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23 March 2020

The Age of Stupid

This was the scene in a London park yesterday, 22nd March.

Similar scenes could be seen on beaches and at popular tourist spots around the country.

For me, it's Day 1 of the new (non) working week, and I feel acutely aware that we are truly living in the Age of Stupid.

Thousands of people appear to think that they have some kind of superpower that protects them again Covid-19. Not only are they deluded, they are also ignorant and selfish, giving no thought to the part they a playing in spreading the disease and increasing the death rate.

Some people go in the opposite direction: a paramedic reported that he'd been slung out of his lodgings because his landlady regarded him as a health risk. Well, let's hope she doesn't need a paramedic any time soon.

Teenagers are having parties; some are standing around the streets in close-knit groups joking and laughing about ignoring all the current advice. Well, let's hope that when they are laying in a hospital bed they continue to appreciate the joke.

Pauline and I are not in self-isolation as we currently have no symptoms, but we are mainly confining ourselves to the house, and if we go out for exercise or essential shopping we think about where we are, and try to observe "Social Distancing".

It's a weird life we are all (apart from the idiots of course) having to endure, but there are ways to adapt, perhaps by taking Stephen Fry's advice: make yourself a schedule (either mentally or on paper); slow down time by doing everything at a relaxed pace, slowly and methodically, be it household tasks, or cooking. After all, we have all the time in the world right now. Nothing is happening. The country is closed. It's an opportunity to read stuff we've never read before, listen to music, appreciate the garden if you're lucky enough to have one. Re-evaluate what is and what is not important in life.

At first I was angry and depressed. For the first time in 58 years of marriage we will not be going away this year. I had made all the plans, paid all the deposits, happily basking in the anticipation of what was to come later in the year. Now it is all out of the window. There are only two choices: angrily fume about it, or just forget it and seek other kinds of pleasure.

To end on the subject with which I began this piece, it is now time for the Prime Minister and our Government to stop all the weasel words about ADVISING us to do this and ADVISING us not to do that. It is time for the French approach .. Compulsory Rules. You may think this is extradordinary coming from someone who values individual liberty and has never hidden his Liberal Democrat credentials, but these are extraordinary times.

It was announced on the News this morning that McDonalds had decided to close all their restaurants. Half an hour after hearing this announcement there was an advert on LBC encouraging us to enjoy breakfast at McDonalds. The Age of Stupid.

21 March 2020

"It's Life, Jim, but not as we know it."


It’s Saturday 21st March 2020 and Day 1 of being without my part-time job. All schools are closed until further notice. (Nobody worked out how a school transport driver could work from home!) My wife also lost her job as a Doctor’s Receptionist following reorganisation of the Practice surgeries to deal with Covid-19, resulting in our local surgery operating without a receptionist.

Now we have to learn to how fill our weekdays constructively, and live without the benefit of the wages that supplemented our Pensions. But we are fortunate. There are many who are much worse off, so to complain would be both unreasonable and churlish; and if we have to self-isolate we have the benefit of a garden. I feel sorry for the poor souls who live in apartment blocks.

So - schools closed, pubs, clubs, cafes, restaurants, gyms, theatres, and cinemas closed. Britain is closed. We have cancelled theatre trips and holidays. 2020 will be a year unlike any other we have experienced.

These are strange times. When did my wife ever go shopping at 7 a.m.? The answer is, today. She was entitled to take advantage of special opening hours for people who have the dubious privilege of being over 70. Yesterday I called at our local Pharmacy (no hand sanitizer and no thermometers by the way) and found a shivering queue of people outside the door on which there was a notice permitting only one person inside at any time. Outside, the queue was spaced out, not in the sense of being on magic mushrooms, but physically spaced out. Social Distancing. When I got inside to pick up my prescriptions, I found a shopping trolley and two chairs placed in front of the counter to prevent close contact with the pharmacist.

There have to be some positive aspects. Perhaps there are. We are having to re-evaluate what is important and what isn’t. People are learning (re-learning?) how to co-operate, how to help each other, how to be unselfish. Some people are not, however. There are those who still persist in trying to buy up the entire contents of supermarkets as if they are about to be consigned to a desert island, and the lady seen in our local supermarket this morning picking up a pack of “Wonky” Carrots at a discounted price and rejecting them in favour of a perfect cauliflower. If you need to eat, does it matter if your carrots aren’t straight? And why is there a kind of mass hysteria over toilet rolls?! Supermarkets really need to be more rigorous in their rationing system.

On the negative side, there the people who are totally amoral (one of them is running the USA), happy to operate scams, sell magic potions to ‘cure’ the virus infection, engage in blatant over-pricing, or steal food from food banks; and the young people who think they are immortal, joking about ignoring all the current advice concerning “social distancing”.

Party Politics is changing .. and it needs to! There are positive signs that parliamentarians who normally spend their time tearing lumps out of each other in our highly adversarial system are ‘morphing’ into beings prepared to countenance more reasonable discourse with each other, co-operating in the face of an invisible enemy. I strongly feel that if we can move to a position where we recognise there is more in life that unites us than divides us, then Covid-19 will have taught us something useful. Whether we are Socialist, Conservative, Liberal, Christian, Muslim, Jewish, Atheist, ‘Brexiteer’ or ‘Remainer’ (sorry to bring that up again), or none of the above, we don’t exclusively hold all the keys to wisdom, knowledge, vision, or political ideas.

It’s going to be a weird 2020. Learn to appreciate new values. Stay strong. Stay well.

13 December 2019

2019 Election - Just Another Day at the Office

Well, for this Liberal Democrat, it was just another day at the office. A lifetime of disappointments and false dawns has hardened me. I do, however, stick with my basic social liberal democratic philosophy of life. Onwards and upwards, as they say.

Whilst the Liberal Democrats' vote went up in most constituencies, they didn't win many new seats, and lost some they already had, including the seat of Party Leader Jo Swinson!

Conservative Leader Boris Johnson (who marked his campaign by refusing an interview with one of Britain's most forensic political interviewers, pocketing an ITV journalist's phone, and hiding in a dairy company's fridge) romped home to victory by somehow persuading hardened lifetime Labour suporters in the industrial Midlands, North West and North East to risk the psychological trauma of actually voting Conservative.

As for the Labour Party, their performance was so bad that their number in Parliament roughly equates to the representation they had back in 1935. Their programme almost made Michael Foot's 1980s manifesto ("The longest suicide note in history") look reasonable. Whilst enthusiastic Labour activists, in particular, their 'Momentum' group appear to be enthralled by their Party being led by a couple of pseudo Marxists, it turns out that this enthusiasm for hard-left politics is not shared by the general population.

To end with what I started with, Jo Swinson's personal, and Party's disappointing performance is, I believe, entirely down to her. She made two massive strategic errors, which stretched some Party members' loyalty to breaking point. Firstly, she stood before the Liberal Democrats' Conference and announced herself as Candidate for next Prime Minister. It reminded me of Liberal Party Leader David Steel some years back, telling Conference to go back to their constituencies and "prepare for Government". That went well, didn't it?! Secondly, by announcing her intention to cancel Brexit unilaterally, without a second referendum, she effectively told 17 million people who'd voted to leave the EU to get stuffed. She appeared to have misunderstood the meaning of the second word in the title of her Party.

Both Labour and Liberal Democrats are now looking for new leaders.

Happy New Year! (We hope)

03 August 2019

Disunited Kingdom

When I last visited Sirmione in Italy I gained free access to a museum because I was an EU citizen. 

When I last visited Budapest in Hungary I was able to ride the city trams free of charge because I was a Senior Citizen of the EU.

In all of my frequent visits to Europe I knew that if I needed medical treatment I could get it without my bank balance being raided. 

I could also make phone calls on my mobile without the charges being ramped up.

I was able to cross from one country to another with no more bureacratic hindrance than crossing from England into Scotland.

When staying in hotels in my own country (UK) I've benefited from efficient and pleasant service from staff who were recruited from other EU countries.

When admitted to hospital I received superb attention from doctors, nurses, health care assistants, and cleaners, many of whom were from the EU (and beyond).

I eat vegetables that have been picked from fields (sometimes in freezing or wet conditions) by workers from other EU countries. Far from 'stealing our jobs' (we currently have low unemployment rates) they are doing work that many of those who are unemployed don't want to do.

The quality of our rivers, our coastal waters, and the air we breathe, the safety of our cars, and much else are controlled by EU regulations that we ourselves have helped to formulate.

Far from being a 'Vassal State' 'Shackled' to Brussels, and 'Dictated to by an unelected bureacracy', we have jointly participated in Europe's future with other elected leaders, and an elected parliament. We have been able to opt out of a single currency, and to opt out of the Schengen 'open borders' agreement.

We have benefited from cross-border policing, national security, medical and scientific co-operation and co-ordination.

We trade freely not only with millions of people on our doorstep, but with 70 other countries around the world via agreements made with the EU. So far, there are only provisional separate agreements with a dozen of them.

As for 'Unelected bureacrats', since when were Civil Servants ever elected, in any country?

And yet our nationalistic tub-thumping Brexiteering government expect us to replace all this with what? .. Turbo-boosted Optimism! WHY?! Because a slim majority of us voted for it after being fed dreams, aspirations, and lies instead of real facts. Some of those voters phone radio stations, and when asked to explain why, or what is it they could do outside the EU that they can't do now, they come up with garbage such as .. "I want to eat fish and chips out of newspaper again" (nothing to do with the EU), "I want to control our borders" (we already do), and "I want to buy curved bananas" (tabloid newpaper myth). Thankfully, nobody has yet said, "I want our money to return to £sd!" (Also nothing to do with the EU).

And now our new (undemocratically chosen) arm-waving blustering Prime Minister has a parliamentary majority of only ONE (and that's even counting the dubious support of Northern Ireland's DUP). There's only one solution now .. a General Election and an end to this madness.

16 March 2019

Atrocity in New Zealand

The monster who cold-bloodedly killed and injured over 50 innocent people in New Zealand the other day is a self-confessed Fascist and White Supremacist. I have skimmed through the 70-page manifesto that he posted online (or at least I've skimmed through as much as I could stomach). The man is totally unhinged and a ball of seething hatred and vitriol. Where does such vile rage come from? When and why did he lose his moral compass, (if he ever had one of course)?

During my speed-read of his stinking slurry of words, a couple of names jumped out of the page, one from the 1930s and one from right NOW. He professed admiration for the British Hitler-loving OSWALD MOSLEY, and he identified DONALD TRUMP as a "Symbol of White Identity and Common Purpose".

Let me be clear .. so-called White Supremacy has about as much place in a civilised society as Fundamental Islamic Jihadism, or Evangelical Christianity spreading the word of Jesus with firearms. It is all based on HATRED of anyone who differs from them in religious belief or cultural norms. If we wish to maintain anything vaguely resembling a peaceful liberal democracy, then we need to stamp on any kind of racial or religious supremacy movement wherever it raises its head. It is easy to be led by people who appeal to one's basest emotions, until you find yourselves sleep-walking into a tyrannical State where the only people who are happy are the haters and the fanatics.

You can find the seeds of this potential dystopia all over the place right now. You can find it in increasingly hate-filled discourse between people in Britain on either side of the European Union 'Brexit' debate. You can find it in Poland and Hungary with the increasing State control of newspapers, television and the legal systems. You can find it in the USA where the President regards journalists as the 'Enemy of the People' and puts forward the preposterous proposition that the Democratic Party is filled with people who not only believe in uncontrolled borders but are also in favour of crime.

We need to wake up and re-set our common moral compass, desensitise it against the magnetic pull of populist leaders, and appreciate that whether we are black, white or brown, Christian, Muslim, Hindu, or atheist, we are human beings who have evolved in pretty much the same way, and have the same basic needs, emotions, anxieties, health problems, humour and joy. We all bleed if we are cut, we weep when we lose loved ones, and we all have the capacity to achieve great things.

16 October 2018

BREXIT .. It's up to US


My earlier Blog was an attempt to lighten the mood. Now is the time to get a bit more serious.

Whether you voted to leave the EU or voted to remain, you didn’t vote for the unmitigated chaos that we are now wading through, and neither did you (no doubt with a few swivel-eyed exceptions) vote to be poorer, or to be marched off the cliff by a group of fanatics telling you that you’ll enjoy the drop and when you hit the water some of you will drown, but others will swim on until they rock up on the sun-drenched beaches of an island called Our Glorious Past.

The UK does not do referenda as a matter of course; we are a representative democracy in which we elect Members of Parliament to represent us to the best of their ability. But thanks to the efforts of Nigel Farage and others of his ilk, former Prime Minister Cameron tried to stop his Party from haemorrhaging votes to UKIP by promising us a referendum in the mistaken belief that the country would vote to remain. All he achieved was to cause an acrimonious division of roughly one half of the population against the other half. It is Cameron who is to blame for the mess in which we now find ourselves.

Then along came Theresa May as the new leader of the Conservatives, and thus Prime Minister. She demonstrated her soundness of judgement by calling a completely unnecessary election (she had a working majority, remember) in the belief she could increase her majority. The result was that she lost her working majority and had to ‘bribe’ the Democratic Unionist Party of Northern Ireland to prop her up in Parliament. As a result, the Northern Irish bigots have her over a barrel.

The problem we have with our Parliament now is that there are divisions all over the shop regarding how to proceed with Brexit, the worst of which are within the governing Party. Even within the Prime Minister’s Cabinet there are divisions between ‘Leavers’ and ‘Remainers’, and there are further divisions even between the ‘Leavers’; some want a good deal with the EU, others are happy with no deal. The Labour Opposition also has its fair share of Brexiteers; the Party is torn between supporting a deal brokered by the Prime Minister and opposing everything she comes forward with in the hope of triggering a General Election which they are fairly confident of winning. The two Parties which are consistent in their desire to remain in the EU are the Liberal Democrats (not enough of them to make a difference) and the Scottish Nationalists.

We can no longer rely upon Parliament to come to any meaningful decision on how to proceed, which brings me to the so-called People’s Vote being called for by increasing numbers of despairing people. They are shouted down by every Brexiteer in the land uttering the wearingly familiar “We’ve already had a people’s vote in 2016 and we voted to leave the EU. We don’t want a second referendum.” I despair: are these people so thick that they cannot realise that what is being asked for is not a second bite at the cherry, but a vote on the DEAL that is finally served up to us? Clearly Parliamentary arithmetic is so fluid that the only people who can accept or refuse the final deal are .. US!

WE were given a vote on the original proposition, and now, to have our say in how we implement it is not a denial of democracy, it is an EXTENSION of democracy. It is Democracy Plus. After all, from time to time we elect Parliament, and by extension, Government. Nobody says that a decision we take on that should not be re-visited five years later. Nothing is set in stone forever. Conditions change. New information becomes available. People ‘fall off’ the electoral register when they reach the end of life; others come on to the register when they reach voting age.

There is nothing wrong with the ‘People’s Vote’. Give us the real facts, and give us the vote.

 



17 September 2018

Brexit for Dummies


A Brief History

About two years ago there was a referendum on whether we should all eat a Full English Brexit or opt for the healthier Continental option. Just over half the country voted in favour of the Full English Brexit and ever since then we have been a Disunited Kingdom inhabited on the one hand by ‘Brexiteers’ and on the other by ‘Remoaners’.

It was all started by a man called Nigel who was uncomfortable with hearing foreign languages being spoken on the train and yearned for the ‘good old days’ when farage balloons were flying over London and we were busy telling the pesky Germans where to stick their bratwursts.

He started a political movement called UKIP which came to be known as the Kippers (which, as you know, also feature as an option on Full English Brexit menus). UKIP was so successful that eventually they represented as much as 0.3% of the British House of Commons which  threw the then Prime Minister “Call-me-Dave” Cameron into a blind panic, believing that the Kippers were causing a stink by stealing Conservative votes. So Dave went for discussions with the European Onion to see if he could peel away some of the layers without causing tears at bedtime. He returned waving a piece of paper, declaring “Peace in our time”. Sorry, that was someone else, back in the good old days. But the effect was the same; it wasn’t peace and he hadn’t persuaded anyone to make the Continental option look more like the Full English. But he was confident that he had, and so triggered the referendum which he knew he would win, which he didn’t.

The Kippers were more successful in gaining entry to the European Parliament thanks to a different voting system, and they devoted their time to frustrating proceedings, led by Nigel who (I felt in a rather un-British way) proceeded to personally insult the people running the European Onion, in particular the President of the Commission; Nigel told him he had the appearance of a low-grade bank clerk and the charisma of a wet dishcloth (or something along those lines) .. i.e., British diplomatic manners at their finest.

Back in Britain, Nigel the Chief Kipper, failed to get himself elected to the British Parliament in spite of having built up a fanatically loyal fan base rather like the one ‘The Donald’ built in the USA. In fact Nigel actually spoke at one of Donald’s rallies. They both have a lot in common.

Where are we now?

As we approach the time when we must depart the shores of the European Onion, there has been much talk about staying within the supermarket. This is understandable because having been inside the supermarket for 40 years we are still unsure about where they’ve put the custard powder this week. I think it is wise to stay inside the supermarket until we find out, but Prime Minister May has accepted that in order to exit the supermarket there is a price to pay on exit (which is known as the ‘Checkout’). She has come up with a plan known as the Checkers Plan allowing us to go past the checkers without too much fuss, and be taken home in a big red bus stuffed with extra money for the NHS.

Nigel wants nothing to do with the supermarket because it’s full of nasty foreign stuff, and you can never find the custard powder or, come to think of it, the Marmite. He wants British Aisles. He also wants less freedom of movement (though to my mind, you couldn’t have much less, what with all those shopping trolleys). Now the one consistent thing about the supermarket is that the fruit and vegetable section is always near the entrance and it tends not to move about too much, but even here the Kippers are complaining that there’s a preponderance of Brussels, and moreover the leeks are being seen to by Polish plumbers. And if you find yourself in front a large beetroot that is, as often as not, just Nigel getting very, very angry.

Now the ‘Three Brexiteers’, Bonkers Boris Johnson, Evil Doctor Fox, and the Honourable Member for the 18th Century, Jacob Rees Smug, are telling us that life outside both the supermarket and something called the Custard Union is going to be a bowl of cherries, because the Germans are still going to want to sell us their big Aldi cars (and even the Lidl ones), the French will still want to sell us their wine, and the Dutch will still want to sell us their cheese for so long as it takes for us to find the flavour.

The Custard Union is something that causes much consternation because it raises the subject of some Celtic border or other, possibly the Cornish Border? (At least a ‘hard’ border here would deal with those pirates of Penzance). But I digress; I am advised that we are concerned here with the border between Northern Ireland and the Irish Republic, across which there is much agricultural trade, and I’m assuming this is the reason for concern about a ‘hard’ border jeopardising the ‘Good Friday Peas Agreement’.

So, all in all, this is turning out to be a bit of a Dog’s Brexit, but I hope I’ve helped to throw some light on the subject, so you can vote sensibly when we have a referendum on the referendum, or possibly a General Election producing a Labour Government which will put the great British sausage into Public Ownership. Pass the custard mustard.

Lionel Beck
September 2018