Sunday, 26 June 2016

So, what Remains now?

Given that I made my 'Remain' views clear before the referendum, I shall use this space to reflect on my reaction to the whole process and result.

Disappointment doesn't get close to how I felt on Friday morning. I am deeply fearful for our future. My generation will probably suffer nothing worse than a few unpleasant ripples. I only hope that, by the time my grandchildren are adult, new bridges have been built with Europe and a commitment to peace is sustained. History would suggest I'm a hopeless optimist.

Meanwhile, we all have to pick up the threads of our lives.

But it's not true that we can do nothing. We can continue to live with integrity and dignity and uphold the principles underpinning the European Union even when we've left: opposition to racism, sexism and homophobia in all its forms, upholding the dignity of working people and disabled people and protecting their rights, compassion for those in need or fleeing persecution. We can challenge xenophobia. We can hold our representatives accountable, especially when they fail to keep promises.

Many of us can do this because we have the education that has enabled us to think in this way, and are well-enough paid to meet our own immediate needs and still have energy to engage with political processes. We have social opportunities that are denied to millions. For what this referendum has exposed is the depth of the disaffection felt by those who have felt excluded - socially, economically and politically - for decades, and the failure of Westminster to begin to understand that. Unfortunately, I can't see that changing in the short term. Whatever happens next it seems likely that the government will be run by rich white men from posh schools and Oxford - men who would feel an urgent need to wash their hands if they ever entered the house of an unemployed steel worker. And it might be worth reflecting, as we try to get to grips with our own feelings of alienation when faced with Brexiteers, that many may have felt like this for decades and no one has listened.

What can we do? Not a lot? It would, surely, be arrogant for anyone outside disaffected communities to begin to speak for them. But we can listen. We can try to understand. We can join movements that seek to bring the powerful to account when they ride roughshod, yet again, over the powerless. After all, right now we know how they feel.

And it is fine to want to smack Farage. It's just not okay to do it.

And, for those who have space to even notice anything else going on in the world at the moment, Frogs and Frigate Birds is out!!! Give me a week or two and I'll tell you more about it. Here is the link for readers in the UK.

Sunday, 19 June 2016

Read the question!

I've written one post about the referendum, so might as well write another. This time next week it will be over and we'll be licking our wounds.

So this is a plea for all those voting on Thursday to read the question. How many times did they tell us that before exams? It's equally valid now.

The question is not: are you fed up with powerful white men ruining the country, not giving a monkey's toss about anyone else? I think a lot of us would love to give them a kick up the bum, but that's not what we're being asked to vote on.

The question is not: who, if anyone, might be telling the truth and who is making things up as they do along? You might think all them are guessing and have been trained to sound convincing, but that's not the point.

The question is not: are there too many people of colour or with European accents living in this country? The leavers might tell you it's a simple as that, but it's not. Immigration is complicated - it brings huge economic and cultural benefits as well as challenges.

The question is not: do all rubbish laws come from Brussels and good laws come from London? All institutions are capable of making crap laws - that's why they have arrangements to review them in the lights of any difficulties in their implementation or changing circumstances.

The question is not: what is in it for you? Or for me? Although, as a traveller, I understand the value of free access to health care across Europe that shouldn't be the tipping point in my decision. Rather, I need to think about the implications for my grandchildren - will the decision we make now make the world safer and more comfortable for them?

For the question is: do we want a place at the European table, where differences can be talked about and resolved, or do we want to sit on the sidelines without being able to contribute or influence anything?

If this were an 'A' level essay question you might include discussing some of the above. You might also explore the fact that, since the creation of the EU, we have experienced the longest period of peace in Western Europe since ... *goes off to check history books* ... forever. That's what happens when people are committed to sitting around the same table, however tough it is at times.

Sunday, 12 June 2016

I wasn't going to blog about the referendum, but ...

I hadn't planned to write about the referendum. (I've no idea if readers outside the UK know what's going on here - if you're interested, please google it. The antecedents of this referendum are too tedious for a blog post).

The process of both parties remind me of the school playground. I'm right, no I'm right ... and what's more my brother is bigger than yours and that proves it ...

The analogy not so silly. When I was working I had to learn about the behaviour of small children: it is instinctive to attach to adults who look like you and be suspicious of those who look and sound different. It's an essential process in keeping children close to those who should keep them safe. But these are primitive feelings; as adults we can think about them and construct our ideas in the light of evidence.

And yet the 'leave' campaign is tapping into the childish feelings of millions. Let's blame immigrants, they tell us. Without them, we will have more homes, jobs, school places, beds in hospitals ... and they produce a mumbo-jumbo of promises they cannot fulfil with which to prove it.

Which means the 'in' campaign - which relies on people engaging on a more mature level - are finding it hard to remind us of the need to grow up and think about this as adults. They remind us of European history, that it is essential to have forum in which differences can be talked about and understood. They remind us of our geography: we are a small island and risk isolation if we leave the EU. They remind us of the economics: we stand to loose decades of goodwill within Europe, with all the trade advantages, and protection of workers' rights, that come with it.

No one suggests that the EU is perfect. It's like a large family, that straggles a bit and isn't too sure where it begins and ends, but will always keep the kettle on for anyone who needs a cup of tea and a chat. There is a commitment to talking about our differences and never resorting to fisticuffs.

And the alternative? At best, we would be foot-stamping in the corner, and no one willing to be the first to speak to us. At worst, the EU begins to fall apart and we return to the playground politics that were so destructive a hundred years ago.

Sunday, 5 June 2016

Look who has come to stay!

Guess who this is, come to stay?

Those of you who have read about my travelling in Nepal will have 'met' Tika and Shobha. This post is for those who have no idea who they are!

I met Tika over fifteen years ago, when I first went to Nepal with a tour group. Then, in 2005, when I embarked on a year-long trip around the world, I contacted him to help me get the hang of travelling independently in Nepal and north India. He took me up mountains and down valleys. Before one such expedition he mentioned that his wife (Shobha) was joining us for the day. We trekked up a mountain (she strode up in flip-flops and I plodded up in walking boots). I seem to have passed some sort of test, because she invited me to join them for supper - cooked on a small fire on their rooftop.

It was the beginning of a wonderful friendship. Every time I return to Nepal Tika organises my travels. If he's not actually with me he is at the end of the phone. He has the rare capacity to see the funny side of everything, even close encounters with tigers and crocodiles.

Meanwhile Shobha looks after me. When you are in Nepal, she says, I will be like your daughter. I will cook for you, and do your washing. (I eat like a queen, but do my own washing when she's not looking.)

And now it's my turn to look after them. I'm pretty useless in the cooking department, but will do my best. The washing can be thrown in the machine.

But most of all I want them to feel at home. They have shared their home and their country with me several times, and now it's my turn. This visit will be less about what we do, and more about making sure they know how much I appreciate everything they have done to me. And, because this it Tika and Shobha, I am sure there will be plenty of laughter.