Monthly Archives: June 2017

Britain – it’s time to talk

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Pull up a chair, Britain and sit down. We need to have a long overdue chat. And we need to be honest, so shudDUP and let us talk. Yup, pun absolutely intended. Never let it be said that we Irish don’t try and inject a bit of humour into every situation.

But after Friday, and yet another kick to the proverbial nuts, and yet another betrayal, and yet another situation where serious risks could be posed to Ireland as a result of English foolhardiness, the niceties are over. It’s time for the truth bombs. I think many Irish friends living in England feel the same. Hell, even our Taoiseach, Enda-ThirdWay-Kenny, has issued a little slapdown to the British government. So in the interests of inter-island dialogue and a baseline of understanding, and having been asked questions by so many English friends on Friday (which I’m always glad to answer) ranging from ‘Why don’t Sinn Féin do a solid for Corbyn and take up their seats’ to ‘What’s so bad about the DUP’, let me take you through a potted history of Ireland, and in particular recent history, and why this recent move on the part of the Tory party is beyond the Pale (that’s a little joke for Irish readers – British readers, you may have to do a little Googling).

Ok. 800 years of British rule, which was barbaric, unjust and brutal. I’ll skip through most of this section except to say that even dating back to Tudor times, the English have a nasty habit of believing and cultivating xenophobic divide and conquer tactics. The Paul Dacre of his day, Sir Edmund Spenser, described the Irish as savages; a description that stuck while they were being stripped of their lands, their languages, their culture, and even their crops (which caused the ‘potato famine’ of the mid-19th century – the lie is that it was a famine, it was more genocide for profit. No foodbanks at the time, so the native Irish either starved to death or left. The population was halved to 4 million. Some ate stones and grass in a bid to stay alive). Being hung, drawn and quartered was a punishment remembered in Irish songs like Robert Emmett. You get the picture. Being occupied is not fun. Hopefully it explains why we support anyone but the English in football matches.

So we then enter the 20th century, and let’s speed through the 1916 Rising. The Black and Tan lads added to the general jolly japes of the history of the British in Ireland with mass burnings of properties, scalpings, rapes and so forth. We come to the Anglo-Irish Treaty, whereupon the deal was made to leave most of Ulster in the UK and the other 26 counties as the newly-formed Republic of Ireland.

Let’s shoot forward to the 1960s. It was clear that there were civil rights abuses by the mainly Unionist political class against nationalists by this time, which lead to civil rights marches inspired by those in the US at that time. These culminated in Bloody Sunday, whereupon British soldiers shot 28 unarmed civilians in the Bogside in Derry who were involved in a peaceful protest against internment. This led to a cover-up by law-enforcement institutions across Northern Ireland and by the British government. It also led to a huge recruitment drive to the IRA.

British readers will know all about the bombings on their mainland. I’m not condoning the bombings or the killing of innocent lives. They do have to be placed in the context of loss of life on both sides, however. Loyalist terrorists were no slouches in that department either, which is why it is important to understand the DUP, the ‘confidence and supply’ partner of the Tories and their ties to them. So here are some interesting #DUPfacts  that the general British public may not be aware of:

1. Many of their politicians have roots in paramilitary activities – not unusual in Northern Ireland, but after all the Tories’ smear campaign against Corbyn for merely talking to Sinn Féin, this is a bit much.

2. They opposed the Good Friday Agreement.

3. They are the biggest anti-choice, pro-forced pregnancy party in the UK.

4.They are against equal marriage and fought hard against LGBTQ rights. Even David Cameron disagreed with their stance on this. Though he also toyed with the idea of aligning with them in 2015, had he not won a small majority. ‘Compassionate Conservatism’, eh?

5. Jeffrey Donaldson MP, worked with Enoch Powell,  when he was expelled from Tories, and claimed he was one of the ‘great voices of unionism’

6. They are climate change deniers who raked money off biofuels in a ‘cash for ash’ green energy scandal.

7. Accepted a £435k donation from Scottish Tory Richard Cook, from the shady Constitutional Research Council (links with Saudis), and ran pro-Brexit adverts in the Metro free-sheet in the UK.

The Good Friday Agreement, voted for in a referendum in good faith by Irish people both North and South of the border, has been the cause of almost 20 years of peace. The process broke down in March this year over the green energy scandal, in which Arlene Foster was deeply implicated, and which Theresa May would have known about. They’ve lost two of the major poster boys of the GFA, the late Rev. Ian Paisley and Martin McGuinness.

Given the history of the British government in Northern Ireland, their support of the interests of the Protestant political class over that of the nationalist community, to have been courting the DUPs since last summer for their support and then to enter into an ad hoc partnership with them beggars belief. It throws any pretence of the stance of neutrality on the part of the British government regarding Northern Ireland out the  window, and contravenes the tenet of neutrality on the parts of the British and Irish governments within the GFA. And it is a major security risk; not just for the people of Britain and Ireland, but most especially for the nationalist community of Northern Ireland. Unionists do not have a history, much like their English ancestors, of wielding power graciously.

The frustration on the part of Irish people like myself is that yet again, the interests of Ireland have been placed as secondary to those of the English, and in particular recently to the internal wranglings of the Tory party. Ireland took a massive hit in 2008 for the British and German bondholders. The pain was certainly not shared on that occasion. There was then the fallout from Brexit, where the impact on exports and the border between Ireland and the North wasn’t even considered. And now this. The most apt description I have come across about the DUP is from George Monbiot, as an organisation that are like ‘UKIP, supercharged by religious fundamentalism’.

The only very small silver lining from this is that it may inadvertently cause more of an understanding of Irish politics, and the politics and history of Ulster in particular. If the peace process doesn’t get shafted completely, we will all be very lucky. Suffice it to say, you have been warned. You think the Tory Party is the ‘Nasty Party?’ You ain’t seen nothing yet.

 

 

 

 

 

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Why, with barely a vote cast, Corbyn’s Labour has already won

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I was getting quite emotional over the last few days thinking of casting my ballot for Corbyn. And make no mistake, it’s for Corbyn, not for Chuka Umunna, my local MP, who I once touted as a potential leader, but no more.

Disclaimer: I have long been a dedicated Corbynista. I barely knew who he was when I saw him interviewed two years ago. I knew after hearing him speak that here was someone who was different, and who saw what needed to be done for the future.

We are living in incredibly interesting political times, and what has happened over the last year is a paradigm shift. So I get that people were sceptical of Corbyn, not convinced, doubtful about his ability to lead the Labour Party. The recalcitrance of the New Labour old guard obfuscated what was necessary for the party to succeed. Their inability to see the shifting sands, the political weathervane moving, cost Labour dear in terms of obstinately promoting Ed Miliband, an abysmally weak leader whose time was over somewhere circa 2013 and the most disastrous Labour election in 30 years in 2015. But obstinately they clung to the echo chamber of neoliberal peers and journalists, and failed to embrace the very real alternative Corbyn offered from the very start.

Better late than never, I guess. While I don’t agree with Corbyn on everything (#Brexit), I admire his singlemindedness, his vision, and just his sheer self-belief. What he has undergone over the last 2 years would have knocked many another politician off their course. My gut instinct (as well as avidly reading newspapers from all political sides over the last two years) is that himself and John McDonnell have a transformational plan for Britain. The manifesto is the layman’s version of this. They, along with their campaign manager (who’s questioning Seumas Milne now?) have run the most brilliant campaign. I would go so far as to say that it is the most brilliant political campaign of modern times, and I include Obama’s 2008 campaign in that, run by David Plouffe. Never has someone had so much thrown at them and risen above it and flourished. He has managed, after years of the harshness of austerity being obvious, to change the tone, the nature, the focus of this argument. And that is why I believe, as I have done for the last two years, that Corbyn would be a transformative PM.

Labour may not win outright tomorrow – in fact, it’s very unlikely they will. Due to either bad advice or Miliband’s own ego, the losses made in 2015 are too hard to claw back. Scotland is lost, not least because of Jim Murphy’s failures there. And then there’s the BluKip factor. That makes the game unfairly skewed in favour of the Tories. However – in a very real sense, before barely a vote being cast, Labour under Corbyn has already won. They have made political discourse the new normal. They have engaged record number of supporters to the PLP. They have used social media in a way it has not been used hithertofore in British elections (more by necessity than by design, given the hostility of Fleet St, but still). They have taken the fight to the Tories, and even if the Tories prevail, it will be as a party battered and bruised, with their weak leadership exposed for what it is under Theresa May. They will not find it so easy to get their mandate through and ultimately it may even be the case that by 2020 we’re looking at a party torn asunder, eating itself alive through infighting and intrigue, and another election.

I never liked voting for New Labour under Tony Blair. I admired Blair’s political acumen up to 2003, but disliked his obvious actorly mannerisms and insincerity. His assuming of the NI Peace Process as his success, when anyone on the other side of the Irish Sea was aware that the success was all Mo Mowlam’s. ‘The people’s this’ ‘The people’s that’. Please. The illusion of allowing democracy, which he himself rent apart by pursuing a foolhardy illegal war. But I will be voting Labour proudly for the first time. Maybe we expect too much of our heroes. Maybe Corbyn will, for many millions of other people, turn out to have feet of clay. But in my opinion, he’s already won. He’s proven, in this campaign, that there is an alternative, there is hope, there is an appetite for a road less travelled, and that it is for the many, not the few. Most of all – he has brought compassion and humanity onto the political agenda. Dignity for those vulnerable in UK society. Pride in public services. The notion that no man or woman is an island. That government is there to work with people, to help them and not to scold or dictate to them. And above all, a question I raised a number of weeks back in my blog on the Huff Post – What type of country do Britons want to live in? I take nothing for granted, and I’m interested to find out the answer.

#VoteLabour #GE2017

#LondonBridge

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I was lying in bed in London on Sunday morning catching up with the news on #LondonBridge.

What to say? To be honest, I feel a bit numb. Before making it my permanent residence, I travelled through London a couple of times in the late 80s/early 90s en route to elsewhere. The main concern at that time, when there was a bomb scare, was to keep my mouth shut. It was pure instinct. Any bomb scare at that time was likely IRA-related, and while Irish people aren’t necessarily the most identifiable through skin colour or what we wear (apart from if one had a big auld Ireland/ GAA jersey), the accent could make one a target for aggression. Later, in 1998, when I first came to live here, it did. Barely-old prejudices die hard.

Since living in London, I’ve lived through several terrorist attacks. The most immediate for me was the Admiral Duncan attack, as I was around the corner on Dean St on a date. The one that resonated most was 7/7, as I was working in Covent Garden that day, in a new job at the private members club The Hospital. I wasn’t scared, funnily enough, and was kept busy helping panicked people to use the phone. One of my colleagues was in the bus behind the bus on Russell Square and she was understandably upset when she came in. There was an eerie sense of calm and desertion in Covent Garden that day. We’d been told not to venture out in the streets, because at that stage there were rumours about at least another 10 tube stations being targets, but being young(er) and maybe a little foolhardy, I went out for my lunch break. I’m really glad I did. I got to experience a noiseless Covent Garden, and even in the midst of terror, there was a beauty in this.

The most scared I’ve ever felt in London was during the London riots of 2011. I was living on my own, in Forest Hill, and it seemed during those dark days, like a wave of feral, unstoppable youth was marauding through London, like a wave of black smog, rampaging and overturning everything in their midst. Of course, the reality of what came out afterwards was quite different – it wasn’t just young, poor people, but also older, middle income earners who got caught up in looting and stealing, infected by atmospherics and their lizard brain being triggered. That hadn’t stopped assumptions by the media over the course of a week.

There have been more in the interim – Woolwich, Jo Cox, the Westminster attacks, Manchester etc – and this is the first time that I’ve felt this numb. I don’t think it is any coincidence that we are seeing an increase in attacks in line with cuts to policing and social services. The police and social services have their issues (racism being one of the biggest for the police), but police personnel and social care workers and all those who work with communities and that know their communities are vital.

There is also the issue of these attacks being, to a man, committed by men. I cannot tell you how deeply frustrating I find it that no one really has started to acknowledge this, apart from maybe people like Sara Khan at Inspire. There are issues with Khan and her organisation, especially with their once-entanglement with the Tories. However, identifying the seeds of radicalisation is incredibly important, be it white supremacist or Islamist.

I teach a lot of young boys when I am ‘resting’ as a private tutor, and young boys are loving, and immensely confused. They have all these feelings and emotions, and no one to really help them to process them as their society says ‘Stop crying’ ‘Be a big boy’ and other damaging messages. And their background has no bearing on the volatility of their emotions.

One of the angriest kids I teach (age 6) goes to one of London’s premier schools (hint: A certain former rightwing party leader went there). His parents are in very high-powered jobs, but by and large (from what I can tell), absent. We talk about his feelings, and he often said to me ‘I’m angry’. I don’t really need to help this kid academically – he’s far ahead of his age group (by years). But emotionally, he was a minefield when I took him on a couple of months ago. So I took him outside into his garden one lesson and showed him plants, and grass. I implanted the notion that maybe he could grow things so he would have something to pour all this emotion into. (Much as my parents did for me, when I was an angry 7 year old – my father’s answer to this was to give me his punch-bag and my mother’s was to give us all a little patch of garden to call our own. Both worked.) A mere two weeks later, this same kid was giving me some of his very precious football cards and showing me with pride his strawberry and thyme plants and was noticeably calmer. He’s probably my most extreme case in terms of his rage – but it is interesting that listening and giving him something to care for, and to love has worked.

The thing is: young boys who don’t know how to handle their emotions grow into men who don’t know how to handle their emotions. Given that men have the bulk of power and privilege in our society as things currently stand, this is a recipe for what we are witnessing. It is very easy for Wahabi Saudis, or white supremacists, or other damaged males with their hatred of Westerners/Muslims/women/gay people/take your pick to come in, and prey upon young men that, for whatever reason – life, family circumstances, lack of a father figure or positive male role model etc – feel enraged, alone, entitled and unaccepting of their own human vulnerability (because they’ve never been taught how to intelligently deal with it in emotional terms).

 

I’ve witnessed how this sense of coming into a ‘brotherhood’ ‘community’ can both stabilise the person but skew their thinking in a member of my own family. They were lucky enough to have some emotional tools to extricate themselves, even luckier to have met a fantastic woman that understood on a very visceral level how to modify some of the more destructive tendencies – but it’s hard. Others are not so lucky – the feeling of belonging to a community, be that Daesh, or the KKK, or the EDL is irresistible because, after all, it is a very human instinct to want to belong. Even if that community has a more malevolent purpose, those that are desperate for love will just want to belong. The saying of every child needing a village is so true, and in a society where society itself isn’t valued (according to Thatcherite and neoliberal principles) there is a falling through the gaps more and more of these angry, emotionally volatile young men.

Let me be clear as well: I believe that if young girls were raised along the same principles and thought processes and expectations that boys are, we would have exactly the same issue. I see no difference in emotional intelligence of girls up to the age of about 8 in those I’ve worked with. Society expects women to be in touch with our emotions; and for the most part, we are. Society expects men to suppress emotion on a grand scale, and for the most part, they do. Hence – if one looks at crime statistics, and abuse of power, attacks and other things that destroy our sense of well-being as communities and a society, one will find they mostly have, as a root, male disconnection from their emotional selves at the core.

This is not to reduce the absolute senseless, awful tragedy of lost lives in this attack and other attacks. It is just that I believe if we want a better society, and these sort of attacks to stop, we need to address the root causes. We can bring nothing with us into the afterlife – if there is even such a thing. All our energies must therefore be expended on (in the first instance) coming to a full understanding of ourselves and how we can overcome our own worst prejudices and accept ourselves and love ourselves. Secondly we go out in the world and help others, our communties on a small scale, or on a grand scale. For most of us, it will be on a small scale – and that is great. Every interaction we have with another human being has an effect. Sometimes it is difficult if the interaction itself is difficult. But there is great power in knowing that we can effect change, even in a small way.

Let’s really demand that, at another level, our politicians start investing in people rather than in bombs. If a group of people can spread this much terror with guns and what sounded like kitchen knives, we really have to question the practicalities of weapons like Trident. There are many layers to what is happening in the world, but addressing it with roots in teaching emotional intelligence, caring for each other in our communities and tribes and making sure our tax pounds/euros/dollars are directed to what is important rather than expansion of profits of the military industrial complex (banks, munitions, big pharma, energy companies) seems to be a good start. Most of all, let’s love. Let’s love ourselves and other human beings, with all of our collective faults and peculiarities and differences. Hell, let’s love ourselves because of our differences. We don’t see the rose hating on the chrysanthemum for being a different flower; as in nature, so should we be.