Wednesday, January 30, 2019

Billy Bragg and Brexit

March Update from BBC Europe editor Katya Adler
...And if you are hoping for that infamous "EU blink" before then, I will leave you with the thoughts of a well-placed Brussels official:
"Things would be different, if Theresa May had one, clear objective in these last-minute negotiations. A clear concession - that we could grant at a push - that would turn things around definitively in Westminster."
"But we look at the UK and everyone seems to be fighting everyone - about the backstop or whether Brexit should happen at all; over Norway or no deal and whether Theresa May should stay or go. There are splits in the prime minister's cabinet; we even see UK civil servants disagreeing amongst themselves now."
"These are UK domestic problems, yet the prime minister looks to us (the EU) to sort it out. We can't. We simply can't."

"Down the long months, all the British criticisms of Mrs. May have all been from people who think she should take her eye off the ball—but unlike them, she never does." 
Sean Crawford, March 20, 2019

Hello Reader,
Got the foggiest idea on Brexit?
Me neither.
Except in private, 
where I may loudly pound the table and beak off playing “Monday morning quarterback,” 
but not here, not on my public blog.

I wasn’t going to touch the subject of Brexit, but last night I found a delightful Youtube Brexit song by a singer for the working man, Britain’s Billy Bragg. Then the stupid comments got to me. With their belief in polarized politics, they apply to us stupid North Americans too. I’ll get back to Billy.

But first, the Queen, in her recent speech:
Of course, every generation faces fresh challenges and opportunities. As we look for new answers in the modern age, I for one prefer the tried and tested recipes, like speaking well of each other and respecting different points of view; coming together to seek out the common ground; and never losing sight of the bigger picture. To me, these approaches are timeless, and I commend them to everyone.

She didn’t mention Brexit by name, but…

The Washington Post’s comment on her speech:
So, to the squabblers of Westminster, the heckling press, the brayers who have been banging on about Bexit for the last three years? Consider yourselves commended to.

In the beginning:
What started as the European Common Market, for free trade, morphed into the European Union (EU) where folks were expected to eventually give up their sovereignty, including their currency, to become a United States of Europe. 

It was Britain’s first ever female prime minister, Margaret Thatcher, who warned that democracy required an exchange of speech, (citizen to citizen and citizen to governors) and since exchange of views, “power to the people,” is difficult in a continent-sized union of many languages, the eventual result must be a centralization of power. Today, a common phrase is “bureaucrats in Brussels.” Another phrase is “euroskeptics” It was skepticism that caused the British people to vote in a 2016 referendum for Britain to exit the EU, “Brexit,” to happen March 29, 2019.

It is Britain’s second ever female prime minister, Theresa May who, by the way, had personally voted against Brexit, who is now tasked with leading the UK out of the EU. The male PM who held the referendum, and other males, have done the “rats on a sinking ship” thing. Now it’s up to Mrs. May. Her problem? Human nature in parliament.

Incidentally, one of the characteristics of ethical journalists, in contrast to social media, is understanding that ordinary people may not be caught up on the news, so here are some links: 
BBC simple guide
BBC all you need to know
BBC definition of terms

Speaking definitions, long before “political correctness,” or PC, (Which I bet you can’t define either, right?) it was the writer of the first ever English dictionary, Samual Johnson, who said that although he was not a carpenter, he could judge whether a table was well made. Right now, with parliament stuck in Brexit “gridlock” the common person-in-the-street is judging their members of parliament: (MPs) “They are acting like children!” The phrase “temper tantrum” is used. People are saying, “Just get it done!”

Before some social justice warrior tells me it’s not “PC” for commoners to judge the wise, responsible members of parliament, well, I can judge children. I can examine whether learned MP’s are acting at a child level. That’s my focus today. Human nature.

In my January essay Assimilation I mentioned the referendum for Scottish separatism. As for Quebec separatism, as I only learned a week after their referendum, the Quebec results may have been influenced, skewed, by a Quebec businessman beaking off: “We must crush separatism!” and then voters who heard this “being contrary.” For Britain, I dread to imagine the influence of contrarian people coming to believe referendums don’t count, because “we can always have another one.” 

So to me, PM Theresa May was quite right to say the British can’t have another referendum on Brexit, not once the people have spoken. Lest it set a precedent. But that’s just what some MPs want, as well as wanting other half-baked plans such as have a “people’s committee” or a half-in half out compromise. May is right, the children are wrong… even if they are trying to break gridlock.

In business, there is a proper time for being open minded, creative and brainstorming, and that time is at the beginning of a project, not near the end. As you approach the finish line you must be focused. Call it “business 101,” or “street smart common sense,” but this is not what parliament is doing. Instead, the MPs are loudly espousing all sorts of ideas, in all directions, but they have nothing approaching consensus. Like crybabies: Or as the headstrong kids say at summer camp, “Too many chiefs, not enough Indians.”  Over on continental Europe folks are frustrated saying, “We can’t act if the British don’t even know what they want!”

In the adult world, you will send your trusted best negotiators, and then you must live with the results. Monday morning quarterbacking is only for sports. At the very most, a union leader might come back and say here is the deal: Strike or no-strike? He wouldn’t expect his people to then micro-manage, going over the entire contract under a microscope.

The “trusted best” negotiator for the British would be their Prime Minister. So Theresa May spent a longggg time on the deal with the EU, only to return to Britain to find parliament riding away in all directions. As more than one adult observer has said, “The British (parliament) only know what they don’t want, but they can’t agree on what they want.”

Or worse: “The people have voted to go, but many in parliament are secretly trying to remain.” A nasty thing to say, yes, but I’m afraid not all MPs have the integrity of Mrs May. Too bad that when this is all over, she will probably be too tired out to serve any longer.

I am reminded of poor, tired Abraham Lincoln during the civil war. As you know, he had a long string of defeated generals that he had to keep replacing. After one such General Disaster was failing to win, a fellow in the White House, having a silly tantrum, told Lincoln, “You must replace him! Put someone else in charge!”
Lincoln calmly said, “Who?” 
I wonder if Lincoln then smiled with his famous Lincoln humour: “Well, anybody might do for you, but I must have somebody.”

Back in university psychology class, we took the thought-experiment of a donkey in the middle, between two bales of hay an equal distance away (think of the US voters polarized between democrats and republicans) For Brexit, with parliament in all directions, think of four bales of hay, or better yet eight, set out at compass points. Students were asked: “Does the donkey starve to death trying to decide?” 

A clue: In one of my student clubs, one evening in a bare room, we did an exercise for fun: We walked around, at random, with the goal of seeking a leader, and eventually we ended up all stopped around one fellow, embarrassed and humble, whom we agreed was the most “credible leaderly one” of us all.  Back to the donkey: Students were told the donkey would move around a bit, find itself closer to one of the bales, and then go over to start munching. No gridlock.

If MPs can’t bring themselves to mill around and gravitate to a half-credible solution it’s because each bale of hay is glued to the floor with a BIG EGO “Pick me! Only me! My way or the highway!” Poor May. No wonder the commoners see parliament as a bunch of egocentric children.  

In fairness, while a student leader may be “embarrassed and humble” …maybe the pressures of legislating good laws means MPs have to compensate by having over-sized egos, maybe.

Oh, and don’t get me started on their childish fantasies:

“The deal could easily have been better…” May was their best, and took a long time.

“The EU could happily re-negotiate and brainstorm, back at square one…” the EU said they wouldn’t.

“The EU could scrap the Irish “backstop”…” The EU said they wouldn’t, and Ireland is a valued EU member.

“Brexit could be postponed, “more time,” negotiations extended…” But postponing would require unanimous EU consent, from every single country, including Ireland. And beside, the EU has asked in effect, “To what purpose?” 

Meaning: If you British don’t know what you want, not even having the ghost of a start for a beginning of a consensus, then how would more time help you? Except in your fantasies?

As for “more time,” for parliament to somehow have a different result, I am reminded of joke in Readers Digest: 
A child pleading, “But this time I will remember feed the hamsters, I will, so please don’t get rid of them…. And then Mother replying, “But I got rid of the hamsters two days ago.”

So many children in parliament… l’d rather talk about Billy Bragg.

Folk singers, of course, traditionally tend to be union men and socialists, not capitalists, being prone to believing in the world-wide brotherhood of workers, and the EU, not to narrow war-causing nationalism or racism. Bragg is no exception, and yet… he has a delightful song on Youtube, singing from the point of view of an old person voting for Brexit

—Scandal! The PC crowd said he was (a) “speaking for” Brexiters, (b) believed in leaving the EU, (c) believed in racism… et cetera, et cetera…

Commenters on Youtube tried to defend Bragg by saying he was only singing “ironically...” Here’s my take: Like Shakespeare, Bragg is not afraid to gently “wear the shoes” of a person with differing viewpoints. No agreement is needed, only respect. Isn’t that common sense? 

But “polarizing” means
that people are not gentle, 
that they think nothing is to be gained from following the queen’s advice to respect others,
that you are “supposed to” demonize-demonize-demonize. For the sake of being idealistic… 
that PC types, and US republicans and democrats, should all have the ego of a child, just like certain people in London.

Well, what’s the point of free speech if we can’t freely try to have empathy? Must our current polarization continue on for ever and ever, without amen?

Is it wrong to feel and to express, the shoes and the views, of other people? Are our PC friends part of the problem instead of the solution?

I am reminded of the town, back in the 1960’s, that was trying to get a cross-section “people’s committee” going, but there was one problem: The long haired types didn’t want any policemen on the committee. Finally a young person spoke truth to flower power: You just don’t want to rub shoulders with police, for in case you have to admit they aren’t capitalist pigs…Big silence, blushing… (Police were allowed to join)

As a young man, I resolved to never be afraid to mingle. I have kept that promise. 

It is said that on the day President Trump got elected many people on the two coasts honestly didn’t understand why fellow Americans were in despair enough to vote for him, just as they honestly don’t know why urban blacks would have enough despair to riot. For the riots, they blamed black hooligans. (Hint: if every hooligan had been magically transported to Mars the riots would still have happened, or else the despair that caused the riots would still be there—oops, am I being “not PC” and “speaking for” US blacks?)

 ( Incidentally, after a long, long time of polarized whites refusing to wear shoes, I remember a respectable looking middle aged black lady saying to a reporter for Time magazine, “If they have to ask why we rioted, they aren’t ever going to understand the answer.”)

As I shake my head at those Youtube commenters, I optimistically think to myself: Maybe sanity will return, maybe “computer readers” aren’t as smart as “real readers,” and maybe Youtube commenters don’t represent the “silent majority.”

Call me a cockeyed optimist but who knows, maybe some year soon our inappropriate polarizing in American life will change as non-politicians—including the PC, the party members and the activists—change their inappropriate ego levels. Maybe by then it won’t be so surprising that Billy Bragg has his act together. As for imagining politicians changing, well, even I cannot be that optimistic.

If you honestly don’t know why anyone would vote to leave the right-thinking EU, then (link) here’s Billy Bragg’s soft gentle song, a song that inspired me to go write a great big essay. No demonizing for charming Billy.

God save the queen.

Sean Crawford

~I’m not kidding about parliament being clueless: As of Monday, January 28, in a BBC News column by political editor Laura Kuenssberg
You wouldn't be blamed for thinking that all seems like Parliamentary fog. But until we see the numbers in the votes tomorrow, this week may not be the occasion when Parliament's view on Brexit becomes that much clearer. (Sorry!)

~For those with HBO cable TV, Benedict Cumberbatch is in a movie about Brexit, here’s the review.

~Question: And just what do the rich capitalists and financiers think of the chicken cluster in parliament? 
Answer: Obviously, they’re not worried: To my frustration, the British pound is doing fine. (exchange rate) I was hoping to buy some cheap pounds Stirling, so I could afford to fly to London and enter that Doctor Who store again. Of course there’s always hope, so I say: “Come on you chaps in parliament, show us some more childish behaviour!”

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