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10 January 2018

What a Way to Run a Railway!

Margaret Thatcher’s government privatised everything that moved, with the exception of the railways; this appears to have been a step too far even for Mrs Thatcher who didn’t much like trains. Her dislike of the railways manifested itself in the form of systematic financial starvation of the then nationalised British Rail. This had the effect of eventually making BR so shabby and inefficient that it paved the way for her successor John Major to complete the Conservative portfolio of privatisation by taking the railways out of public control.

And what a dog’s breakfast that was! We had Railtrack - a hotchpotch of companies running the tracks and signalling (which in turn sub-contracted out work to all and sundry with often disastrous results) - and an assortment of train operating companies to run trains as route franchises granted by the government, using rolling stock leased from yet more companies.

In the quarter century that has passed since this mishmash was set up a certain amount of rationalisation has taken place, notably by replacing Railtrack with Network Rail (an arm’s-length branch of the Department of Transport). Train operating companies have come and go; some are reasonable operators and some are truly dreadful. The National Audit Office has just reported to Government (January 2018) that Southern Trains, Thameslink, and Great Northern franchises are providing poor value for money.

Why not re-nationalise the railways?

The Labour Party has pledged to bring the railways back into public ownership, but predictably the Conservative privatisation die-hards ridicule the idea. It appears, however, to be quite a popular idea with the general public and long-suffering  train passengers.

I am waiting for these Conservative die-hards to come up with better arguments for their case than the tired old “Don’t people remember the bad old days of the British Rail curly sandwich?”. Oh please, give me a break! As it happens, I was a frequent user of the East Coast main line between York and London during the 1970s and 1980s, and what I do remember is excellent food on those trains; proper food, prepared and cooked in proper kitchens, and served by smartly-uniformed stewards at properly laid-out dining tables. Come to think of it the trains were usually on time, and they completed the journey from York to London in about 1 hour 55 minutes. (In the first few years of privatised train companies the same journey mysteriously slowed to about two and a half hours.)

Here’s another argument trotted out by the Conservatives: “Have people forgotten the decrepit rolling stock, the poor service, the bad time-keeping, the ever-increasing fares?” .. And your point is? .. This seems to me be a pretty accurate description of what we have NOW.

The first company to get the East Coast Main Line between London and Edinburgh and beyond was GNER (Great Northern Eastern Railway). They were, to be fair, a half-decent company that ran smart trains with friendly staff, and continued the practice of serving proper food. But in due course they couldn’t hack it financially and handed the keys back. The franchise then passed to National Express (up to that point just a long-distance bus company). After a new paint job on the trains, some new logos, and a few years’ service they also couldn’t balance the books and handed the keys back.

At this stage (2009) the Labour Government of Gordon Brown took the route back into public ownership and the trains were run by Here is the significance of this move: after the inevitable new paint job and logo changes this line actually started producing a profit for the Treasury. The trains ran on time, they were fast, and they had a customer satisfaction rating of 91%.

This must have been so embarrassing for the subsequent Conservative-led Coalition Government: a State-run railway actually doing what it was meant to do, and making a profit into the bargain. Indeed it must have been so traumatic for the Conservative privateers that it wasn’t long before they put it out to franchise again, and this time it was snapped up by Virgin/Stagecoach. Another day, another paint job.

And now, once again, the latest franchise is in trouble. Virgin/Stagecoach paid the government £3.3 billion to run the franchise until 2023, and now they want to cut it short and also reduce their payments to the government. No doubt anxious to avoid the embarrassment of yet another company handing back the keys the Secretary of State for Transport has caved into the company’s wishes.

Other European nations appear to be able to run perfectly good publicly-owned railways, but British Conservatives are unwilling to see this, although – perversely – they appear to be quite sanguine about the fact that these other railways have a significant stake in our own train companies. For example, Grand Central Trains (also using the East Coast Main Line) are part of Deutsche Bahn’s international arm.

International subsidiaries of European State railways have a part interest in the following ..
Greater Anglia .. Dutch
London Overground .. German
Merseyrail  .. Dutch
Cross Country .. German
Southern .. French
Arriva Wales .. German
South Eastern .. French
Northern Rail .. Dutch
Docklands Light Railway .. Spanish & French
C2C .. Italian
Govia Thameslink .. French
Scotrail .. Dutch
Eurostar .. French & Belgian

The London Underground (a large network reaching far beyond the confines of Central London) is publicly owned and works well.

It seems that dogmatic Conservatives are dead set against State-owned railways unless they are foreign ones!

What a way to run a railway.
Re-nationalise, and let’s have a single (properly funded) national British railway system that we can be proud of, instead of this ridiculous kaleidoscope of companies which are constantly dropping in and out of franchises or pleading for government hand-outs and concessions.

©Lionel Beck
January 2018

05 October 2017

Olympics for the Elderly

      We are all getting older, folks, and also living much longer. A friend of mine recently attended a birthday party for a man who is 105 years old. We oldies are the ones who bother to go out and vote. Because we do our civic duty regularly I think we are owed the opportunity to integrate more into society, and what better way would there be than to be able to join the sporting fraternity. Sports of all kinds have a huge following, and I don’t see why we oldies should be reduced to watching them in front of a TV with a glass of beer and a packet of pork scratchings.So I’m proposing an annual Olympics for the Elderly (some of us might not be able to wait for the 4-year cycle to come round). Here are my Event Categories:   

  •       Motor Racing
  • ·         Spatial Awareness
  • ·         Athletics
  • ·         Rowing
  • ·         Tennis
  • ·         Ice Skating
  • ·         Cycling
  • ·         Fencing
  • ·         Boxing
  • ·         Climbing
  • ·         Table Tennis
  • ·         Weightlifting

Motor Racing

The task is to knock down the most pedestrians with a Mobility Scooter along 500 metres of a typical High Street.

Spatial Awareness

The task is to park a car in a really stupid place so that buses can’t get through and pile up behind. The winner is the one who accumulates the largest number of buses.


This is a timed event, and the aim is to achieve the fastest time in getting out of a bath.


This involves teams of two. Four couples sit in a long narrow boat. The couple that has the most serious row about housework leading to one pushing the other into the river is the winning couple.


The person displaying the biggest swelling on a tennis elbow gets the Gold.

Ice Skating

The same High Street used in the Motor Racing Event is covered in hard-packed frozen snow, and contestants have to walk 500 metres carrying two bags of shopping. The winner is the contestant with the largest number of broken bones.


Another team event, in which the teams have to separate 500 kg of household waste and place items in the correct re-cycling bin.


This is a Male/Female team event. The two males stand on opposite sides of a 50 metre fence, at one end. The two females stand similarly at the other end. At the firing of the starting gun (and assuming nobody has a heart attack) the male contestants start creosoting their side of the fence, working in the direction of their female partners. Meanwhile the females gossip over the fence. The winning team is the one where the male has reached the point at which he is creosoting his partner’s elbows AND she has also covered the greatest number of subjects on which to gossip.


When the bell rings, the first one to reach the phone wins. (Sadly, after a life time of blows to the head they are both demented).


This takes place on the north face of the garden rockery, and the contestant who has removed the most weeds gets an advantage.
There is a second stage involving climbing the stairs to bed, in which the contestant with the advantage from the first stage gets to start half way up the stairs. First into bed wins. (People who live in bungalows are disqualified).


This event involves two partners watching TV. One asks the other to pass the remote control. One successful lift of the ‘remote’ is all that’s required, though extra points are awarded if the recipient is then able to switch channels. There is an elitist group of seasoned practitioners who go in for an extreme (though some say altruistic) version of the sport, in which one person keeps the ‘remote’ on top his head and his partner lifts it from that position, thus taking a weight off the other’s mind.

Table Tennis

A married couple sits at the table, one at each end. When the bell rings they assume it’s a marketing call and remain seated, after which the man says, “More potatoes please”. The woman asks, “How many?” He replies, “Four love” .. which turns out is the winning score.

Events unlikely to be successful

An assortment of gymnastics have been tried but abandoned because of certain difficulties. They include ..

   Parallel Bars

                Time-wasters trying to order drinks

             Vaulting Horse

                Easily confused with Climbing.


                See Vaulting Horse

             High Bar

                See Parallel Bars


                Likely to upset people with tinnitus.


                Long-term accommodation costs for spectators waiting at the finish line.

             High Diving

                Uncertainty about the stability of incontinence pads.

So join me now in the slowest-growing bowel mass movement in the history of mankind.

27 August 2017

Cogito ergo sum (atheus)

Loosely translated this means I am a pompous git for spouting Latin.

More tightly translated it means I think, therefore I am (atheist).

And so I return to a subject on which I have pontificated before (see God and Religion )

I had better make it clear at the outset that I am not implying that people who believe in God don’t think! Obviously they do but follow different thought patterns to those that lead me to an atheistic position. Since time immemorial Jewish scholars have debated over the meaning and interpretation of the scriptures, obviously involving a good deal of high-powered thinking which, in the end, lead them to maintain their beliefs.

Christians and Muslims have done the same.

I simply find myself unable to accept the existence of either the God of the Bible or the God of the Qu’ran.

Are they two different Gods, or the same God being interpreted in two different ways? What about the multiple Gods of India? Humanity has believed in and worshipped countless numbers of Gods over the millennia. I am sympathetic to the view that rather than humanity being the creation of God (whichever one you believe in), God (whichever one you believe in) has been “created” by humanity.

I subscribe to an online discussion community called Quora and some of the most frequently occurring questions relate to God and Atheism. A common question is something along these lines .. How does an Atheist prove there is no God? Since I don’t believe in anything that cannot be proven beyond doubt it follows that, in my mind, there is no God, and since you cannot prove the non-existence of something I do not feel the need to produce any such proof. More to the point, I believe it is incumbent upon those who believe in the existence of God to provide proof of His (or Its) existence.

The usual come-back to this challenge is the assertion, “I have faith in His existence”. The Encarta English Dictionary defines faith as  belief in, devotion to, or trust in somebody or something, especially without logical proof.

Another common question is along the lines of  .. "How do atheists maintain good moral behaviour without religious commandments? This is preposterous. Human beings don't need religion in order to behave properly. A civilized society that has no mutually beneficial rules of behavious is doomed to collapse. Conversely, religious groups demonstrably have no monopoly on good behaviour!

Now I submit that you are perfectly entitled to be endowed with this faith (in the existence of God), but you are not entitled to present it to others as fact. I believe that people have every right to believe in whatever God and teachings that they wish, so long as they: (1) bear no malice towards me, and (2) feel no compunction either to persuade or force me to adopt the same views.

For my part I have no wish to turn Jews, Christians, Muslims, Hindus, etc., into atheists. Atheism is not a proselytizing condition. Other people can reach that state of mind, as I did, by questioning their own beliefs in their own time, should they wish to do that. 

As has been stated by me and other more learned thinkers (such as Richard Dawkins) the reason most of us are Christian/Muslim/Hindu/Catholic/Protestant/Shia/Sunni/Atheist is because from the first time after our birth that we were able to understand anything our parents told us who and what we were; and their parents had done the same to them .. and so on back into the mists of time. As a child we learn first from our parents, and what they tell us is true fact, for we have no way of knowing otherwise, or even thinking we ought to question what we are told. “Give me a child till he is seven, and I will show you the man” (Aristotle).

I was told it was fact that God existed, that he knew my every move, and if I was good I would go to heaven; if I was bad I would go to hell and burn forever. I had a childhood imbued with fear. I was told the Bible was Holy and I was expected to read it .. which I did in my early years without questioning a single thing I read .. talking snakes, talking donkeys, a man inside a fish, slavery, animals in ark, submission of women to husbands, virgin birth, life after death, the psychotic episode that is “Revelations” .. to name but a few oddities. I had no reason to doubt the existence of Heaven or Hell. I was expected to go to church every Sunday, and for the greater part of my life had feelings of guilt if I did not do so. 

By the time I was 70 I had re-read large parts of the Bible (and the Qu’ran) with an adult mind, and decided that much of it was patent nonsense. I could also see that religion had caused, and was still causing, much conflict and evil around the world. We are currently suffering the latest manifestations of evil in the activities of fanatical Muslims calling themselves “Islamic State”, who feel compelled to rid the earth of every human being who doesn’t submit to their particular thought process.

I have therefore turned my back on religion. I have Christian friends who accept me for what I am, and for that I am grateful. I offer them reciprocal acceptance and respect. They are good people. I have also been told by others professing to be Christians that I am misguided, mentally unstable, and destined for Hell. I'm not sure they are good people.

I recently listened to a young lady calling into LBC to explain why she had abandoned Christianity for Islam. The general gist of her reasoning was that there was too much flexibility in Christianity, not enough compulsion to understand the Bible in detail, too little firm guidance. What she wanted was a firmness of purpose in her religion, and praised the fact that so many Muslims are expected to learn the Qu’ran by heart. When the presenter suggested to her that over the millennia humanity had evolved, and that what was written thousands of years ago could not be applied rigidly to how things were today, her response was that religion had evolved .. and this is how she explained that evolution: "First there was Moses, then there was Jesus, and then there was Mohammed; and HE was the FINAL MESSENGER". In other words, all that we need to know ended in the 7th century.

What a gloriously simplistic thought process! And how lacking in proper thought.

Cogito ergo sum atheus.

©Lionel Beck
August 2017

01 January 2017

Close Encounter with the NHS

An Appreciation of the NHS in Malton & Scarborough.
For most of my life my heart and I have been on good terms. It has faithfully pumped its way through life’s journey without complaint or incident. A few days before Christmas it ruined its reputation having suddenly realised I’d just had a 79th Birthday. It didn’t like it. Sitting in front of a troublesome computer one day, my heart decided to remind me of my age by starting a hundred-metre sprint all on its own, leaving me feeling light-headed and decidedly unwell. I was thankful at least for the fact that I was experiencing no pain.

I got myself home and my wife got out her faithful blood pressure machine from which we discovered my blood pressure (normally good) was through the roof, and my pulse rate was 135 per minute. That didn’t sound (or feel) like a good scenario.

Malton Hospital
My wife drove me to Malton Hospital – a small local hospital just 8 miles away – where they have a walk-in centre. I was seen immediately by a Nurse Practitioner who started a series of tests. There was a “safety-first” kind of assumption that I had had, or was having, or would have, a heart attack, and with the attendant danger of a stroke. Soluble aspirin and a GTN spray under the tongue were administered.

She decided I should be in a bigger hospital, either York or Scarborough. There had been reports of a serious incident on the main road to York so it was off to the seaside for me, and an ambulance was ordered. It arrived quite soon. I was trundled into the back of it and hitched up to monitors. This was but a short visit to Malton Hospital, but within five minutes of my giving the receptionist my details and reason for being there I had been seen by an attentive Nurse Practitioner, a provisional diagnosis made, early treatment administered, and my next destination organised.

The Ambulance

The three paramedics were caring, good-humoured, and meticulous about what they were doing. I couldn’t have asked for more care and attention. This was my first experience of an emergency ambulance, and whilst the equipment and the medical treatment afforded was beyond reproach, the experience of lying on one’s back, seeing nothing of the outside except the sky through a roof light whilst negotiating corners, roundabouts, speed bumps, stops and starts, provided a less-than-ideal travelling experience. I asked the lady attending to me how many patients they had to treat for travel sickness. She replied, “Quite a lot!”

At some stage on the journey, with my heart still sprinting and my blood pressure high, we pulled off the road so that an injection could be administered. Approaching Scarborough we came up against heavy traffic with little movement. My paramedic looked at the traffic stretching out in front of the ambulance and said to the driver, “Let’s do this properly”. The driver flicked a switch and an electronic voice came from the dashboard .. “999 Mode engaged”. I heard the sirens start, and saw glimpses of flashing blue light reflecting off surfaces. Suddenly we were moving quite fast, and before long we’d arrived outside Scarborough Hospital’s Accident & Emergency Department, and I was being trundled into the corridor leading to the A & E cubicles.

Scarborough Hospital
As we have (sadly) come to expect these days, there was a queue of trolley-bound patients along the corridor (though it was good to see the queue was not too long). Nevertheless, after the paramedic had had a word with a staff member I was told we were jumping the queue. I found myself in a cubicle, cannula inserted, drip connected, pads and wires slapped all over my chest, all plugged into a monitor; temperature and blood pressure taken; a junior doctor sitting herself down beside me asking for personal details and the symptoms that had led me to my current position.

Another junior doctor came along and asked me a series of questions clearly designed to see whether there had been any impairment to my brain functions:
“Remember this address .. 42 West Street, then please answer some questions ..”
What’s your date of birth? What’s your name? When did the 2nd World War end? Can you count from 20 down to zero? What’s the name of this hospital? Roughly what time of day do you think it is? What was that address I asked you to remember?
“42 West Street”. Sighs of relief .. especially from me!
After about an hour of monitoring and observation I was transferred to the Coronary Care Unit and placed in a ward of four beds. I was offered a set of pyjamas, but by this time, my wife, who had returned home from Malton and picked up all the stuff I would need, provided the necessary attire. A nurse re-wired me to a monitor by the bed and remarked, “Oh I can see why you’re here” as the heart monitor began registering about 130 beats per minute.

Now, as to the little problem of one’s personal bodily functions and their needs I was quite happy to pull the curtain around my bed and use one of the bottles provided, but for a more serious need – which was beginning to exercise my mind – I would insist on getting out of bed, unplugging myself, and walking a short distance down the corridor. This provided grounds for serious concern for the nurse assigned to my care; she was perfectly charming but adamant that anything could happen in the toilet and there’d be no monitor to say why! She was clearly very worried, and I could see the litigation papers in her eyes, but I had to insist as politely as I could, even offering to sign a disclaimer, that I had my wits about me and knew what I was doing. I reminded her there was a nice big emergency pull-switch in there, and in any case I would rather die in the toilet than use a bed-pan!

I was happy to note that my heart rate eventually slowed down to about 80, but by the time I’d returned from a call of nature and plugged myself back in again, it was back to about 110.

During the periods when I felt well enough I laid there and enjoyed the banter between the three other men in the room. They had more serious conditions than mine but were cheerful and kept themselves entertained with their own little stories. The four of us passed some of the time watching each other’s heart monitors, with their pulse rate displays fluctuating between 55 and 125. It was more exciting than watching TV.

I was seen by a very pleasant Cardiac Consultant who shook my hand and introduced himself. He said I was presenting something of a challenge, because my heart appeared to be beating normally .. just too damned fast! Moreover I had no pain. It soon became clear I was to be there overnight, with further assessments in the morning, after blood tests and a chest x-ray.

A lady came round with a menu sheet so I could choose my evening meal. It was a good selection.
The staff became used to the idea that from time to time I was going to unplug myself from the monitors and take a walk along the corridor, then plug myself back into the mothership on my return to the ward.

After a night’s sleep interrupted several times for injections, blood samples, temperature and blood pressure checks, I was provided with hot water, flannels, soap, towels, toothbrush and toothpaste. Breakfast was brought in later, consisting of cereals, toast, marmalade and other spreads, and a choice of tea or coffee. Strangely, a “Full English” fry-up was not on offer!

After another day, and a second night of tests and observation, a second (equally pleasant) heart Consultant had concluded that I had suffered the symptoms of Angina (something caused through age-related hardening of the arteries, or clogging of same, and not always causing pain) and I would probably be allowed home late afternoon of the third day with appropriate medication, but subject only to my passing a physical test on a treadmill. By this time my heart rate was at a more respectable level.

In due course I was taken to the physio room and I was wired up to two computers and invited on to a treadmill which would put me through three stages of exercise over a period of about nine minutes. I started three minutes of easy strolling on the level, then an inclined walk at a faster rate for another three minutes, concluding with a very fast walk “uphill” for another three minutes. I didn’t fall over and I passed with flying colours. My Consultant came in to check the results, and told me I could go home, armed with a shed load of medication, and he would arrange to see me again in Malton Hospital in a couple of months’ time.

Apart from breakfast, the menu choices were surprisingly extensive. The food was of good quality, tasty, well cooked, and hot. (Well, apart from the salad dishes!) I’ve had much worse in some cafés.

Hygiene was exemplary. There were dispensers of anti-bacterial foam at the end of every bed, and in every doorway. Each morning, two or three very cheerful ladies (one of them singing enthusiastically) completely stripped the beds, disinfected the mattresses (top, underside, sides and ends) then all handrails etc., then re-made the beds with fresh sheets and pillow-cases. (The beds themselves were hi-tech with press-buttons to lower or raise them, raise or lower one end at a time, or indeed convert them into a giant chair.) After all this the floors were cleaned.

The Staff
Where do I start? From Consultants, Junior Doctors, Nurses, Health Care Assistants, to Catering and Cleaning, I encountered nothing but harmonious efficiency, good humour, kindness and compassion.

On my last night they brought in an elderly man who was a severe dementia case. He was constantly distressed, constantly on the move, talking nonsense, and trying to get out of bed. Watching three nurses attend to him was a master-class in good humour and kindness, demonstrated most eloquently by one nurse who was left standing at his bedside for about an hour, holding his hand, talking to him, calming him, and keeping him in the bed rather than out of it. Later another nurse
marched in and cheerily announced to the rest of us that it looked like being a long night, before handing round blindfolds and ear plugs!

I hate applying ethnic labels to people, but sadly it appears to be how the world wants to work. For example, how relevant is it that the nurse calming down the poor old guy with dementia was black? How relevant is it that the two junior doctors who first saw me in A & E appeared to be Chinese? How relevant is it that one of our ward nurses (all of whom appeared to work long shifts) might have been from the Philippines? How relevant is it that one of my heart Consultants might have been a Pakistani or an Indian? How relevant is that other nurses and doctors were just Yorkshire lads and lasses (or to coin a phrase used on survey forms, White British?)

You see, I’m using phrases like “appeared to be”, and “might have been” because really I don’t feel the need to find out. They just made up a brilliant kaleidoscope of multi-ethnicity: colleagues working together with smiles on their faces, and treating their patients like human beings in a manner that human beings normally like being treated.

So, the only relevance of their ethnicity was simply this: what I experienced was a microcosm of the way the World Outside ought to be! Should any members of such prejudiced groups as the British National Party, or Britain First or perhaps the more extreme members of UKIP fall ill and be thrust into the care of somewhere like Scarborough Hospital, they might just stop banging on so much about immigration! Or am I being naïve?

My final thought is in regard to the NHS itself. There are two opposing extreme views: (1) it is the ‘envy of the world’ .. in which case one might be forgiven for wondering why the rest of the world hasn’t copied it .. or (2) it is a bloated, inefficient, badly managed bureaucracy, in need of privatisation. But as usual, nothing is that black or white (except perhaps black and white), and although we all know of examples of some dreadful NHS hospitals, they are a minority. I am just grateful that having paid my taxes throughout my life I have always been able to receive good medical care as and when needed, free at the point of delivery.

So, I’m grateful to Malton Hospital, Yorkshire Ambulance Service, & Scarborough Hospital.

©Lionel Beck
29 Dec 2016

29 November 2016

The Insane Politics of 2016

A Year Best Forgotten?

If only it were that simple. We could try to forget, but the downside would be that much of the insanity would just carry on unchecked. We owe it to ourselves and to those who follow us to keep the year’s events in mind, think about them, and endeavour to make 2017 a little less like more of the same.

It was a year of political upheavals, which could be variously described as  surprising, scary, unpleasant, incredible, and (for some people with whom I have little understanding) actually exciting.
The values of our democratic social & liberal society in Britain, Europe and the USA were severely strained by an upsurge of extremist politics from both ends of the political spectrum.

Forgive this slight digression, but on the matter of the political spectrum, I don’t like the simplistic view of right and left being represented as a straight line with Socialists and Communists at one end, and Nationalists and Fascists at the other.

In practice, this “straight” line is part of a circle’s circumference; Left & Right bend round in each direction becoming more extreme in each direction, resulting in completion of the circle. Where Left & Right join, we find that the two political credos are almost indistinguishable from each other. These extreme “ends” have things in common: a tendency towards dictatorship, totalitarianism, populism, racism, Media control, loss of individual liberty and the denial of human rights. (Think Joseph Stalin & Adolph Hitler. Think Fidel Castro & General Pinochet. In both pairings, they had so much in common, didn’t they?) This is what I mean ..

The European Union

Nigel Farage
Nigel Farage
In the UK things began to get nasty when the Conservative Government led by David Cameron promised a referendum on whether or not Britain should remain a member of the European Union. The only reason he did this was to paper over the cracks within his own Party. Some wanted to leave and others wanted to remain, and those that wanted to leave were making a nuisance of themselves. Fuel was poured on to the burning embers of Conservative resentment by the United Kingdom Independence Party (UKIP) led by a charismatic, ego-driven popinjay called Nigel Farage. Farage and his cohorts were initially perceived as a threat mainly to the Conservatives, and one or two prominent Conservatives actually jumped ship and joined UKIP. In reality, though UKIP was managing to pick up votes from the “working classes” (ex-Labour voters) across large swathes of the North of England.

UKIP’s principal message was that we should “take back control”. That meant taking back control of our borders and clamping down on immigration, and taking back control of the sovereignty of Parliament, so that instead of being bound by common laws dreamed up in Brussels by unelected bureaucrats (some of whom were of course British) to be rubber-stamped by an ineffectual European Parliament, we would “make our own laws”. There was merit in some of the arguments, but then on the other hand some very useful Europe-wide laws had come out of the EU, e.g., on working time, working conditions, air and water quality, coastal waters quality, food labelling, measures dealing with climate change, common access to health care, freedom of travel, freedom to find work, and so on.

Free movement of people was a cornerstone of the EU credo, which gave us all huge advantages in terms of being able to find work in any European country, and being able travel freely and without hindrance on holidays. On the downside – hugely exploited by UKIP and others – there was an uncontrollable influx of immigrants, some of whom were very useful to us (especially scientists, nurses, doctors, engineers, etc.) but many who were not (unskilled, unemployed, receivers of benefits etc.) This latter group fuelled a feeling of resentment among much of the UK population, encouraged by Farage’s gratuitous comments about hearing foreign languages being spoken on trains being unpleasant.

Unfortunately successive UK governments (in particular Labour ones) had until recently stuck to an ideological belief system that refused to recognise that immigration could ever be a problem and actively encouraged hundreds of thousands of people to come into the country without regard to their skills, their ability to seek work, or even their ability to speak the language. Discussion of any social problems was deemed to be “racist” and was shut down before it could gain traction.

In my opinion, the UK government should have had the courage to stand up to the EU and take whatever measures were necessary in the national interest. (Other countries seemed to have no qualms about bending the rules in the national interest.) I believe the EU would have huffed and puffed and even tried  legal action, but it wouldn’t have mattered. They would have caved in to our demands in the interest of maintaining the EU as an ongoing entity.

But no, UKIP were stirring up hatred for the EU, Nigel Farage was insulting people right, left and centre in the European Parliament, and they were putting the wind up the Conservatives, especially when at the last elections for the European Parliament they managed to send a large contingent of UKIP MEPs to Brussels.

David Cameron
David Cameron
And so, David Cameron embarked upon an ill-fated referendum which he was convinced he was going to win, i.e., the British public would vote to remain in the EU. Indeed he was stupid enough to give the Civil Service specific instructions not to prepare a “Plan B”!

The downright lies and pure fantasy that rained down upon us from both the Remain and Leave campaigns swamped anything resembling truly informative dialogue and we were standing up to our knees in stinking controversy. Both sides were taking us all for fools. None of them wanted to ‘confuse us with the facts’.

We had a binary choice, IN or OUT. The appeal to naked nationalism by UKIP and the renegade Tories known as “Brexiteers” had more effect than any positive arguments in favour of European co-operation, free trade, and partnership, and the country voted NO to the EU. But .. only just, and the closeness of the vote meant that bad feeling from one half of the population against the other was rife, and even families were divided (mine included). Paradoxically, whilst I voted to remain in the EU I would have been much happier if the vote to leave had been overwhelming and beyond argument. 52% / 48% is not a good place to be.

Theresa May
Theresa May
David Cameron resigned (he had little other option) and the Tories appointed Theresa May as their new Leader, and hence, Prime Minister. She (a closet “Remainer” we were led to believe) is now left with the unenviable task of taking us out of Europe, for which Cameron had made no contingency plans!


Hate Crimes

The worst aspect of the EU referendum campaign and its result was the subsequent manifestation of something in the British character that, frankly, some of us would prefer to deny exists, namely  hate and intolerance. I suppose there has always been plenty of that around but the unwritten rules of society managed to keep it well under wraps until the Internet, and Social Media, provided a ready outlet for sociopaths, racists, anti-semites and various other varieties of swamp life.

Jo Cox
The late Jo Cox
In the weeks and months following the referendum there were hundreds of incidents of immigrants being abused. Of course many were not actually immigrants, having been born in this country, but – hey! – if you’ve got a brown or black face and speak with an unusual accent, then you’re an immigrant. At the milder end of the hate spectrum one idiot walked into a Polish food shop and told the owner to “Go home! We’re out of the EU now and you’re not wanted.” At the disgustingly extreme end of the hate spectrum, a widely loved and respected (pro-EU) Labour MP, Jo Cox, was shot and stabbed right outside her constituency office by a man shouting “Britain first!” Jo Cox was murdered in broad daylight in front of dozens of witnesses, and her killer just walked off down the road as if nothing unusual had occurred. It didn’t take the Police long to collar him, and I’m pleased to say that he is now behind bars for life, (and in this instance, life means life).

What have we become? It is totally insane.


Party Fortunes

The Labour Party

Ed Miliband
Ed Miliband
Nick Clegg
Nick Clegg
Meanwhile, something else very interesting was happening. In the previous year's General Election the voters kicked out the Conservative-Liberal Democrat Coalition, leaving us with a Conservative majority government. The Labour Party performed miserably. This resulted in the resignation of both David Miliband as Labour Leader, and Nick Clegg as Liberal Democrat Leader.

Jeremy Corbyn
Jeremy Corbyn
The Labour Party MPs put forward four just-about-plausible leadership candidates that one might describe as being on the centre-left or social democratic area of the political spectrum, and then some wag suggested Jeremy Corbyn should be nominated to balance the field. Everyone thought he would be a joke candidate because he was so far “left” that he was nearly falling over the cliff, (or - using my preferred circular analogy – whizzing round that circle towards the totalitarian point) but surprise, surprise, he amassed a huge following amongst thousands of young Socialist, Communist, Trotskyist, and Marxist activists who were signing up as Members of the Labour Party like there was no tomorrow, for the express purpose of voting in the leadership election. Jeremy Corbyn (a decent enough man, it has to be said) was a master of street campaigning and political rallies, and his support grew to such a point that, come the leadership election, he won it by a landslide; and so a man who had devoted about 30 years of his life in Parliament railing against his own Party (even when they were in government) now found himself leading it!

The result was that most of the Parliamentary Party vowed not to work with him, whilst in contrast the support of the Party membership outside of Parliament were placing him on a huge pedestal that might as well have had a brass plaque attached with the somewhat appropriate initials .. JC.

By the time we had entered the insane year of 2016 JC was being subjected to parliamentary pressure to resign, and a couple of Labour MPs challenged him to another leadership contest. Again this meant another vote by the Party Membership outside Parliament, and again the membership defied the Parliamentary Labour Party and elected him for a second time. Even the Labour Party in Parliament was not stupid enough to resist him again. Most of the “big beasts” disappeared from the Shadow Cabinet and were replaced by people nobody had ever heard of. Tony Blair’s social democratic “New Labour” had reverted to pure socialism.


The Liberal Democrats

This Party, which has honourable social reforming roots going back to William Gladstone and David Lloyd-George, had been reduced to 6 MPs at the end of World War II, (when Labour won a landslide victory) and it then spent the rest of the 20th century and the early part of this century slowly building up its popularity again, to the point where it could boast more than 60 MPs. This put them in a powerful position when, at the 2010 General Election, no single Party got sufficient votes to form a government with a working majority. The outgoing Labour Prime Minister Gordon Brown made half-hearted attempts to form a coalition with the Liberal Democrats but the arithmetic didn’t really add up. On the other hand if the Conservatives could form such a coalition the figures would add up. And so the Conservative-Liberal Democrat Coalition Government came into being in 2010. We were in middle of a major financial crisis and some kind of stable government was urgently required.

The Coalition achieved some notable successes, namely bringing back the nation’s finances under control, increasing cash for education, increasing nursery places for pre-school children and assistance for mothers, and most significantly raising the personal tax allowance which helped the middle and low earners. 

The Liberal Democrats were a driving force behind many of the reforms of that Coalition, but their leader Nick Clegg had made one huge mistake leading up to the 2010 General Election: he had campaigned vociferously against University tuition fees and vowed to abolish them. No doubt he didn’t expect to be in government when he made that commitment, but on that basis he garnered a huge following. So, when in government his commitment was swallowed by the inevitable gaping hole of coalition compromises, and tuition fees were increased rather than abolished, the Liberal Democrats credibility and popularity stalled and plummeted to earth in an uncontrollable spin. 

Consequently the 2015 General Election saw their MPs reduced to a miserable EIGHT. They were almost back to 1945! Their place as a Third Party force to be reckoned with was taken over by about 50 Scottish Nationalists MPs (who, by the way, virtually wiped out the Scottish Labour Party).

Tim Farron
Tim Farron
Norman Lamb
Norman Lamb
The Liberal Democrats also had to elect a new Leader and had the choice of Norman Lamb and Tim Farron. Continuing my penchant for always voting for the losing side, I voted for Normal Lamb and got Tim Farron! Tim Farron is a decent guy, and has one advantage over the Conservative and Labour Leaders .. he has genuine  “working class” roots. But I cannot in all honestly describe the Leader of the Party I support as a “political heavyweight”. Norman Lamb, in contrast, is more mature and experienced, and served as a respected Health Minister in the Coalition Government, gaining a good reputation for fighting the corner of those challenged by mental illness. So .. voted for Leader Lamb, got Tiny Tim. I live with it; it’s democracy.

The Conservative Party

There is very little to add about the Party now in government, except to say that they are now faced with delivering the “Brexit” that Britain voted for, using a plan that is either non-existent, or if it does exist is not being shared with the rest of us.

(I say “Britain”, but interestingly most of Scotland voted to remain, thus providing even more opportunity for constitutional crisis. Paradoxically, although Scotland had voted to remain part of the UK a couple of years ago, the Nationalists who had complained about being ruled by a distant London are apparently content to be ruled by an even more distant Brussels!)



In 2015, this Party, under Farage’s dynamic leadership, started sucking up millions of votes (many of them from Labour strongholds) but because of the injustices of Britain’s “first past the post” system, the votes, being spread around many constituencies up and down the land, only one MP was elected. They did much better at the European Parliament elections because they are run on a proportional representation system.

Although they produced a manifesto for government, their over-arching reason for existence was to get Britain out of the EU, and in this they succeeded. Ever since the referendum people have been understandably asking, “What is UKIP  for now?”

Paul Nuttall
Paul Nuttall
The Party descended into a period of infighting and navel gazing, not to mention an outbreak of Tweets between members and officials, the resignation of Nigel Farage (“I want my life back”), a leadership contender who failed to get his papers submitted in time, a fist fight between him and another UKIP Member of the European Parliament, a new leader (Diane James) who completed just 18 days of service before resigning, resulting in a third leadership election in which Paul Nuttall became Leader. He said the Party had become a jig-saw puzzle that had been tipped on to the floor. Under his leadership the UKIP jig-saw would be put back together.

Meanwhile, in the USA ...

As President Barak Obama (Democrat) limped towards the end of his second term, no doubt exhausted by continual criticism and sometimes racist abuse by Republicans about his inability to achieve anything. This was high hypocrisy since the Republican Party had control of both Houses of Congress and thus went out of its way to block anything the President tried to do.
Donald Trump
Donald Trump
Hillary Clinton
Hillary Clinton
With Presidential elections coming up in November of 2016, the Republicans and Democrats went about the usual process of selecting their candidate through Primary Elections. The Republicans put a ridiculously high number of candidates forward (most of them carrying little weight), one of which was Donald Trump an egocentric billionaire businessman and TV reality star, regarded by many as a joke candidate. Meanwhile the Democrats settled on only two candidates, one of which was Secretary of State Hilary Clinton and Senator Bernie Sanders who .. wait for it .. described himself as a Socialist !
Bernie Sanders
Bernie Sanders

I’d always thought the term “American Socialist” was an oxymoron, but I was wrong. Bernie Sanders started accumulating mass support, similar in some ways to what Jeremy Corbyn had done in the UK. Nevertheless, it was not enough to stop Hillary Clinton being adopted as Candidate for President. She was a flawed candidate, not only representing the East Coast/West Coast liberal establishment, but also mired in controversy over the use of a private email server, allegedly putting national security at risk. The Republicans, against all odds, also settled on a flawed candidate, i.e., Donald Trump, who set about insulting and abusing women, the disabled, Mexicans, Muslims, and of course Hillary Clinton (“Crooked Hillary”. “Lock her up.” ) At one rally he also encouraged his supporters to deal with a protester by punching him in the face.

Trump’s businesses were many and varied, as were his bankruptcies, debts and tax evasion schemes. During the campaign a video recording was unearthed in which we watched and heard him boasting to a TV producer that he could grope women in the genital area and get away with it. I think his actual words were “Grab them by the Pussy”. Future presidential material??

Considering the huge size and population of the USA it was somewhat surprising to those of us living on this side of the pond that these two people were the best they could come up with to be leader of the “free world”.

Against all odds Trump actually became President-Elect, and just as the “Brexit” phenomenon in Britain produced all sorts of swamp life, a lot of Americans started getting nasty and abusive with immigrants. Trump claimed he stood for the forgotten unemployed, and the working poor, neglecting to mention that he himself (living in gilded opulence) was a product of, and a beneficiary of  the Corporate world of global capitalism that was mainly responsible for the existence of those forgotten poor in the first place. 

Having spent the entire campaign that was calculated to cause serious divisions throughout American society, on finally becoming President-Elect, Trump announced, in all seriousness, that he intended to unite the country.

They sucked it all up, and yelled “Make America Great Again”. (By the way, when did America stop being “great”, and what is meant by “great”? Nobody seems to know.)

Trump and Farage
Self-appointed champions of Blue-collar Workers
He found common cause with our own Nigel Farage, who spoke at a couple of Trump’s rallies. What a jolly picture they made standing together in Trump Tower, two egomaniacs. Trump is going to make America great again, and UKIP’s new leader Paul Nuttall said in his victory speech that he was going to put the “Great” back into Britain again.

All great populist stuff, but totally insane (and dangerous).

Worse still, similar stuff has been stirring in Europe, with far-right Parties in the ascendant in Holland, France, Germany, Austria, Hungary and Italy – all exacerbated by waves of Middle Eastern and North African immigrants fleeing civil wars and/or religious persecution, seeking refuge in a Europe starting to collapse under the weight of alien social customs and consequent widespread resentment.

All deeply troubling.

I’m at the fag-end of my life, and I could perhaps say I don’t give a flying f*ck, but I worry about the future my grandson will inherit. So should you.

If this isn’t the time for Liberals to stand up for liberal values, democracy and human decency, I don’t know when is!

©Lionel Beck - 2016