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