, options are few. Mounting a full assault on Mrs May without a foreseeable positive outcome is high risk. And she knows it. If she gets through the next two weeks, this will go down as a most remarkable political survival act.
If nothing else, Mrs May is a tough lady and for that deserves credit. Trump could have recognised that tenacity. Although, I agree she's weak on negotiating with the EU. Why? Was this always the plan, a covert effort to scuttle Brexit? If so, it’s working.
I'm pleased to report the English eccentric is alive and well. Duck lady, a conspiracy-ladened street-poet and a polite motor-cycle pseudo-nazi affirm this. Just three of the characters I met during a sojourn in East Yorkshire. You couldn’t make this up.
My cycling took me across the width and length of God’s County as I sought to put miles on the clock. I’m beginning to suspect that I attract nutters or is it my gregarious nature that causes folks to sit and chat.
Although, the duck lady didn’t sit. Instead, she had me chasing a battered bird around Nafferton Village. The Drakes, rampant and aggressive, had cornered the unfortunate creature under a car. Her neck was bleeding from their attacks. In distress, she called out.
I’m enjoying my lunch when the duck lady arrives to demand I join in herding the poor thing into a walled corner for capture. (Can you herd ducks?) Meanwhile, the drakes are ignoring our presence. Relentless pursuit is underway, the oddest procession you’ve ever seen. A distressed duck, a host of unrestrained drakes, a hyper-ventilating middle-aged hippy and a rotund cyclist.
The captured duck is then spirited away.
“It’s only natural, leave them be you nutter” the local postman offers his unsolicited advice. I depart as the duck lady is yelling and making threatening suggestions.
Newland Avenue amounts to Hull’s only bohemian area. Running from the University through to Spring Bank, a cafe-scene and outdoor dining all lend an un-Hull feel. It's the sort of place where folks get out of the bath to take a pee.
The well-heeled of the adjacent ‘posh’ Avenues mingle with students and arty farty types. Stopping for a coffee, the resident street-poet, a dead-ringer for John Cooper-Clarke offers his take on the world. Turned out in a waist-coat, jacket and polished brogues, he’s a tatty left-over from an Edwardian play.
It seems a child sex conspiracy is underway. This involves elements of the local BBC channel, the Labour Party and the long-dead Liberal politician Cyril Smith. For his troubles in bringing this to public attention, street-poet is facing eviction. Relentless harassment by elements of the local Freemasons is making his life hell. You can’t have a decent conspiracy without citing the Freemasons.
This discourse then segues into a lecture on a Mick Ronson tribute concert. Street poet chartered several 747s to bring Japanese fans to Hull. He then decries his exclusion from the “City of Culture” as dark forces conspired. All this downloaded without a break, as he rolls a “herbal” cigarette. By now my head is spinning. Spotting my Hong Kong cycling shirt, we flip into the possibility of performing there. I’ve had enough. But I can’t leave. I must now listen to three poems. These decry the Freemasons, the police and some bloke called Peter Levy off the telly. I then make my escape.
Motor-cycle nazi man would scare the pants off you. Decked in all-black leathers, he roared up on a clunking Harley-Davison. Unshaven with plenty of Nazi badges, you’d not want your daughter bringing him home.
“May I join you?” his polite request disarms me, as he sits down on my bench over-looking the Humber Bridge “Lovely Spot. What a brilliant day”.
It’s amazing what folks will tell you if you listen. On occasions, they'll let you know what’s wrong with them and how they are seeking to address their demons.
Denis is the head of the local Harley club. That’s written on his leather jacket. He’s also concerned that the government is using plane contrails to control and poison us. He offers that up for starters. He’s done time for drug trafficking and reckons a race war is coming. He clarifies it's only the Muslims that are a problem. He’s okay with the Chinese and hard-working types.
He asserts that whole wings of the jails are under Muslim control, with staff having to negotiate access. Muslim godfathers are using rape to control their gangs, while drugs are freely available. It’s sad to say this has a ring of truth about it.
Hearing that I’m retired law enforcement he has a host of questions. “Did you need to join the Freemasons, have you encountered the Bilderberg Group, is it true there is a secret bunker system under Warwickshire?” So it unfolds. I feel like an extra in "Men in Black."
Denis is eloquent, although making links and connections that don’t hold up. Finally, he moves into self-reflection. It appears that the Muslims aren’t the problem per se. He’s read the Koran in jail. Some of it makes sense as good life-advice. What he wants is peace of mind.
“But why the Nazi badges?”
“It rattles people. I’m a big softy. It’s all image mate. In another place and time, I’d be a shaman.”
After 20 minutes, I’m on my way. His final remark cuts me. “If you’re cycling to lose weight its not working”. Setting aside his world-view, I’d quite liked him up to that point.
It’s coming home! And I don’t mean the World Cup. That may yet come back, and if it does it will be the only upward blip in the dreary decline of Britain. What is coming home is the reality that the UK has a much-diminished position in the world. If you don’t believe me, look no further than that other supposed Russian event … Novichok on Britain’s streets.
Assuming the Russians are responsible for Salisbury, the UK response is one of impotence. All the Home Secretary could offer was “We will consult our allies”. These are the same allies we are busy trying to push out the door over Brexit. That’s another story. That Sajid Javid can’t offer more than those weak platitudes illustrates a point. That Great Britain no longer has the clout nor the gumption to stand up to Russia.
Of course, the weak response may rest on a lack of evidence to substantiate the claim that Russia was responsible. Indeed, we’ve heard nothing other than statements from UK officials. Thus, it would be wise to be sceptical.
Meanwhile, one person is dead, and another is fighting for his life. This suggests many things. The authorities don’t know how and when the Novachok was delivered. Also, their ability to track residues and eliminate them from the environment is far from foolproof. Granted its an extremely complicated task, and some leeway must be given. Yet, it’s not helpful for the government to keep repeating that the risk to the public is minimal. A woman is dead, that’s not a minimal risk.
This week could prove the perfect storm of issues that brings many things. Brexit is unravelling before our eyes. Prime Minister May is on the ropes. David Davies and Boris Johnson are gone. Whether she will survive the next few weeks is debatable. Indeed, the Tories don’t want a change in leadership, but events are freewheeling at the moment with control primarily gone.
The complexities of Brexit remain unresolved. Many are now asking is it all worth it. In Brussels, there is mild amusement. That the British can’t even agree amongst themselves a negotiating position is raising weary eyebrows. It’s all a bit ‘People’s Front of Judea’ versus ‘Popular Front of Judea’.
On Thursday, President Trump rolls into town. He can expect a large reception party. Things could get difficult for the police, who are already scrambling to draw manpower from across the country. At least this will be a change from them policing people’s words and thoughts. With fewer than 5% of robberies and burglaries detected in England, their absence from crime-fighting won’t be noticed.
One of the issues he’s taken to heart is NATO. Again, Britain is not looking armed and ready. Since 1990 the navy has shrunk by 60%, and some ships can’t leave Portsmouth. The military lacks depth, reserves or a posture that meets modern threats. Military leaders have pulled the wool over the politician's eyes to buy carriers and fancy fighter planes. What's needed is manpower, rapid response and asymmetric capabilities. You don’t get that with a lumbering carrier. The only saving grace is that the special forces remain at the top of their game.
So it's all coming home. The truth about Brexit, the truth about a diminished Britain, Trump and hopefully the World Cup. What a week.
CY Leung, the former Chief Executive, was unpopular. Not least because of his alleged high-handed and arrogant manner. It's said he was unwilling to accept alternative views; he rebuked his critics, before dismissing them as marginal figures.
Then CY’s replacement Mrs Carrie Lam came forward. She took billing as a softer, more accommodating option. She would heal the wounds after the trauma of Occupy, with its polarisation of society. Careful Carrie, with her perfect manners, could mend the rift in society.
And yet, some insiders expressed caution. The Mrs Lam they knew could at times be brittle, demanding of staff, while intolerant if matters didn’t go her way. Especially when she perceived the media misrepresented government policy.
“She is testy, impatient and sometimes shuts down discussion” according to one insider.
In recent weeks, Mrs Lam boasted about her ability to work long hours without much sleep. In an attempt to polish her image, she spoke at length detailing her daily routine. Unfortunately, the detail suggested a lady unwilling to delegate, who is suffering possible fatigue.
She also caused much discomfort with her frequent references to the Catholic faith. Buddhists, Methodists and others appeared uncertain how to react. Her statements unsettled many. Especially as ardent Catholics are attempting to ban certain books. The question is how much her religion shapes policy? Many are uneasy if religion has any role. Further, Mrs Lam suffered collateral damage from the appointment of the new secretary for justice.
Then on 3rd July, Mrs Lam had an outburst that startled many. She lost her cool at a press conference. Asked the same question in Cantonese and then English, she responded. “It’s a waste of time responding in English.”
And with that, she opened a can of worms.
First, English is an official language in Hong Kong, and it enjoys that status under the Basic Law. Article 9 states “… English may be used as an official language…” The “may” makes it optional. Although officials have tended in the past to operate in both Chinese and English. That's a mark of their sophistication.
Second, Hong Kong asserts itself to be an international city. Officials cite the standard of spoken English as a reason for businesses to operate here. In recent years, concerned business leaders claimed that English standards were slipping. Many viewed this as undesirable if Hong Kong wishes to be competitive.
Thus officials speaking English encouraged kids by providing a role model. Unfortunately, in an inadvertent move, Mrs Lam has undermined that.
The government is scrambling to portray the incident as a “storm in a teacup”. It’s a misunderstanding is the official line. Yet, the damage is done. Moreover, Mrs Lam, in an odd move, gave instructions to her officials before the media. This amounted to “make better arrangements.” The public saw an irritable display, which stood in contrast to her usual self-control.
On the flip-side, media organisations are sensitive about their access to officials. This imbroglio played to their narrative that officials are difficult. Thus, she scored an own-goal.
The government is trying to put the genie back in the bottle. Questions asked in English will get answered in English. Late on Tuesday evening, Mrs Lam came out with a statement apologising. No changes are being made, she informed us.
Credit is due for recognising she created a kerfuffle. Also, to be fair, we are blasé about the ability of officials to switch between languages. Mrs Lam is an accomplished orator in English, Cantonese and Putonghua. That’s no mean feat.
Moreover, and to be generous, this testy incident could be due to fatigue. She should be taking more rest. It's worth remember Mrs Lam broke down in 2012 while defending government policy on national education. That debate morphed to become highly charged, with reprehensible personal attacks on officials. Such is heat of Hong Kong politics.
Henceforth, we can expect vigilance by the media on officials using English. In that sense, Mrs Lam has done us a service. We’ve seen a drift away from English in official statements, both oral and written material. People's awareness is now higher; thus the government will need to up its game.
These days the Labour Party has abandoned ordinary working folk. Taken over by left-wing puritans with Oxbridge educations, it doesn’t get its hands dirty. This “right on” metropolitan elite is too busy labelling people as racist, bigots or other “isms” to deal with real issues. Helping ordinary working people is too hard. Especially when Corbyn and his mates spend all their time policing language, in case anyone gets offended.
It’s time for ordinary working people to stand up for themselves. Diana Abbott, Corbyn and the rest are too concerned with dictating how you should think and speak. Compelled language is their forte, not addressing genuine social injustice. For example, you are not entitled to seek the best education at public schools. That’s Labour Party doctrine. Although it's fine and dandy for the kids of Labour leaders to go there. The stench of hypocrisy hangs over the Labour movement.
If folks are looking for an template for action they should look no further than Lillian Bilocca. Although, the movement she led would maybe these days get hijacked by a celebrity or shameless politician seeking publicity. Look at Grenville Tower. We had a steady parade of “look at me I’m angry” types seeking a moment in the media. After polishing their credentials as social justice warriors, they’d hop in their car to disappear.
In 1968, the Hull fishing fleet lost three trawlers in three weeks. 58 men found a watery grave, while 58 families suffered in silence. I remember sitting in a hushed school assemble as the names of the ships were read out. Even at the age of eight, you sensed the grief of the community.
Elsewhere in the world revolution was kicking off with protests and rallies. The streets of Paris were ablaze. The Vietnam War continued to escalate as the American public awoke to that tragedy. US campuses erupted in violence.
Meanwhile, in the city of Hull, another struggle was kicking off. A group of working-class women decided they’d had enough of lax safety on trawlers. Sweeping forward to lead them came the redoubtable Lillian Bilocca. She worked skinning the fish that her husband and son brought back from far icy waters.
She said to her daughter; “Something has to get done. I’m starting a petition to get the gaffers to make them trawlers safer. That could be our Ernie or your Dad out there, God forbid.”
She petitioned, she wrote to the papers, organised meetings and mobilised a grassroots campaign. Then, she confronted the trawler bosses. They weren't ready for what hit them.
With trawlers putting to sea undermanned, without safety equipment or a radio operator, the crews faced terrible risks. Men who worked on the trawlers were zero hour workers, who paid for their protective gear and bedding.
The trawler owners didn’t care. They took the view that risk was part of the business. A position comfortable to hold sitting behind a desk in a warm office. The arctic seas off Iceland proved dangerous for decades, although the owners were willfully blind.
Untrained crews, a lack of signalling equipment for emergencies and unstable ships added to risks. Under these circumstances heavy seas in the winters months proved fatal. Teams needed to continually remove ice to prevent rolling ships turning turtle.
Over the years over 6000 men had perished from the Hull fleet, as it brought in over 25% of Britain’s catch. Saint Andrews Dock was home to 150 deep sea trawlers, the worlds largest fleet. At the time it was the most dangerous civilian profession on Earth.
The owners reacted with disdain to Lily and her friends’s campaign, dismissing the women as hysterical. Their men proved equally critical. In the macho world of the hardy fisherman, having women intervening was a massive loss of face. They didn’t like their women-folk being so assertive.
To gain media attention, Lily pulled a brilliant stunt. She said to reporters; “I’ll be on that dock tomorrow, checking them ships are properly crewed and have radio operators on them. I‘ll jump aboard myself to stop ‘em going out that dock if I have to.”
And she did. As a ship passed through the lock towards the open water, she’d demand to know if they had a radio operator. If they replied no, she sought to board the ship. Police had to restrain her as she threw herself off the dockside. Images of “Big Lily” and her headscarf heroes flashed across the country. She’d scored a significant victory over the owners.
Lily next threatened to picket the Prime Ministers private residence if her demands were ignored. She achieved a meeting with Prime Minister Wilson, who subsequently granted all of their requests. The result was described as one of the biggest and most successful civil actions of the 20th century. Lily and her ladies made the headlines of national newspapers, pushing the Vietnam War off the front page. This was at a time when Labour supported the workers.
But, Lily paid the price. She lost her job, while many in her community turned against her. Her actions had held the fishing fleet in port and men losing pay didn’t take kindly to that. One of her group was assaulted as death threats were made. The police intervened to protect Lily.
In typical fashion, the spineless London-based tabloids then turned on her. Portrayed as uncouth and foul-mouthed, even her dress sense was questioned. It’s suggested that the trawler owners fed the media lies in a concerted effort to ruin Lily. But you can’t take away the fact that the changes she forced saved hundreds of men and boys from a terrible death. Whereas the inertia of the trawler owners will always be their shame.
By 1975 the Hull fishing industry was doomed. Iceland declared a 200-mile limit, cutting off the abundant fishing grounds. From then on the ships and the life that surrounded them disappeared.
I met women like “Big Lily” when I worked the summer months at the Birds Eye factory in Hull. Lumpy Hessle Road lassies with a sharp tongue, a tough demeanour; all wrapped around a heart of gold. These women frightened me. You’d daren’t upset them, otherwise a belt was coming your way. The trawler owners didn’t stand a chance.
Memories of Lily and her group faded until recent times. Historians are now recording her achievements, as plays and books emerge. Hull’s status as a ‘City of Culture’ spurred that process, as people reflected on their real heroes. Lily proved you could make a difference, although the struggle is not without cost. Lily's integrity and sense of purpose shines through in her media interviews. Asked "Are you a modern-day suffragette?" She replied with gusto "Don't be daft, I'm a mother."
She died in 1988. Why the women never received an award remains a disgrace. As was said at the time “They achieved more in days than the unions, politicians and trawler owners had done in decades.”
Nonetheless, “Big Lily” earned her place as a true local hero.
Three weeks in the UK leave me baffled as ever about Brexit. Never mind it’s consuming all the political oxygen to the detriment of everything else. Never mind that the trains don’t run, that the NHS is about to fall-over or that the military is unable to deploy. Forget about the 3% detection rate for burglaries as crime ramps up. All that falls off the radar. In the Westminster bubble, only Brexit matters.
When it comes to Brexit, the great British public divide into three camps. The Brexiteers, the Remainers and then last of all we have “I don’t give a shit”. Between the Brexiteers and the Remainers, there is no middle ground. Wading through the morass of detail that Brexit has thrown-up, pushes most into the IDGAS camp. While the country may be about to fall off a fiscal cliff, Love Island draws more attention. This piece of TV piffle illustrates the fickle nature of public sentiment.
Meanwhile, the Brexit cheerleaders cast aside any evidence that business will falter. We know that business leaders hate Brexit. It will cause them massive disruption and uncertainty. Industry hates uncertainty. It will screw their supply chains plus the ability to move staff across borders. Some are making noises about withdrawing their business investments from the UK.
Signs are already emerging of an impact. European crop pickers are staying away, leaving Norfolk farmers struggling to harvest. Brits are unwilling to do the work even as wages increase.
So Brexiteers can whine about the neoliberal thwarting of democracy. They can throw insults and demand the people's will, but it won't make a jot of difference. Airbus, BMW, Jaguar and a host of other employers are making plans to move staff and facilities out of the UK. Whether these plans take flight is another matter. It's all about sentiment.
In response, the Brexiteers claim the UK will be free to negotiate new advantageous trade deals. Although, it appears potential future partners are holding off. They want to see how Brexit plays out. Meanwhile, the UK is the slowest growing economy amongst the leading western nations. This trend has held for some time. It suggests something is going on.
Listening to the Brexiteers, you'd get the impression that they can’t accept that their ideas may have intrinsic flaws. They double-down on any criticism, digging themselves into a deeper ideological hole.
On the Remain side, a campaign is building for a referendum to ratify any deal. An estimated 100,000 marched in London calling for that right. Despite the intentions, this looks like another bite at the Brexit cherry, with an attempt to derail the whole process. It's probable that Remainers are over-confident that a second vote will swing it. By my reckoning, the majority are now bored and disengaged.
Remainers portray Britain in disarray after Brexit. Economic collapse, a run on sterling leading to widespread disorder. The Scots will then seek the opportunity to go their way, ending the Union. We then enter dangerous waters as the UK national identity unravels. Again, this is over-stating the worst case scenario for effect.
Of course, decent Remain people are not going to set fire to shops and burn barricades. It won't make any difference what you say or how righteously indignant you are. The “you are heading for a cliff, and you are going to drive us right over it” is as risible as the Brexiteers claims. Anyway, the Remainers ability to influence the outcome is limited. They have no heavy-weight political figure to rally around.
The potential landmine under Brexit lies in thousands of boardrooms across the UK and beyond. The decisions taken there may yet detonate a change. Theresa May can’t ignore those voices. In private business leaders have warned her. These warnings are spilling into the public domain with increasing frequency.
Across the Channel the negotiations are jarring. Europe is holding most of the cards and not about to give up its strong hand. Moreover, by playing hard, the EU is seeking to discourage others from spoiling their grand experiment.
I have to say I despair at the mention of Brexit. I don't see it bringing the tangible benefits that people sought. Also, I don’t foresee the "falling off the cliff” scenario playing out. A deal will emerge. It won’t be tidy or be particularly favourable, but life will go on. No doubt some businesses will opt to move out of the UK. Others will remain and prosper. New businesses will move in. It will be the preverbal “swings and roundabouts”.
For me, the most deplorable aspect of the whole Brexit saga is the shameless self-interest displayed by politicians. Boris Johnson is acting in a thoroughly unstatesmanlike manner. At any other time, he’d be out of office. Only May’s weakness prevents her acting.
On the other side of the house, Jeremy Corbyn is no better. He’s failed the leadership test with his wishy-washy statements. You'd be hard-pressed to define his actual intentions. He thinks he's smart. Unfortunately for him, people have got the measure of his antics, and most are not impressed.
Brexit will happen. Nonetheless, it won’t be the end of life as we know it nor will Britain ascend into sunlit uplands. Things will bump along. Britain will struggle, but not be overwhelmed. I wonder if all the effort and bile is worth it, when compromise so tarnishes the prize.
In the UK men are three times more likely to kill themselves than women. Every week 84 men commit suicide. Homelessness and sleeping rough is a male thing. There is a generation of lost men attempting to navigate their way in a world that has changed at light-speed.
Given the evidence that young men, in particular, are struggling, you’d think attempts to help them would be welcome. Not so. Those who voice concerns, even from a professional capacity, are immediately attacked.
The Guardian newspaper is leading that charge. Hardly a week goes by without an anti-men article. The language used would attract the 'racist' label if applied to any other group. Much of their venom gets heaped on clinical psychologist Jordan Peterson. Why? Well, because he uses facts and scientific arguments to destroy unfounded opinions. In their latest attack, Peterson is "the evangelist of white male resentment”.
In reality, Peterson is pointing out that the emperor has no clothes. And he does it in a way that is so articulate and compelling, that the politically-correct crowd cannot deal with it. Lacking any evidence for their beliefs, they fall back on ad hominem attacks. Dogged and weighed with cynicism, they wave away the facts further underlining their lack of credibility.
If these people bothered to engage their brains, then listen to what he says, they’d see the clarity of his propositions. He's no evangelist. Instead, he attempts to understand the challenges men face and help them overcome these.
Whether we’ll admit it or not, young men as a group are getting left behind amid the shifting economic, social, and technological landscape. Everyone knows a young man who is struggling. Either in school or afterwards. Failing to launch, emotional issues, or poor interactions with the opposite sex, they flounder.
I’ve seen it in working-class friends and boys from well-off backgrounds. The alienation felt by young working-class men of all colours is troubling. In a de-industrialised economy, these young men are lost. In the past, they had jobs as welders, miners and in the motor-trade. This work defined them, connecting them to a community through shared hardships. Telemarketing and shelf-stacking jobs don’t measure up the same.
Of course, if these blokes complain, especially the white men, it’s assumed that any demands come out of their privilege. When all there want is decent employment and then left alone. To suggest otherwise is lazy, damaging to the debate.
The smart folks at the Guardian have an opportunity to contribute to this debate. But like everything in the current melee, this paper seems to be choosing a polarising path. Navigating a balanced route is too hard.
Perhaps more data will help swing them. Boys are well behind the girls in education terms. This gap is stark, starts young and is not new. For 11 years old the difference is six percentage points. By the age of 16, that’s grown to nine percentage points in England. Its impact annually is 30,000 fewer boys than girls are becoming apprentices; 60,000 fewer go to university every year. Fewer men are entering nearly all the professions. And here one for the feminists, young men earn less per hour on average than women, in both full-time and part-time roles.
Things are no better in the United States. A recent Congressional Budget Office report revealed one out of six young men are either not working or incarcerated. Add guns to the mix then things get messed up. Mass shootings have tripled since 2011, with the majority carried out by young men. Meanwhile, adolescent male suicide rates have increased by 50 per cent since 1994.
Similar data exists across all cultures. In Hong Kong, the suicide rate for males aged 15-24 is triple that of females. But, these statistics have no traction because there is an empathy gap when it comes the challenges young men face. As a result, boys are opting out.
For many, virtual reality has become a haven, and in some instances more structured and rewarding than reality. Thus we see the emergence of terms such as hikikomori - Japanese for “pulling inward”. Along with the rise of movements such as Men Going Their Own Way (MGTOW).
Who can blame them for wanting to opt out? The shift into alternative realities disconnects them further. Asking what’s wrong with them or why aren’t they motivated the same way young men used to be, aren't the right questions.
A 20,000-person survey sought to understand what is causing motivational problems in young men. The number one answer chosen was conflicting messages from media, institutions, parents, and peers about acceptable male behaviour.
No wonder. With the rise of “toxic masculinity” classes on college campuses, masculinity is almost a disease. Also, there is a decreasing number of positive male role models showing younger men the path to acceptable manhood.
Jordon Peterson is seeking to understand, then guide these young men. He can do without the sneering, ill-informed diatribe from the Guardian and others.
It's natural to compare. Thus, I find myself assessing the situation of the UK against that of my adopted home in Hong Kong. Reading the press in both places, you'd assume a constant crisis. As is often the case, once you move away from the media-hype, the truth is more prosaic. Except is it?
Both places are in a post-colonial period. Although, coming at the process from different ends. Hong Kong is striding ahead. Its parasite economy feeding with relish off China's surging emergence as a world player. A third runway, a bridge across the Pearl River estuary, a high-speed rail link.
That’s not to ignore issues that dog the fragrant harbour. A growing wealth-gap, stagnant social-mobility and pollution top the list. Yet, Hong Kong continues to move forward. Taxation remains low, as does the crime rate. Jobs abound.
The same can’t be said for the UK. The decline that began with the Suez crisis may be gathering pace. Bad decision after bad decision, as signs of post-colonial decay abound. On all fronts of national life, one imbroglio after another is unfolding with embarrassing frequency. Peter Hitchen’s identified the trend some years ago in his “Abolition of Britain”. His account charted the course from self-confidence to self-denigration. That process rumbles on.
Even with rose-tinted glasses, its impossible not to see that institutions are failing. This manifests itself in a sad litany of floundering public services. Some sacrificed to the exigencies of the market, others because of willful blindness. Cue the Jimmy Saville scandal et al, and the awful rape of girls by gangs. All ignored by the police.
For the past three weeks, the railway system came close to complete collapse. Northern Rail has cancelled or delayed 43% of trains. The Lake District, a favoured holiday destination, currently has no train service. Hotels, campsites, restaurants are all feeling the impact. Thameslink services in the south-east are so intermittent the public never knows if a journey is possible. Left stranded late at night, people sleep in the office or seek hotel rooms. Meanwhile, rail bosses are receiving honours from the Queen on top of record salary payouts.
Much of the blame rests with the government. It's pushed a relentless program of outsourcing, intended to drive down costs. In the process, it also drove down accountability and coordination of projects. Delays in the electrification of lines and a lack of trained drivers gets the blame. Underlying this is serious management shortcomings. Despite all the fancy MBAs and technology, coordination of a national time-table appears beyond them.
Take one example. £858 million spent on electrifying the line between Glasgow and Edinburgh cut six minutes from the journey. Yet, the same trip was nine minutes shorter 40 years ago under British Rail. Currently, Thameslink is cancelling 230 trains a day, and Northern 165. Then you've got the delays. Meanwhile, trains that do run are dirty, with shoddy rolling stock. Anyone who has visited Japan would hang their head in shame. So much for outsourcing and public-private initiatives promising better outcomes.
At the same time, the NHS is in a permanent state of crisis. In the latest reversal of policy, recruitment of foreign nurses and doctors is back on. Of course, it’s overlooked that the NHS always relied on overseas professionals.
Passing through Portsmouth last week, I spotted an abundance of expensive navy ships idle at the dockside. The backbone of the fleet, six Type 45 destroyers, costing £1 billion each, are unable to take to sea. Various explanations exist: a lack of crews and engine problems top the list.
With engines able to deal with the cold waters of the North Sea, we are well-covered in that environment. But, the warmer waters of the Middle East cause a shut-down with total system failure. Nobody thought to tell the manufactures that the Navy may need to operate in warm waters. An engine refit will start in 2020.
HMS Dauntless and HMS Defender haven’t put to sea since 2016. The others undertake short missions in suitable waters. Joining these ships is the Navy's pride and joy. The carrier HMS Queen Elizabeth sits passive without any planes. She requires the protection of Type 45’s, otherwise she’d be a sitting duck in a conflict. No worry. She’s unlikely to be ready for service anytime soon. Delays stretch her time at berth. Since commissioning in late 2017, Big Lizzie spent only six weeks at sea.
Those looking after the less fortunate in British society are also faltering. A so-called “universal credit scheme” introduced in 2013 unified a variety of social benefits. The scheme, designed to save money, has proven costly in both financial and human terms. Heralded as a cheaper alternative, the National Audit Office revealed this week it's more expensive. Besides, those in need are not getting their payments. Stories abound of disabled folks, including ex-soldiers, left without money.
In normal times this shambles would be the focus of Parliament. But these are not normal times. Distracted by Brexit, the political class engages in an endless round of bickering. Internecine warfare is raging through both the Labour and the Conservatives parties. Brexiters and Remainers are at each other throats, in endless circular arguments.
The legal disputes associated with Brexit are head-crackingly complicated. Thus ordinary folks disengage or roll-over in boredom. Few people outside the Parliament bubble can explain what's going on, and those in Parliament are too busy beating each other up.
None of this is encouraging because such significant issues are at stake. I suspect that many who voted out of the EU may take a different decision now. Sold as a straightforward issue, Brexit is far from that. Untangling decades of legislation is proving a massive struggle. And that's before you get to issues of the Irish border, security cooperation and policing. The list goes on.
This week Scottish independence got thrown into the mix. Remember the Scots voted 62% to 38% against Brexit. Thus, the Scots nationalists played their cards to make it clear they want a say in the negotiations. Like Nessie rising from Loch Ness, the great scaly monster of national abolition is revealed in all its ugly menace.
I’m baffled how such a country can attain the best Brexit deal. It can’t organise its defences, health-care or public transport system. Theresa May is fighting battles on all fronts, without much to show for it. She is close to being removed by her own party, while only Labour’s disarray prevents a serious challenge from that side.
The impression is of chaotic EU negotiations. You have to be sceptical the outcome will be favourable. The road ahead looks rocky. As a mood of resignation hangs over the UK, Hong Kong looks like the better bet at the moment.
It’s life-affirming when positive experiences upend your opinions. This happened to me during seven days cycling in Normanby. Two matters stand out. First, the French are so polite and accommodating that long-held beliefs evaporated. Second, the sacrifice of the young men who fought over this terrain in June 1944 is humbling.
Arriving in Cherbourg, a portly lady Gendarme greets me with a cheery “Bonjour, Monsieur”. A scan of my passport, I’m waved off. After that, I soon lost count of the number of “Bonjour’s” that came my way. Fellow cyclists, pedestrians, shop staff and even teenagers. Within moments my Anglocentric view of the surly French vanishes in a wave of politeness.
As if to affirm that I’d got it wrong, the French motorists hung back behind our weighty peloton, even as we blocked narrow country lanes. No horns, no frustrated gestures or signs of irritation. Instead, when they finally managed to pass, an unworried wave. A few offered encouragement.
Could this en masse civility be a seasonal affair? With the 74th anniversary of the World War II landings is a British invasion welcomed? Was it the fact we're cyclists in a nation that embraces the sport with such favour. I’m not sure. Either way, it's welcomed.
In the confusion of being abroad, I greeted a chap with a hearty “Bonjour” for two mornings, until he revealed himself as a fellow Yorkshireman. Without a hint of shame, we switch to the vernacular. I suppose Alan Bennett would construct a play out of such happenings.
My main reason for being in Normandy was to visit the landing sites that rose to fame on 6th June 1944. We all know the general thrust of the narrative. The Allies, led by General Eisenhower, parachuted, glided and rushed ashore in a momentous invasion.
Up until that point, the Russians did most of the fighting in the meat-grinder that was the Eastern Front. Side-shows in Africa and Italy tied up some of Hitler's troops, but along with Stalingrad, this operation was a turning point. The figures are staggering: 150,000 soldiers from 12 countries, over 11,000 aircraft and 7,000 vessels. While impressive, it’s the individual acts of courage that stand out. A narrow foothold was secured as the Nazi’s fretted that the attack was a diversion.
One of the most audacious operations involved the taking of Pegasus Bridge. British glider-borne troops arrived just after midnight on 6th June. The bridge straddles the Caen Canal, and with its sister bridge over the Orne River, provides access eastwards. The Germans recognised the importance of the location, protecting it with troops and gun emplacements.
Five gliders managed to land within meters of the bridge, startling the defenders. The sergeant pilots achieved remarkable accuracy, flying at night to land in a tight space. This proximity allowed the troops to gain complete surprise. Lieutenant Brotheridge led a charge across the bridge to become the first to die as a result of enemy-fire that day. Within 15 minutes the site was secure. Later reinforcements arrived.
Further west, a visit to Pointe du Hoc can’t fail to leave a deep impression. A depleted force of US Rangers climbed the nine-story-high cliffs under a hail of gunfire and grenades. Their target a German gun battery threatened the landing beaches except that big guns were not in place. Unaware, the Rangers pressed home their attack. They took fearful losses before overpowering the defenders.
Rangers then held the site for two days against determined German counter-attacks. As a high point at the fulcrum between Utah and Omaha beaches, Point Du Hoc had vast importance. Of the 225 Rangers who landed, only 90 men remained active when the position was relieved on the 8th June.
It’s impossible not to feel moved by the sight of the American cemetery above Omaha Beach. Immaculate lines of crosses stretch into the distance. Each one has a story to tell of courage in the face of terrible odds. In that setting, the extent of the sacrifice of these young men is the sheer number of crosses.
The British cemetery at Bayeux summons similar emotions. Lads from East Yorkshire, Lancashire and every corner of Great Britain rest here. Standing there, my daily worries dissolve as trivial concerns. You find yourself embraced by a new perspective on the machinations of life. Even the young had the decency to put away their mobiles, in quiet in respectful contemplation. There is hope.
Throughout my trip, I saw re-enactors resplendent in uniforms. US Paratroopers, Sailors and British infantry. These guys came from all nations. Poles dressed as US troops; French as British paratroopers and Swiss in Free French uniforms. To add to the authenticity, Sherman Tanks, Willy Jeeps and anti-aircraft guns rolled into villages. At first, I was unsure. It all looked a bit too showy, with a hint of juvenile wargaming.
These people came across as sincere in their attempt to portray a crucial historical event. Respectful, they took time to talk to students explaining the significance of the event.
The true embodiment of the period I encountered at Arromanche and Pegasus Bridge. Elderly veterans posed for pictures. My “thank you” sounded lame. It's far from substantial given the enormity of the task these men undertook. Dewy-eyed they answered questions from wheelchairs. Advancing years have failed to remove the signs of grim-visaged war from their faces. Meanwhile, the surrounding charming pastoral Normandy landscape defies the carnage that took place.
They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old:
A trip back to Blighty affirms a view that something has gone astray with British policing. Once the gold standard, by which others measured themselves, their standing is damaged. Meanwhile, they are on a road of mind-boggling silliness. The police have lost direction, as political correctness and its bastard offspring "being offended" continue a relentless rise.
In the process, ordinary folk are confused, confounded and angry. But beware. Don't let that anger surface in public, otherwise, you'll risk the wrath of the ever-present thought-police. These days the police have taken it upon themselves to interfere in free speech. It’s a shame they can’t summon the same vigour to deal with real crime.
Don't believe me, consider this. Police responded to a call to investigate a "racist" dog that barked at a group of men. Then a father asserted a tennis umpire made line-calls against his daughter based on her race. Again, the police got involved.
Race is not the only thing cited. A lady took offence when compared on Facebook to the cartoon character Peter Griffin. She felt it appropriate to call the police, who accepted her report.
In 2015/16 the police dealt at our 11,000 so-called "hate" incidents. No wonder when you consider the classification of "hate": "hostility based on personal characteristics, race, religion, disability, sexual orientation or if a person is transgender".
Such a broad definition is bound to catch out most of us. Be honest, we all make statements that may offend. These could get us in trouble, especially when "hostility" is a perceived act by self-appointed victims. Never-mind that this broad definition also infringes on free speech. Further, it plays into the hands of the "safe-space" crowd, who can’t handle contrary opinions.
Which leads us to Tory MP Antoinette Sandbach. The MP for Eddisbury can’t handle critical comments. When one constituent challenged Sandbach, she ran to the police.
Pensioner and churchwarden, Linda Bandhan, was unhappy with Sandbach's stance on Brexit. She had the audacity to email Sandbach asserting the MP is "untrustworthy" and "disloyal". A fair and rational opinion. Sandbach responded by blocking Ms Bandhan. Next, she reported the matter to the police. Fortunately, this blatant attempt to shut-down free-speech backfired. In a moment of sanity, the police declined to investigate.
In the process, Sandbach earned the ridicule she deserved. If Sandbach can’t handle such mild opinions, she’s in the wrong job. How is she going to stand up in a robust debate? This incident is proof of how far the PC culture has penetrated into society.
Meanwhile, Britain is experiencing an unprecedented level of real crime. Reported robberies, murders, burglaries and thefts continue to escalate. In urban centres, moped-muggers are riding around with impunity snatching valuables. In London alone, 22,000 reported cases occurred in the past year. The police are reluctant to give chase for fear the "culprits" get hurt in a pursuit. In other words, the safety of the culprits takes priority. In effect, the police have forfeited control of the situation.
And yet police spent time investigating a bus driver who allegedly gave a passenger a "racist" look. Officers also attended a report of a man standing too close to a lady. As a non-conforming-gender-specific lesbian, she felt intimidated by the man’s proximity. This incident occurred on a busy street. I’m not making this up.
In private, front-line police officers express their frustration. The same can’t be said for their hapless leaders. A National Police Chiefs Council spokesman upheld current practices as "defending the vulnerable". This somewhat sweeping statement ignores the victims of real crime.
With manpower stretched, tying-up officers to deal with wounded feelings is not viable. Ordinary coppers despair, while their office-bound bosses polish their credentials as social justice warriors.
Once again it appears the police hierarchy's motivation is fear of a "racist" or some other "ist" label. This same fear allowed police to ignore the rape of young girls by Asian gangs. It let the activities of nascent terrorists to go unchecked.
The same fear means they won’t investigate alleged crimes by travellers. Citing safety, they’d instead allow the victim to suffer rather than deal with the offence. Police twist health and safety to avoid taking action. In one instance Cambridgeshire Police displayed cowardice by declining to enter a travellers camp to recover a stolen caravan.
Past police failings led to campaigners labelling them as "institutionally racist". The long-term consequence of this branding is a reluctance to tackle criminal activities in minority groups. Hence the constraints on "stop & search" that led to carnage in the black community. Political and community leaders all bear a responsibility for this state of affairs. Although, I suspect they will spin their usual dishonest discourse to twist the truth.
In the meantime, while the police attend to these nonsensical cases, robberies and murders continue unabated. It’s about time a more rational approach prevailed. Police leaders need to step forward to assert they will no longer pander to the self-appointed victims. The police have no business controlling the narcissistic playgrounds of the weak-willed and the cowardly. It would be helpful if they reverted to the primary role of preventing and detecting crime, and by crime, I mean robbery, theft, murder and such.
Every generation complains about the next: “The kids these days!” Since our ancestors chased down the first mammoth, we’ve lamented the upcoming lot aren’t as accomplished as us. It’s nonsense, and we know it. For starters, we weren’t as good as we remember, and anyway, we created and moulded our kids. That makes us partly culpable for any perceived failings, real or not.
We compound our guilt by telling kids their unique and they needn’t worry because we’ll protect them. It’s bollocks. We should be saying them life is complicated, get ready for a few knocks. Plus, set aside the desire for instant gratification.
Hong Kong graduates protest they can’t afford a flat while splashing money on holidays and fancy restaurants. The new norm is frequent job hopping, chasing that elusive career. Is the intrinsic nature of the Internet a factor? The fast-moving games, rapid turn-over, all snap-chatty culture, with no looking down the road.
Long-term, the outcomes from such behaviour, are not healthy. Both the individual and society suffer. A rat trained to move a lever to receive food will over-indulge. The theory is open to challenge, but it illustrates a point. Too much food leads to bloat, overweight and then possible death. The rat can't see the consequences of its actions. Humans have that ability.
Likewise, the young people who focus on the present displace troubles to their future-self. The issue doesn't go away. Those troubles for ‘future-you’ arise from things you don't deal with now. These await you in the coming days, months and years. And the worst thing is that parents are complicit in this process.
I know a 31-year-old man, actually a man-child, who lives at home. He's reliant on his parents, never had a full-time job and isolated. The parents lament this situation. They created it. The man-child is a direct result of their unwillingness to enforce rules. Allowed to drop school, he played no rough games, avoided all difficulties.
Deluded by a strange concept that they could be pals with their son, discipline and guidance were absent. The end product is sitting in his bedroom, playing on a computer. He has no friends, is resentful, angry, disengaged and self-involved. Further, he despises his well-intentioned, yet misguided parents. Their lack of firmness has created the opposite of their desires. And he’s not isolated example. It's happening across the world.
When the bedroom hermit deems to grace us with his presence, he vents forth about the world of privilege. He claims success gets given to some because of their connections. These delusional rants ignore his parasite existence, his failings and the comforts he enjoys on the back of his parents. A nihilistic individual, everything is someone else's fault.
Then you have the earnest student who sacrifices his free-time to study hard. There is no immediate reward. While his friends enjoy themselves in the bar, he'll be head down in the books. His gratification will come later. Better exam results open the door to a career with long-term prospects. His sacrifice pays in his future. A future he shaped.
Such a person has mastered his impulses, controlled those basic animal instincts that demand an immediate reward. These instincts served us well as evolving creatures when food and water are scarce. We’d eat as much as possible when the food arrived. Then over time, we learnt to store some.
Next, we started sharing stored resources with our fellows. If one group had an excess of food, it provides to the less fortunate. On that basis, you expect something in return. Over thousands of years, this evolved as trading as a social contract develops between us. Do something now, earn a reward later. That rule still underpins society as a cultural norm.
Young people need to recognise this evolved value in human culture. Although, I suspect these days we've lost the courage to give them the right steer. Confused parents need clarity. Some are fearful of limiting their kid's freedoms, in case it suppresses some natural creative force. This approach is nonsense.
You can see it every day. A kid is misbehaving, yelling, and creating a scene at the supermarket. Embarrassed the mother falls back on the risible excuse "She's very clever and artistic.”
The little darling may well be creative. That doesn't change the fact that she has to fit into society by obeying some simple rules. Even the most liberated hippy recognises we drive on one side of the road to avoid accidents. Likewise, kids who fail to socialise or learn to cooperate with others, face a difficult life. Over-protective parents shield the child from hurt feelings and the opportunity to learn.
A Yale University student yelling at her professor in anger over a Halloween costume is another symptom. Such a young person is unfit to venture into the world to face harsh realities. Setting aside terrible manners, how is such a person going to handle genuine hardship. Triggered by such a minor issue, this person is useless as a lawyer, who has to listen to stories of rape and assault. Such a person is no value as a police officer or social worker.
What's to be done? For a start, adults - especially parents - need to be honest with themselves and their children. Life is tough, things will go wrong, and most things don’t come easy. Most successful people work hard for their gains. Plus, it’s never an easy journey. They face setbacks, reversals, failures, but bounce back. They don’t claim victimhood or curl-up in a ball bleating.
Sacrifice and hand-work will generally pay off, even if only in modest ways. A life of constant instant gratification offers no such outcome as you end up eating your tail. I’m not suggesting young people need to live like a monk. Far from it. But, they need to recognise they have a narrow window of opportunity that won’t arise again.
Moreover, parents need to be clear that their role is to guide a child to be a useful member of society. Failure to do so is the sin of omission. Remember, you're a parent, not their best mate.
I said I wouldn't write this article. Then my morning stroll today led to an encounter with Jack and Marleen from Portland, Oregon. After the usual exchange of pleasantries about the weather, Marleen ventured "You didn't get an invite to the fairytale wedding.”
I bit my tongue.
So as not to offend, I pointed out the fairytale description is most apt. Then, I reminded my new American friends that fairytales have monsters, ugly sisters and nasty step-parents. Plus, plot twists to keep you on the edge of your seat. This piece is an attempted response to the playful attitude hanging over this Royal wedding.
This Saturday, an ex-British Soldier marries an American actress. So far, so good. She had a role in a TV series called 'Suits'. I've never seen it. He’s had a decades-long role in the unfolding drama of Britain’s longest-running soap opera - the Royal family. Harry, as the son of Princess Diana of Harrods, has remained front-page fodder for his entire life.
We've followed him as he walked behind his Mum’s coffin. Even at a tender age, thrust into the open at the most tragic of times. We’ve followed his gaffes, ups and downs. We cheered him on, as he sprinted for his death-spitting attack helicopter, to bring justice to the Taliban. His target may well have been an innocent tribal wedding or a school outing, depends how the systems functioned that day. Let’s not get side-tracked.
Harry has grown up with us watching and appears to be a decent sort. In recent years his relationship with Ms Markle sent the media into a frenzy. Apparently, she’s black and a divorcée. Although, I have to say I didn’t notice the former. It was a case of “Really, and what’s the issue here?”. Then once the engagement came about, we entered ‘fairytale’ land. This narrative is the troubling part.
Like the start of any decent fairytale, the omens are not promising. In the movie "Men who stare at Goats", Kevin Spacey's character is clairvoyant. Attending a wedding, he congratulates the couple. Then he utters, “Shame, it doesn't work out between you two.” I’m not clairvoyant, and, yet, let’s be honest, it hasn't worked out for many who entered the weird world of the Windsors.
A dark shadow is cast by Diana, Fergie and Captain Mark Phillips. Even Phil the Greek had to surrender himself as subordinate to the Queen. A proud naval officer, a bit of a lad, he gave in and rolled over. Although, he later won the nation’s heart with his mildly racist, grumpy-old-man routine. A sort of upper-class Victor Mildrew, cankerous in a manner old folks get away with. I like him.
Also, this is the first American divorcée to marry into the Royal family in 81 years. The last time it happened a constitutional crisis erupted. Eventually, the King opted to step aside for his brother. There are no such worries this time, as Harry is some distance from the throne.
The relationship between Mrs Simpson and Edward VIII scandalised Britain. This reaction was in part because she remained married during their affair and the morals of the time meant this was unacceptable. Anyway, times have changed.
Nonetheless, for me, the events of 2018 have a sense of deja vu. Doesn’t this sound familiar. In 1981, a similar fairytale rolled out; Charles and Diana. That fable ended with a Mercedes Benz wrapped around a pillar in a Paris tunnel. The Prince in that story married his first love, a shoe-in for the part of the ugly sister. A happy ending of sorts I guess. Meanwhile, the death of Diana wrong-footed the Queen. In an uncharacteristic moment, she misjudged public sentiment and paid the price. Being a sharp operator, she soon recovered.
Never forgot that the Windsors call themselves the 'firm'. That parlance recognises certain basic truths. The modern Royals are a business. Their core product is popularity, which shores up their legitimacy in the eyes of a fickle public. As I've before mentioned, the Royals have a certain utility. By acting as a sort of social glue at times of crisis. To achieve this deft act, they operate outside the political domain, adroitly remaining above the fray. The Queen is exemplary in this capacity. Although, it’s something Brian appears not to understand.
For her new role, Ms Markle has one distinct advantage. She's an actress. Joining the cast of the ‘Windsors’ she's a perfect modern-day fit. This lady has a social-conscious, is a feminist (not too ardent) and of mixed race. It’s almost as if she’s summoned up for the role. Though she will need to stick to the agreed script. Remember, Fergie didn’t play the game, went rogue and paid the price. In the process, she became something of a national joke. That’s worse than getting booted from the ‘firm’.
I detect that Ms Markle may hold strident opinions. While there is nothing wrong with that, caution must prevail. She shouldn’t change her views, except to remember that the English have ‘satire instead of revolution’. This approach doesn’t mean we are too kind. After all, for the English irony is a lethal weapon that can collapse a government. I fear her opinions could expose her to unwelcome ridicule as someone who is ‘pushy’. She’d be well advised to keep things in check, with a degree of modesty. Her future father-in-law suffers because he can’t keep his disjointed ideas to himself.
This weekend will see a period of ‘cultural remission’ as the English do strange things. They will cheer, wave flags and may even talk to strangers. You can have all your pomp and ceremony, the teacups and tea towels. Enjoy the show. But remember these two young people are part of a massive operation. Their marriage, if it succeeds, will keep that operation rolling along. Good luck to them
The SJWs and their journalist friends are running scared. There is a new bogeyman on the block, who is invading their safe-spaces. Plus, he's brandishing something terrible. In the process, he’s challenging their distorted world-view.
That man is Dr Jordan Peterson. And he’s using something called ‘facts’. Peterson rose to worldwide fame after he unintentionally eviscerated Cathy Newman in a Channel 4 interview. He already had a profile for standing against the gender-pronoun nonsense forced upon people in Canada. The Newman interview took him to the next level.
In his interview with Newman, he astutely exposed the bias inherent in parts of the media. He then flipped her ‘right to question’ back at her, and she went into a moment of dissonance. She faltered, looking lost, as her world-view fell apart. Newman adopted the only defence possible; she portrayed herself as a victim. She and her company inflated the following adverse social media reaction.
They went running to the police. Despite the fact that Peterson received more hate mail than her. But, hey, the facts don’t matter as she demonstrated during the interview. She has since declined to sit down with Peterson for a rational discussion, something he’s offered to do.
With Peterson’s profile growing, the SJWs are struggling to shut him down by mounting personal attacks. They say he’s right-wing, when in fact the man is a classical western liberal. He’s branded the poor white man's intellectual, a label that reveals a bias in the mind of its authors. It appears that some don’t wish to see white-man have thoughts or opinions unless dictated to them by the Left.
Peterson is totemic. He is popular because he is erudite, compassionate and accurate with his words. He’s embraced by men, in particular, young men, looking for direction in a confusing world. He uses science and facts. This approach undercuts the casual dogma of the gender warriors, the feminists and lunatic fringe that is busy no-platforming people.
Without facts to support their dogma, the Left relies on personal attacks to damage Peterson and others. For example, all the data indicates that boys do much better in a family unit with a female mother and a male father. This fact is an anathema to some. They assert such a statement is discriminatory to single parents and gay couples. To them, it's a coincidence that our jails fill with boys from single-parent families.
Peterson is not saying that single parents are wrong or that gay couples shouldn’t have kids. He’s pointing out a truth. This approach scares progressives. That’s why they’re screaming and ranting at such a fever pitch. They know they have a fight on their hands, as Dr Peterson rips open their pieties and hollow bromides.
The latest tactic is to portray Peterson as someone who is on the side of anti-semitism. Forward Magazine ran an article that made such an assertion. To make the point they ran a composite image of Peterson next to Hitler giving a Nazi salute. The whole article is shameful and defamatory.
Peterson’s crime was to attribute Jewish success to the fact that the average IQ of Ashkenazi Jews is the highest of any ethnic group. This statement feeds anti-jewish sentiment in the distorted minds of some. The allegation is that far-right groups weaponised this fact to assert Jewish intellectuals used their brain power to dominate the world.
Peterson stood accused of being in cohorts with the far-right. There is not a scintilla of evidence to support this. But some feel it's acceptable to spread such nonsense. For the record; the original research came out of Cambridge University. So, Peterson's mistake was to repeat the findings of credible research.
All this is part of a broader trend that seeks to reverse the Enlightenment, returning us to the dark ages. Peterson has displayed fantastic fortitude as the Left unleashed its vile attacks. The Guardian newspaper cites him as connected to the alt-right and fascist groups. Again, there is no evidence to support such a statement, and the opposite is true. But the Left cannot accept his razor intellect cutting through their bullshit. Thus, fury vents forth.
The battle lines are drawn. On one side, facts and evidence, and the other….'feelings and opinions’. And yet, for people so convinced of their superiority, the SJWs are incapable of mustering rational arguments. Instead, they reference each other in ever decreasing circles of bias and groupthink.
These intellectually dishonest people are losing the argument. To protect themselves from further damage, they no-platform their opponents. Then they yell as loud as possible to drown out any rational arguments.
Instead of doubling down on the identity politics gibberish, wouldn't a period of reflection better serve these individuals? You can't keep pushing this hysterical, illogical, biased view of the world that others do not recognise.
If the radical left is to avoid irrelevance, then it needs better arguments. Ones that convince the public that they have not lost the plot. Most of society is tuned out at present, and this is bad for democracy and consensual politics. Instead of attacking Peterson, the so-called progressive folks need to recognise the folly of their ways. Remember, knowledge and facts will ultimately triumph over unsupported opinions.
Post Script: Forward Magazine has taken down the picture juxtaposing Hitler and Peterson. It acknowledges its error.
Walter De Havilland is one of the last of the colonial coppers. He served 35 years in the Hong Kong Police.