Maybe I shouldn’t watch BBC Question Time quite so much…

It’d been two years since I’d visited England. In the early years of me living in Germany, I’d been going there maybe twice a year. Once at Christmas and once in the summer. Christmas was always a given. With my folks living just a few stops from Heathrow on the Piccadilly line, that was easy… and cheap.

Over the years, the visits became less frequent. It dropped to about once a year. That was down to my kids growing to the age where a seat was required (rather than just sitting on our laps). Kids’ tickets are not really any cheaper than adult tickets, unlike on other forms of transport. And my folks moved away from London, making the journey far longer and more expensive.

But two years was a long time. That came about because of our plans and their collapse. We had been planning to return to the UK last year.

It was almost like Mr Fate was laughing at us, as my wife took her Visa supporting documents personally (by post is not an option) to our nearest office in Germany, on the 23rd of June 2016, (the day the UK went to the polls to vote on our membership of the EU). Long story short, things didn’t work out for the Visa, nor did it (in my opinion) in the referendum. So I missed my annual trip “home” (if you’ve read other bits I’ve written here, you’ll know I don’t really get on well with that word) that year.

I read the news daily. I watch what broadcasts I can on YouTube: BBC Question Time, Channel 4 News, BBC News, Sky News, ITV News, parliament, and various independent commentators. I listen to Radio 4 in the morning and LBC sporadically. What I got from all of these — especially Question Time and LBC — is that the country is angry, tearing itself to pieces, and overflowing with people hating each other. What I saw was very different.

Where I was seemed just like it did two years ago, before the last year happened. I don’t know if people were making a conscious effort to not talk about Brexit, but it just didn’t crop up, except as minor, pleasant asides in otherwise enjoyable conversations.

News reports indicated that hate crimes had spiked. I do not question the validity of this, but the picture I saw from Germany was that the minority of raging racists, who had kept their crap bottled up for years, had been let loose, freed from the societal shackles that deemed it unacceptable to abuse someone because of their national or ethnic origin. Yes, they are a small minority, but it takes only a single person in a thousand to make another’s life unpleasant. With my family being internationalist and racially mixed, this was something that scared me. I’ve lived my life as a member of a social minority. I faced taunts and jibes because of my hair, my clothes, my musical tastes, my weight, but it was because of things that I made a conscious choice about. I chose to not conform to what the majority wanted were. I chose to follow my own path, and found no enjoyment in mainstream mediocrity.

But people do not choose their national or ethnic origin. Children do not choose their parents. There is nothing that would devastate me more than my family having to deal with hatred and abuse.

As it stands, the country is still ticking over. Branston is still on the shelves, beer is still flavourful, pubs are still friendly, the chips are still amazing, the bus services are still terrible, train tickets are still eye-wateringly expensive, and the weather still changes significantly from one hour to the next. This nightmare vision of a starkly divided country didn’t present itself during the two weeks just gone. I just saw people going about their lives as they always did.

Maybe I shouldn’t watch Question Time quite so often…


“Strong and Stable”? Screw that, we just need “Honest and Thoughtful”…

When I heard Theresa May announce the snap election, I actually cheered. Out loud. I thought, finally, we’d have a chance to get rid of the Tories; the ones who are throttling, dismantling, and destroying everything that I believed to be special about my country. Having seen the polls, it’s obvious that not everyone agrees with my point of view. But after seven years of the Tories, and only two with a majority? Imagine another five, with an even bigger majority… My cheer was short lived.

In 2010, while the financial crisis was biting, things were still fairly positive, at least in my own mind. I knew that Labour was on the ropes. I expected the Tories to win. At the time, the Lib Dems seemed to be doing really well, but few people seriously expected them to win. Regardless, I didn’t expect what really happened to happen.

2010 saw the Tories come out on top, although not enough to form a government on their own. Even though they were ideologically incompatible in many ways, they teamed up with the Lib Dems to form a coalition. The Lib Dems took a big pounding for that. As they were “in government”, seemingly failing to deliver on their campaign promises, when 2015 came, there was a vicious cull. I will still defend them to a point, as they were the smaller party in the coalition. It is now clear that they did their best to slow the damage a majority Conservative government can do.

Since 2015, when the Tories won the General Election, we’ve seen more people struggling, public services declining due to lack of resources, and, obviously, there was the divisiveness of the EU membership referendum. That was something they thought would fix their internal problems for good, stop UKIP defections, and shut those “banging on about Europe” up for good. But there is no end to this. Not anytime soon.

The calling of the referendum, actually, I supported, much like I cheered for the snap election. I thought, like Cameron, that once and for all the critics would move on, as the good and reasonable people of the UK said, with a clear, loud voice, “We want this!” I believed they would choose the cautious, clear path, as we so often do, in spite of the misleading propaganda, blaming all the UK’s problems on that foreign bogeyman, Brussels.

But still, when the results came in and my hand rose to my face, I thought that the government would take the least destructive course, to ensure the so-called “will of the people” is upheld, but also maintaining our place in Europe and the world. But that didn’t happen. After David Cameron resigned as Prime Minister, and Theresa May was selected (by default) as his replacement, the government took a fierce, hardline approach. This was clearly designed to appease the far right in the Conservative party, as well as those in the press and other media. They went from moderate conservatism to UKIP-in-blue, in a very short space of time.

And all through her Premiership, Theresa May seems incapable of having a conversation with normal people that disagree with her. In Parliament, she gets flustered easily, with only the supportive jeers of her party, lapping up all of her pokes and prods (not answers) given those opposing her, keeping her going. We are in election campaign season, yet she won’t take free questions from the press. She won’t mingle with us “commoners”. Events are carefully controlled, ensuring the least possible resistance, surrounding herself with only loyal supporters, making her look loved and adored. Sounds a bit like Kim Jong Un’s tactics, doesn’t it? Although, to be fair, May just shuts the press out. Kim executes them. (Credit where it’s due.)

By avoiding these critics and the opposition (or “saboteurs”, as the Daily Mail calls them), her ideas go unchallenged. When she does answer questions, which are no doubt screened and pre-approved in some situations, she is evasive, and falls back on her mental flash cards and spits out nonsense about “strong and stable leadership”. She has shown over and again she is neither strong nor stable. In Parliament, and the few occasions a real voter has gotten close to her, awkward questions far too easily rattle her.

Then we have the other party leaders. Corbyn from Labour, Farron from the Lib Dems, have been getting among the people. Discussing issues with them, shaking their hands, and having civil debates with those that having opposing views. UKIP is a shambles Their only MP left the party, becoming independent (who was one of those Conservative defectors), shedding seats in local elections, and an embarrassing level of dishonesty, even for them, with Paul Nutgall, the current leader. And the Greens, who have done well in local elections, still only have one MP, and the press ignores them. I guess TV/producers and news editors know that with UKIP comes conflict. And conflict makes good entertainment.

With all this, and putting aside the dubious performances of (some) Shadow Cabinet ministers for a moment, Labour still seems to be the only real competition the Tories have. On top of the expected vitriol coming from the right wing press, even the left wing press has constantly undermined the direction of Corbyn’s Labour Party. On top of that, the Parliamentary wing of the Labour Party has seemingly sought to destroy itself, as if having a socialist leading a socialist party is somehow wrong. One wonders if they just enjoy being in opposition, criticizing, rather than having someone from their point of view be in a position actually make the decisions.

The recently published Labour manifesto contains commitments that a large proportion of the country supports — nationalized rail, fully supported health service, a national education service, committed to tuition-free university education. They support the ideas, the message, but not the leader, so many traditionally left-wing supporters will end up voting for the strong-not-strong, stable-not-stable leadership of the Tories, likely leading them to a significant win, increasing their majority in parliament. But, as I said before, some of us on the left have significantly contributed to this situation, through this nonsensical act of political suicide. It’s as if some of those on the left want to remain the outsiders, the opposition, criticising the decisions from afar, rather than in a position to actually make the decisions.

Can we as a nation survive another five years of the Conservative’s disastrous policies? Can we trust that they will focus on what is best for the country and its people, not just the party and their wealthy friends? It is those on low to average earnings, who rely on public services, who need good local schools (and don’t have a real choice), who don’t have the contacts in high flying positions to funnel their children into equally high earning positions, who will ultimately pay the price. And then there is the country’s safety net, that is constantly snatched away from under those that need it at the time they need it most. But those in the Conservative Party don’t see the problem. They’ve never had to manage on the paltry amount that the disabled get, that jobseekers get.

I have no doubt there are compassionate Conservatives. But this current Conservative Party does not reflect the views of those people.

In such a divided country, we need a moderate, progressive government to bring us together with compromise. We need a government for the 100%, not just the 52% that voted leave. We need a government that cares for its old and young, its poor as well as the wealthy, and everyone else in between. We need a government that can put the interests of country before party.

As Nick Clegg recently said, when the Lib Dems entered into a coalition with the Conservatives, they did it for the good of the country. He admitted that it was bad for the party. They lost a lot of supporters. But they put the interests of the country first. I have to respect that. None of what I have seen from the Conservative camp has given any indication that they have the interests of the country at heart. And, surely, that should be the most important thing to us, when we come to mark our ballot papers on June 8th.