Brexit: Grow Up and Stop Scaremongering.


The main problem with the whole referendum “debate” is that both sides are resorting to scaremongering, distortion and outright lies. This is dishonest and dishonours the whole process. It’s far to serious and important and issue to be trivialised by such juvenile tactics.

If, as I suspect, we vote to remain “in”, it will because people have believed the scare stories and decided “better the devil you know” rather than at least trying to make an informed choice. I’ve done my best to do so, and have made up my mind as to how I’ll be voting.

A plague o’both houses.

I’m certainly no fan of Gove (quite the reverse!), but this is one of the few reasoned arguments I’ve seen from the Leave Camp:

This classic from Tony Benn:

Sargon of Akkad’s critique of Project Fear:

Boris’ Brexit Lies:

Eleanor Rigby: Lonely or Loner?


Richard Coles’ autobiography Fathomless Riches opens with a story of a priest he knows retiring to bed at Christmas with a bottle of vodka. This sad vignette put me in mind of Father McKenzie from The Beatles’ song Eleanor Rigby:

Father McKenzie writing the words
Of a sermon that no-one will hear
No-one comes near.

One of two characters in the song, the other being the eponymous Eleanor. Both alone, and not, the song tells us, in a good way, with its insistent refrain “ah look at all the lonely people.” We have Eleanor wandering through an empty church, clearing up after a wedding. Someone who “lives in a dream” and hides behind the brave face she shows to the world – described in the arresting image “wearing a face that she keeps in a jar by the door.” We don’t know where she lives. When she goes home and bolts the door, what is the true face that emerges? Why does she go to the church? And there is Father McKenzie, living alone and darning his socks. As no-one hears his sermons (except Eleanor perhaps?) the church would seem to be little used.

The song’s killer punch is reserved for the last verse:

Eleanor Rigby died in the church
And was buried along with her name
Nobody came

What a piteously sad image. The only person present the officiating priest, Father McKenzie, who “wipes his hands as he walks from the grave”. The only survivor from the song, perhaps now lonelier than ever, returning to his solitary sermon writing and sock darning. Who will pick up the rice after weddings now?

Where do the lonely people come from, where do they all belong. The insistence in this refrain is perhaps too insistent. Loneliness is assumed, taken for granted. Eleanor may very well have been lonely, but she could also have been a loner. The put on face does suggest the presence of others and needing it to hide behind, but it also suggests a self-contained person, one that keeps its true self hidden and private. One that craves solitude and does not fear it. Or as Philip Larkin put it:

Viciously, then, I lock my door.
The gas-fire breathes. The wind outside
Ushers in evening rain. Once more
Uncontradicting solitude
Supports me on its giant palm;
And like a sea-anemone
Or simple snail, there cautiously
Unfolds, emerges, what I am.

(from Best Society)

The absence of mourners does not contradict this. The song’s storyteller has assumed things about her, on what seems at best to be a passing acquaintance. “Where do they all come from?” may be a rhetorical question, or even, if the pronunciation stresses are changed, a suggestion of distaste: there’s too many of them, where do they all come from?

“Where do they all belong?” is rather presumptuous, and follows easily from the earlier assumptions. They belong wherever they feel they belong, or perhaps don’t feel the need to belong at all.

Perhaps I’m making too much of it, but the inference drawn by the storyteller is a common one. And while it could be correct – Eleanor and Father McKenzie could indeed be lonely – ultimately, it turns on assumptions so is as likely to be wrong. “No man”, says John Donne “is an island/Entire of itself/Every man is a piece of the continent/A part of the main.” Oh really? Who says?



The trees are surrendering
Their nakedness.
Blossom-heavy, ready to speak
Sheaves of green
And strew my path my wedding white.
In the grey damp of winter
I forget all this, can think
Only of short days, long nights
Scarf and glove wrapped;
As when in full leaf
Ringing with the birds’ full chorale
I’ll forget the undressed trees
And the grey silent air.
I’m pleased to stand here
In gentle amnesia.

Lies, Damned Lies and Spin – The EU Referendum


I recently had my leaflet from the government giving their reasons why we should remain in the EU. Given that, despite Cameron’s big talk about renegotiation, he came home with next to nothing, I took the entire thing with several shovels of salt.

I haven’t really mind up my mind how I’m going to vote, but I am leaning towards leave. I’ve long believed the EU to be anti-democratic, and the arrogance with which they dealt with Italy and Greece recently has reinforced this. Treaties and laws are ignored when inconvenient, the European Court regularly extends its dictat and is allowed to get away with it. And that’s not to mention the erosion of national sovereignty, the corruption and waste.

I certainly don’t buy some of the remain arguments: social security, worker rights and environmental protection will be worse if we leave. Really? Being in hasn’t stopped the Tories savaging benefits, eroding rights, granting fracking licences and unbanning pesticides. And if TTIP becomes law (which the EU is negotiating in secret), you can expect what protections are left to vanish.

The main problem is getting a balanced view. I’ve read Daniel Hannon’s book Why Vote Leave, but as he’s a right wing Tory, he’s not someone I’d have any sympathy with politically. Even so, it’s a persuasive book, well written in restrained language without resorting to scare stories. I’d like to read left wing cases too, but have yet to find one. It’s disappointing that Corbyn has done a volte face on this, having been consistently eurosceptic up to now. In the unlikely event of his winning in 2020, if we remain in the EU, a lot of his platform (like renationalising the NHS) would be illegal under EU law.

So far – even though it requires me to be in such unsavoury company that I need to hold my nose – it’s looking likely I’ll vote leave.

Feminist Nonsense


I read recently that a number of universities have introduced compulsory “consent lessons” for new students. For new male students. “Lessons” in what “consent” means when it comes to sex, as apparently we are living in a rape culture. Really? I had to check the date to make sure it wasn’t the 1st of April.

It seems that the universities are now so enslaved by the extreme feminist paradigm that they are prepared to treat all men as potential rapists. It’s deeply insulting to the vast majority of men, not to mention sexist. Its blind stupidity is breathtaking.

One excuse I heard proffered for these so-called lessons is to target students who have come from single-sex faith schools. Well, a more eloquent argument against such schools I have yet to hear. Anyone with a brain knows that the three monotheisms treat sex and sexuality as depraved and dirty, so it’s no wonder that some people emerge from such an upbringing with a warped view of sex. But this is no excuse to tar every man with the same dirty brush. Fuck. Off.

I don’t doubt that the fight for women’s equality still has ground to cover, and that the struggle up to now has been a noble one which has rightly enjoyed successes. Modern feminists do their cause no good at all by indulging in extremism. They claim they are still oppressed yet refuse to support their sisters battling for equality in other cultures and countries where women really are suffering. In fact, they excuse such practices on the ground of cultural difference; to deny otherwise is apparently imperialist. I’ve another word for it: racist.

I admit it, I’m a man. And worse, a white heterosexual man. And I don’t need lectures from feminists in how to behave thank you so much. If I’d been going to university now, I would refuse to attend these “lessons” on principle.

Trump’s An Idiot, But Let Him Speak


I see there’s a petition going round to ban Donald Trump from entering the UK because of his anti-Muslim views. I refuse to sign it.

I don’t agree with Trump and never will, but he’s entitled to his opinions and to express them, however repellent they are. That is what free speech is. Banning someone from speaking is wrong, it will give him spurious legitimacy. It’s also childish. Let him speak, then criticise him, debate, argue, show him up for the ignorant bigot he is.

Censorship is no answer to this. It’s yet another example of “free speech is OK, but”. No, there are no buts. Continue down this road and soon we won’t have free speech. It’s supposed to be one of the core western values. We should not circumscribe it so readily.

So Long, It Hasn’t Been Good To Know You


The recent news of the departure Stoke-on-Trent City Council’s controversial chief executive John Van de Laarschot was very welcome and long overdue. It wasn’t a surprise: the council changed hands after the May 2015 elections and new leader Dave Conway was a frequent critic of Van de Laarschot while in opposition.

The departure was a costly one. After several weeks on fully paid gardening leave, he was given a Golden Fuck Off of almost a quarter of a million pounds. And this after a five year tenure that wreaked havoc on the council, ruining successful services and causing staff to leave in unprecedented numbers. This obscenely overpaid and arrogant little man should have been sent packing years ago – there were opportunities, but former leader Mohammed Pervez lacked the balls. Better late than never, I suppose, and good riddance to extremely bad rubbish. A pity it took so long and cost us so much.

The Hardest Word


The song says
Sorry seems to be the hardest word,
But on days like this
It’s the one most needed and
The most inadequate.
It’s the only word I can offer
Though I know it won’t,
Can’t fill the void created,
Ease the pain
Or dry the tears,
I know this, but
It’s still the only word,
And I’m sorry,
So I step back with head bowed
And lay it, gently,
As a flower on a stone.

Conformity Is Not Freedom


I read that there is a campaign to have a TV presenter sacked for not wearing a poppy. It turned up on my Facebook feed the other day, and I immediately blocked it. This is not normally an issue I have any problem with, but this year, in solidarity with others, I will not be wearing one either.

I have never heard of the presenter in question, and do not know her reasons for not wearing the poppy. But that surely is her choice, and as such, is no one else’s business. To suggest that she be sacked for it is obscene. But you have to, people whine, otherwise it’s disrespectful of those who died in wars, who died to protect our country and its way of life. Really? Have we really become that intolerant and stupid?

I’ve studied history, so am well aware – perhaps more so than some of the campaigners – of what my grand-parents’ generation did in World War II. Our way of life faced an existential threat, and they fought to protect it. That is not in dispute. However, these campaigners seem to have little real grasp of just what “our way of life” actually is. Surely what was fought for was our freedom, and that must include freedom of thought, speech and expression. If it is qualified to being only free if you conform, do what everyone else does, because it’s expected, the “done thing”, then that is not freedom. Where is the freedom to dissent? That is an essential part of living in a free country.

Let us not forget that it was service personnel in 1945 who played a large part in electing the Labour government, on a radical platform to transform society. That generation had fought and now wanted payback for their sacrifices. Did they really fight so everyone must unthinkingly conform and be penalised for not doing so? I certainly hope not. To suggest otherwise, as these campaigners are, is to do their memory a disservice. It is they who are disrespecting the fallen, not this TV presenter. Shame on you all.

Moving On, and Other Clichés


I’ve drawn a line.
It’s not thin or red
Or scraped in sand
But it’s a line,
And I’ve drawn it.

And after the line
There will be a fence
More than rabbit proof,
It will be high,
Submitted with barbed wire.

And after that a wall
With guards and dogs and guns
And nowhere to pass through.
No turning back now,
I’ve drawn my line.

Now let’s see it hold.

Nick Cohen: Writing from London

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