Author Archives: John King

The lighter side of Brexit – why we staged our April 1st satire

“The town that wants its own Brexit” was of course a spoof story, but the people are real enough. For Dick Vos read Richard Vos, Liberal Democrat party organiser for Stratford- upon-Avon. Jack Prince, in case you didn’t guess, is myself. We are members of Stratford4Europe, one of the more active and dynamic of the regional pro-European groups.

What we were aiming to do was to inject a bit of humour into the Brexit debate, which has got somewhat bogged down in sterile circular arguments. Humour can cut through the ice where intellectual arguments fail. It can also be therapeutic. Laughter is the best medicine, as they say. So in healing the wounds of a deeply divided nation, it should have some value.

We have certainly found that is true in the case of the Brexit café, a local initiative pioneered by Sophie West which has brought together Remainers and Leavers for friendly discussions. Whilst not comedy, this relies on good humour. At the national level there are initiatives such as the ‘Number 10 Vigil’ – live songs and entertainment featuring a lookalike Boris Johnson, which is no longer confined to Downing Street but has been travelling around the country on the Brexit Truth Bus.

Satire is often the best way to make serious points. For example, the folly of the First World War was poignantly highlighted by the film “Oh! What a Lovely War”, and with no loss of respect for the great fallen. Similarly “The town that wants its own Brexit” highlights the constraints of parochial thinking, with no loss of respect for Leavers.

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The dream of a wonderful Brexit

Much has been written about the negative feeling which drove Brexit, but it easy to forget that there is a positive and indeed a romantic aspect too. We fondly cherish the wartime image of Britain carrying the torch of liberty, standing alone against the dark forces which were engulfing the continent.

Beyond that, Britain still retains a dim but influential memory of its empire, of the great and global power we once were. The pens I used as a child at school were inscribed “empire made”, and it was an empire on which the sun never set. Europe, where was that? You might learn a little French if you were lucky but certainly not German, and in any case everyone should speak English.

In those days, just after the war, all Germans were regarded with suspicion and it was not until I was older and travelled to Germany that I realised they were normal human beings. The crucial experience for me came in my early twenties, when I took part in an international workcamp. For the first time, among young people from all over Europe, I realised what it meant to be British.

But for many who voted Leave, the opposite holds true: you can only be truly British by keeping the other nationalities at arm’s length. Why is that? Perhaps because sadly, there are millions of older Britons who have never had the opportunity to go abroad, unlike the modern generation. Why go abroad anyway, when Britain is the only country that matters, and Brexit will restore all our past glories?

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How Brexit could strengthen us

Amid all the bad news about Brexit – the lies on the bus, the shrinking economy, the paralysed opposition, we are prone to forget the benefits it is bringing us. I am talking about our understanding of the European Union. Politicians who have for years loftily ignored it are at last being forced to find out a bit about how it works. Large numbers of the population who had hardly heard of the EU before the referendum are gaining some glimmer of what it’s all about.

So a nation for years isolated …

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Fighting Brexit: The virtues of patience

Few presentations have challenged my thinking more than Roger Liddle’s talk at the meeting of the Social Democrat Group, reported earlier on LDV. Delivered with an almost Churchillian eloquence, it set out why a long term perspective may pay off in the end.

The clever thing about the two year transition period requested by Theresa May, he points out, is that it renders the exit itself painless. By means of this “Brexit now, pay later” ploy, the huge cost is kicked well into the future and the electorate robbed of an immediate reason to protest. But the good news, Liddle believes, is that rejoining the EU should be a feasible proposition when the country finally wakes up.

But we must stop Brexit now! That was the reaction of subsequent speakers. And indeed, I myself have emphasised the urgency for a second vote. We have nothing to lose, have we? Yes we have, says Liddle, because if we lost two referendums in a row, our long term prospects would be even worse.

And there is a high risk of such a defeat because referendums are inherently treacherous.

Furthermore we are severely outgunned. Much has been made of encouraging signs that the tide is turning, but the significant statistic about Brexit is that despite being unmitigated twaddle and a piece of criminal insanity, almost half the population still believe in it. That is, in large measure, testament to the success of the Brextremist propaganda machine – our rightwing press.

They were emboldened by their win last time, and are now cruising smugly along, so we are apt to forget their power. But the minute they sniff a referendum brewing you can bet they will go into overdrive.

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Cheer up Britannia, Brexit is coming

Cheer up Britannia, Brexit is coming. Can John King be writing this? As regular readers of my posts will know, I belong to the ‘Stay Angry and Fight Brexit’ school. And I still hope and pray that this madness can be averted.

All the same, in my more sombre moments, I sometimes wonder if we are clutching at straws. Even if we could turn back now, the Brexiters would cry betrayal for ever more. According to the Guardian’s Polly Toynbee, many Remainers in parliament are privately wishing for disaster. Bound and gagged by the three line whip, they reflect grimly that Britain will have to learn the hard way.

Out of the ashes of cataclysmic devastation, by this calculation, a new Britain could arise like a phoenix, resolved never to make the same mistakes again. It is a scenario recalling not only Germany but also ancient Rome, whose Emperor Claudius, surrounded on all sides by perversion and foolishness, could only mutter “Let all the poisons that lurk in the mud hatch out”.

But what if the country’s demise were relatively painless? What if the unacceptable gradually became the norm? It is a fact that with many serious types of sickness – and Brexit is a sickness – other people see a deterioration first, whilst the sufferer is mercifully oblivious. 

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Reversing Brexit

Once out, the pin can’t be put back in. Or can it?

Yes it can, so long as the strike lever has not been released. And that is the position we are in with Brexit. In theory, article 50 can be revoked if we act fast, but the clock is ticking. And According to both Emmanuel Macron and Alastair Campbell, editor of the New European, we have little time left. At some point, the EU will go into full self-protective mode and focus on performing a clean amputation. In grenade terms, the strike lever will have been released and the explosion will be inevitable.

That is why we have to move swiftly. According to Campbell, the time window after our August holidays will be slim. “When the political season resumes, we had better have got our act together”, he writes, ”or else this thing is happening”.

There are formidable difficulties facing us. Though we see tantalising signs of a national change of heart, a lot of energy has built up behind the Brexit juggernaut which means that simply aborting it is well nigh impossible.

Disarming the grenade

Brexit has been aptly described as an act of national self-harm, and self harm has a considerable cathartic value. It is like a wave which rears up before crashing and dissipating its energy on the beach. Anyone who has ever been distressed enough to think of harming themself will tell you that it is not much use being told “forget it, and just carry on as normal”.

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Creative campaigning as the mood on Brexit evolves

This image was among those rejected by the Government committee that oversaw the “stronger in” campaign. Saatchi and Saatchi complained that all their best work was vetoed by someone or other.

Well that is history, and we can learn from it. I count myself lucky to be a member of a small group of pro-European campaigners who are free to develop their own creative ideas, untrammelled by the need to answer to any committee.

Last week we were out on the streets in Stratford-upon-Avon, talking to people about Brexit. Any changes in …

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Brexit: an idea whose time has passed?

One view of our divided country is that it was always a land of potential Leavers and Remainers, the rift being merely exposed by the referendum. On this theory, Remainers were born rather than made and Leavers, like leopards, will never change their spots.

Yet the truth is that Leavers comprise all sorts of people, as do Remainers. They are not a different species. I am coming round to the view that our current turmoil is not the fault of the people themselves, so much as the power of a virulent ideology that has swept the country like a tsunami, sweeping away common sense, but which is now slowly evaporating.

It has happened before: ideas have taken hold with a force disproportionate to their merit, and caused mayhem. There are reasons why these belief systems gain traction. Let us look at a couple of examples.

Lysenkoism

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Why I’m gambling on a second referendum

I’m not a gambling man, but a few months ago I placed a bet for the first time in my life. It was that Emmanuel Macron would win the French election.  It was an expression of hope, which paid off.

Today I am betting on the success of a second referendum on Europe – either staying in the EU or re-joining it, preferably the former. My hope is that the dice will roll in our favour and the people will get it right next time round.

Not that I’m any great fan of referendums, as readers of my previous posts will know. Much can be done to soften the blow without invoking another one. But to reverse the earlier result and stay a member of the EU is likely to require the voice of the people again.

How acceptable will that be to Brenda from Bristol? Well, the snap election was waved through without hesitation despite arguments to the contrary. It is in fact quite difficult to argue against putting things to the people.

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Referendums: an addendum to the conundrum

In my previous post I reviewed some of the problems associated with referendums, in particular the conundrum posed by the “once in a lifetime” proposition. It is no wonder that two of our previous Prime Ministers described them as un-British, and a tool for dictators and demagogues.

Here, as a break from all the election talk, I add a few more criticisms for good measure. But despite the shortcomings that referendums undoubtedly have, my conclusion remains the same: we still need another one. 

Chancy outcomes

Referendums can have perverse and unexpected consequences. To take a rather silly example, suppose the British Medical Association called a vote on whether flower remedies should replace the MMR vaccine. The BMA might think it was a sure win for the vaccine, which does a wonderful job of protecting our children. But in reality it would be an enormous gamble.

The problem here is that, just like the benefits of the EU, the benefits of the vaccine have been taken for granted for years. People have forgotten how serious illnesses like measles, mumps and rubella can be.

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Conundrum of referendums and why we need another one

Referendums? Are you really so dumb? Surely it should be referenda? All right, I openly admit that I’m no expert on referendums, or referenda, my background being in science and medicine. The following thoughts are strictly those of a layman, but they should be relatively light on establishment bias and received wisdom.

I see five problems and a conundrum

The first problem is that referenda are subject to ‘populist’ forces. What is meant by that?

Suppose there was a referendum on whether we wanted to pay taxes. The populist lobby, attuned to the visceral nature of taxation, would urge us to take back control of our own money. Why let faceless bureaucrats in the government tell us what to do with it? The people should decide how much to give to public services, the armed forces and so on.

In an ideal world of sensible altruistic people, that might work. More likely, the country would go bankrupt.

The second drawback of any referendum is that it polarises and divides with the efficiency of a football match. Supporters flock to opposing sides, whatever the question at issue. Had the question on the ballot paper been “Should be EU remain as it is or move towards greater integration?”, we would now be a nation of remainers pitted against integrationists. A better sort of division, but still a divided nation.

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Remainers must not be silenced

In the aftermath of the referendum, the Remain viewpoint has been a still small voice. Too still and too small. There are a couple of reasons for this, the first to do with the character of Remainers and the second with how they’ve been treated.

Remainers on the whole are civilised people, reflective and self critical, inclined to see the other person’s point of view. They are not given to elbowing their way to the front of the bar shouting their order for a drink; they leave that to the Nigel Farages of …

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Evidence-based politics is some way off, but the Brexit scandal will be a blockbuster story

 

I’ve always been a strong believer in the scientific method, which is probably why the reasoning behind Brexit has baffled and dismayed me. In medicine, putting truth before dogma has resulted in effective treatments. Unfortunately though, it seems that politics has yet to learn this lesson, and seems to be intent on going in the opposite direction, with ideology and demagoguery trumping everything else.

At this point, I have a confession to make. Back in the 1980’s I wrote about the therapeutic potential of the sense of smell, illustrating with diagrams how it connected to the brain’s limbic system. It went viral and within a few years, many aromatherapists were portraying themselves as a new breed of neuroscientists.

Today aromatherapy is a lucrative industry, with even washing powders claiming to be therapeutic. In vain did I try to debunk, in the academic press, the enthusiastic claims that the essences of mother nature could cure everything from boils to bronchitis.1 This, like the Remain campaign, was ignored or attacked as a negative message.

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Recent Comments

  • User AvatarAndy Hinton 25th May - 2:45am
    I'm a little confused by theakes and David Evans's comments. Would they rather we just didn't have well written policy? I'm as interested in us...
  • User AvatarJoeB 25th May - 1:25am
    Peter, The UK had similar oil reserves in the North Sea to that of Norway in the 1970s. Norway invested their windfall. In 1974, Oslo...
  • User AvatarMichael BG 25th May - 1:03am
    @ Peter Martin While our position has not always been clear, it is that there should be a referendum on accepting the deal or staying...
  • User Avatarpaul holmes 24th May - 11:40pm
    Mick, do your arguments on the effect of AWS stand up to scrutiny? Jo Swinson was selected to fight and win her Target seat in...
  • User AvatarPeter Martin 24th May - 11:24pm
    "They want another referendum, on the proposed deal with the EU." If we vote to reject it then what? We leave with no deal? You...
  • User AvatarRob Parsons 24th May - 11:11pm
    I think the shortest answer to that, Little Jackie, is read Jo's book. The evidence is there in every way from statistical to anecdotal.