Reflections on recent events, plus the occasional fact
free rant unfiltered by rational argument.
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.
Walter De Havilland is one of the last of the colonial coppers. He served 35 years in the Hong Kong Police.