Tuesday, 11 October 2016

A letter to my MP 10 October 2016

Dear Andrew,

Back in July, when I wrote to you following the referendum outcome, you said: "As we work for the best possible relationship with the EU, I will welcome as ever your thoughts and ideas." I am taking the opportunity to do that but I would also like to ask you for your thoughts and ideas about the point we have now reached. It has been a bruising few months for our country, for our economy, for our civil and political life, and for our constitution.

We now have a new PM and Cabinet pursuing a vastly different agenda from the one campaigned on only 18 months ago. It has been left to a group of concerned citizens with crowd-funding support to challenge the government's assertion that it can use the royal prerogative to trigger Article 50. The Government says that its 'Brexit' strategy must be kept secret and is resisting all attempts for there to be a democratic debate about the terms on which we negotiate. There is every indication that we will be pursuing a so-called 'Hard Brexit', which will be a disaster. This is 'dangerous overreach': it goes way beyond what may or may not have been mandated by the EU Referendum, leaving aside all the lies and disinformation that led up to it. It does not bode well for our country or for any future good relationship with the EU. 

I am still unpersuaded that leaving the EU will address any of the concerns expressed by Leave voters. The clear indications are that it will be bad for all of us. I am shocked that even holding these views is now considered to be somehow 'unBritish' and 'anti-democratic'. I am very, very concerned about this direction of travel and in particular about Mrs May's apparent desire to step aside from the international human rights' frameworks. Many people who voted Remain now say that they feel embarrassed by our country and afraid of where we are heading. It also shocks me that virtually no politicians have had a word for the '48%', other than to say that we must help to make 'Brexit' happen and help make it 'a success' (whatever that means). But even if we wanted to 'get behind it' what is there to get behind? It seems what is meant is that we must 'put up and shut up' while our economy nosedives, our rights are removed and and so-called 'foreigners' are scapegoated. To describe these as 'dissenting' views and then seek to silence and oppress their expression is a very dangerous polemic.That it is coming from our Prime Minister is frankly scary. The Government is disregarding its own definition of  'fundamental British values': Democracy, Individual Liberty, Rule of Law and Tolerance.

In my view we still need Parliamentary involvement in the decision when or whether to trigger Article 50, a vote on the nature of the deal if we really are so foolish as to pursue leaving the EU, and proper scrutiny of the Government's proposed Great Repeal Bill, which will 'put up for grabs' any number of our rights and protections. As an MP you have a duty to act in the national interest as well as represent the interests of your constituents. We need some reassurances and some sign that Parliament is going to step up.

I look forward to hearing your view of this situation and what will you be doing to hold the Government properly to account.

Kind regards,


Wednesday, 31 August 2016

Two months later - time to press Parliament to step up and oppose leaving the EU

Two months on, the news about the fallout from the ill-conceived referendum on leaving the European Union continues to be grim. The Government seems determined to press on with "Brexit". The opposition parties (outside of the SNP) are in disarray and, apart from a few honourable MPs like David Lammy, are peddling the line that we have to accept the referendum result. Our politicians seem to be in denial that a constitutional crisis is looming. No-one seems willing to step up for the "Remoaners"!

Although it can all feel rather hopeless, I am firmly of the view that be we must not give up and must not become dispirited. As Parliament reconvenes, here are a few suggestions for things we can still do:

1. Write to your MP to ensure s/he is taking part in the Parliamentary debate on 5 September and, if your constituency voted to Remain, will speak in favour of staying in the EU. This debate has been called following 4 million signatures requesting a second referendum. https://petition.parliament.uk/petitions/131215

2. Go to http://www.nobrexit.uk/roadmap/ for a great summary of suggested actions, including joining Britain for Europe and supporting the various legal challenges that are around.

3. Sign https://petition.parliament.uk/petitions/133540 - this petition asks for Parliament to decide whether we remain in the EU, something the government is currently, shamefully, resisting.

4. You may also want to consider joining More United: http://www.moreunited.uk/join

Although the Remain Campaign has re-launched as Open Britain, supporting this group is not recommended as it has accepted the result of the referendum - See this article in the Independent. It is a shame that so many talented politicians have chosen this route and let down Remain Voters in this way.

And after all that, we just have to watch this space and pray for good outcomes despite the current situation.

Tuesday, 26 July 2016

One month later - further thoughts on the EU Referendum result and why I still oppose its implementation

A month ago, on 26 June 2016, I posted my thoughts and feelings immediately after the  outcome of the EU Referendum on 23 June. I said that this was a time for courage not serene acceptance. Like many 'Remainers', I hadn't wanted this vote in the first place and feared this would be the outcome. (For some of the reasons why, read this brilliant analysis by John Laurenson,) A month later, how is it all looking? Have I come to terms with the vote and accepted all it will mean? That is apparently the British (Katie Razzall) and the sane (Mark Mardell) response. "We are leaving the EU, we must get on with it and work together to make it happen" seems to be the line. Well, I accept that the vote has happened and that this has been the outcome. But does that mean I accept we now have "Brexit"? Not at all. I am British and I am sane and I think what is happening to my country is destructive and mad. I can't, and I won't, let up on trying to stop that madness. Here are 3 of the reasons why, and 5 practical steps for anyone who still feels the same way and wants to do something about it.

  1. We are a Parliamentary, not a direct democracy - Parliament dumped this decision onto us. I believe everyone who voted in the referendum did their best to answer the question posed based on their life experience. However, this was an advisory referendum and is not legally binding. There was very little fact or rational argument at the heart of either campaign. There was no plan for the future.It was not a General Election yet it seems to have been treated as such.  Despite what we are being told, there is no strong mandate to leave the EU. Take a look at this brilliant short film by Andy Knott: "Brexit mandate, what Brexit mandate?"
  2. The "UK" did not vote to leave the EU - important constituent parts of the United Kingdom did not vote to leave and their voices have a right to be heard. Forcing "Brexit" onto the people of Gibraltar, Northern Ireland and Scotland is morally unacceptable. In Scotland, Nicola Sturgeon has been outstanding within her remit (and ultimate desire for independence). But no-one is speaking up for Remainers elsewhere. It is not just Leave campaigners who disgracefully ran away after the result (and then got shamelessly rewarded by positions in the newly arranged British government). Remain politicians have also abandoned ship and there is currently no effective opposition. Remainers must let our politicians know that we have not gone away. 
  3. Leaving the EU is not in our best interests  - this is more and more apparent every day. Our economy is plummeting, our rights and environmental protections are threatened. None of the problems that people who voted to leave the EU want to see fixed (even when we utterly reject the xenophobia and racism) will be fixed by leaving it, not least because the vote was not primarily about the EU in any meaningful sense. However we voted, we are likely to be dissatisfied whether we have a 'hard' or a 'soft' "Brexit". There are no good scenarios for Britain arising from it. This is a political failure that will be hugely costly for us all and will haunt us for years, if not decades. Life is not binary. We pay our politicians to deal with the nuance and the subtlety, and to act in our best interests. We have seen precious little of that before or after this referendum. Some say that because the Government, most politicians and most of the media have accepted the outcome, so must we. But we do not and we should not. 
Practical steps you might want to take
  • Demand that Parliament takes back responsibility. Ask your MP to:
    • Support Early Day Motion 243 asking Parliament to agree to a second referendum on the terms of an UK-EU exit package or on the UK remaining in the EU.  (Shamefully, only 17 MPs have so far supported this despite Parliament supposedly being 2/3 in favour of Remain. @DavidLammy has been a real star. Where are the rest?)
    • Ensure that there is a Parliamentary vote on whether to trigger Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty and write in support of the legal case to ensure that such a vote takes place (to be heard in October)
    • Attend the debate on the petition "EU Referendum Rules triggering a 2nd EU Referendum" at Westminster Hall on 5 September at 4.30pm and put points on your behalf as a Remainer. You can also attend yourself. (This petition asked for a retrospective change to the EU Referendum Act to hold another referendum if the remain or leave vote was less that 60% based on a turnout of less than 75%. This was never going to happen - although most certainly Parliament should have included some such protection - and the petition itself has already been rejected by the government. However, because over 4 million people signed it, it will be debated.)

  • Sign and gather support for a new petition asking for a delay in invoking Article 50 until the impact on the UK is reviewed 
  • Support  @TheNewEuropean, the new newspaper for the 48% and post pictures of your favourite places in Europe on the hashtag #myeurope (Recommended - very therapeutic)
  • Join More United  the new movement for British politics and look out for pro-EU events and other initiatives via Move for Europe and @RemaininEU and elsewhere on social media
  • Challenge anyone anywhere who says that we are now "post-Brexit" or have already left the EU, or that the UK voted to do so, including, shamefully, the BBC.

Sunday, 26 June 2016

EU Referendum - A time for Serenity or for Courage?

"God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can, and wisdom to know the difference." Reinhold Niebuhr's famous prayer has been on my mind today.

In the wake of Thursday's devastating result, should we now shrug our shoulders, say 'that's democracy' and serenely accept the outcome of the EU referendum? When I look at all that blue on the map of England and Wales I am tempted to feel hopeless and ready to despair. I woke up on Friday feeling as if war had been declared, as if everything I had worked hard for all my life had gone and that my country had been taken away. I felt unnerved and destabilised as markets crashed, as I spoke to people in tears and shock, and I felt scared, aware that something very nasty has been unleashed in our society. Nothing that has happened since has reassured me or reduced my sense of grief and bereavement.

I don't feel ready for serene acceptance. I'm not yet prepared to accept that leaving the EU is the right outcome for the UK. I think this is a time for courage. 

During the Referendum campaign, with our two main political parties in disarray, no-one made a really strong case for all the positive benefits of being in the EU, notably for many of the areas with a majority in favour of leaving. A lot of people felt confused and that they didn't know the full facts. Many people who voted to leave don't seem to have understood the full implications of what they were doing. Nearly all of the promises made to them have been broken already or exposed as blatant lies.Some Leave voters are already expressing regrets. Others are engaging in racist criminal behaviour and stirring up a climate of hatred that has been festering for some time but now appears to have had the lid taken off. Our British reputation for tolerance, inclusion and openness (such as it was) may have been permanently tarnished. A recession has likely been triggered in the UK, if not globally.

This was not a General Election. The EU referendum is not legally binding. It is advisory. The advice is that we are a deeply divided nation who need clear and calm leadership and an end to deprivation and austerity. The advice is that all of our capital cities and 2 of the 4 countries of the UK do not want to leave the EU and that doing so is likely to lead to the break up of the United Kingdom. The advice is that only 37.8% of the electorate voted to leave, less than 27% of the total population, and that the young people who voted, and who will be most affected in the long term, overwhelming want to remain. We did not even allow 16 to 17 year-olds a say. The advice is that although 17.4 million people want to leave, 16.1 million don't. A difference of 1.3 million people out of a total population of 65 million is not a sufficient margin to break up our United Kingdom, wreck our economy, risk our security, throw away our rights and destroy our environment.

Please write to David Cameron and to your MP asking them to oppose the invocation of Article 50 and to vote against it in Parliament. Please write to your MEPs, EU ministers and office holders asking them to help us not to make this foolish mistake. And above all please continue to show love, tolerance and compassion towards all our fellow citizens, Leave or Remain, EU or non-EU. We are all one.

We can still step back from this. It will not be easy and it will take courage. My prayer today is that I will have the courage to continue to say to my fellow countrymen and women who voted Leave that I think they are wrong; that I will have the courage to call on our politicians to be courageous in helping us to think again; and that I will have the courage to reach out to others and invite them to believe that they too can have the courage to change things. Time alone will tell if this courage was also wisdom.

Monday, 6 July 2015

Centre Court

Here is a piece I wrote back in July 2003 when Martina Navratiliova won her 20th Wimbledon title with victory in the mixed doubles. It seems I was reading Barbara Kingsolver's High Tide in Tucson at the time, hence the apology, although I can't remember now if it refers to a particular essay in that brilliant collection. It seems appropriate to post this during Wimbledon fortnight and to celebrate the US decision to legalise same sex marriage. Now if they could only bring back serve and volley lawn tennis...

(with apologies to Barbara Kingsolver)

I’m sitting in my friend Anne’s living-room, wearing my favourite faded black denim jeans and shiny new tan Cowboy boots. To fully admire these my feet are up on Anne’s glass-topped coffee-table. We are scoffing peanuts, swigging back Molson beer and watching the game on TV.

But the game is not the World Series or even the Superbowl, although no doubt many otherwise well-adjusted mid-life women could justifiably spend their time on either. The game we are giving up our Sunday afternoon for is being beamed by satellite over five or six thousand miles, from the sedate manicured grass lawns of the All England Croquet and Lawn Tennis Club in Wimbledon, UK.

None but diehard fans of this august institution set amid leafy London suburbs now recalls that tennis was once the Young Turk, invading the sacred lawns of SW19 with gut-strung rackets swinging fiercely against the cylinder-shaped wooden croquet clubs known as mallets. These days Wimbledon is internationally famous, one of the four Grand Slam tournaments that all tennis players dream of winning but few attain. The only one, now, that is played on grass, where the skills and tactics of serve-and-volley are barely mastered by modern players. But still they come, Young Turks and old, to try their hand on grass that has surely been cut with nail scissors.

On court is Martina Navratilova, definitely an old Turk. Nine times Ladies’ Singles Champion and holder of ten further titles in doubles and mixed doubles. Her partner, a smiling, round-faced Indian man called Leander Paes, was born the first year that Navratilova played at Wimbledon, in 1973. Then she was a mousy-haired, sixteen-year-old chubby Czech. Five years later when she won Wimbledon for the first time, beating super-cool, elegant Chrissie Evert in a three-set thriller, she was stateless, a defector, her parents huddling round a TV set near the East German border to watch their daughter’s triumph. Now the Berlin Wall is a distant memory and Navratilova is one of us, a US citizen, lithe, lean and lissom with tinted blonde locks. In crisp shorts her presence on the court is eager and efficient, like a well-bred greyhound, her competitive instincts undimmed. She wears her forty-six years lightly, like a plastic raincoat that can be discarded when the sun shines. Martina Hingis, the tennis champion who was named after her, has recently retired, aged twenty-two. Her two opponents today, Rodionova and Ram, Russian and Israeli respectively, are both more than half her age.

It is evening sunlight on Centre Court, midday in Tucson. As Anne and I settle in there is no sign that the crowd are about to drift away to car or Underground Station, even though the media-dubbed ‘business end’ of the tournament, the Men’s Singles Final, finished nearly three hours ago. They know, as we do, that a piece of history is about to unfold, served up by a middle-aged woman with a pink triangle in her racket.

In 1979 it was Navratilova who helped her then doubles partner, Billie-Jean King, to win her record-breaking twentieth Wimbledon title. The previous record-holder, Elizabeth Ryan, had prophetically died the night before. We fervently hope Billie-Jean, on the verge of her sixtieth birthday, won’t do the same as Martina lobs and volleys her way to equalling that record.

They are our heroes; two sporting women who have surpassed all expectations of our sex, pioneers of fitness, diet and dedication. But above all they have been true to themselves. Living their personal relationships in the spotlight of public attention and judgment they have let their tennis speak, not their lesbianism. Whatever that is. Women who love women, and life, and tennis.

Two sets, two more beers. As the sun descends over South-East England, Anne and I stand and cheer, raising our glasses to a legend, a modern goddess achieving her dream.

Tuesday, 9 June 2015

On Reading: Pastures of the Blue Crane by H. F. Brinsmead

I am grateful to have reacquired recently a copy of this novel, by the Australian author and environmentalist Hesba Fay Brinsmead (1922 – 2003).  The copy I had as a child got chewed up by the family dog and for ages all I could remember about the book was this beautiful cover and that it had a heroine called Ryl. Pastures of the Blue Crane was first published in 1964; this Oxford University Press edition was produced in 1970. It is Brinsmead’s most well-known work and was made into a television series for the Australian Broadcasting Company in 1969.

The novel opens in a Melbourne summer (November). Sixteen-year-old Amaryllis Jane Merewether, known as Ryl, is leaving school. She believes she is all alone in the world. Her mother is mysteriously absent and her father has long ago abandoned her into the care of his lawyer, who has acted as her guardian and placed her in a series of boarding schools. No demure heroine, Ryl is “calculating, self-centred… and yet not without flashes of charm”. Through “the judicious habit of present-giving”  she has won invites from school fellows so that she doesn’t have to remain at school during the holidays. Now her lawyer-guardian tells Ryl that her father has died and that she has jointly inherited his substantial estate with her previously unknown grandfather, Dusty. They meet for the first time in the lawyer’s office and at first sight seem an ill-suited pair. Their crusty relationship is explored as they find themselves co-owners of a farm called Bundoora in Murwillumbah, North New South Wales. It turns out that this is the place where Dusty was born and raised. On her first morning Ryl is woken by the sun and looks out to see the glittering landscape:  a ‘fanciful’ pasture of rosy pink grass crested with silver and within it a ‘fanciful’ bird – the blue crane. Dusty and Ryl have very different ideas about what to do with their property - and about spending the money they have inherited.  Through her encounters with this remote community, and ultimately her shared battle with Dusty to preserve their home, Ryl finds love, friendship, family, and her future career path, as well as discovering the truth about her parentage.  The novel’s treatment of themes related to age, race, gender and the secret shame of families is somewhat antiquated now but must have been both fresh and daring at the time.  Pastures of the Blue Crane is a well-crafted ‘coming-of-age’ novel , which casts a fascinating light on aspects of life in 1960s Australia.

Monday, 27 April 2015

Blackbird's Prayer

Blackbird's Prayer

If you were to ask the blackbird
why she is fervently picking up sticks
from my garden this April morning
I doubt that she would answer
other than to say: And so it is,
for blackbirds.

Susanna Reece