Repercussions of a sadness around Brexit

The People’s Vote march on 19 October 2019 had a sadness to it — akin to depression — and which should be taken seriously.

People’s Vote march, 19 Oct 2019

A friend commented that she was struck by the sense of sadness. There was also fear, but much less of the carnival-like atmosphere of previous marches. One of the hallmarks of emotions in groups is that, if they affecting the whole group, they are less obvious because people don’t look around and see others in a radically-different space. My friend’s words called my up short, and made me wonder.

Freud’s essay Mourning and Melancholia suggests that the big difference between the two is that, in mourning there is real grieving for something that has been lost, such as after the death of a loved one, but in melancholia, though the sadness is real, but it’s not so clear what has actually been lost. That’s part of the territory of depression.

19 October 2019 was a day of high drama in Parliament — in its first Saturday sitting since the Falklands invasion. The media has been awash with speculation and interpretation — often adding more heat then light. Perhaps that’s justified, but I wonder if it was also a distraction from something much harder to name.

An un-nameable loss

I could point a finger at both the Conservative and Labour parties, suggesting that they’ve both lurched to extremes, leaving many of their traditional supporters with a sense of abandonment. I could point to the serious threat of Brexit, in both economic and cultural terms. But these have all been around for a while. They don’t adequately explain the sadness now.
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The sinister side of expecting people to produce ID in order to vote

The Tory proposal to require photographic ID to let people vote is a cynical attempt to stop some people voting and undermines trust in democracy. Both help Boris Johnson. Both are anti-democratic and erode trust in elections.

The Queen’s Speech on 19 October has been dismissed as an exercise in electioneering rather than a programme for government. Usually the Queen’s Speech outlines the government’s legislative programme, but as Boris Johnson seems very keen for an election in the very near future, this Queen’s Speech seems more getting the Queen to outline a Tory manifesto than a serious programme for government.

The inclusion of an item to require people to produce photographic ID in order to vote could sound innocuous. Turning up at a polling station and simply giving one’s name does sound like something that could be abused. But the Electoral Reform Society points out that there were just 8 allegations of voter impersonation in 2018, so this is hardly a problem.
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Avoiding Boris Johnson’s “People v Politicians election” trap

There is a very real risk of Boris Johnson’s newly right-wing Conservatives winning a snap election by the same distortion of truth and pedalling of fantasy that enabled Leave to win in the referendum.

Boris Johnson, making statement after Commons returned from unlawful prorogation

News of Dominic Cummings describing the present Brexit chaos as “a walk in the park” nails the idea that what’s been going on recently is an inept Prime Minister making a mess.

Boris Johnson has been talking of a “People v Politicians” election soon. He could do well, especially if he gets to dictate the timetable and force an election this autumn (as he seems to want).

Horror at his conduct is causing a surge of support for the Liberal Democrats, and there is the temptation to support an election because it will almost certainly produce many more Liberal Democrat MPs, but the real risk is that they will be opposing a deeply dangerous Johnson-majority government. Continue reading “Avoiding Boris Johnson’s “People v Politicians election” trap”

Brexit and the blindness of ambition, through the lens of the Mahabharata

The ancient text of the Mahabharata seems to speak into the latest craziness of Brexit — speaking of the folly that comes with blind ambition, and the price paid by the next generation.

Death of Duryodhan

For some time now I have been working my way through the Hindu epic the Mahabharata, serialised on Indian television in the 1980s, and now on youtube. At its core is a huge war between two sets of cousins. It’s sometimes cast as a war between truth and untruth. Like all wars, its causes are complex.

Part of the explanation is that king Vichitravirya’s elder son, Dhritarashtra, was born blind, so his younger brother, Pandu, was named Crown Prince. Dhritarashtra succeeds to the throne after his brother’s premature death. That contains the seeds of a deadly for succession between the sons of Pandu and of Dhritarashtra — not helped by Dhritarashtra’s blind loyalty to his son Duryodhan, despite his obvious rashness, which stands in marked contrast to the wisdom of Pandu’s elder son Yudhishthira.

This evening I’ve been watching episode 92. In which Duryodhan, the last of Dhritarashtra’s sons died. There is a telling exchange between Dhritarashtra and his courtier, Sanjay:
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Taking the government to court (again) over Brexit

Gina Miller has said she’d take the new Prime Minister to court if he tries to prorogue parliament, so it can’t debate or vote, to stop it blocking a “no deal” Brexit. The backlash says a lot about the dangerous forces that have been unleashed.

Proroguing parliament for political reasons didn’t work out well for Charles I

In the normal course of events, there is a Queen’s Speech at the start of each parlia­mentary session, and a prorogation at the end.

But there is a more extreme precedent: an unpliant parliament led to Charles I doing this. It produced a period of “personal rule” (1629–1640) — fuelling the resentments that led to civil war and his own execution.

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The People’s Vote needs to ask a different question if it’s not to be a re-run of 2016

It’s not enough to campaign for a People’s Vote: for people to vote differently the question needs to be different — and unambiguous-enough not to be mis-represented.

A piece by Otto English in the Byline Times in March made the point rather well:

“In 1931, eleven years after jailing Charles Ponzi for defrauding millions of dollars from ordinary people, the state of Massachusetts set about reimbursing his victims. In order to be compensated, all investors had to do was hand over proof of assets, for which they would be repaid 30 cents on the dollar. This meant a substantial loss for some but the alternative — was nothing. The state advertised the scheme widely and waited for injured parties to come forward.

But very few did.

Some were simply too embarrassed. Many more were determined to hold out, believing that somehow – despite facing multiple counts of larceny — Ponzi would come good on his promises.”

The People’s Vote needs to offer something new

People were offered something that was too good to be true — and were reluctant to give up on the hope they had brought into.

The parallels with Brexit are stark — a raft of promises which also turned out to be “too good to be true” fired people’s hopes. As with Ponzi, it is hard for people to admit that those hopes were false.

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Remembering the liberty message of the Liberal Democrats among the Brexit madness

The Liberal Democrat result in the European Elections has shown that the #BollocksToBrexit message has finally got through. But my twitter feed in the last couple of days makes me think that our position on civil liberties is also very relevant to the chaos around Brexit and all that this stirs up for people.

Recently there was an article in the Telegraph about secret talks between some Tory donors and Nigel Farage with a view to a pact to avoid Tory Brexiteer and Brexit Party candidates standing against each other.

My twitter feed had a string of comments from people alarmed at this. The sharpest I saw was from @bulshdetector on 16 June 2019: Continue reading “Remembering the liberty message of the Liberal Democrats among the Brexit madness”

Leave.EU (wrongly) blaming fallout of referendum on Sadiq Khan

Leave.EU’s latest recruitment advert tries to blame Sadiq Khan for the socially-destructive fallout of the referendum. It’s time to call out this this hypocrisy.

Sadiq Khan

A recruitment advert from Leave.EU turned up in my twitter feed this morning which shows an extract of an interview with Sadiq Khan quoted out of context, and a transcript of part of that, giving an impression which is not just wrong, but fascinatingly and revealingly wrong. It reads:

WATCH: “Gun crime is up, robbery is up, knife crime is up, rape is up… and you think honestly that London is more safe now than when you took over as Mayor of London?”

@SadiqKhan: “I do.”

The stone cold loser is dangerously delusional…

Support us at (and links to the “get involved” page of their web site)

The London Assembly web site does indeed provide information on an increase in crime, but the levels are low. There’s not much chance of an individual being directly affected (unless they are already involved in drugs or other criminal). As a frequent visitor to London, my instincts echo Sadiq Khan’s comment — it feels safe.

There are some big “buts”… not least, the fact that I am white and have a British accent, so I’m not likely to be the target of xenophobic attack.

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Police called to the home of Boris Johnson: a Trump moment?

Both Johnson and Trump seem to continue despite scandals that would end most politicians’ careers. What does this tell us about where we are at the moment?

Boris Johnson and Donald Trump

The news that the Police were called to the flat Boris Johnson shares with Carrie Symonds is (rightly) raising eyebrows.

At the time of writing this post I don’t know whether the Police will bring charges against Johnson, so we don’t know whether this should be heard as actual domestic violence, or simply a nasty row.

What’s striking is the contrast between this and the anger generated by the news of Mark Field MP “grabbing a woman by the throat” — actually a climate change protester at dinner where Philip Hammond was speaking. He’s been subject to censure and suspended as a minister, pending investigation. The implication is that it’s considered unacceptable for a junior minister to manhandle a woman who (rightly or wrongly) he perceived to be a threat, but acceptable for someone who is the front-runner to become Prime Minister to act towards his partner in a way that leads to the police being called.

My mind jumps from this to the host of allegations of sexual mis-conduct made against Donald Trump. Continue reading “Police called to the home of Boris Johnson: a Trump moment?”

Lessons from the Mahabharata in the context of D-day and Brexit

The Hindu epic the Mahabharata offers a way to think about the absurdity of attempting of commemorating D-day at the same time as trying to leave the EU set up to prevent another war in Europe.

Abhimanyu, fighting in the Kurukshetra war

The last few minutes have seen a startling justaposition in my news feed, in quick succession I heard:

  • On BBC Radio 4’s The World at One there was coverage of the 75th anniversary of D-day, with a reminder of the seriousness of the task and the sheer amount of support from other countries that enabled this to succeed, which flatly contradicts the idea that “the UK won the war” in it’s own strength.
  • A video from Russia Today showed both Boris Johnson and Jeremy Hunt advocating leaving the EU with no deal — immediately followed by a commentator pointing out the damage that’s already happened and how much worse “No deal” would make things.
  • Also on The World at One was a tiny comment about Rory Stewart (also pitching to become Tory leader) explaining that it is crazy to imagine that the EU will re-open negotiations, or to think there is money for drastic tax cuts.
  • I’m slowly working my way through the Hindu epic the Mahabharata, as serialised on Indian television, and caught a moment where two mothers whose sons are on opposite sides in the war at the heart of the story console each other. One asks the other whether she will pray for victory: she doesn’t want to force the choice on God who has to disappoint one of them if they both pray for this.

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Shadow and Theresa May’s downfall

Perhaps Theresa May’s downfall was an inevitable tragedy. Jung’s idea of shadow offers a way to think about her impossible role.

The shadows one doesn’t see

Carl Gustav Jung coined the term “shadow” to draw together the things of ourselves we carry but are not aware of.

That could be read as another way to think of the unconscious, but it fits with Jung’s idea that the path to becoming a more integrated self is to seek to work with the unconscious rather than seeing it as sinister. Dreams, free associations, jokes and “Freudian slips” offer some insight into that world, but Jung’s point is that this is something we carry even when we don’t notice it — like our shadows. Whenever there is light, our bodies cast shadows, even without our awareness. Many people have had the experience of taking a photograph and concentrating so much on what they were photographing that they fail to realise that their own shadow is also in the photo, as if it is so familiar that it is not noticed.

In calling this “shadow” he’s naming the fact that this is often in things we see as bad — though it’s sometimes also there it what we see as almost-excessively positive — in the people and causes we idealise. Inner work is needed to engage with this, so that it doesn’t come to dominate without being noticed. Jung phrased it that “Until you make the unconscious conscious, it will direct your life and you will call it fate.”
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Building on the European Election results

The Liberal Democrat campaign for the European elections made an emotional connection with voters that the Remain referendum campaign missed. It spoke with clarity and trustworthiness. That’s in stark contrast to many people’s response to they dysfunction both tin the government and the Labour party. We need to connect with people in this space to help the country find a saner alternative.

Vince Cable and some of the Liberal Democrat MEPs
After the European Parliament elections

The actual results were exciting, with pro-Remain parties getting more votes than pro-Brexit ones and many people voting Liberal Democrat who would not have done so a year ago.

Polling from Lord Ashcroft since then suggests that many of these voters would follow this up by voting Liberal Democrat in a UK General Election.

The campaigner in me instinctively thinks this is the time to be out and visible, particularly in places where people don’t hear from us very often. It’s one thing for people to vote Liberal Democrat in exceptional circumstances and quite another if it’s followed up by enough contact to mean this is not a flash in the pan. On top of the usual task helping newly-elected councillors to dig in, this is a golden opportunity to recruit members and deliverers.

But things are not so simple.
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