Brexit: which side are you on?

The following story could be a parable for our times.

It’s about Eshu, an African trickster god who is always quick to exploit the limitations of the human mind.

The story goes that there were two friends who had sworn eternal allegiance to each other. Eshu heard about them and thought, “we’ll see about that.”

One day the friends were working in two fields on either side of a road, when Eshu passed between them.

He had on a hat which was white on one side, and black on the other, and he stopped, briefly, to wave a greeting.

Later, when the men were taking lunch, one of them said, “did you see the stranger wearing a white hat earlier?”

His friend said, “yes I saw him, but he was wearing a black hat, not a white one.”

I think you can guess the rest. The two friends fell to arguing, and eventually to fighting, over whether the stranger had on a white or a black hat; so much so that they were in danger of killing each other.

It took another intervention from Eshu, who showed them the hat, for them to see that they were both right, and both wrong at the same time.

This is how I view the Brexit debate. Both sides are right and wrong at the same time.

For instance, on the remain side it’s popular to present those who voted leave as bigoted and stupid. All the racists are leave voters, they say. But while it’s true that all the overt racists are on the leave side, remain too has its share of bigotry. In this case the bigotry is directed against a leave-voting working class who they perceive as inherently racist.

Remember Gordon Brown being caught on mic after an exchange with Labour supporter Gillian Duffy? He called her bigoted because she referred to Eastern Europeans “flocking” into the country.

The failure on Gordon Brown’s part, as well as on the remain side in general, is the dismissal of people’s very real concerns over immigration as mere bigotry. Gillian Duffy was making a point borne out of her own experience in the community in which she lived. To have that dismissed as bigotry is itself a form of bigotry.

Meanwhile, many on the leave side have bought into the rhetoric about a no deal Brexit.

There’s no such thing as a no deal Brexit. We either have a deal with the EU, or we have a deal with the US. If we choose a deal with the US (which is what Rees-Mogg and his crew are after really) then we can kiss the NHS goodbye, as everything in our welfare state will be up for grabs by American corporations.

We would become the new Greece off the coast of Northern France, a failed state with every last vestige of our sovereignty up for sale, while the ruling elites park their fabulous wealth in tax havens around the world.

The truth is, the problem has almost nothing to do with the EU. It’s the crisis of late capitalism, which the whole world is experiencing. Capitalism can no longer generate the profits it used to. In order to keep the value of stocks high it is now consuming the means of existence itself.

Austerity – whether plied by the EU or by our own Eton-educated elites – is the wrong answer to the wrong question.

What we need is a return to the social democracy of the post-war years, which brought unprecedented wealth to the whole nation.

Leave or remain, we need a Labour government.


From The Whitstable Gazette 05/09/19

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Send letters to: The Editor, Room B119 Canterbury College, New Dover Road, Canterbury CT1 3AJ

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Against tribalism: “for the many, not the few”

All parties need to be kept in check from the dangers of personal ambition

Fierce Writing

I’ve just spent the weekend at the Roots Gathering festival, put on by my good friends Phil and Lynne Cowley Jones of Shamanic Drums and Rattles.

It was a brilliant affair, and shows what you can do with energy and enthusiasm and a clear moral perspective.

I spent a good deal of the time with Stuart Jeffrey, who is standing as the Green candidate for Maidstone.

You couldn’t hope to meet a nicer chap. He’s as left wing as anyone I know, inside or outside the Labour Party: committed to proper green politics and to a future where private profit takes a back seat to public need.

It was during one of our chats that he reminded me of why I am so against tribalism in politics.

Stuart was the Green candidate for Canterbury at the last election, which is when he first introduced himself to me. At…

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Waspi Women

There’s always enough money for wars, royal weddings, and MPs expenses, it seems; never enough for the needs of ordinary people going about their ordinary lives.

Fierce Writing

I’m on holiday in Dundee as I write this, staying with Anne Park who, friends will remember, used to live in Whitstable.

Anne is 62 years old and angry.

“At the age of 57,” she says, “it was ordained by the powers-that-be that I wasn’t going to be able to retire at 60, as I’d been promised, but I was going to have to wait till I was 66.”

That’s six years stolen from her. Six years she’d dreamed about and planned for. Six years of her life that she will never be able to get back.

It was such short notice that it only gave her three years to make any kind of an alternative plan. As a consequence she was forced to sell her three bedroom house in order to downsize, in order to pay off her mortgage.

She’s been fiddled twice over. “Not only have I had…

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Turn and Face the Strange…

Not only is change inevitable, but also, every so often, the accumulation of small changes leads to big changes that will literally change the world

Fierce Writing

I’ve been having a weird time of it lately. First of all my good friend Julian Spurrier died. That was on New Year’s Eve, so it kind of set the tone for the coming year. I don’t think I quite processed it at the time. It’s only recently that the implications have started to filter into my confused little brain.

After that, in June, I retired. That was a good thing, of course, but still very disruptive. So I don’t have to get up for work any more, but that also means that my routine has been broken. I keep having anxiety dreams where I’m supposed to be in work. It’s obviously taking time for me to process this one too.

After that – and barely two weeks after my retirement – my Dad died. I don’t need to go into detail on how devastating that has been…

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Autophagy for the people

Your body needs to fast, just as a diesel engine needs to run flat-out on the motorway occasionally, in order to burn off the grime

Fierce Writing

If you read my last column, you will know that I’m moving: from a two-bedroom flat, into a room in a shared house. Don’t ask me why. I have my reasons.

What this means is that I’ve been forced to downsize. My life at the moment is entirely taken up by a process of sorting and selecting, sifting and filtering, going through all the accumulated material of the last ten years and making increasingly hard decisions about what I want to keep, and what I can afford to lose.

On an more fundamental level, I have two large boxes of notebooks containing extensive writings going back fifty years or more: interviews, notes, poems, articles, columns, sketches, unfinished novels, short-stories and incoherent accounts of adventures long past. Much of it is indecipherable rubbish, but there may be some hidden gems in there.

This is where the process really starts to…

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The Ghosts of Things

That’s why I am a writer. A writer is interested in stories. It’s the stories that make the objects come alive. Without the stories they are nothing but bits of tat upon a shelf

Fierce Writing

So I’ve managed to move at last. Three days of intense activity, driving to and fro between the two addresses, two days of cleaning, a whole day of tidying up, and now, here I am, firmly established in my new home.

I’m sitting in my room, having found a place for everything at last: surrounded by all my ornaments, my books, my pictures, feeling homely and comfortable.

It’s odd how inanimate things can carry such a weight of meaning. They are only objects after all. They have no life. And yet, looking at my things, seeing them across the room, it’s as if I bring them to life with my awareness, as if, by holding them in view, they draw something from me that makes them alive.

There’s a shared history there. They are familiar to me. They remind me of my family.

IMG_20181115_145300493 “It’s been in my life for as…

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Bring Back British Rail: Jeremy Corbyn the only choice.

Choice is an illusion. There is no choice. Most of us, given the choice, would choose a publicly owned, publicly controlled national rail service, accountable to the public

Fierce Writing

JC RailYesterday I went up to London with my family: my brother, my two sisters, and my niece, Beatrix. We caught the 10.24 from Whitstable. This is the earliest direct train to Victoria in off-peak hours.

There used to be two trains an hour going to Victoria. Now there is only one. It used to take an hour and 20 minutes. It now takes an hour and a half. Trains from Whitstable to London are slower and less frequent than they were in the 19th Century.

When we got to the station there was a long queue at the ticket machine outside the station. This is because the ticket office was closed. The notice on the window explained that the office was closed in order to allow staff to perform other duties on the station.

Take a minute to think about that.

Office staff are expected to perform other duties only…

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Is this really the way to run a railway?

It’s all to do with privatisation. The way to increase profits is to squeeze down on staff costs. Less people doing more work means more income for the shareholders.

Fierce Writing


2290217-whitstable_station_kent_england_whitstable Whitstable station: the ticket machine is left of centre

I went up to London last week to visit some friends.

I was planning to catch the 10.38 to London Victoria. Only when I got there, with ten minutes to spare, the ticket office had just closed.

Why would they close the ticket office ten minutes before a train was due to arrive? It’s a busy train, being one of the early off-peak services that retired people use.

What’s worse, the ticket machine outside was out of order. There was a queue, with a young woman in the front, trying to pick up tickets she had bought online.

She was stabbing at the screen with her finger and cursing under her breath.

Someone else left the queue and went to bang on the window of the office, trying to get their attention.

Just then a consignment of boxes arrived, and the…

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BT: Bloody Terrible

Meanwhile, the technology is becoming ever more intrusive. They can track your movements in real time, turn on the microphone on your phone and listen to your conversations, watch you undress from the camera on your laptop.

Fierce Writing

Since I’ve moved I’ve had to do without broadband.

Initially this was because BT messed up my order. I was supposed to have had my account transferred from my old address on the day of the move but, despite over a month’s notice, and all their clever software, they managed to lose track of me.

One day before the move I got an email telling me that the transfer wouldn’t take place for another week.

By that point it had finally dawned on me just how expensive my broadband was. I won’t go into the details. Let’s just say that, talking to my son, and to friends, I discovered that I was paying over a third more for a significantly smaller service.

How had this happened? Simple. I was a loyal customer, and in this age of instant gratification loyalty is no longer a valued commodity. It is taken for…

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