Tag Archives: Brexit

Let’s talk about polls

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Polls. Polls. Let’s talk about polls: Are the Tories really ahead still in them?

I think this is a pertinent question on a number of counts. Firstly – a disclaimer. I used to work in a position (for a fundraising agency) that required me often to analyse data. Analysing data is something that is very subjective – one can skew it in order to get an answer that is favourable to oneself, and/or to a client.

People talk a lot about opinion polls, naturally, in the run-up to a GE. The results of opinion polls are also dependent on the questions being asked. As posted on my Facebook page last week, an utterly biased poll was being sent out by #YouGov, with  some very leading questions. Then one gets on to the people surveyed – how can we be sure that this is genuinely a ‘cross-section’ of society? We only have the polling company’s word for that, and if they are being employed by Conservatives, they will most likely choose the option that appeases their client the most.

Think this doesn’t happen and that this is some conspiracy? Think again. I know that the Tories (for example) at the last election hired at least one telephone fundraising/marketing company to work on their behalf, Return Fundraising. How do I know this? Because they told me so when they attempted to ‘head-hunt’ me (a move motivated by the demise of a former employer). They also told me at the time that they did the canvassing for the MP Jacob Rees-Mogg.

When call-centres do this sort of work, their scripts will be scrutinised to the nth degree so that, subliminally, the answer will always favour the client. Of course people have their own opinions; but there is much that can be done, in terms of the language used, the questions asked, to subliminally affect the answers in favour of clients. Anyone who works in fundraising and marketing knows that this is the case, and in a sense, that is ok. As much as politics, it’s about the art of persuasion – but let’s be very clear also that an answer elicited for a survey/charity donation doesn’t always hold once the conversation is over and the phone put down. In fundraising, it’s known as attrition. So: pollsters may have an opinion at the start of a call, they may hold to that opinion or have their minds changed during the course of the call (because one of the curious things I found out when telephone fundraising is that even on the end of the phone, people are social animals that often want to be seen as agreeably nice people to the faceless voice at the other end of the phone), but when that phone is put down, they can often change their minds. In that sense, if one is polling people with semi-formed or wholly uninformed opinions, there is a high probability that those opinions are malleable during the duration of a call, but potentially not beyond that.

As well as all of this: how current is the data we are being presented with? How many thousands of people are being canvassed? Is it a genuine cross-section of society, or targeting areas where the answer is more or less a done deal? Who has commissioned the polls (this is important)? Which media outlets are these polls being distributed to, and what is their editorial agenda? (In the UK, this latter point is crucial) With those papers, would it potentially upset their investors/advertisers if the polls projected an outcome they didn’t want? Who are the polling companies being run by (as in who is their CEO), and what is their political agenda? For example, YouGov has as its CEO Stephan Shakespeare, who formerly ran ConservativeHome – immediately there is cause for scepticism there over political neutrality in their polling.

The media are also key in polling in the UK, perhaps more than in most countries, because they are undoubtedly (on the results of previous elections and the influence of Murdoch) able to sway elections. The Sun and Murdoch are the big beasts here as regards this, because to the best of my knowledge there has been not one PM since 1979 that hasn’t had Murdoch backing. Essentially what we’re looking at there is corporate propaganda filtered through politics at the highest level. Murdoch’s other investments (let’s say, like his investment in Genie Energy, as well as Sky News) would be subject to huge unbiased and potentially unfavourable scrutiny if the potential PM was not a Murdoch acolyte.

And then there’s the public. Up until a few years ago, there was little interest in politics among the British public, and often an embarrassment in saying who they were voting for (especially on the more right-wing side of things). This is in marked contrast to, let’s say, Ireland, where, for better or worse, people are incredibly vocal about their side of any given issue, thus enabling more polling accuracy.

This is not even getting into the increasing influence of organisations like Cambridge Analytica, who collate evidence from social media and target voters accordingly. We’ve seen how successful this was in the #Brexit referendum and in the election of #Trump.

So while not dismissing polls entirely, let’s be aware that they are (a) not unbiased at the source i.e. the company that is commissioning the polls and the company that is working on their behalf (b) dependent on media source and editorial bias (c) open to interpretation (d) time-dependent (a week is a long time in politics, etc) and (e) subject to change. It’s that latter point that the Labour Party and other non-Tory parties have to really make the case for.

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The outcome of #GE2017 depends on who Britons are

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Before the manifestos come out, thought we all needed a reminder of what was promised in 2015 by the Conservatives: https://www.conservatives.com/manifesto. I was especially interested in this:

“This Manifesto sets out our plan to do just that. It is a plan for a better future – for you, for your family. It is a plan for every stage of your life. For your new-born baby, there will be the world’s best medical care. For your child, there will be a place at an excellent school. As you look for your first job, we are building a healthy economy that provides a good career for you with a decent income. As you look for that first home, we will make sure the Government is there to help. As you raise your family, we will help you with childcare. And as you grow older, we will ensure that you have dignity in retirement.

Throughout, we will make sure that if you or your family fall ill, you will always be able to depend on our cherished National Health Service to give you the care you need.”

Whatever way you vote, take this as your mantra:

Anyone But Conservative (#ABC)

If you’re a dyed-in-the-wool Labour supporter but in your area the Lib Dem MP has the best chance of beating the Tories – hold your nose and vote for them. If you’re a Lib Dem supporter and the Labour candidate is the best chance of ousting the Tory candidate – hold your nose and vote for them. If you’re a Lib Dem/Labour and a Green candidate has the best chance – you get the picture.

This is beyond #Brexit. #Brexit is a done deal at this point in time. That’s not to say at some point in the future, when the consequences become more apparent, that it won’t be reversible. At this point in time, everything is too raw, and any Bremainers angling to change it are going to skew the situation even further, and perhaps irreparably. The primary objective over the next 7 weeks must be to consign the Tories to the scrapheap of electoral history for a generation.

The 18-24 year olds are key. So are disabled people, who have been affected from the outset by austerity. I did a little rough calculation last night – and with these two groups, you have approximately 34.9% of the voting public. So do what you have to, to get these groups to the polls.

I’m Irish, so not even a British subject – but I’ve lived here for 18 years and it angers me to see the rise in inequality and poverty. I do not pay my hard-earned taxes to subsidise corporations. I don’t pay them so that while some Hooray Henry (or George, or Dave, or Boris, or indeed Theresa) lives it large in Chelsea, 3,900,000 children live in poverty in the UK. There’s roughly 12 million children in the UK, so 1 in 3 of them are living in unsafe housing, with little food. Think about that – that could be your child, or one of their friends. I want those taxes to go to the NHS. I want them to go towards helping people into decent housing. I want every child to have enough food in their belly. I want them to go towards education.

The question is more than tribal now – it’s visceral and it depends on a very simple question:

What do you want to see in 5 years time?

Do you want a nation where the majority are well-fed, well-housed, well-cared for in health terms, well-educated, happy? (For all his talk about happiness, David Cameron seemed to know exactly what to do to create the maximum amount of misery). Well, guess what?

YOU CAN HAVE ALL THAT.

That’s the good news. But it comes down to choice. If the definition of stupidity is doing the same thing over and over again, and expecting a different result, giving any leeway to the Tories to regain power on June 8th, or to give them a bigger mandate, will reveal exactly the type of person you are. Are you the type of person who fixates on someone’s appearance/awkwardness, rather on the substance of their policies? Are you the type of person who needs to hear sweet nothings from your politicians, even if you know they have no notion of keeping their electoral promises to you? Or are you the type of person who can look at themselves in the mirror squarely and say ‘I will do what needs to be done for the greater good?’

In the end, it’s all down to you.

#VoteResponsibly #GeneralElection #GeneralElection2017 #ABC

B-Day

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So now B-day has come – and yes, I am naming it as such phonetically, after the French contraption that blows water up one’s arse. Here’s my prediction for what will happen:

There will be a short spike in the markets, which will make the Brexiteers feel smugly justified in their choice. Keep in mind that the markets love stability and decisiveness, so a decision is naturally going to create that hump.

For no apparent reason whatsoever, perhaps on the advice of Sir James Dyson, famous for inventing machines that blow hot air, manufactured in the ‘far East’, Theresa May’s government is heading for a ‘hard Brexit’. Even Thatcher, the much-loathed and excoriated, would never have agreed to this – on this she was very clear. Like her or loathe her, she was an astute politician. Imagine we were in the 1700s and the UK had decided to cut off all ties with Europe and close its trading ports. This is as visceral as what’s about to happen in a less visceral age.
EU migrants will leave – what incentive to stay now? And in fact, countries like Poland are offering their migrants incentives to buy houses, to work and graft in Poland as they have here. As Brexit austerity kicks in for real, in a couple of years, and there is no money to be made, and the mutterings of ‘non-Brits coming in, stealing our jobs’ grows to a roar, there will be no reason to stay. The funny thing is – I’m not sure British people want to be the baristas and builders and NHS staff, having worked on the recruiting side of things once. There’s a reason the Empire went out to conquer the world.

And the UK – or such as shall remain of it – will be screwed over time and time again in trade deals with the US, India and China. I mean, it’s only business, right? To use any advantage available? As one of the former big business centres of the world, you understand that, yes? (Kapow! A gratifying blow for former colonies, at least).

However, to look on the bright side: Brexit has made a united Ireland more probable. An independent Scotland is possible. And the citizens of those countries have Nigel Farage to thank for that. I can’t quite believe I’ve typed that. The caricature of John Bull come to life, Mr. Little England himself. To paraphrase Shakespeare, the denizens of those places will not know whether to praise Farage, or to bury him. Even in Gerry Adams’, Martin McGuinness’, Alex Salmond’s and Nicola Sturgeon’s wet dreams combined would they ever have envisioned that Farage would be the deliverer of independence from England’s yoke. Tiocfaidh ár lá, and in the most unlikely of ways. For Adams at least that won’t matter – ever the political opportunist, a united Ireland by any means available.

And in 30 years time, when the die-hard anti-EUers are dead and the great English poet Donne’s admonishment of no man being an island comes home to roost, and those who are young enough and still alive to remember how some of their elders (and some of their peers) tried to sell the notion of freedom from laws they’d created, border control they’d refused, and the swapping of a relatively benevolent master Europe for the small and petty master England – fearful, isolationist, out only for cronyism of an inner and elite circle – then England will re-apply to be part of a community it should never have left. Prodigal, bowed, chastened. And sometimes, in post-imperial societies, this is how former great empires consign themselves to irrelevance.

#Brexit #A50

An evil most ordinary

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In 2004, I was touring Germany with ‘Death of a Salesman’. During the course of the run, I had the good fortune to bump into an old friend in Munich, who happened to be in the audience. As it happened, he lived in the town of Dachau, and since I’d long had an interest in the Third Reich and their Final Solution, we arranged for him to be my tour guide in the former concentration camp.

 

It’s very hard to describe how I felt when seeing the notorious camp. People always say that birds no longer sing at these sites; and for me, on that day, it was true. There was, for me, a sort of numbness that took over, as my brain tried to process what my eyes were seeing. One could say so many things, but what would be the point? The banality of evil hung like a cold, damp cloud in the air.

 

After the visit, during which we spoke little, my friend broke the silence. ‘If I’d lived then, I would have been part of the Resistance’. I just looked at him and said ‘How do you know?’ He insisted he would have, but the more I saw of Germany, the more I visited its museums, the more I saw the many memorials there are to the genocide of WW2, the more certain I grew that this was not a decision to be made until one was in the situation.

 

Even more than over 70 years ago, Westerners are primed to see themselves as the ‘good guys’. We can possibly blame this on the stories we tell ourselves, either verbally or through our media. Never more has this been apparent to me than in the language used post-9/11 by Bush and Blair: Bush’s comment that he took his advice from God to justify ‘shock and awe’; Blair’s constant assertion, through policy and spin, that Islam was ‘incompatible’ with the West. Not so incompatible that it was beneath him to personally profit from this seeming incompatibility.

 

The narrative of the ‘good’ Muslim versus the ‘terrorist’ Muslim took root. We had a Muslim senior politician resign in Baroness Warsi, because of rampant anti-Islam policy in her cabinet under David Cameron. Islamophobia, even in so-called liberal circles, became rife. Atheists like Sam Harris, who is clearly Islamophobic, have become worshipped (in an ironic turn of events, for those who profess a dislike of cults, neo-atheism seems to me to be cultish in the extreme) by legions of followers. Crusader-style language has been employed, with little prevarication, in our newspapers and by our politicians. Extra restrictions through the reintroduction of the Prevention of Terrorism Act have been placed on Muslims, but what of it? The vast majority of society has, directly and/or indirectly, been drip-fed the fallacy of White Anglo-Saxon Protestant supremacy. And now we’re here.

 

I’ve been, in my posts on social media, been talking about the dangers of the rise of white supremacy for most of the past decade. It has been pretty obvious to me that once one goes down the road of ‘otherising’ a community (as was done to the Irish in the 1970s), it is a slippery slope. A documentary that made an impression on me was ‘5 Steps to Tyranny’, an old BBC Panorama programme that a kind soul has uploaded to YouTube. For anyone looking to acquire a basic understanding of how psychologically human beings are primed to be seduced by tyrants, it’s worth a viewing.

 

I also recommend ‘Man’s Search for Meaning’ by Viktor Frankl, a book that made a huge impression on me in my twenties. Having re-read it recently, I noted with some amusement and a little shock something that had escaped me on my initial reading of it. That the Jews in the concentration camps, as starved and reduced as they were, still held a certain contempt for those deemed lower than them. One of the groups listed was ‘Moslems’. Frankl also noted that survivors either went on to do great good in the world as a result of their experiences, or bullies. The element involved was choice.

 

One of my lifelong obsessions that led to an interest in the Holocaust is human nature. The potential of human beings. Their capability for greatness or destructiveness. Having observed the rise of white supremacy so consciously, I must confess a personal interest. Two of my nieces are Muslim.

 

Something happens to you when you see a next generation of your flesh and blood come into the world. You want the world to be a better place for them. My brother converted to Islam around 2002. He married a Moroccan Muslima. My two Muslim nieces are a light in my life, my mother’s life, my brother their uncle’s life. But I cannot remember a time since they were born that I did not fear for them, based on their religion and the acceptable onslaught of everyday prejudice.

 

One story that illustrates how far this prejudice can spiral out of control. My brother and his wife, now resident in the UK, had neighbours who went on holiday to Spain. Another neighbour, out of prejudice, hadn’t seen said neighbours for some time. She called the police, claiming that my brother and wife had murdered them. They were brought to the local police station and interrogated until the police located the holidaying couple. This happened only a couple of years ago.

 

The rise of neo-fascists and their advisers and followers is no accident. On one level, it speaks to the ability of sociopaths (which I believe Farage, Trump et al to be) to easily manipulate our worst natures. It speaks to political ignorance, which even many of my university-educated British friends have hitherto worn as a badge of honour, and are now desperately scrambling to understand how what has happened, could have happened. It speaks to an ignorance by white people of the difference between equality being in law, and in practice. It speaks to a childish quality of following the herd and of blaming the other for our own lives’ ills. That childish quality was also in evidence during the Brexit vote, when people blamed immigrants for a lack in their own lives, without taking into account that the UK had opted out, voluntarily, of taking control of migration when given the chance by the EU. The fact that obvious economic lies were swallowed (the £350m savings on the NHS being only one of many lies, or should I say #alternativefacts spewed like so much rancid spume by the Leavers) shows how ripe the UK was for being overtaken by white supremacists dressed in wolf’s tweeds like Farage. The acceptable face of racism, succeeding where Mosley and his Blackshirts couldn’t, in dressing up fascism in a hail-fellow-well-met bon viveur façade. Repugnant, but effective.

 

Being so easily fooled by the white supremacist in our own backyard, and the Crusader-like views by mainstream politicians and media that led to his success, is it any wonder that we are witnessing a Muslim ‘ban’ in the USA, the supposed torchbearer of Freedom and Democracy Inc? Is it a ruse by Trump & Co to turn it into a profitable war, thus giving a boost to munitions, big Pharma, oil and consequently the banks? (If it is, I suggest all GOP politicians, including Trump,  and any collaborators be forced to conscript their own offspring first, as a sign of good faith). In this political atmosphere of night-time raids and smoke and mirrors, it is hard to tell.

 

What is clear is this: we now are all faced with a choice. Resist or collaborate. There are no other options available. We will have the answer to that generations-old question. And as we judged others over 70 years ago, so will we too be judged.

HOW TO TAKE THE POSITIVE FROM TRUMP’S PRESIDENCY

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I know. You’re scared. I’m scared too. I’ve had an uneasy feeling about the two dominant WASP-y countries since at least June 23rd. This transmuted into sheer terror when a KKK-lover, through the trick of the electoral college, ascended to #PEETUS (I know, I know.There should be an O – though maybe not a wooden one 😉 But the first three letters is what he is in my head now and forever more).
There were a Seth Myers and an SNL sketch around the time he was elected that rang true though. Liberal white people have had the first taste of what it has been to be someone of colour/an immigrant/a Muslim in the US and UK for at least 15 years. This modern fear and paranoia of the other wasn’t created by Trump. This was created by George W. Bush and Anthony Charles Lynton Blair. An evangelical white Christian who took his instructions from God and a wannabe Catholic (at the time) eager to prove his zealotry. Both of whom implemented anti-Muslim profiling and the horror threat that is Guantanamo.
If we go back further and we look at the inherent inequality in deregulation, free market capitalism and the rise of the cult of the individual, we can see that we afford the likes of Farage and Trump too much credit and power. They didn’t create those conditions – they have just used and exploited them. And it is true that when situations don’t directly affect us, we mostly have, as white liberals in Western societies with the relative comfort of life that entails, to quote Milton, preferred ‘Bondage with ease than strenuous liberty’.
Because here’s the thing. For some political elite (and I’m not just talking Trump here, again, it affords him too much power, and while he’s proven himself all too happy to take as much power as he can, let’s not attribute more to him than he is about to have), the democracy experiment has gone way too far. We must remember that in its original concept, it was a methodology whereby patrician male Greeks decided the fate of their fellow citizens. What we have now has transmuted far beyond their expectations, and what we have now is a model that doesn’t sit comfortably with most of the ruling elite – both Left and Right. The Neo-Liberal experiment alone would attest to that.
Until conditions are made unbearable for us, we do prefer to wear our bondage with ease. Many women have expressed their fear at a Handmaid’s Tale-esque looming dystopia. I’ve heard of harassment of black friends in NYC, supposedly the ‘great melting-pot’. But racism and misogyny, anti-Muslim, anti-immigrant rhetoric is not a new thing – a whole political party was born out of the latter in the UK, for goodness sake. This did not just ‘happen’. Its growth is down to factors that lie way beyond Trump and Farage’s collective abilities, in austerity policies, a placating of the public, especially the middle-class, educated public at the expense of blue collar workers who are seeing the world they expected to grow old in – the miners, the unskilled labourers – move beyond their reach with no alternative offered in its stead. It does not excuse the alignment with racists, misogynists and bigots. But it does explain it. And, in a sense, one can understand the outrage of having been conned.
But why any positivity over Trump’s election and ascendancy to (piss)POTUS? Well – here’s the thing. There are many people both sides of the Atlantic whose bondage is no longer bearable. I’ve seen more calls to resistance in a few short months than I’ve seen in a whole lifetime of political observance. I’ve finally seen the penny drop with many of my white liberal friends that, hey, things haven’t been so great over the last decade and a half with their Muslim and black friends (although the penny hasn’t quite dropped about who instigated this in the UK – but for sure, it escalated under a Tory party so right-wing and power-crazed that they have literally thrashed their Great Leader Thatcher’s legacy in that she was strongly pro the single market. Oh the irony of ironies).
And the reality is – there hasn’t been such an opportunity for positive change since 1945. I’m not talking change you want to bereave in, hope that doesn’t quite fulfil its overblown promises. I’m talking real, structural, lasting change. We have exciting ideas like universal income that need to be robustly discussed. We have the realisation and the evidence of the gender and race pay gaps, and for what feels like the first time in my lifetime, a possibility to address this (despite the best efforts of the Breitbart fanboys). Unoccupied buildings are being taken over in Dublin and Manchester as the conviction that everyone deserves at least one home, and that there is an immorality to empty buildings when people are dying on our streets. We know our planet has finite resources, despite the climate change deniers, and that there is a better, kinder way forward.
And I’m not going to lie or disseminate here – change is not easy. Having been through a period of huge change myself over the last few years, where I’ve narrowly escaped bankruptcy, had a nervous breakdown, become a yoga teacher (not related necessarily, but the latter has helped enormously!), been through harassment and effectively eviction by my ex-landlord, made some of the greatest strides forward in my career as an artist to date, being able to work more than ever in my chosen path, and now, feeling stronger than ever having been forged in the fire of change – I know that change isn’t easy. And, despite how awful at times that change was – horrible, foetal position inducing, exhausting, energetically debilitating – I am immensely grateful for it. The Gráinne of 2017 is a better, stronger, 2.0 version of the Gráinne 2008 model. There is a strength in being made vulnerable that cannot be emulated by a show of strength. I made it out the other side of my fears and despair with the help, love and support of some tremendous friends, my tribe, my community.
I cite my own experience as maybe a glimmer of a way forward and an insight into how change works. (Or as the saying goes ‘Everyone wants change, but no one wants to change’). If the last 40 years has been defined by the rise of the cult of the individual, we have the choice to strenuously exercise our liberty and work together for our common good. That’s our human choice.
We can give in to our worst nightmare, our inner demons, and I’ll be honest here – on the sexual assault, misogynistic bullying front, Trump certainly triggers a lot of mine. Or we can look at him in his emperor’s clothes, his all-together, and know that he is weak. His whole concept of some sort of white male supremacy is weak – because the whole notion of supremacy of one human being over another is weak. Weakness of intellect. Weakness of natural ability. Supremacy indicates: I can’t make it on my own/as a group without some unfair advantage over other individuals based on sex/race/sexual preference etc. Supremacy indicates: I can only thrive by the oppression of others. Supremacy indicates: I can’t see the humanity in those weaker than me in privilege – the poor, the sick, the disabled – because they reflect back my own weakness, my own vulnerability, my own human frailty – and I DON’T LIKE THAT (capitals inspired by #Trumptweets). Supremacy, ergo, is the ultimate display of weakness.
Or we can access our brightest angels and look around at our community, our diverse, rich, colourful communities, and we can decide right now that there is room for everyone to live and everyone to grow and reach their potential. But we have to realise that choosing our better angels of hope is not a choice for wimps. It requires action. While the marches on the 21st January are great and necessary, as the first step in dissent – it is but a first step. Write to your Senator/MP. Call them. Question why, here in the UK, in the 6th richest country which extolls the virtue of service to country, a third of all homeless are ex-military. Question why there are tax loopholes for those who could most afford to pay their taxes. Inequality of income is widening, and is not unconnected to the rise in homelessness, to the 2.5 million children living below the poverty line, to the easily manipulated anger at political elites (sometimes justifiable), which has led to #Trump, #Farage and their ilk. Question why the soon-to-be 45th President of the United States has yet to release details of his taxes. Question why there is not a psychological test necessary to deem fitness for office. (One of the things that I’ve experienced which ran counter to all of my beliefs until I was directly confronted with it, is that sociopaths walk among us – and we need to begin to understand as a society how to deal with them and integrate them in ways that are least harmful to the majority). Reach out to your community. Join action groups that advocate causes that are meaningful to you. Even if it is just one good deed per day – giving up that seat, talking to that elderly person, giving a compliment where it is least expected – do it. One deed a day per person is 365 good deeds in this naughty world. One good deed a day per person in the UK would add up to approximately 21,900,000,000 good deeds in a year (#maths). Positive action done incrementally and collectively can make change. Sand is the result of waves eroding rocks with millions of beats – and as I’ve just found out through my good friend Google, sand can also re-form into rock over millions of years. Our choice is to catch the wave and turn the tide before hardness sets in. John Lewis, the great civil rights activist and politician, said the other day to always choose love. And, given his experiences and age, forged by Circumstance and Time, I feel that is advice worth heeding.
Dear reader, I’m blathering on because, like you, I feel the trepidation. I’m awake and writing this because of that trepidation. I can admit that looking at that embodiment of angry, toxic orange-white supremacist masculinity on the TV/computer screen has simultaneously enraged and paralysed me. It’s triggered memories that I had consigned to the dustbins of experience. Not just because of him, but because of the legions of angry, toxic white supremacists who feel vindicated and emboldened by him. It’s caused me hours and days of questioning the very nature of humankind, that we can return cyclically to this sort of nasty political climate, despite the lessons of history. I know essentially I’m preaching to the choir. Like you, I feel the need to express what I’m feeling on this – and I am feeling a lot. It feels that the last 6 months have been so full of feelings and global emotion that it’s implosive. And, as they used to say about farting, but now which seems to be an apt description of Theresa May’s #Brexit policy – better out than in. But, just to reiterate: where there is life, there is hope. Where there is a human, there is a choice. And, if the last 40 years and six+ months and the late Jo Cox have taught us – we are better together. We are better when we work together. For our common and equally uncommon good.

Hope

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In the winter of 2005, I met the Clintons. All of them: Bill, Hillary and Chelsea. This came about because I was part of Sir Peter Hall’s second production of As You Like It, which, after a successful first run starring his daughter Rebecca as Rosalind, went for a second run with the then-unknown Dan Stevens as Orlando. After a fairly cold and inauspicious start in the yet-to-be-finished Rose Theatre in Kingston, New York welcomed and embraced us with open, warm arms. It seemed at the time like the whole world had come to see us perform over those few weeks. Lou Reed. Martin Scorsese. And then – the ultimate seal of New York approval at that time as we played deep in the heart of Brooklyn – the Clintons.

I heard about their impending visit 24 hours before the rest of the cast as my cast buddy on tour was our wardrobe mistress. (In theatre, Wardrobe is always ahead of the game).  To say I was excited  was an understatement. We tend to forget it now, after over a year of character assassinations by the Trump campaign and their supporters, and after EmailGate – but the Clintons were political royalty. They had that rock-star edge about them, and they were loved in New York, but adored in Brooklyn. Prior to the actual first African-American president, Bill Clinton was seen as the first honorary African American president. Which seems to say more about those times in retrospect – but that was the way it was.

Suffice it to say – their presence was the highlight of that part of the tour. The reception they received was rapturous – there was a 10-minute standing ovation for them. And afterwards we, the cast and crew, got to meet them.

I remember observing them, these smooth political operators, as they glided from person to person, and what struck me is the rarity of people like these. Our Touchstone, Michael Siberry (who later appeared in, among other shows, House of Cards) was costumed with a pair of stripey, colourful socks. Bill Clinton took one at them and said, in that infamous drawl ‘Y’know, if I’d had a pair of them, maybe things would have gone a bit easier for me at the UN sometimes’ – a quick, easy, wonderful, self-deprecating reference to his own position and the verbal acuity of the character. When a fellow cast member pushed me forward to have a photo with him (I’d mentioned I’d love to have it to send to my mum, and said so to Mr. Clinton), he took it graciously. Grace. Ease of character. Whatever his personal peccadilloes and failings, these qualities epitomise his presence.

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But – and this is not with the benefit of hindsight – it was Hillary that impressed me most. She was much softer in person than television had led me to believe. They say you can get a measure of a person by how they treat those who are not as privileged around them. Not only did she seem to know everybody’s name on the staff in the theatre, but she also remembered personal details about them. Even if she’d done a quick spot of revision before coming – what a brain. Encyclopaedic. Astounding.

I remember acutely the first time I voted. It was for the first female president of Ireland, Mary Robinson. Despite her obvious superiority as a politician and campaigner than the favourite, Brian Lenihan, she faced an uphill battle till he was forced to drop out of the race due to scandals surrounding his ‘mature recollections’ of certain political actions. There were those, including women, prior to that, who were vehemently opposed to her and yet she went on to become the greatest, and arguably the most memorable nationally and internationally President the Republic of Ireland has ever seen. As a young woman, growing up in the dark days of theocratic Ireland, this was huge. I look around at that generation of women, my friends, and remember what hope we all had for the state of women in the world. Young. Naive as to how our very existence and ambitions were a threat to some of the men around us.

If we were ever in doubt that misogyny exists in the world, and in Western society, once elevated as a beacon of hope for women among that society itself, this past 6 months of politics has exposed that lie. It has painted, easier than the many posts on Facebook and social media that I’ve written to that effect, to howls of incredulity from men, the picture that women face in society. Almost a quarter of a century on from Mary Robinson and my first vote, I’ve faced down enough misogyny in my own life – sexual, personal, workplace – to know that there is much work to be done before female equity (i.e. equality that truly benefits women) is achieved.

In 2008, while I was sceptical of Obama and his basically undefined policies at that time, I was cognisant of what his very presence in the White House, as the first African American, would mean to the African American community and the country at large. It’s been absolutely vital that he was there, and yet his presidency has exposed the deep racism at that had laid unseen by the wider world as long as white people were in charge. It’s been necessary, if horrifying to witness, in broad daylight, the acceptance of white supremacist dialogue, with all that entails, in political life and wider society.

the-clintonsSo, while I have profound political differences with her, my hope is that Hillary Clinton will prevail today. For women and our current place in society, it is absolutely vital that she does. Even if all she is is a figurehead, that figurehead is necessary in today’s political climate of violent, invasive, rape-culture leanings. She has certainly proven herself to be a political warrior of some mettle in debates with an individual who, quite frankly, should never have progressed farther than his playpen. It is on a knife-edge in many states, and there are many of us this side of the pond suffering PBSD (Post Brexit Stress Disorder), as in political events that seemed inconceivable can now actually happen – but today, I have hope. A person who grew up in the countryside of Ireland and yet may have unwittingly met two US Presidents understands that there are more things in heaven and earth than are dreamt of in our philosophy. To paraphrase Harvey Milk, for today, I ‘gotta give [myself] Hope’.

 

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Brexit has held a mirror up to the mainstreaming of far-right ideologies. The late Jo Cox MP has shown us a better way.

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One of my main grouses when I first came to the UK was the absolute apathy in which the British public viewed politics. In my native Ireland, politics are discussed regularly, and with gusto, at dinner parties, breakfast tables, and down the pub. If one was ever to witness a group of Irish people discussing politics in full flight, it would seem as there might be murder by the end of the night. And yet, by and large, people leave the pubs, mostly in good humoured discord with each other. I no longer can make that grouse, the day before the most important vote a number of Britons will make in their lifetimes; however the only thing that voters will agree upon tomorrow is the divisive, unnecessary and toxic nature of it all.

I’m a real fangirl of the life political, as readers of my blog will know, purely as spectator sport. It’s a theatre in itself, especially British politics: the thrust and parry of Westminster, the comedy of errors that is often party politics. There is a heart of darkness that has grown in the midst of this, and it is most noticeable in the love affair between the media and successive governments. The most insidious cancer in this heart of darkness is, being shown to be, in my opinion, the double-edged sword of profiling.

The Prevention of Terrorism Act introduced in the 1970s, which the then Home Secretary Roy Jenkins described as ‘draconian’ and ‘unprecedented in peacetime’ did nothing to reduce the threat of IRA attacks, but rather increased it. What it did achieve was the ‘otherization’ of the Irish in Britain, and the stance taken led to many miscarriages of justice and the demonisation in certain media quarters, most notable the Sun, of the Irish community. What was appalling to me was Tony Blair re-introducing this act post-9/11, for the obvious parallels with the Muslim community, and so it has come to pass. I state this not to excuse violence, which is inexcusable; but to make the point that ‘terrorism’ does not grow in a vacuum.

From my own personal knowledge I can give two examples of how damaging profiling is, and the resentment it creates in society. In the early 1990s I took a drama course at the Betty Ann Norton School in Dublin. Among my classmates was a very lovely woman called Róisín (*not her real name). Long red curly hair, blue eyes, ‘typically’ Irish-looking. One night, down the pub, Róisín told me finally why she had come back from the UK. She had fitted the description of a suspect of a bombing attempt, in terms of height, hair colour and length and eye colour, and so the police took her in for questioning. After a long period of time, at which she described herself at breaking point mentally, and with no evidence, they finally let her go. So traumatised was she, she got the next boat back to Ireland and never went back to the UK.

A member of my family, who is a Muslim convert and who now lives in Norwich, has also been a target in the community there. About two years ago, he and his wife were brought in for questioning by the police. Apparently an Islamophobic neighbour, posing as a concerned citizen, had noticed her next-door neighbour had gone ‘missing’ and reported to the police that it was likely that the Muslim couple next door had ‘done away’ with her. As it happened, the neighbour and her boyfriend turned up alive and well on the Costa del Sol.

I give these examples as a small illustration into the type of world that has been created on the lies of WMD and the cynical politics of dividing communities. The tale of the ‘good Muslim’ and ‘bad Muslim’, while ignoring the reality of profiling (according to reports, those from ethnic minorities are likely to be stopped by the police 42 times more than white people) is hugely damaging to communities. The weight of expectation placed on these communities is higher also: Every time a terrorist attack happens, representatives from the Muslim community are called upon to condemn it. This call for condemnation from the white community was distinctly noticeable by its absence when a white supremacist fascist killed the MP Jo Cox, and directly for the work she did for ethnic communities and refugees. The double standards and higher standards meted out to ethnic minorities is breathtaking in both its ignorance and arrogance.

Dear readers: we are, in this most important of referendums, at a tipping point in British society. The bandage has been ripped off the nostalgia of ‘Rule Britannia’ and the maggots of fascism that have dwelt now for some time (at least 6 years, in my view) have come to surface and threaten the very fabric of all that is the very best of Britain. I’ve watched in fascination and horror over the last 6 years as, one by one, the young, the poor, the disabled, the unemployed, women, the NHS, the legal aid system, the arts, education, the third sector, those with mental health issues, refugees from war-torn countries have been targeted by corrupt, inhumane and weak politicians ill-suited to wielding power justly. Everything, even school children, are assets to be used in the adoration of the almighty Mammon.

There is finally  a Labour party leadership that is prepared to oppose the worst excesses of an unnecessary austerity, and yet the toxic Blairite faction insist on blocking their every move. It says something about the state of British politics when an advocate for social justice, a kinder politics and a fairer distribution of the very real burdens of austerity is labelled as a ‘radical’. There is nothing radical, to my mind, about every family having a home; every child being able to go to school with food in their belly and clean clothes; about access to free education and healthcare – these are the hallmarks of a civilised society. And yet, in just over half a decade, the UK has descended into a Lord of the Flies-esque island, where the flames of greed, racism, nationalism, class war and resentment have been fanned cynically for political advantage. The fifth largest economy in the world where 103,000 children are homeless and 1 million people are dependent on food banks. The ideas of the far-right are being tested out in mainstream politics as well: one only has to look at the UKIP/Tory stance on immigration and the disgraceful Tory campaign for London Mayor at all levels of the party to see the writing on the wall from policy and ideological perspectives.

And into this toxic cauldron stepped Jo Cox MP, an unwitting martyr last Thursday, a genuinely good, engaged and uniquely qualified MP, through her background in the charity sector and with Oxfam. Again the media tried to spin the myth of the poor, put-upon white British man with mental health issues as a first resort for her killer Thomas Mair. Thanks to the internet – as Tim Berners-Lee said ‘This is for everyone’ – that myth was dispelled quite quickly; and in its wake was left the cold putrid stench of white British male fascist anger. It’s there for everyone to see: the pictures of Mair completely compos mentis campaign with Britain First; the threat of the self-same group of ‘direct action’ on Muslim politicians like Sadiq Khan and Sajid Javid; the Tory councillor Tony Peacock’s jibe at the Jo Cox memorial fund. I could list so many more; but this group of people, with so many privileges by virtue of gender and ethnicity, if not class, have poisoned this referendum with their politics of division, violence and white supremacy.

Jo’s husband Brendan gifted us with one of the most beautiful epitaphs I have ever heard: ‘She met the world with love’. It’s something each of us needs to take into the polling booths today – will we meet the world with love? Or with fear and suspicion? No matter what happens, the lid has been lifted on the Pandora’s box of British fascism, and whatever the outcome, post-referendum, it will be difficult to contain it. Make no mistake, it is Battleground Britain, where the very heart and soul of Tolkien’s fabled shires are at stake. I happen to believe that the only choice, in this background of festering, angry nationalism, is to Remain. Partly so Europe as a whole can counter fascism; partly because to vote to leave is to validate and give political credence to the far-right. Brexit has held a mirror up to the chilling mainstreaming of far-right ideologies. The late Jo Cox MP has shown us a better way in politics and in our lives – to choose love. That will truly be the best way of putting Britain first.