Tag Archives: David Cameron

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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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.

Fail Better

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I have David Cameron to thank for this post. No, really – I have.

This morning I awoke at 4.44am after a dream whereby I was serving David Cameron at a Westminster function. My attitude to him was servile, obsequious; he was, as I imagine him to be, loud, bombastic, patronising. Every fibre of my being in the dream hated having to smile and bow and scrape; but smile and bow and scrape I did, in survival instinct mode. And then I woke up.

My first thoughts, in the early morning hours, was that must have been the feeling that, prior to 1916, many Irish people felt towards their English lords and masters. That unsettled feeling of being treated like a second-class citizen – and in one’s own land. The many slings and arrows of imperialist patronising remarks about the ‘savage Irish’. People who are happy with their lot do not lead rebellions, and the bravery of those men and women who cleaved themselves to the ideals of the 1916 Proclamation is but something which this generation can only imagine. Or is it?

Based in London, I’ve been following with interest the various and varied opinions on the commemorations for 1916. Clearly, there’s a section of society that sees it as something to celebrate unreservedly. And in a way, they are right. There’s another section who sees all the failures: the side-lining of women, the subsequent subservience of the Free State to another imperialist power, the Church and its Holy Empire, the enslavement and abuse of women and children, the gombeen politics – the list could go on. And in a way, they are also right. Here’s where I stand.

I grew up in the Ireland of the late 70s/80s. Being of Russian/Ukrainian/American/Irish and God knows what else parentage, I’ve felt connected to Ireland, though not of her. My presiding memories of those days is darkness and gloom. There always felt there was something not quite humane, not quite ‘Irish’ about the stranglehold the Church had over every aspect of society. People’s absolute, unerring, unwavering belief in the teachings of the Church both fascinated and frightened me simultaneously. In retrospect, and to a certain felt extent at the time, it was clear that Ireland had simply exchanged one imperial master for another – and one that was arguably more far-reaching and cruel. It’s one thing to impose oppressive laws of the realm over people; it’s far more insidious when oppressive laws are imposed on the human spirit.

Probably the biggest betrayal of the ideals of 1916 is the way that women have been treated in Ireland, like another second-class caste altogether. The sidelining of women in the life politic not long after the Civil War. The Magdalen Laundries. The fear that every Irish woman of a certain generation must have lived with of being incarcerated in one of these laundries, from any or all crimes ranging from being too pretty and a ‘temptation’ to unmarried pregnancies. Unequal pay and working rights up to the 1970s. The dominion that the State still holds over women’s bodies via the, quite frankly, archaic laws on abortion.

But maybe the biggest lesson that is most obvious to me is that, over the last 100 years – where the State has failed, it has been a failure of our own making. We can claim, to a certain extent, post-colonial trauma; but ultimately, our failures have been our own. We voted in the corrupt politicians, election after election, which led to an unsustainable Tiger economy and its inevitable crash. There are many in Ireland who gave into the venality of that period, based on the shakiest of foundations, and over-invested in property, like characters out of a John B Keane play. There was fear, the type of fear that a post-colonial economy exudes, the grasping for affirmation that we were as good as the rest of the world and could stand as equals. We learned that we couldn’t compete in that way or at that level.

But the good news that I see for Ireland is that we don’t have to. As someone who emigrated to the UK in the late 1990s, I hated coming back to Celtic Tiger Ireland where it seemed as if all people talked about was the latest property they’d invested in, their flash cars, the latest designer label they’d acquired. What has happened to many people since the crash is terrible, and they must be helped, and issues like poverty and homelessness must be addressed.

However, it seems to me that since the crash that the real riches of Irish society are returning. The creativity that has always been a hallmark. That ability to connect with each other on a more profound level. The ability to express ourselves through words, ideas that have not only shaped us, but the world. The spirit of rebellion in many of the protest groups that have sprung up: the water protests, the #WakingtheFeminists movement, Speaking of Imelda. What better way to celebrate rebellion than to engage with and support protest?

The biggest turning point for me however, and a key indicator of something quite unprecedented happening in Irish society was the ‘Yes Equality’ vote. I came home that weekend for my niece’s communion. I was struck equally by the joyousness and change that came about not only through the LGBT community, but also through the recently departed emigrants who returned en masse, with all they had seen and learned abroad, wanting, by their presence, to be part of a more equal and pluralistic Ireland; and by the greatly reduced numbers at the Mass the next day where the Church we attended was only a fifth full. I remember the packed Masses of Ireland of 30 years ago. This was something quite new, the passing of the old, the embracing of a brave new world with brave new ideals.

So on this very special Easter weekend, my stand on the 1916 commemorations is this: Let’s acknowledge the mistakes of the past, learn from them, and let them go. Let’s use our failures as stepping stones to achieve the ideals of the 1916 Proclamation: to ensure the “guarantee of  religious and civil liberty, equal rights and equal opportunities of all its citizens…”, and renew our “…resolve to pursue the happiness and prosperity of the whole nation and of all its parts, cherishing all the children of the nation equally”. These are lofty and noble ambitions. Like most ideals, they are difficult to attain, and, given our history, it’s also entirely possible that we did our best with the behaviours learned at the time, and it’s entirely possible that we can achieve these ideals, if there is but the will. In the words of one of our great scribes, Samuel Beckett “Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try Again. Fail again. Fail better”.  Beannachtaí na Cásca oraibh go léir.

 

 

 

 

Day of Judgement

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By the time this blog is published it will be all decided: Britain will/won’t be at war. It feels very strange writing that. Maybe it should feel reminiscent of WWII; at least that seems to be the aim. There were the bombings in Paris which were truly reprehensible. As reprehensible as the deaths caused by the French retaliation bombings in Syria, with scores of young children, young lives laid out as corpses. Nothing shows the futility of mass murder, through terrorists or governments, as the lifeless body of a corpse.

The propaganda war post-Paris was surprisingly quick as well, with Facebook issuing their ‘temporary’ French flag pin a mere few hours after the bombings. At the time it smacked to me of purposeful emotional manipulation, to gauge what the public appetite was for war. It still does. It gave people the opportunity to feel like they were part of a previous war, part of the French resistance, without doing anything more significant than pressing a button. Solidarity, while necessary in some situations, can lead societies astray in terms of looking at the fine print when tribal hurt has been endured.

There is something strange about this push towards war – it feels totally orchestrated by senior Tories, including the Prime Minister, anti-Corbynites, whose sole purpose in politics now seems to be ABC (Anyone But Corbyn) and Rupert Murdoch. The public don’t want it – after 5 years of Tory austerity and broken promises, and over 14 years of futile and immoral wars in Iraq, the public recognises political subterfuge when they see it. Former hostages like Nicholas Henin don’t want it  and have explicitly said that airstrikes will play into Daesh’s hands, and potentially escalate their recruitment drive. The Express-reading public don’t want it – over 70% of them voted against airstrikes. The Daily Mail doesn’t seem to want it either according to their comment on 27 November 2015. When the Daily Mail has no appetite for war, one should be able to concede that, given the importance of Middle England to any politician, the game is over. This is not a war about glory, or heroism. This isn’t even about waging war on terror – even by Cameron’s own admission, the intelligence services have effectively thwarted seven terror strikes in one year. That seems to be working – so, as the old adage goes, if it ain’t broke, why fix it?

But Cameron has seemed incapable of accepting this, and this is what is interesting. He has gone so far as to brand the Leader of the Opposition and all who oppose airstrikes as ‘terrorist sympathisers’. Besides this ludicrous and quasi-libellous assertion lies the desperation of a man on whom the screws are being tightened. Some might opine that the real interests he serves are those of Murdoch and Rothschild, with their interests in Genie Oil & Gas. Some might opine that it is the interests of companies like Lockheed Martin, BAE Systems, Boeing, who will surely be beneficiaries of any escalation in the ‘war on terror’. Some might opine this – I couldn’t possibly comment.

But even putting all of this aside and looking at Cameron’s judgement in the past, because essentially when a prime minister sets out the case for war, he is asking us to trust said judgement.  Cameron counts among his friends Rebecca Brookes. He appointed Andy Coulson as his spin doctor. He sold off the Royal Mail for a mere £2bn, which was later proven to have grossly undervalued it, to the tune of £750 million detrimentally to the taxpayer, but to the benefit of George Osborne’s best man. He promised in 2010 that the NHS would remain untouched. He promised in 2015 that tax credits would remain untouched. His party have increased the deficit to £1.5tn, and his enthusiasm in selling arms to Saudia Arabia, Qatar and other reprehensible regimes which should be pariah states diplomatically resemble nothing so closely as a used car salesman. Not to mention PigGate. And this is the man to lead us into an unwanted war and whose judgement we should trust.

The unspoken rule in politics is that we get the politicians we deserve. And in a sense, that is true. No one forced a small majority of the British voting public to put Cameron and his cronies back into power. If the last seven months have shown us anything however, it should have shown us that individual self-interest is not the best foundation on which to cast a vote. As glad as I am that they did it, it was a sad day for democracy when the undemocratically elected House of Lords are the last recourse to hold the Government to account.

And the last five years and seven months should have proven to us beyond reasonable doubt that the interests of the private and public sector – for politicians and Prime Ministers are public servants, after all – should be totally separate. What I will be most interested in after all is said and done, and the votes are counted is who stands to profit from war. Before the UK goes down the path of war irrevocably it would be in the public interest to reveal all those politicians with ties to munitions, banking, energy and pharmaceutical companies, which are all too often mutually dependent. Because as much as politicians and their business bedfellows lie, dissemble, prevaricate and propagandise, money doesn’t. Money reveals the true heartbeat of the war drum and coffers. Let’s uncover that heartbeat.

The death knell of the playground

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Something has been happening in politics in the UK this summer. At first, it seemed inconsequential: a bearded rebel entered the Labour leadership race, let in on a whim and a prayer at the eleventh hour. And like another bearded rebel (though maybe with less messianic, more measured zeal) a movement gathering momentum around him, as crowds flocked to witness the phenomenon of a politician with a track record of doing his job not only preaching hope, but revealing through policy what many of us have known for some time: that Emperor Dave of Austerityland has no clothes.

I first heard Corbyn speak on a Newsnight clip posted on Facebook. Up to that point, I had been more inclined to vote for Cooper. While I was impressed by the directness of what he had to say, I was cautious. The turning point for me (and I suspect for many others) was the vote on the Welfare Bill. It became abundantly clear that there was no opposition, no one who would challenge growing inequality, no conscience left in the race other than Corbyn. Only careerist politicians who would rather toe the party line for their own self-aggrandisement rather than face the obvious truth that Labour had lost the election so ignominiously  because it now served the advancement of the few rather than the many.

Essentially, it’s linked to two concepts which have become foreign not just to British politics, but politics worldwide over the last 40 years: that of conscience and compassion. It wasn’t always thus. But the rise of political assaults on the concept of society and the ties that bind us as human beings has created an illusion of rampant individualism. To a certain extent, this has proven successful in the time-honoured tradition of divide and conquer. You’re either an economic aspirant in the mould (in the UK) of a New Labourite or Thatcherite barrow boy (or girl); or you are an affront to the system. Either get with the neoliberal agenda, or get left behind in the economic Darwinian Utopia. The mentality of ‘As long as I’m alright (Union) Jack, I don’t care’.

There come moments in politics when an outsider is desperately needed. I can only remember one other such authentic breath of fresh air in my lifetime, and that was when Mary Robinson, the rank outsider, overtook the then odds-on favourite Brian Lenihan due to his involvement in a political scandal, and went on to become the President of Ireland. Robinson was an Independent TD (equivalent of MP), known as an outsider, who re-shaped what the Presidency meant in Irish political life and, to an extent, Ireland’s standing internationally.

Corbyn, as is well-documented, is also an outsider. In Westminster, though it seems as if on a personal level he is universally liked, he is seen as part of the ‘awkward’ brigade, a political anachronism i.e. an MP with a conscience. After decades of cronyism, corporatism, flipping homes, expenses scandal, and hints of a looming sex scandal, Westminster is radically in need of an overhaul.

Nowhere has this been starker than in the current scandal engulfing No.10 i.e. PigGate. Besides the obvious ‘Schweinenfreude’ of the PM being caught out in an act of porcine necrophilia lies another story: i.e. the elite groups that run this country engaging in acts of debauchery that for most people would be beyond the pale, and those groups binding each other together in symbiotic lifelong relationships built on deep-buried secrets. At least we can be thankful (unlike in Charlie Brooker’s ‘Black Mirror’) that the pig was dead; but there is still a macabre air of disrespect pervasive in the whole escapade that is mind-boggling for the majority of us not used to the bizarre rituals of the Oxbridge elite. According to contemporaneous sources (like Roswynne Jones in the Mirror) these were far from isolated incidences.

Added to that is the assumption by characters like Lord Ashcroft that they can buy their way into a position. Now obviously he didn’t; but given the damage this revelation has wreaked on Cameron personally, rather than the party as a whole, it is wildly apparent that hell hath no fury like a Lord scorned, and there had been an expectation that was not fulfilled. The very fact that there can be this expectation in Westminster speaks volumes about how politics in the UK has been corporatised and bartered for, and when the last #Hameron joke has been told and the laughter has died down, this is the issue at stake: can any truly democratic system sustain this kind of politics anymore?

I believe it can’t. I’ve lived in the UK for 17 years, and for 12 of those it was by and large a fairly tolerant society. We’re at a nadir in political life here after a 5 year onslaught against the poor, the vulnerable, the young, and 4 decades of Gekkoist political practice. If I were to put this biblically, the glorification of Mammon has risen to a cruel height, obfuscating the real purpose of politics: to work for and with people. This was most obvious as well in Corbyn’s first week, where he was pilloried for doing his job, rather than engaging in political sporting propaganda. It says a lot about the need the media, corporations, and the government have to brainwash the population with jingoism when so much column space is directed negatively at someone standing and (in line with his well-known republican beliefs) respectfully not singing. Maybe one could argue that the same could be said of Cameron i.e. that his youthful act of porcine fellatio was not directly hurting the dead pig – however, there is something inherently invasive and disrespectful about it. Even leaving #PigGate aside, his scripted, repetitive, spin-drenched responses to the questions posed to him by the public through Corbyn further served to reveal the huge chasm in thinking of the elite 1% versus the real-life toll that ideological austerity is taking on the 99%.

In the words of Kant “He who is cruel to animals becomes hard also in his dealings with men. We can judge the heart of a man by his treatment of animals.” Certainly in the light of that statement, many of the inherently anti-human policies Cameron has endorsed (including most recently his compassionless reaction to the plight of the refugees) over the last 5 years should be called into question. Those who voted the Tories back into power on a majority (however slight) need to call into question their own values therein. Because in the cold hard light of day, who appears to be more fit to be Prime Minister: the bearded outsider who has a proven 32 year record of working hard for the people he represents, and wants everyone to aspire to a better life, where the basic needs of food, housing, healthcare set the lowest bar of a thriving democracy ; or the brash Oxfordian with a penchant for bestial necrophilia whose main raison d’être is to advance the interests of his corporate chums in a non-inclusive playground?

Opportunity knocks – who will answer?

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A few years back, I was on tour in Germany. By sheer chance, someone I’d gone to college with was sitting in the audience in Munich. It was a big thrill to see so familiar a face so far from home and as it turned out, Colin had moved with his girlfriend to Dachau. This gave me the incentive I needed to do, something I’d been putting off: which was to visit a concentration camp.

Nothing can really prepare you for visiting one of these camps. There is a greyness there, as if all joy, all life had been sucked out of the area; and it is the case that not even the birds sing there. Colin said to me he had made the journey several times, and that always struck him. Then he said  “If I’d been alive then, I would have fought against this”. His certainty gave me pause, and I asked him how could he be sure? He said because it was the right thing to do. He then asked me would I have fought against it? I said to him I honestly didn’t know. I’d visited the museum in Munich the day before, and the enormity of the political situation came home to me with a wallop – family members informing against each other, a pervasive atmosphere of mistrust, the threat of labour camps not only for oneself, but one’s family members. Of course I hoped I would have done the right thing; but unless faced with the situation, how could one be sure?

This was brought to mind over the last year, starting with the death of Mandela. It was quite incredible how many people came out of the woodwork to say they had battled as allies against apartheid South Africa; a Tory friend of mine recounted in amusement how George Osborne was reminiscing on Radio 4 about his days on the frontlines as an anti-apartheid activist in the 1980s. (That may be the case; but forgive me if I would like to see pictorial evidence of this…). I remembered how in Ireland, as a child, we heard about the Dunnes Stores workers. These were a group of supermarket check-out girls who had been instructed by their union, after meeting with a South African trade unionist, to not handle South African goods. As the story goes, Mary Manning, one of the check-out girls, started the action by refusing to handle South African fruit. They didn’t quite know at first why they were striking; as Manning herself said, as an 18 year old, politics was not at the top of her agenda. But as time went on, the magnitude and significance of what they were doing apparently took over, and despite financial hardship and lack of employment (no small consideration in recession-hit Ireland) the strike lasted for 3 years and changed the face of Irish politics.

Morality and the lack thereof in politics worldwide has become a key theme of this recession. In the UK, it is painfully obvious that there is a dearth of individuals prepared to “do the right thing”. Despite the wealth of evidence in front of them of the tyranny of their ideologies, and the damage caused therein, including direct causation of deaths, Messieurs Cameron and Osborne & Co cling to their misguided mantra of “Austerity is necessary”. This despite proof to the contrary. This despite being directly linked to the deaths of pensioners Stephanie Bottrill and Charles Barden, who directly cited this particular heinous “policy” (later proven to misapplied in the case of Bottrill) as the cause of their suicides. Death has a funny way of bringing what is important in life into sharp focus, and for me, this exemplified why this government must go: ruthless, blinkered, asinine, and bullying.

Cabinet ministers like Maria Miller resign, not because they believe what they are doing is wrong, but because their hand has been forced by those with more power than they i.e. a bigger bully (in Miller’s case, allegedly Osborne). However, she was clearly seen by her party to not be accountable, according to the £17k pay-out she received; which, granted, she donated to charity, but only after public outcry. That action in itself indicates that Teflonism is truly alive and kicking in Westminster; we are ruled by those whose actions have serious consequences, sometimes fatal, and yet rarely does anything stick.

Compare Miller’s actions to Caroline Lucas MP, of the Green Party, who was arrested for protesting fracking, and it is easy to see why people are disillusioned by politics. My guess is that ultimately the default position of most people in the UK is disengagement through a sense of powerlessness. It is a huge issue for the 2015 election, and one that all parties will probably seek to avoid. However, it is also a huge opportunity for the right politician: someone who has moral fibre, the courage of their convictions, and most of all, genuine empathy with the electorate. The time has never been riper for a political giant. And it is possible. The late great Tony Benn, brings to mind the importance of those who form what certain media pundits might dismiss as “the awkward brigade”, who nonetheless had character, integrity and political heart.

Today I saw a video made by  ‘BNP Youth’ – a group of more vitriolic misfits it would be hard to find, spreading their message of fear and hatred, exclusion of the other. I also read today of the passing of Stephen Sutton, the Teenage Cancer Trust fundraiser, who made his short life not about time, but about the positive legacy he could leave behind. The response to his fundraising efforts in the last short weeks of his life prove people are hungry for goodness, strength of character and personality. It struck me that the issues of this next election are both about the physical and metaphysical. That we should judge politicians on the positivity of their promises and previous actions. That we should question whether kindness or avarice motivates them; whether their rhetoric includes or excludes. Whether they are for the many or the few. But ultimately, the choice is ours – and it’s going to make for a very interesting election year.

Cameron the “Christian”

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Today, theoretically is the holiest day in the Christian calendar. I say “theoretically” for a number of reasons. Firstly, Easter isn’t a “Christian” holiday per se; there is much argument about this, but according to a friend of mine, it is derived from “Hausos” which was an Indo-European (precursor of the Celts) holiday, which was then translated into “Auster” in Latin (a true “Roman Holiday?) and consequently into the Anglo-Saxon “Easter”.

Interesting, around this time, David Cameron sought to come out as being an “evangelical Christian”, and criticising those who did not share his beliefs. While the last census in 2011 showed that just over 59% of the population in the UK self-identify as being of a Christian faith, it did lead me, as a lapsed Catholic, to ask: What exactly does he mean?

My first reaction was that this was nothing other than pure political isolationism, i.e. if you are not a Christian, you are not in our gang (not that most people want to be in the Bullingdon Bullies gang, but that is a debate perhaps for another post). This isolates deliberately those of another religion i.e. Muslims (5%), Hindus (1.5%), Sikhs (.8%), Jews (.5%), Buddhists (.5%), and those who put down “other” (.4%). In total, this makes up 8.7% of the population. Relatively small fry in election terms. So while I think there was a slight Crusader-like zeal in the statement, it is clear that the full force of his opprobrium was reserved for those non-believer in any faith, who make up 31.9% of the population, and who, if Marx is to be believed about religion being the opium of the masses, are harder to control.

But it also calls into question the very nature of Christianity as well. As aforementioned, I am a very lapsed Irish Catholic. Lapsed for reasons that are obvious; and those that were cultural and therefore not so obvious. I remember hearing priests threatening eternal damnation on those who voted for divorce in the 1980s. I remember the state preventing a 14-year old travelling to England for an abortion (not that she should have had to travel), despite having been raped by a neighbour, because abortion was and is against the Church’s teachings. I’ve worked with people who were so traumatised by their experiences as novices in Ireland in the 1960s in the infamous Magdalen laundries that they left not only their vocation but the Church itself. While there is a special kind of misogyny inherent in Irish Catholicism, having dabbled with other world religions I have found it is manifested only a little less. So I am curious to know what David Cameron thought he would achieve by avowing evangelical Christianity.

Here’s what I think he thought would happen. He thought that by evoking the word “Christian” that it could expunge the deeds of the Coalition over the last four years, and conjure up an image of a moral person. What I would say to David Cameron is there is a difference between morality and piety. In the words of the Duke of Wellington, just because you were born in a stable, it doesn’t make you a horse. And essentially it was an attempt to challenge those naughty non-believers, who do make up a sizeable chunk of votes that the Tories could do with winning in 2015. I guess, in the land that was built on the laws of divide and conquer, you can’t blame him for having a go.

But getting back to the matter in hand: let’s test the theory of Cameron’s version of Christianity, and see if it holds water:

Would Christ have axed 576 Sure Start centres? I think he would not have. I know he said “Suffer the little children” – but he did then add “..to come unto me”.

Would Christ have directly targeted the disabled? He would have, but only to heal them; not to persecute them by cutting their benefits, and forcing them to prove their disabilities, which reportedly has been linked to suicides, that of Stephanie Bottrill, and an attempt by Lawrence Keane.

Again, on the subject of healing: would Christ have sought to privatise the NHS? I don’t think so; as far as is recorded, his healing services were free, gratis and for nothing. Lest we forget, we actually pay for the NHS through NI.

Would Christ have implemented policies that have forced nigh on 1 million people to be forced to go to food banks? I think, as is recorded in the Gospels, he would not have – in essence (remembering the tale of the loaves and fishes) he seemed to be a one-man food bank in himself.

And would Christ have been keen to influence bankers getting a 64% bonus increase within a year? Maybe it’s my selective memory, but I seem to remember Christ having a really big chip on his shoulder regarding bankers, to the extent of throwing them out of the temple and then splitting the temple in two with the force of his wrath?

My point here is: if you are going to buy into the myth, buy into the whole myth. I may be a lapsed Irish Catholic; but I have a lot of religious friends who take it as an affront to their beliefs that Cameron, with his lip service to Christ (touted as a radical non-violent revolutionary on a meme doing the rounds) but obvious worship of Mammon, aligns himself with Him. They do not recognise their beliefs in a man whose whole premiership thus far has been about pitting the powerful against the vulnerable, rich against not-so-rich and downright poor. Quibble with religion as you might (and I do), most people with and without faith would not want to see children go to school hungry, homelessness numbers rise, essential services be cut, and the rich profit from other people’s misery disproportionately. Evangelical Cameron may be: but his God is Greed.