J.S. Villiers's Blog

October 23, 2019

Do We Really Want An Election?

The two main parties have traditionally both been broad churches. They’ve had to be - it was the only way to win. A narrowly defined ideology will only get so many votes, and the rest would go to the other side.

The result, as we know, is left versus right. Attempts to gain significant ground in the centre have struggled to break the old system. In recent years we’ve seen changes - first, both parties took a step towards the centre to win more votes from moderates. Then, while Labour were throwing themselves back to the far left, the Tories were at risk of shedding votes to the far right, and in a painfully misguided attempt to head this off, Cameron took us into a referendum we’ve never managed to get out of. The Tories have trudged steadily rightwards ever since.

Where does it end? If parliament agrees to an election this side of Christmas then we’ll find out soon enough. But the recent changes show a clear trend.

Theresa May came into the 2017 term with 317 seats. Since then, Charlie Elphicke was sacked (twice) over sexual assault allegations. Heidi Allen, Anna Soubry and Sarah Wollaston quit to form a new party. Allen and Wollaston ended up with the Lib Dems.

Nick Boles quit in frustration over Brexit and is now independent. Phillip Lee hilariously crossed the floor to join the Lib Dems while Johnson was mid-rhetoric. Amber Rudd also resigned the whip. And, of course, 21 Tories were sacked for voting against No Deal and now sit as independent conservatives.

In summary, that’s a grand total of 28 MPs that were voted in as Conservatives at the last election but are Tory no more.

What happens to their seats? Time will tell. Unless any are accepted back into the fold (assuming they wish to be) the Tory party will put forward new candidates for those seats. Those candidates are likely to be pro-Brexit. A good number of them may be on the far right and rather keen on the idea of No Deal. Even those that aren’t so enthusiastic are probably going to be more accepting of it than the current crop of ex-Tory moderates.

In short, if those seats remain blue, and Johnson holds on to his existing set of MPs, that’s 28 more than he’s got now, and they’ll all be willing to support this dismally poor deal.

But more alarmingly still is that makes it far more likely the deal would go through without amendments. And without amendments, the Withdrawal Agreement is set up to fail. Parliament won’t be able to force an extension to free trade discussions. Johnson can take us out of the EU without a trade agreement in December 2020. And he will have significant support in parliament for this outcome.

There’s no majority for No Deal from the electorate. Almost all economists agree it would be immensely damaging. And yet, a general election retains this outcome as a sizeable possibility.

Nevertheless, those parties opposed to Johnson’s deal are left with a poor range of options in front of them. The alternative is to attempt to push for a final referendum on the current deal. If that push fails, their position is weakened, and they go into a general election with Johnson having momentum. Recently it hasn’t looked like there was enough support for a referendum. That may change if Johnson shelves the Withdrawal Agreement Bill.

One hopes that MPs will be doing what MPs do best – holding sneaky conversations and striking deals behind closed doors. But if there still aren’t the numbers for a referendum then a general election really is the only way out of this mess, whatever your Brexit desires may be.

And if it comes to that, perhaps the most important action the rest of us can take is encouraging all around us to register to vote, and to turn up at the polling station on the day. Whatever the result, the only hope for future unity is if the outcome actually does represent the will of the people. I just hope the people aren’t willing on a Tory party taking an even bigger leap towards the right.
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Published on October 23, 2019 02:58 Tags: boris, brexit, election, johnson, politics

June 20, 2019

And The Tories Did Stroll Casually To The End Times

Almost two years ago I shared an interesting article on game theory and the idea that a hung parliament could make it easier for Theresa May to negotiate a good deal (https://theconversation.com/a-weak-uk-government-might-do-a-better-brexit-deal-than-a-strong-one-79511).

Except it hasn't worked out like that. The premise required May to effectively have her hands tied by parliament to prevent her from accepting whatever the EU offered. In reality, of course, May was unable to accept anything the EU offered, as parliament simply couldn't agree on what was acceptable. And May's attempts at subsequent negotiation were doomed never to succeed - EU negotiators understood perfectly well that the UK had nothing else to negotiate with; parliament clearly wasn't willing to agree to an outcome deemed excessively damaging, i.e. No Deal, so this hypothetical threat never really looked all that threatening. The PM was relentlessly beholden to the public, the media and the Commons, with the result that her negotiating team didn't stand a chance of persuading the EU to make further concessions.

So what of the path that lies ahead? The hopefuls to become the next PM have an even more impossible challenge. The negotiations have already been done, and now they must attempt to undo them. The only approach that really stands any chance at all of persuading the EU to improve on the backstop is the Brexit Party position: state it is your intention to go ahead with a No Deal exit. Of course, the Brexit Party isn't at the negotiating table, and with good reason. It's probable it's not merely an attempt at a convincing bluff, but rather a genuine belief that No Deal is the best way forward. All very well for those that can afford to lose their job, but not so great for everyone else. Not even most Tories are quite mad enough to want to go down that road.

But imagine the next PM, upon receiving the keys to number 10, decided to adopt that approach. What next? For starters, they'd have to tell parliament to keep its mouth shut. No point trying to do a deal with the EU while your own cabinet's calling your bluff on a regular basis. You must also then be prepared to genuinely plan every tiny detail, which given the time restrictions is unlikely to be overly convincing, but plan you must if you want to stand a chance of being believed. It's not enough to merely try to persuade the EU that you're prepared to leave with no deal. You have to actually get on with doing it, and nothing else. No suggestions that you'll go ahead if they don't cough up a better deal, no flicking of silly blond hair and trying to blag your way through complex discussions with experienced professional negotiators in the hope they're about as challenging as a Telegraph journalist. Do it right, do it completely, or don't waste more months doing it at all. After all, there's still only the slimmest of chances of improving on the offer on the table, even with the very finest performance. Because of course, the fact remains that parliament is very largely against a no deal Brexit, and is extremely unlikely to let it happen. My god, the next PM has an almost certainly futile task ahead.

So, upon the highly probable failure of the challenge, two realistic options remain. The deal that no-one wants, or the prospect of a second referendum, which could permanently alter the political allegiances of vast swathes of voters to the extent that the Tories could, at least for a time, become the third party of the House of Commons. And then what? A party of extreme ignorance and bigotry having significant sway over day to day matters? A permanent demolition of the Conservatives that they never recover from? Five years of Corbyn? Lifelong conservatives should be bricking it far more than they seem to be.

So how else do the Tories get out of this? They don't. I mean, there's a way, but they won't follow it. It would still be immensely damaging to their own party, but the new PM could stand up and say we need a no deal Brexit, and parliament won't vote for it, so the people must. He whips his own MPs to support an in/out referendum with two simple options: No Deal versus No Brexit. He campaigns for No Deal, gives it all the rhetoric he desires, and if he loses, he says it was the will of the people, and he gave it everything. Of course, he could win, and the Tories would have to be prepared to go ahead then, even the ones who didn't want Brexit in the first place.

But their party would be (just about) saved, the threat of Farage would be staved off, and they'd have a way to break the impasse over Brexit. Admittedly a high-stakes approach, but what else does the PM do when October rolls round and he has to admit he's failed every bit as much as his predecessor? Whatever approach he takes he's going to have some seriously good acting to do over the coming months, to his cabinet, to parliament, to the EU, and to the electorate.

Break a leg.
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Published on June 20, 2019 07:48 Tags: boris, brexit, negotiation, pm

September 4, 2018

The Tragic Death of the Bristol Arena

I love a good spreadsheet. There’s a strange and very nerdy pleasure about tapping out complex formulae and drumming up magical results in seconds that would take an aeon to work out by hand.

Of course, data has its limits, and statistics are horribly nefarious things. So convincing, so clear, and yet so darkly misleading.

Take the KPMG value for money report on the Bristol arena. It concluded that, over a period of 25 years, there would be a near three-fold increase in the cash entering the economy from a conference centre and housing compared to an arena at the city centre location.

That’s quite a lot. What’s not clear is exactly in what manner this money is entering the economy. If a large swathe of it is going into the coffers of private development companies and national or international corporations, then it may do relatively little to boost the economy in the local area.

But it’s not just money, it’s jobs too. Again, three times as many over 25 years. It’s hard to deny that’s positive. Then again, there was a rather large hole in this report: it looked at different uses for the city centre location, and it looked at the benefits of building the arena in Filton instead. Did it look at what might be gained if that conference centre and housing was built in Filton? Did this options appraisal actually appraise all the options? Apparently not. At face value these were some very potent figures, but this leaves us with a somewhat flimsy conclusion.

Yet this all still feels like it’s missing the point. Life is more than just a flawed cost-benefit analysis. Enjoyment can’t be squeezed into the columns of a spreadsheet with a formula for smiley faces and a badly coerced pound sign. This arena meant a lot more to people than just a few numbers. This was about having a city filled with culture, a city of vigour and energy. Even KPMG acknowledged that a city centre arena would improve the standard of living in Bristol.

Some further numbers, also not entirely statistically scientific but fairly convincing nonetheless, come in the form of poll results. Two local papers and a Labour MP held polls on whether the arena should be progressed at the central site, and all three showed results of at least 75% in favour. The plan was popular. The residents of Bristol wanted this to happen.

Marvin Rees never quite seemed to grasp this. Indeed, there’s something rather odd about his whole approach that’s left some questions unanswered. Why did he order a value for money report that doesn’t provide a full and balanced picture? Had he already made up his mind before that? Was that YTL-paid trip to Malaysia strictly kosher?

It may never be explained why Rees would ditch established plans, go against the wishes of the majority, waste all the funds already spent, and do this without any clear justification. But this does all beg another question: is this what a mayor is really for?

It seems likely that Rees has pissed on the last dying embers of this project, but with just over a year and a half until the next election it’ll be interesting to see if the Council is still capable of achieving anything at all, or whether the power of the mayor’s office has merely left the staff of City Hall swinging one way, then the other, and never really touching the ground.
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Published on September 04, 2018 12:16

July 12, 2018

England 2, Football 1

I'm trying to let the dust settle on a match that's proved hard to swallow. England held their breath; Croatia didn't. That was the crux of it.

But of course it all represented so much more than that. Yes, this felt like a display of old from our national side, where the overpaid footballers fail to play at their best and the fans are once again left staring at a black hole of frustration.

I don't believe, however, that that's how this side will be remembered, and rightly so. Even with a midfield that looked timid and confused for most of the match and a perpetual strategy of back-passing to Pickford, irrespective of however many attacking players were in the danger zone at the time, England never looked like a team of uninterested rich kids that wanted to get back to clubs, WAGs and tabloid rags. They looked like a team that cared.

I long ago grew highly disillusioned by the beautiful game. I lost the motivation to continue being a fan of a sport that was more famous for casual failure, hooliganism and celebrity weddings than it was for sportsmanship or a sense of striving for achievement. For me, football ceased to be about football. It became a culture of defeat and distraction.

The lack of sportsmanship is something that continues to affect the game, without doubt. The Colombia match showed how ugly football can be when a side is given the freedom to play by any dirty strategy they deem necessary. After years of crying out for some form of technology to help curb the myriad human errors that litter a poorly refereed match, we finally have the dawn of a new solution. VAR has had moments of controversy, but only the die-hard purists would attempt to claim that it hasn't made this world cup fairer than tournaments of the recent past.

But it's a fledgling system that needs a great deal of development. The weak refereeing of the Colombia match can't be resolved by a few assistants and a TV screen. The thoroughly ignored foul on Sterling in the penalty box at a crucial moment in this semi-final shows that human errors are still made all too easily, and are probably still changing the outcomes of major fixtures. This was another key reason for my past disillusionment with football - I lost the will to watch England fight both the opponent and the referee all at once. VAR is such an important step towards a game that remembers that sport isn't just about the final score. Yet it remains a slightly underwhelming improvement that needs a great deal of change to provide a real fix.

England fans have much to celebrate. The positivity displayed by the team for much of the tournament was something we haven't seen for many years. We have youth, ability and strong, honest leadership on our side.

In such a short time, England have come so far.

Football still has a very long way to go.
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Published on July 12, 2018 01:38 Tags: england, football, var, world-cup

June 21, 2017

Does She Really Mean Brexit?

During the US presidential campaign, a theory surfaced that Donald Trump was actually attempting to derail the Republicans by presenting them as a farcical option that no-one would vote for.

The strongest argument for this theory was that if you were in his position, and you wanted to ensure a Democrat win, you would conceivably do almost everything he did during the campaign. He was scarcely credible as a candidate, represented an appalling regression of decades of civil rights and equalities, and provided one dreadful gaff after another. Many found themselves wondering just how bad he had to get before people would stop supporting him.

Meanwhile, back in the UK, Theresa May had been appointed the new Prime Minister whose key focus had to be the process of leaving the EU. The referendum had been and gone, as had its feckless progenitor, David Cameron. May had been a staunch Remainer, just extremely quietly and with as little fuss as possible. Is it possible, somewhere under the layers of misdirection, that May hadn’t given up all hope of staying in the EU?

As with Trump, the argument follows the lines that if you were in May’s position and you wanted to derail the Brexit process and end up with a fresh referendum, but were faced with a population that narrowly supported Brexit, you could conceivably do much as May has done.

You’d have to support Brexit in the beginning, firstly to get elected and secondly to get the support of the wider population behind you. Having achieved this, it would be sensible to push Brexit negotiations as far back as you could realistically justify, to provide a chance for the dust to settle following the referendum and the change of Government, and allow the new order to become the status quo.

What next? Well, as the determined Bremainer-in-charge you might then choose to show what kind of impact Brexit could have on the economy. By announcing that the UK will go for a hard Brexit, it not only further stirs up the volatility of the markets and mollifies the more hardcore Brexit preachers, but encourages more statements from business leaders and economists who foresee the problems ahead. Many members of the public would start to get nervous as food and fuel prices increase while wages continue to stagnate, and as inflation surges up the prospect of interest rate rises threatens to increase mortgage costs. And many would see that this is likely to be just the beginning.

But then comes the most audacious part of the plan; and this really is a humdinger. To pull this off would surely go down as one of the sharpest political moves in history. As our new leader you will now attempt to cause absolute chaos amongst the political class, by doing no less than losing your own party’s parliamentary majority. But this is easier said than done; after all, the opposition leader is woefully unpopular with mainstream voters. This will take some serious engineering.

Step 1) Refuse to take part in any televised debates. This is much better than turning up and being rubbish, as you can justify it to your own party more easily, and it creates a sense that you really couldn’t care less.

Step 2) Don’t really bother campaigning. In fact, stop some of your high profile colleagues campaigning as well. Again, this shows you to be aloof and not one of the people.

Step 3) Publish a manifesto featuring really vindictive policies that large swathes of the population will deem intolerable. This carries the delicious irony of being popular with many of your own backbenchers.

Step 4) Create a tagline for your proposed Government that turns out to be comically inappropriate, and that will be relentlessly mocked across the media and social media alike.

And with this process complete, it won’t take much from the opposition to summon enough votes to create a hung parliament, and you can then sit back and watch chaos ensue. In fact, it will be even more brilliant because you carefully ensured that the election would take place just before Brexit negotiations were due to commence.

Finally, let your beleaguered Chancellor start to have his say on the issue, appearing as the more well-rounded and down-to-earth politician who has the people’s interests at heart. The weak and wobbly leader becomes the new personification of Brexit, having stolen the show from all the goons that littered the stage at earlier times. Brexit begins to look like a bad idea, even for many who had previously voted for it.

And beyond that? Let the negotiations commence. There’s more work to do yet, but you’ll be in the best possible position you could have achieved by now to start making Brexit look like a tragic joke.

Of course, there is one serious flaw to this theory. It turned out Trump wasn’t trying to discredit the Republicans so the Democrats could win. Far from it. He’s every bit as much of a disgrace as he showed us during the campaign.

And somehow, I can’t imagine May holds the extraordinary level of genius required to pull off such a spectacular coup. Like Trump, I fear she’s exactly the disgrace that she’s shown us all along.
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Published on June 21, 2017 07:10

June 4, 2017

The Election Cometh

The art of the performer is simple, yet extraordinarily difficult. After all, we all feel emotion. And that’s the core of a performance; the ability to instigate an emotion in another human being, that they can experience the same sense of anger or fragility or tragedy or intense surging happiness that rises like a behemoth from the lowest, dullest, aching despair to transcend the intense highs normally reserved for explorers breaking through to new frontiers or mountain climbers breaching the very highest crest the world has to offer.

This is what it’s all about. None of the namby-pamby, half-arsed drivel of the everyday can bring real excitement to a person’s life. We all know that, but breaking out of it isn’t any easier for it. I’ve long been a believer in fear as a great motivator. Fear is surely one of the oldest and simplest of all emotions. It incites some of the most powerful physical responses that human beings subject themselves to, and not just the ability to raise heckles or wet yourself at an untimely moment, but the ability to override all of your existing common sense and fundamental understanding of logic, and, at the most extreme moments, the ability even to move or speak or run away or fight or achieve anything on any level.

But time skips on and you realise the world hasn’t quite managed to shit you out of a cannon just yet, because doing a bungee jump or asking someone on a date or disagreeing with everyone’s opinion aren’t really fatal incidents. And so your fear begins to subside, and your normal senses return, but now everything’s heightened by a bevy of chemicals flooding your body whose job it was to gear you up for a fight to begin with, and whose only purpose now is to make you laugh and smile and forget anything scary was ever happening, and just at the moment that the fight is over and all that’s left is the start of a new era.

But of course, there never really was a fight. Not unless you’re either extremely unlucky or some kind of idiotic pub twat from the nineties. No, not a physical fight. Just a battle with your own wits, that you’d fully expected to lose all the way through, right up until the point that you discovered that whatever struggle you’re facing won’t be resolved by following a dense herd mentality or putting yourself down when you need to trust your own judgement like never before or believing that night will inevitably destroy all good things, even when the torch in your hand is shining a light on the good people beside you.

And that’s how you did it. That’s how you won the battle in your head. That’s how you stepped off a ledge with nothing but a bungee cord and a badly aimed camera keeping you attached to reality. That’s how you kept it together to look like a sane and presentable member of society when you asked that person on a date. That’s how you rose up and stood against the tide of opinion when all around, you were presented with bigots and pessimists. That’s how you went through all the horrifying, inept, tragic fuckups that turned a teenager into a proper adult. And it’s probably how you’re still trying to be an adult now. Because it doesn’t get easier. It just gets more tedious.

Fear is still the greatest antidote to that tedium. And let’s face it, there’s no greater fear than the threat of your future falling to pieces before you – Theresa May knows this well. Her manifesto has fear at its very core. Between the dementia tax and hard Brexit, it’s got something for everyone. Whether you’re young or old, brave or foolish, desperate for a laugh or genuinely intent on losing your own sanity, you’ve been offered the opportunity to throw it all away in exchange for the chance of having the Dickhead of Downing Street as your Prime Minister for the next five years.

Theresa May isn’t a performer. She won’t instigate any emotions in her audience, except one. So remember: if you’re bored of life, if your usual cheap thrills have lost their interest, or if you can’t be bothered to seek excitement in traditional ways, then vote Tory. You can be sure they’ll keep you living right on the edge.
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Published on June 04, 2017 08:18

March 12, 2017

Theresa May and the Hunt for Integrity

Prime Minister isn’t a job I’d ever volunteer for. You have to be able to hold it together under immense pressure, cope with constant emotional stress, sustain higher brain functions with a regime of poor sleep, and remain popular when half of Parliament, most of the media and large swathes of the wider population are against you. And to top it off, you have to make decisions that will change the future path of your country, and live with those decisions forevermore.

To dive into such a role at a time of total political uncertainty, knowing that whatever you do you’ll face an intense backlash from one side or another (though almost never from Jeremy Corbyn), you either have to be utterly desperate for power or convinced that you’re the chosen one who will guide our wavering nation through troubled times. Actually, I suspect you need to be both.

So if Theresa May believes she’s the right person for the job, what does she perceive as being the end goal of her reign? We know she’s a game-player. We saw how she positioned herself to be the star candidate should the referendum turn out the way it did. But whatever games you play during your time in office, all prime ministers know that at some point they’ll have to walk away, and will want to look back and be pleased with what they achieved. And so we reach the question of integrity. Specifically the question: where is it?

With the prospect of future trade barriers with the EU looming, May has looked to alternative future trading partners, with the US being a key opportunity. This is deeply unpopular with many, as the prospect of allowing entry for American products with poor specifications goes against so much that the EU has worked against for years. The idea of moving from a trading partner with a strong sense of ethical food chains to one who allows chickens to be washed in chlorine is fairly repugnant. And enabling the import of cheaper goods won’t help those who voted Leave because of a hatred of globalisation. But perhaps worst of all is the idea that May, keen to maintain good relations with the US, chose not to criticise Trump’s policies which are so fundamentally at odds with our own culture, particularly the ban on immigration from mainly-Muslim countries, but instead invited him for a state visit and was even photographed holding his hand.

With Brexit, May stands precariously atop an unsteady tightrope. Much of what she says is ostensibly for the electorate and the press, and at times for MPs, but everything she says is listened to by EU negotiators, who are carefully evaluating our position. What will we accept, what won’t we accept, and what’s our best alternative should talks fail. May claims she’d rather walk away from the EU than accept a bad deal. But of course, walking away is a bad deal. It’s a dreadful deal. I don’t believe May would really accept a position that would so severely jeopardise the UK’s economic security. And we know there isn’t a majority of the electorate that wants that eventuality, and there certainly isn’t a majority in parliament either. It’s all for the ears of the EU negotiators, who are surely just as unconvinced. So what is she actually trying to achieve?

One day, May will have to justify these decisions to herself, regardless of what she’ll tell the rest of the world. What end does she envisage that justifies these means? It’s really not very clear. In fact, it’s so remarkably cloudy as to suggest she hasn’t yet worked it out herself. Looking at the future from where we stand right now, it looks very much like she just doesn’t know what she’s doing.

And the painful reality is that we’ll all have to live with her mistakes.

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Published on March 12, 2017 10:23

September 7, 2016

Too Grumpy For Gigs

The doors officially opened at 7.30pm. We arrived half an hour later and joined the queue.

And my, what a queue it was.

It stretched down the road for about 200m, and it was going nowhere fast. We spent nearly thirty minutes standing in the street queuing up, the line barely moving at all, before we finally got in. It seems the venue had decided to check everyone's bags and perform random pat-downs, but failed to provide enough people to actually carry out these checks. You'd think this would be pretty basic stuff for a professional music venue, but apparently not.

Once inside I joined the queue for the bar, along with most of the rest of the audience, having failed to realise there were two more bars in the next room. When I eventually found them they were fantastically quiet, which made it pretty clear no-one else knew about these bars either. A sign or two might have sorted the problem out, but again, the venue just didn't seem bothered.

We positioned ourselves towards the back of the room, having little interest in fighting for space among the crowd closer to the stage. We weren't there for long before we found ourselves inhaling the unrelenting fug of BO from an infestation of teenagers dancing nearby. Really, it was awful. It smelt like they'd just climbed out of hibernation in a buffalo's armpit. We moved on from that spot pretty sharpish.

As the room filled up, and the space we'd carefully chosen started to look as busy as the rest of the place, we watched with dismay as tall people kept standing in front of us. Par for the course at any gig, and it didn't try our patience too much. But then, just after the band came on, a man appeared before us who seemed enormous in every dimension. As our hopes of seeing the stage vanished, we realised that the worst was still to come.

This giant wanted to dance.

His limbs flailed like leviathans in a tempest, his broad shoulders blotting out the entire room before us. Surely, surely we cried, this must be the nadir of our evening.

But no. We wouldn't get off so lightly. The girl to the side of this dancing hulk whispered something in his ear, and he promptly bent down and allowed her to climb up his back to the great plateau of his shoulders, from where she surveyed the room with such immense glee that she broke out into some kind of spontaneous shoulder dance. Just to rub it in.

By the way, if you've ever been to a gig in Bristol, I know what you're thinking. But no, this man wasn't Big Jeff. This was an entirely different big person who likes to dance at gigs.

Mercifully, it didn't last long. We had a reprieve when a security guard wandered over and asked her to get down. This also became the catalyst for them to move closer to the stage, and our vision was restored. Time to start enjoying the music.

Two people filled in the spot vacated by the giant. They didn't seem that bad. A little tall, but nothing to complain about. Until they started talking.

Everyone talks at gigs. It's normal. It's fine. In moderation.

These two egits had never heard of moderation. They nattered away, doing their best to ruin one song after another, forcing us to listen to their mindless twoddle that slipped from their tongues like a cascade of antagonistic filth. Bastards.

We managed to move a few feet to the side, which proved just far enough that we could blot out their dreadful verbiage. Having escaped this tedious duo, we then realised we had moved too close to yet more unstoppable twitterers, who were possibly even worse. This time it was a gaggle of moronic blonde waifs who communicated in a torrent of high-pitched screeches, a language intelligible only to certain species of dormouse, the cast of TOWIE, and the pipistrelle bat.

Eventually, amongst all of this, we found some space without the elbows of ogres in our faces or the shrieks of banshees in our ears, and spent a little time focussing just on the music. We were there to see Toots and the Maytals, one of my favourite reggae groups. I'd been to see them some years ago and discovered that Frederik 'Toots' Hibbert, a man in his sixties, was jumping around the stage like he was forty years younger. He was one of the finest frontmen I'd ever seen, and the whole band were simply superb.

Then, in 2013, Toots suffered a head injury at a gig when some young numskull threw a bottle at him. He spent a long time in recovery, and finally in 2016 they embarked on their first tour since. I couldn't pass up the opportunity to see them again.

Toots certainly doesn't leap about the stage quite as much as he once did, perhaps because of his head injury, or perhaps because he's now seventy-two. But he hasn't lost his stage presence, and still the microphone hums with an immense energy every time he sings.

I may be too grumpy for gigs, but I don't care. When a performer is that good, it's still worth it.

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Published on September 07, 2016 10:21

June 25, 2016

It's Too Late - Coming to terms with the vote

I went for lunch yesterday with some friends. We’d all voted Remain, and we were all upset. Someone suggested we should have a European lunch to celebrate our continental cousins, so we went for Portuguese.

Ok, we went for Nandos.

It still felt good.

I had work to do afterwards, which always normally prevents me from drinking at lunchtime. Yesterday though, I didn’t care. I drank. It was important.

They say you go through a number of emotional states when coming to terms with a major change in your life. I’ve gone through many in the last 24 hours. It started with a chaotic blend of emotions I can’t honestly reconcile with the traditional gamut of human experiences. There was certainly shock, if that’s even an emotion, and definitely some anger, topped off with a host of more abstract feelings such as shame, frustration and panic.

“We’re going to leave the EU,” said my fiancée. They were the words that woke me up, the words that filtered into my newly conscious mind, the words that first roused a sense of semblance to the new day, only to dash the whole fucking sordid awakening against the bleak and empty carcass that was to be the morning.

That was the theme of the day, and yes, it was miserable. Yes, it was also immature and not befitting of a man who should by rights have got better at coping with emotions by this point in his life.

And no, I still haven’t got used to it, and yes, it’s still going to take some time.

We went for lunch.

I achieved little else. I scoured the webpages of the BBC, reading through torment after torment as all my emotions that had risen and fallen throughout the campaign reared their heads for a last, painful moment of horror before I finally sunk to a low I hadn’t experienced for a long time.

The anger was just the beginning. And it was, at least in part, justified. The campaign had been fought on a bed of ever deepening lies. Both sides had excelled themselves in demonstrating an ability to reach lower and lower levels of depravity in their dreadful attempts to outdo each other’s gibberish. On top of the awful bullshit spouted by one politician after another came the stench-bedecked piles of crap heaped upon us all by the tabloids, the internet memes and, it turned out, even the broadsheets. No-one could be trusted.

None of that in itself was a surprise, of course. It was de rigueur for any political process. What hurt was the freedom of politicians to lie so openly and so blatantly, and to know that so many people had been misguided by such horrendous mistruths as to vote for something they were never going to get. That was the rub; or rather, that was the part of it that was most sickening. All of it was the rub.

The anger flowed.

And yes, there was shame, because I’ve taken great pleasure in meeting people from all over the world throughout my life, and travelling and holidaying in all sorts of interesting places, but mostly in the EU, where I still have many friends, and to be part of a nation that’s been duped into committing such a foolish act by self-serving arseholes is something that fills me not just with anger but with immense embarrassment. I know most continental Europeans have long had a certain disdain for the stereotypical drunken English football hooligan, but despite that it’s generally a positive moment when I’ve met people from other nations and they’ve discovered I’m English. Our nationality has enjoyed a reputation that is, on balance, very positive. But, at least for the foreseeable future, I will remain embarrassed to meet anyone from any part of the world, not least the EU. We are now a nation of fools, and they all know it.

I also had to endure the frustration that was, despite my best attempts, dedicated to my fellow Britons. Yes, we live in a democracy. I believe in democracy as the best option available. I’m used to being annoyed by its failings, but never before have I experienced a moment when I genuinely doubted its place as the premier system of government.

And I was wrong to, of course.

I shouldn’t be angry with my fellow Britons, however much I may disagree with them. Much has been said of the anti-immigrant sentiment, amongst other reasons for voting Leave. The truth is there are good reasons for voting Leave. I just happen to believe there are far better reasons for voting Remain. I also believe that many people that voted Leave will come to regret it, but that’s not for me to decide.

And I absolutely believe that many people who voted Leave did so because of the lies told by politicians. This is where I tormented myself today with many horrible thoughts that were never going to help. The biggest of these was the question of whether there is anything that can yet be done to prevent this awful moment in UK history. Many have signed a petition to have the issue debated in parliament, which is a nice idea, but really it’s just heaping democracy on top of democracy, and there’s no genuine justification for doing so.

I pondered for some time the idea that the referendum wasn’t actually legal, because so many voters were compelled to vote Leave by a campaign that had lied so blatantly to them. This was more credible than a parliamentary debate, as there is a genuine issue around the freedom of politicians to lie to the electorate during campaigns. Surely there are few in our country who believe this was acceptable? Some of the lies weren’t simply outrageous in their blatancy, but outrageous in how fabulously untrue they were. To think that a whole generation (or two or three) have been sold down the river because a career politician had the nutsack to scream falsehoods at 60 million people is utterly disgusting. This was a truly atrocious display of false democracy.

I maintain that a vote based on lies is not a democratic process. It’s warped, twisted, and utterly shameful. It has no place in a culture that prides itself on a free vote, and especially in one that has the temerity to demand a free vote in other nations.

This was the point in my thoughts today where I checked myself, and stopped my mind from disintegrating any further.

It wasn’t going to help.

I’ve not yet come to terms with this change, and it may take a while yet, but I have at least turned a corner. What confronts me around that corner isn’t much prettier, but it is perhaps a little more useful.

I have a new determination. I can’t change this result. This campaign is long over, and the UK is going to leave the EU. That was a difficult sentence to write, and it still makes me feel a little sick to say the words. But it’s happening, and I have to get used to it.

What I don’t have to get used to is the process that led to this moment. It was a new low in British politics, and one that shouldn’t be repeated. From now on, every time I see such bullshit entering the democratic process, I will declare shenanigans. I will scream from the rooftops if I have to. These arseholes must not be allowed to make decisions through sheer deceit. I will vote against every last fuckwit that tries to ruin British democracy, because even if all else is lost, a truly free vote at least brings hope of a better future.

I’ll remember that notion whilst I watch helplessly as the Conservatives elect a new prime minister of their own choosing.

Changing politics may be a long, slow process, and a fight that we can’t win today. But however bad things may look, I’m not giving up. The future isn’t written.

It’s not too late.

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Published on June 25, 2016 10:16 Tags: eu, politics, referendum, vote